Here are the 14 best country songs about, well, themselves.
It takes a lot to get to the top of anywhere, especially when it comes to country. Nashville songwriters are a dime a dozen, as are its cowboy hat and boots-befitted performers. So when one of them beats the odds, it’s perfectly allowable that they write a self-referential tune about the biz, the good and bad of it. Here are some of the best country songs… about country.
14. “New Strings” – Miranda Lambert
Living well is the best revenge. There are plenty of “I’ll show you” narratives in country, but few are as catchy or heart-lifting as Lambert’s. In the song, she leaves the haters in Texas for greener pastures, presumably Nashville with that old guitar and brand new set of strings in the backseat. And once she got there, she did alright for herself.
13. “Big Star” – Kenny Chesney
Though not explicitly about country, Chesney could easily switch the pronouns to male and be singing about himself. It takes a lot of practice, hard work and self-confidence to end up singing in front of 20,000 people. Especially when your old neighbors “swear they’re certain she slept her way to the top.”
12. “Pink Guitar” – Reba McEntire
Like Chesney’s “Big Star”, Reba’s song details the hard work that it takes to get from a nobody to a world-renowned singer. Some people have drive but no talent, and some people have talent but no drive. The formula for success is both as Reba can attest to. Plus, the music video has footage of Reba recording the song in the studio.
11. “Pocahontas Proud” – Gretchen Wilson
The most autobiographical of the success stories thus far, Gretchen Wilson’s “Pocahontas Proud” isn’t all about playing country music. But in the second verse Wilson sings, “I knocked on every door on Music Row / They looked down to me and said, ‘Girl, go back home / You ain’t got / What we need / In this town.'” But she didn’t give up, and ended up with a few hugely successful records to her name.
10. “Carl Perkins Cadillac” – Drive-By Truckers
On 2004’s The Dirty South, Drive-By Truckers shared this southern rock history of Sun Records, the distinguished company that helped start the careers of Johnny Cash, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Founder Sam Phillips bet a brand new Cadillac to the first signee who could grab a hit record, and Carl Perkins got there first with “Blue Suede Shoes”. The song features the killer line “Nashville’s where you go / To see if what is said is so.”
9. “Loretta Lynn’s Lincoln” – Josh Turner
Speaking of famous country singers and their cars, Josh Turner recorded this tongue-in-cheek ode to the Queen of Country. He buys the Coal Miner’s Daughter’s ride for only $500 and a song, benevolently giving rides to Dolly Parton and Lynn herself. For fun, he name drops some inside baseball locations in Nashville like Demonbreun Street and the Orchid Lounge.
8. “How Do You Like Me Now?!” – Toby Keith
It would seem Toby Keith’s favorite activity is proving the haters wrong. His catchy tale of revenge on an unrequited love is a little creepy but provides fun escapism in imagining the triumph of doing everything those who rejected you said you couldn’t. I for one am glad that Toby’s living in the radio these days.
7. “That’s Why I Write Songs” – Jamey Johnson
This touching, sparing ballad is just one of the many deeply personal cuts on Jamey Johnson’s excellent The Guitar Song. In “That’s Why I Write Songs”, Johnson gruffly sings that through music, he speaks for those who feel like they can’t speak for themselves. Sometimes, when your heart is broken a certain way, it feels like the only person who understands is the one on the other end of the speaker.
6. I Play The Road – Zac Brown Band
Hundreds of tunes have been written about the trials and tribulations of touring. With its soulful piano and howling singing, Zac Brown Band’s soaring “I Play The Road” is one of the best. They sing of the high of singing to a sold out crowd, the low of leaving one’s family behind, and the hurry-up-and-wait boredom that fills the space between.
5. Lonely At The Top – Jamey Johnson
Before his success as the new breed of country outlaw, Jamey Johnson made his name by writing a ton of hits for other performers, including George Strait’s “It Just Comes Natural” and the #3 song on this very list. Nashville politics have exhausted the author until a stranger at the bar puts things into perspective: “I’ve worked up a powerful thirst / Just listenin’ to all your troubles … / It may be lonely at the top, but it’s a bitch at the bottom.”
4. Easy Money – Brad Paisley
We’ve all heard if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s the gist of Paisley’s send-off to the crap jobs he and his band worked before miraculously getting the opportunity to travel the world and play to adoring fans every night – safe to say this is the best gig he’s ever had.
3. Songs About Me – Trace Adkins
You know that person that always says “I like all music… EXCEPT COUNTRY!!!” This is the song you school them with. “Songs About Me” reminds us why we love country so much – the stories are personal and from the heart; songs about “lovin’ and livin'” and “goodhearted women” and family and God, especially when they’re “mixed with a little rock and a little blues.”
2. This Is Country Music – Brad Paisley
Brad Paisley has always been a student of country history, and his chill-inducing “This Is Country Music” is the best proof. Between hyper-twangy guitar shredding, he sings a love song to the incredible music he’s part of, even if it may not be hip to sing about trucks or mamas. At the end, he pays tribute to Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, and more with some of their most famous lines.
1. The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues – Alan Jackson
One of Alan Jackson’s funniest, wink-iest songs has got to be “The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues”. A poor traveling country star gets bamboozled by a predatory repairman, who uses a bunch of non-existent car lingo to charge the poor guy $800 for nothing. But the tables turn when the repairman tries to get the star to buy his song, and Jackson jargons him right back – the verse’s verbs are weak, the hook is broken and there are WAY too many dotted eighth notes.