Tanya Tucker songs have captured the imagination of fans ever since she took "Delta Dawn" to the Top 10 of the country music charts at age 13.
In the 50-plus years since, she's reinvented herself more than once to keep up with the times without abandoning the devil-may-care attitude at the heart of her broad appeal.
From her first No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart (1973's "What's Your Mama's Name") to mile markers in her creative evolution (1986's "One Love at a Time," from comeback album Girls Like Me), she's stayed true to herself. Along the way, she inspired such current acts as Brandi Carlile, who co-produced the album that won Tucker her first Grammy Awards: 2019's While I'm Livin'.
With decades of experience comes a back catalog of potential "greatest hits" candidates from 25 albums and multiple live collections (namely Live at Billy Bob's Texas and Live From the Troubadour).
As often happens with these lists, what's the best and where it ranks among other great songs is a matter of opinion. It will always be hard to narrow down highlights from a catalog like Tucker's, so think of these 12 cuts as entry points to a legendary and ongoing career driven by a true rebel's raspy, instantly-recognizable singing voice.
12. "[Without You] What Do I Do With Me"
The title track of a 1991 album that brought us four Top 5 singles help set the pace (along with the hits on 1990's Tennessee Woman) for a third decade of chart dominance. Plus, it's a stellar example of Tucker's skillset as a sensitive balladeer.
11. "Blood Red and Goin' Down"
Classic '70s album What's Your Mama's Name helps define an early career marked by story-songs about heavy subject matter. On this No. 1 single, she tells a believable story of family drama and murder through the eyes of an adolescent.
10. "My Arms Stay Open All Night"
Tucker's mighty voice morphed to fit whatever tempo or production techniques suited the time. Indeed, her talent as a song interpreter shined as bright when country music pivoted towards its '90s boom as it did when she was a teenage sensation.
9. "Love Me Like You Used To"
Though the great Johnny Cash recorded it first for his 1985 album Rainbow, it took Tucker to immortalize this co-write by Paul Davis and Bobby Emmons.
8. "Lizzie and the Rainman"
Tucker achieved '70s film soundtrack vibes with a single fittingly inspired by Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn classic The Rainmaker. It's a song previously recorded by UK rockers The Hollies, making it another good song made great by the right singer.
7. "Strong Enough to Bend"
Mandolin accompaniment, gorgeous harmony vocals and uplifting lyrics by elite songwriters Beth Neilsen Chapman and Don Schlitz set apart this No. 1 from 1988 as a high point in Nashville's pre-Class of '89 neo-traditionalist moment.
6. "What's Your Mama's Name"
Another highlight of Tucker's early career tackles very heavy topics, from absentee fathers to accused pedophiles. It's one of many dark, realistic stories co-penned by should-be Country Music Hall of Famer Dallas Frazier.
5. "It's a Little Too Late"
When rock and classic country-inspired songs lit up the charts during a storied and lucrative moment in the genre's history, few caught as many ears as this loud, sassy and pop-accessible hit from 1992's Can't Run From Yourself.
4. "Texas (When I Die)"
Tucker's rocking TNT album included this honky-tonk tribute to her home state. It's one of many great songs that likens beautiful, bountiful Texas to the sweet by-and-by.
3. "Two Sparrows in a Hurricane"
Tucker left a mark on a new era of sentimental country hits with this tale of a shared love built on a solid foundation and structured to withstand potential heartbreak. Despite being Tucker's third-best song, it stalled at No. 2 on the country charts because of George Strait's equally crucial "I Cross My Heart."
2. "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)"
Though renegade singer-songwriter David Allan Coe wrote this somber plea for romantic fulfillment, Tucker made it her own with one of the best --if not the best-- vocal performances of her career.
1. "Delta Dawn"
Oftentimes, nothing quite matches the impact of a star's breakthrough hit. Teenage Tucker's jaw-dropping cover of a song she learned from the great Bette Midler remains a groundbreaking moment in country music history.
Honorable mention songs: "I'll Come Back as Another Woman," "I Won't Take Less Than Your Love," "Down to My Last Teardrop," "The Man That Turned My Mama On," "Just Another Love," "Pecos Promenade," "San Antonio Stroll," "One Love at a Time," "Don't Go Out" (T. Graham Brown duet), "Tell Me About It" (Delbert McClinton duet), "Little Things," "Bring My Flowers Now," "Can I See You Tonight," "If It Don't Come Easy," "No Man's Land," "Here's Some Love," "Love's The Answer," "If Your Heart Ain't Busy Tonight" and "Ridin' Rainbows"
This story previously ran on Dec. 26, 2020.
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