Country music has always been filled with some of music’s most moving tunes. From mournful ballads to soaring love songs and everything in between, you can always count on country music to get your emotions going.
One of the best ways to really get that point across? Vocal harmonies.
They’re what make sing-a-alongs so fun and sometimes become your favorite part of the song without you even realizing it. And they have the ability to really tap into that human emotion that makes music such an important part of life. The right harmony can take a song from great to absolutely unforgettable.
Classic country from the 1940s through the 1980s had some shining moments that laid the groundwork for all our favorite, feels-inducing and harmony-heavy songs today.
Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys — “Sweetheart, You Done Me Wrong”
The oldest tune on the list, “Sweetheart, You Done Me Wrong” is a classic example of how bluegrass influenced harmonies in country music. The prominent falsetto harmony throughout the chorus was used to elevate the emotional importance and has been imitated for decades since, as you’ll see on our way to number one.
The Everly Brothers — “Let It Be Me”
The Everly Brothers were straight harmony masters — meaning one would sing nicely above the other in close harmony for nearly the length of the song to create pitch-perfect and sonically rich songs. A skill that, in the early days of recording, was invaluable in really making the song stand out, since it was pretty low fidelity. “Let It Be Me” is their 1960 version of a French hit from 5 years earlier. It’s slow, flowing minor harmonies get you every time.
George Jones and Tammy Wynette — “Golden Ring”
Similar to Merle and Bonnie, George Jones and Tammy Wynette had an all-fated marriage. But their collaborations on music endure, and “Golden Ring” is one of their most memorable duets ever. When they got together to perform it for the first time since their divorce, it carried even extra weight.
Foster & Lloyd — “Texas In 1880”
Though subtle, Bill Lloyd’s harmony in Foster & Lloyd’s 1987 tune “Texas In 1880” is the perfect example of what made the duo so special. Instead of singing a normal, straight harmony, Lloyd moves between note intervals and creates almost a second melody (or “counter melody”). It ramps up in the second verse, and combined with the powerful sentiment of the chorus, it’s hard not to get goosebumps just thinking about it.
The Judds — “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Ol’ Days)
It’s hard to top families when it comes to harmonies. They’re all working with similar equipment, and the blend is simply perfection. Mix that with a sweet nostalgia, and you’ve got the recipe for a song that gets you right in the feels. And that’s precisely what 1986’s “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Ol’ Days)” by The Judds does.
Shenandoah — “Two Dozen Roses”
The 80s were great for big country harmonies, especially from groups that could hit them. Shenendoah’s “Two Dozen Roses” is the perfect example of a song where the chorus harmonies take it to the next emotional level. It’s a song about wondering what it would take to change the girl’s mind. Complete with a big key change, this one is perfect for singing at the top of your lungs on the highway with the windows down, preferably some time 30 years ago.
Alabama — “Love In The First Degree”
No list about country harmonies would be complete with Alabama. They carried the torch of harmony masters like The Everly Brothers and Oak Ridge Boys all the way from their humble beginnings into superstardom. Alabama’s 1981 hit “Love In The First Degree” has such incredible harmonies that any version without them just doesn’t do it justice (though there are many). A song about being hopelessly imprisoned by romance, the powerful chorus almost feels like a chain gang serenade — if the chain gang were really good at blending and squeezing every bit of emotion from the moment.
Keith Whitley and Alison Krauss — “When You Say Nothing At All”
Another song on the list that was not originally performed as a duet or harmony-heavy tune, this version of “When You Say Nothing At All” has a particularly interesting story. Keith Whitley’s original version was a hit in the 80s, but he tragically died of alcohol poisoning not long after its release. Alison Krauss covered the song to much fanfare in 1995, and a radio program director named Mike Cromwell mixed the two to make this artificial “duet.” Surprisingly, it was received extremely well by fans an caught on, gaining radio play across the country without ever actually being released. Who knew the only way to make this song hit you in the feels harder was having two amazing singers sing it at once?
Emmylou Harris and Don Williams — “If I Needed You”
In all honesty, this entire list could be Emmylou Harris duets (and she’s got plenty to choose from). But in the interest of diversity, we’ll just stick with this gorgeous duet between Harris and “The Gentle Giant” of country, Don Williams. Originally written and recorded in 1972 by Townes Van Zandt and recorded by several heavy hitters like Lyle Lovett and Guy Clark since, this duet has become the hands-down favorite. It’s no doubt thanks to the feels-inducing blend of Harris and Williams’ fairytale voices.
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton — “Islands In The Stream”
When Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers teamed up in 1983 for their version of this tune (originally written by the Bee Gees), most people knew it was going to be a hit. But nobody expected it to be as universally accepted as its been. A lot of that is thanks to the effortless blend of their voices and a harmony line that is perfect for karaoke duets.