Steve Earle songs, solo and with backing band The Dukes, range from "My Old Friend the Blues" and other masterpieces from his time as a young Nashville songwriter to classic rock radio standard "Copperhead Road" and such recent, politicized material as "Christmas in Washington." Each phase of Earle's career proved why he earned the respect of fellow Texas troubadours Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.
Earle's so prolific that pretty much anyone's top 10 will leave out multiple worthy songs. For example, the following career-spanning rundown skips over the Earle-penned Travis Tritt cut "Sometimes She Forgets;" Copperhead Road's "Johnny Come Lately;" Exit 0's "The Week of Living Dangerously," "Nowhere Road" and "I Ain't Ever Satisfied;" '90s favorites "Justice in Ontario," "Telephone Road," "Billy Austin," "The Other Kind," "Fort Worth Blues," "Taneytown" and "Ellis Unit One;" and 21st century standards "John Walker's Blues," "Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)" and "The Revolution Starts Now." Just like that, there's enough songs for a top 25, and even our extended list would skip a lot of worthy selections.
Read on for 10 great songs by one of country music's greatest creative minds, then let us know your favorites in the comments.
10. "Outlaw's Honeymoon"
This one's among the solid cuts from The Mountain, a collaborative bluegrass album featuring the Del McCoury Band. It barely gets the nod here over another classic from the same album, "Graveyard Shift."
The title track from Earle's 2002 album further established him as a wordsmith capable of exposing society's ills through whip-smart allegories.
8. "Hillbilly Highway"
This toe-tapper from the Guitar Town album could've been a fun song for Dwight Yoakam or any number of '90s country stars he inspired with his West Coast country-rock sound.
7. "Goodbye's All We've Got Left"
This stomper's not to be confused with the solemn "Goodbye" from Earle's 1995 folk masterpiece Train A Comin'. Together, they shed light on both the rocker and the poet.
6. "Sweet Little '66"
Don't let all this talk about Earle's talents as a poet and his takes as a political thinker overshadow that his cover of "Six Days on the Road" and the 1990 original "This Highway's Mine" aren't the San Antonio native's only recordings that're simply about cruising down the highway.
5. "The Devil's Right Hand"
One of the better cuts off Copperhead Road has lived an interesting life as a cover song. Waylon Jennings cut it two years in advance for the 1986 album The Wolf Will Survive. Jennings' version inspired two noteworthy recordings: one by his fellow Highwaymen in 1995 and another by Bob Seger in 2014.
4. "The Galway Girl"
Earle's love of American and Irish folk music and his ability to write for the here and now never crossed streams as beautifully as they did for the best cut off the 2000 album Transcendental Blues.
3. "Feel Alright"
This one's likelihood to get stuck in listener's heads for days became very obvious after Miranda Lambert borrowed enough from it for "Kerosene" that she added Earle as a co-writer.
2. "Copperhead Road"
Earle's always excelled while singing about downtrodden veterans ("Good Ol' Boy (Gettin' Tough)") and desperate measures ("Mercenary Song"), and that's never been clearer than on this classic rock radio staple that gets name-dropped in song by pop-friendly Nashville stars.
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1. "Guitar Town"
This early career classic remains Earle's highest-charting single (a No. 7 hit) on the US and Canadian charts. In a case of real recognizing real, Emmylou Harris added Earle's greatest hit to her own songbook.