While a lot of country music singer’s voices are judged positively for their similarity to Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Tubb or fellow “Amanda” singer Waylon Jennings, the late Don Williams‘ songs just sound like Don Williams. The stocky Texas native, known for years as the Gentle Giant, added to the list of definitive vocalists with his smooth yet commandeering bass-baritone delivery.
A traditionalist before Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis made traditionalists cool, there’s something old-fashioned and innocent about Williams’ love songs from the ’70s and ’80s. If Grandpa had thought up the lyrics to “Listen to the Radio,” “It Must Be Love,” “Love Me Over Again,” “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” “Nobody But You,” “That’s the Thing About Love,” “Love is on a Roll” or the less innocently-titled “(Turn Out the Light and) Love Me Tonight” or “Lay Down Beside Me” back in the day, he would’ve sung them to Grandma without starting a neighborhood scandal. Even with his old-fashioned values, Williams made songs that were relevant in Nashville in the ’70s and ’80s. He racked up quite a few CMA — including 1978’s Vocalist of the Year — and AMA awards for his impact on the pop and country charts.
It’s not easy to narrow down a Country Music Hall of Famer’s 17 chart-toppers and numerous other memorable songs to a list of 10. Think of these picks as evidence that Williams was the proverbial good guy in a white hat, riding in country music’s increasingly cutthroat and pop-friendly rodeo.
10. “Rake and Ramblin’ Man”
Edgy by Williams’ standards, this partially-narrated tale about a free spirit tells of a man with the common sense to know that he wouldn’t make a reliable father.
9. “Til The Rivers All Run Dry”
At a time when many of the best singers and songwriters shone as acoustic-based performers, Williams wowed listeners with this gentle co-write.
8. “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend”
Although most of Williams’ songs about love involve a happy beginning, middle and end, his husky voice also lent itself to tales of the broken-hearted.
7. “You’re My Best Friend”
Early in his solo run, Williams sang of an anchor in life’s ocean that could be a spiritual analogy, aside from the opening verse’s mention of a wedding band.
6. “Good Ole Boys Like Me”
Another can’t-miss song type tells of its singer’s simpler childhood and the ageless value of those other trusty Williams boys — Hank and Tennessee.
5. “I’m Just a Country Boy”
Only Ricky Skaggs and John Denver shouted louder, prouder pronouncements of their down-home credibility.
4. “If I Needed You” (with Emmylou Harris)
3. “Tulsa Time”
Despite all of this talk of old-timey love ballads, Williams made a resounding impact on the future of country music’s relationship with West Coast rock ‘n’ roll with this 1978 single.
2. “I Believe In You”
For proof that Williams was a home-spun chart-topper in what was already an increasingly pop-friendly business, search no further than this lone top 25 pop single.
1. “Lord I Hope This Day is Good”
Finding contentment in life, yet still praying for a few more earthly blessings, spoke to country audiences from the earliest pickers in the Appalachian Mountains to the music of the various modern acts to grow up hearing Williams’ albums.