I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

Who Sang 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' Better: Johnny Cash or Al Green?

Numerous Hank Williams standards, including "Lovesick Blues," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Jambalaya" and "Hey, Good Lookin'," got covered heavily over the years by artists seeking to celebrate Williams' songs or establish their classic country bona fides. Yet of all of Williams' hits, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" stands out the most for its awarding array of cover versions, performed by early influencers of rock, pop and country music as well as more modern acts.

Williams' original recording, with its familiar opening line about the lonesome whippoorwill, stands the test of time and deserves consideration as one of the saddest songs ever. It features accompaniment from Pleasant Valley Boys members Zeke Turner (lead guitar), Jerry Byrd (steel guitar) and Louis Innis (rhythm guitar), plus Tommy Jackson (fiddle) and Ernie Newton (bass).

Despite not cracking the Billboard charts upon its release, the former B-side's pretty much untouchable nowadays in the eyes and ears of artists and critics, as reflected by its 112th ranking on Rolling Stone's 2011 roundup of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Numerous Nashville stars have recorded the song, with it appearing on Williams tribute albums by Charley Pride and others. It's also been a good excuse for superstar team-ups, from George Jones and Randy Travis' duet version to Sara Evans' more recent collaboration with the Old Crow Medicine Show. Even NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw recorded it during his mid-'70's shot at crossing over to country music.

Country and folk-adjacent rock acts dig it, too, with Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell (as alter-ego Hank Wilson), Tracy Nelson and The Cowboy Junkies acknowledging the song's greatness over the years. Crooners and easy listening artists have flocked to it as well, with Dean Martin and Rosemary Clooney adding it to their country covers repertoires.

Best of all, guitarist and composer John Scofield transformed it to a jazz instrumental for his masterfully-titled 2016 album Country For Old Men.

To better establish the song's timelessness and cross-genre appeal, let's take a closer look at five noteworthy interpreters who, like Williams, left indelible marks on popular culture.

BJ Thomas

BJ Thomas impacted country, Christian and rock music throughout a career that should be defined by more than his 1968 hit "Hooked on a Feeling." His other noteworthy recordings include this 1966 Williams cover which set the bar high for future interpretations.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley added to the song's lore by performing it during his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite television special. The King introduced his version by saying, "I'd like to sing a song that's... probably the saddest song I've ever heard."

Read More: Why Country Music Fans Love Elvis Presley

Al Green

Secular and sacred music icon Al Green came closer than anyone else listed here to matching the palpable sorrow and pain in Williams' original.

Little Richard

In a case of real recognizing real, Little Richard, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's inaugural class, added his own spin to a soulful tune by Williams, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame's inaugural class.

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash's history with the song included a late life duet with fellow genre-defiant songwriter and performer Nick Cave. It appears on the final album released during Cash's lifetime, 2002's American IV: The Man Comes Around.

This story originally ran on May 12, 2020.

"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" Lyrics

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry