It seems like nearly every year in country music some new song is getting people riled up. Sometimes it’s a lyric in the song, and sometimes it’s the way somebody else reacted to it.
But for whatever reason, country fans throughout history just can’t get enough of the controversy. Honestly, aside from rap, country may have the most feuds going at any given time (just ask Bobby Bones).
There tends to be a trend, however, with controversial songs — they go up the charts pretty quickly. Here are 14 of the most controversial country songs that got people talking, from the past all the way to present day.
1. Kitty Wells — “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” (1952)
Kitty Wells paved the way for other strong country women with this tune, a direct answer to Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life.” Wells blames men for driving women astray in the tune, which was a huge shift from the 1950s-era of thinking where women were submissive to men (and also responsible for their infidelity). It was a huge hit that could be considered one of the first feminist country songs.
2. Merle Haggard — “Okie From Muskogee” (1970)
A lot of people don’t know that one of the Hag’s most famous songs was originally written as a satire of small-town America, as opposed to a praising of it. Eventually, he realized it had become an anthem for the silent majority — the folks who may have recognized the errors of the Vietnam War but still felt an intense patriotism. Still, “Okie From Muskogee” will go down as one of the most controversial songs due not just to its intention, but its reception, misconception and ultimately popularity. Haggard once said he regretted writing the song because he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as close-minded, conservative, liberal or anything else.
3. Loretta Lynn — “Rated ‘X'” (1972)
With her first appearance on the list, Loretta Lynn’s “Rated ‘X'” is about destroying the stigma associated with women who were divorced. The honest language challenged a social norm about divorce at the time and was met with pretty serious pushback from largely male radio programmers and conservative listeners. They ultimately couldn’t keep Loretta from notching her 6th No. 1 single with the tune.
4. Conway Twitty — “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” (1973)
It’s one of the raunchiest tunes in the sultry singer’s catalog, and it led several radio programmers to ban the tune from the airwaves. But “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” still got listeners talking, which ultimately helped it climb up the charts.
5. Tanya Tucker — “Would You Lay With Me (In A Field Of Stone)” (1973)
On paper it’s nothing too bad — just a sweet love song. But considering Tanya Tucker was only 15 when she recorded it, country listeners went up in arms. Why? Because, they said, it clearly condones premarital sex. And in the 70s, country radio barely wanted to play songs about sex, much less premarital sex.
6. Loretta Lynn — “The Pill” (1975)
Loretta Lynn once again stirs controversy only a few years after “Rated ‘X'” with “The Pill,” an ode to the birth control pill and the freedom it allowed women in their sex lives. If people freaked over a 15-year old girl singing a song about sex, you can only imagine how they felt about a woman actually singing about having lots of it without having to worry about those pesky children as side effects.
7. Garth Brooks — “The Thunder Rolls” (1990)
Interestingly enough, Tanya Tucker recorded “The Thunder Rolls” first (which Garth wrote), but never put it on an album until 1995. Garth Brooks, however, fought hard for the song to be a single, and even harder for the music video, which shined a light on domestic violence. The video was originally banned, which ultimately got more people interested in seeing it, and more stations interested in playing the song. It ultimately won the CMA Video of the Year.
8. Holly Dunn — “Maybe I Mean Yes” (1991)
Eesh. Holly Dunn probably had good intentions when she released this song, but “Maybe I Mean Yes” was immediately met with criticism for its lyrics which directly contradicted the “No Means No” mantra related to sexual encounters. Dunn swore she was saying that the character of the song was playing hard to get for a date, but she ultimately heard her fans concerns and had the song pulled from radio promotion.
9. Tim McGraw — “Red Ragtop” (2002)
Tim McGraw waded into the murky and dangerous waters of singing about abortion in his song “Red Ragtop.” The characters of the song elect to have an abortion after getting pregnant at a young age. It’s a very real song about a very real life situation, but some listeners and stations didn’t want to hear it. The song stalled at No. 5 on the charts, but has stayed a fan favorite .
10. Toby Keith — “Courtesy Of The Red, White, And Blue (The Angry American)” (2002)
Toby Keith felt compelled to write a song about “putting a boot in your ass” and calling it the American way after his father’s death and September 11th. Then Peter Jennings asked that Keith soften the lyrics for a TV performance, but he refused and didn’t appear on the show. That was enough to raise a few eyebrows, but the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines fueled the fire even more when she said the song was ignorant and made country music sound ignorant. Ultimately, it didn’t stop it from becoming one of Keith’s biggest hits.
11. Brad Paisley — “Accidental Racist” (2013)
This is likely another case of good intention gone wrong, but Brad Paisley’s song featuring LL Cool J brought in so much controversy before it came out that it didn’t even make it as a single. The song is supposed to be a reconciliation between a white southerner proud of his heritage and a black man still confronting racism, but it just comes off as a horribly clumsy gaffe. You’ve got to think Paisley, who has written some killer songs, would want a do-over with this one.
12. Luke Bryan — “That’s My Kind Of Night” (2013)
It’s the song that may be considered the apex of bro country, but it’s also the song that Zac Brown said was the worst song he’s ever heard. With that comment, artists officially began wading into the bro country controversy. Jason Aldean jumped to the defense of his buddy Luke Bryan (and also his own music, in a way), while many of the more critically respected artists sided with Brown and praised him for finally speaking up against what many saw as a complete bastardization of both country and hip hop.
13. Kacey Musgraves — “Follow Your Arrow” (2013)
Kacey Musgraves packed just about everything she could into this tune (except for maybe war and abortion, which were already covered by Toby Keith and Tim McGraw). It’s a song that openly praises living your own life, whether that means not going to church, always going to church, sleeping around, never having sex, doing drugs, not doing drugs, making out with people of the same sex — you name it. Musgraves was censored during several live performances and the song never went far on the radio, but it’s easily her most popular song to date.
14. Little Big Town — “Girl Crush” (2014)
This one has to be one of the most frustrating controversies, because it relates almost exclusively to homophobic listeners who couldn’t grasp the context of the song. Basically, some listeners though the song was promoting lesbian love and had an issue with that. Of course, the song was actually about being jealous of a girl, not in love with her. Ultimately, artists and listeners rallied around the song and the group and it became their most awarded and commercially successful song ever. Take that, ignorance.