Rolling Stone‘s list of “50 Country Albums Every Rock Fan Should Own” is at times spot-on, at times questionable.
If there was ever any doubt that Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison would take the top spot on Rolling Stone‘s list of “50 Country Albums Every Rock Fan Should Own,” let’s put that to bed right now. Cash’s landmark album was about as sure a thing as teenage girls flocking to the next Florida-Georgia Line concert.
Cash also took the eleventh spot on the list with his American Recordings. In between, Rolling Stone does a good job of, obligatorily, mixing up the generations. The Top 10 records place as follows:
10. Miranda Lambert – Revolution
9. Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes
8. George Jones – The Best of George Jones 1955-1967
7. Merle Haggard – I’m a Lonesome Fugitive
6. Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colors
5. Patsy Cline – The Definitive Collection
4. Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger
3. Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western
2. Hank Williams – 40 Greatest Hits
And, of course, Live at Folsom Prison at number one.
Here’s where the list gets questionable. Patsy Cline, Ray Charles and even, to a certain extent, Red Headed Stranger, would fit much more comfortably in a jazz or blues list. Yes, they are legendary albums. They are just out of place on a list of albums that would appeal to rock fans.
Otherwise, the reliance upon greatest hits collections and live albums almost seems to indicate that Rolling Stone chose artists who didn’t have an album strong enough of standing alone, or the editors were too reluctant to commit to one. The Hank Williams and Patsy Cline records are fantastic collections, but they almost seem like taking the easy way out.
Instead the editors could have chosen to be a little bolder, and dug a little deeper into country’s rocking past. Tanya Tucker’s TNT earned her a Grammy for best female rock performance in 1979. The Drive-By Truckers don’t fit neatly into one musical genre because they are so appealing to fans of both rock and country. Shooter Jennings took his father’s rock persuasion to heart.
Some highlights of the list include Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., (22), the Mavericks’ What a Crying Shame (46) and Eric Church’s Chief (26), which is pretty much the very definition of a country album that would appeal to a rock fan. As if to prove the point, Rolling Stone quotes Church as saying, “”We played Lollapalooza and I was stunned at how p****y 90 percent of those bands were.”
Other artists on the list that feel like a good fit for a rock crowd include David Allen Coe, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Johnny Paycheck and Jerry Reed. And, of course, no list of country rock albums would be complete without Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road (20).
Among the female artists on the list that deserve a nod are Lambert, Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn, the Dixie Chicks and Bobbie Gentry.
A few questionable selections include Randy Travis and Faith Hill’s Cry (35). Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman (24) is also a slight head-scratcher. The rest of the list is filled with middle-of-the-road, folk-tinged and pop albums with a smattering of classics thrown in so as not to offend anyone.
Hayes Carll’s KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) (47) is the list’s only foray into Americana or Texas and Red Dirt country, genres that have enough rock appeal to fill up a lists of their own. If we are doing live albums, James McMurtry’s Live in Aught-Three is an education into rock-tinged country.
All in all, Rolling Stone‘s “50 Country Albums Every Rock Fan Should Own” is solid if not spectacular. A country fan, however, should hope that the editors of Rolling Stone be a little bolder and dig a little deeper. This article is a response to their previous “50 Rock Albums Every Country Fan Should Own.”