Whether he sang ’50s country ballads or the Nashville Sound, Jim Reeves songs defined class for future generations of crooners.
The Texas native’s career spanned from a late ’40s radio gig to his tragic passing in a 1964 plane crash. A regular gig with the Louisiana Hayride led to Reeves’ prolific run of singles. During his mainstream run, Reeves found success with everything from his contemporary’s greatest hits (“Have You Ever Been Lonely,” “(Every Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I,” “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You,” “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” and Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You”) to folk standards (“Danny Boy”), Christmas carols (“An Old Christmas Card,” “Jingle Bells”) and gospel classics (“Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” “It is no Secret (What God Can Do).”
It’s hard to narrow down an American pop music legend’s best material to a list of 15, but this roundup of some of his biggest hits at least serves as a sold jumping-off point into a lengthy, musically diverse career.
15. “Anna Marie”
Reeves flexed his crooner skills and his multi-lingual talents with this slow-moving number that helped establish him as a talent on the same level as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Ray Charles and others from an era blessed with a deep cross-genre list of great singers.
This early career hit captures the playfulness of past singing cowboys and hillbilly family groups. For another example of Reeves’ sense of fun, check out “Blue Boy.”
13. “Billy Bayou”
Reeves cut hits at a time when a lot of great songwriters hustled to be discovered in Nashville. Among them was Roger Miller, the jokester behind this light-hearted hit.
12. “Mexican Joe”
Another early single from Reeves is like a honky-tonk piano version of a would-be Marty Robbins hit about a character from South of the Border.
11. “Am I Losing You”
As this list makes clear, Reeves’ voice suited country songs as the business replaced steel guitars and close harmonies with string sections and pop-friendly backup singers.
10. “I Love You Because”
Reeves delivers, as usual, as a love song balladeer. What stands out most is the gentle string accompaniment that makes this one of the most beautiful Nashville studio arrangements of its time.
9. “According to My Heart”
The best pre-Nashville Sound Reeves recording has got to be this galloping good time that previewed the singer’s future as a love song crooner.
8. “I’m Gonna Change Everything”
For something a little more old-fashioned, here’s a song of heartbreak that’s more of a Tex-Mex and honky-tonk blend than a crooner classic. Not even Luke the Drifter cried enough to water-log a carpet!
7. “I Won’t Forget You”
Reeves’ masterful performance with this string-driven country ballad demonstrates why he, along with Eddy Arnold and Ray Price, had the right voice at the right crooner-centric time.
6. “I Won’t Come in While He’s There”
While some of these higher-ranking picks seem obvious, this one might be a tad underrated as both a Reeves classic and an all-time great country song about divorce. The lead character asks the same question as another Reeves song title: “Am I That Easy to Forget?”
5. “Blue Side of Lonesome”
Reeves masterfully described broken-hearted despair as well as any country singer ever has on this posthumous hit, penned by the great Leon Payne–author of Hank Williams’ haunting “Lost Highway.”
4. “Distant Drums”
A gorgeous studio creation from ’60s Nashville, this soldier’s ballad with a hint of impending doom eerily became one of the singer’s posthumous hits.
3. “Four Walls”
There was a lot of sadness to go around for songs about walls, of all things, during Reeves’ prime. For those of us who grew up in church, does this weeper not sound like an invitational hymn with secular lyrics?
2.”Welcome to My World”
Timing was everything for Reeves’ second-greatest song. Had any number of the artists to later cover it–including Dean Martin and Elvis Presley–cut it first, it’d be one of their top-five tunes instead. The Ray Winkler and John Hathcock love song was that much of a sure thing in a golden age for pop singers.
1. “He’ll Have to Go”
Few opening lines in country music history pack the same punch as “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone.” It’s in that early ’60s jazz-pop mold that suited Pasty Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and other classic examples of the Nashville Sound.