Dwight Yoakam songs draw fans outside of country music circles to some of the genre’s best traditionally-minded records in recent memory. Like Johnny Cash before him, Yoakam’s instantly recognizable vocal style and timelessly cool image attracts rock ‘n’ rollers, hip-hop heads and others to country songs. Many would-be fans come for the interesting cover song choices (Yoakam covered “Purple Rain” on his 2016 bluegrass album Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars). Hopefully, those listeners stick around for the singer’s originals and interpretations of his honky tonk heroes’ greatest songs.
For established fans looking for a trip down memory lane, or curious potential listeners ready to approach that trough, here’s 10 of Yoakam’s greatest songs, ranked.
10. “The Late Great Golden State”
Kentucky-born Yoakam found his earliest success in Los Angeles in the 1980s, right as the punk scene there began exploring the Bakersfield and Laurel Canyon legacies with “cowpunk.” His cover of the Blasters’ “Long White Cadillac” looks back to those times. Another way Yoakam paid tribute to California came through this interpretation of a Mike Stinson song.
9. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
The most successful example of Yoakam looking outside the works of country legends for song material remains his honky tonk re-imagining of Queen. It’s easy in a post-Bob Dylan and Sgt. Pepper’s world to value songwriters above all else, but really it’s a country music tradition for singers to add their own voice to some of their favorite popular songs.
8. “Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)”
Yoakam adds a little Spanish flair, in the spirit of Marty Robbins, in this original composition. It’s a great reminder of the international influences that shaped the sound of country music over time. Plus, it’s the title track from one of Yoakam’s definitive Reprise Records albums.
7. “I Sang Dixie”
Yoakam took this original composition to the top of the Billboard singles chart in 1989. Country fans then responded in droves to a heart-wrenching tale of a Southerner dying alone on the streets of Los Angeles. His only solace came from a stranger, willing to speak words of encouragement after singing a few familiar bars of “Dixie.”
6. “Suspicious Minds”
Yoakam often visited the music of a fellow Southerner with an IMDB page for his acting chops. “Suspicious Minds,” a definite statement of Elvis Presley’s post-‘68 Comeback Special output, further resounds with country music audiences in the hands of Yoakam. Two other Presley covers, “Little Sister” and “Mystery Train,” are just as memorable.
5. “Thousand Miles From Nowhere”
The jewel of Yoakam’s 21st century output rocks like a Roy Orbison single. It’s a Yoakam original, in line with all the great songs about the broken hearted’s struggle to focus on anything else. It’s the right blend of memorable guitar riffs and sadly relatable lyrics, in the mold of some of Merle Haggard’s best-loved songs.
4. “Little Ways”
To create the next best thing to Buck Owens’ Capitol Records output, Yoakam mirrored an all-time great’s vocal delivery and lyrical preferences. This memorable cut from 1987’s Hillbilly Deluxe album served as a sign of things to come. Yoakam was a year away from finding himself forever joined at the hip with Owens’ latter-day musical legacy.
3. “Honky Tonk Man”
Only Marty Stuart makes as much a point as Yoakam to teach fans about country music’s rich past. Yoakam came right out the gate informing while entertaining. One of his first career-defining singles directed listener’s attentions to this song’ s original performer, the late Johnny Horton.
2. “Streets of Bakersfield” (with Buck Owens)
Yoakam’s first chart-topper and greatest CMA Awards memory rejuvenated the career of his hero, Buck Owens. This dream collaboration from 1988 taught listeners a couple of lessons. First, Owens deserved to be recognized as more than just the guy from Hee Haw. Further, fans got a friendly reminder that Bakersfield once offered a creative alternative to the Nashville sound.
1. “Guitars, Cadillacs”
The opening statement of Yoakam’s ongoing career, and the introduction of his strikingly cool image, remains his most resounding. The Bakersfield-influenced “Guitars, Cadillacs” remains synonymous with Yoakam’s career, and for good reason. It sums up a country singer with an appreciation for other forms of pop, from Elvis Presley to Elvis Costello.