The Hodgepodge: What Song Defines Country Music to You?


It made it’s debut a few weeks back and now it’s back again. That right, this is an Ask The Readers Hodgepodge. It’s quite simple: I pose a question to you the readers and in the comments below we will discuss what our answers would be to the question. Sometimes it will be a yes or no question, but most times it’ll be something a little more detailed. This second Ask The Readers Hodgepodge will be quite subjective and should have a variety of answers.

If you had to choose one song, what song defines country music to you?


  • This song can be from any era at anytime. Just be prepared of course to defend your choice, as someone will always be naturally curious as to why you chose a song.
  • There are no wrong answers, just like the previous Ask the Hodgepodge.
  • And of course feel free to pick songs for other genres if you feel like it, as we’re all music fans first.


As far as my answer for this question, the song I would pick that I feel defines country music is Townes van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty.” There have been many versions of this song, but I would have to pick Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s version as my favorite. The reason I would choose this song is it just has everything that a perfect country song should have. It was written by one of music’s greatest songwriters of all-time and performed by two of the best artists in the genre’s history. The song explores death, sadness and grief with some of the best storytelling you’ll ever hear in music. The instrumentation perfectly conveys the melancholy nature expressed by the lyricism in the song. To my ears it’s the perfect country song, defining the rich tapestry of the genre.

I would also highly recommend Jason Isbell and Elizabeth Cook’s version of the song, which is quite excellent too.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow William Michael Morgan will release his highly anticipated debut album Vinyl.
  • Also tomorrow the legendary John Prine will release his new duets album For Better, or Worse.
  • Aubrie Sellers new album New City Blues will be re-released through Warner Bros. Nashville tomorrow. “Sit Here and Cry” is going for adds at country radio on October 17.
  • Strap yourself in for October because it’s going to be a very busy month of releases, starting next Friday when the following albums are released:
    • Shovels & RopeLittle Seeds
    • Mo PitneyBehind This Guitar
    • Brent CobbSolving Problems
    • Matt WoodsHow To Survive 
  • Josh Abbott Band’s new single is “Amnesia” and it’s going for adds at country radio on October 17.
  • The Last Bandoleros released a self-titled, six song EP via digital services last week.

Throwback Thursday Song

Gary Stewart – “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” – I feel like a lot of week’s I’m picking too many well-known acts and songs so this week I wanted to find a deeper cut from the past. Stewart is sort of unsung when discussing the best country artists of the 70s, but he shouldn’t because his music is excellent. This is his biggest hit and one of my personal favorites.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial – So this is an album and group I’ve been hearing a lot about from fellow music fans and critics. It’s received widespread praise and finally I got around to checking it out. Well now I know why it’s getting so much praise. I’m not usually a big fan of emo indie rock, but the songwriting on display on this album is impeccable. Turns out Teens of Denial is the 10th studio album and 13th overall album by Car Seat Headrest and they’ve only been a band for six years. That’s insane! Check these guys out.

Tweet of the Week

The picture he’s referring to is John Prine hugging Isbell after he won Americana Song of the Year for “Something More Than Free” at the Americana Awards last week. I would be pretty damn happy to get a hug from a legend too.

A Spot-on Review of Luke Bryan’s New EP


Luke Bryan released a new EP for his annual farm tour and predictably it’s not good. The only difference between it and his usual studio albums is here he thinks he can pander to farmers and the working people of America because I’m sure they see the millionaire artist who now sings about the clubs and dresses like a Nordstrom model as someone they can relate to (wanking motion). This listener above wasn’t fooled though and rightly calls him out.

33 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: What Song Defines Country Music to You?

  1. seak05 September 29, 2016 / 11:11 am

    Do we have an official add date for Blake’s new single yet? Seems weird that we don’t? since it was announced a couple weeks ago.

    WMM and Cobb in back to back weeks makes me a happy fan.


    • Josh Schott September 29, 2016 / 11:37 am



      • seak05 September 29, 2016 / 11:39 am

        That’s what I thought….at this rate it’s going to hit the top 30 (ok top 50) before it officially impacts.


  2. Amanda September 29, 2016 / 11:17 am

    Hi Josh! Will you be reviewing the WMM album? I’m interested in seeing your thoughts on it. I feel as if it’s going to be fantastic, and probably the best mainstream album all year.


    • Josh Schott September 29, 2016 / 11:38 am



  3. FeedThemHogs September 29, 2016 / 11:26 am

    If I had to pick a song to define the genre, I would go with David Allen Coe’s ‘The Ride.’ Can you make folks cry when you play and sing? Can you bend those guitar strings? Have you paid your dues? The ones that can answer yes to these questions can usually truthfully say that they make good country music.

    Great throwback song. That’s mighty lonesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Will September 29, 2016 / 11:43 am

    My first thought was ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ because it’s both iconic and features some of the best songwriting in country music. For me, the first modern songs I heard that heard that represent this level of songwriting are Sugarland’s ‘Stay’ and Miranda Lambert’s ‘The House that Built Me’.


  5. Umran Haji September 29, 2016 / 11:57 am

    When I think of what “defines” country music, I think of classic Nashville honky tonk, and the song I would pick would be “That Heart Belongs to Me” by Webb Pierce. It has an interesting mix of emotions that make it so representative of country; the speaker’s concern about a possibly cheating lover gives it all the heartache of a classic “drinkin’ and cheatin'” song, while the fact that it is sung with such a happy-sounding melody makes it uplifting and charming in a way only country music can be.

    If Webb Pierce’s voice is too hard to handle, there are of course plenty of great covers of this song; I recommend the version by George Jones and the one by Hank Snow.


  6. Kim September 29, 2016 / 12:03 pm

    Country music at its best meets a few criteria: Poetic songwriting. Authentic roots — none of this pick-up truck pop pandering that I hear so often. Rich instrumentation, even if it’s dirt simple. A voice quality that just couldn’t belong to another genre. An honesty that makes you alternately want to sob or cheer and think, yes, that’s how we live and love. It’s easier for me to think of artists than song titles. Randy Travis. Dolly Parton. Yes, to Will, with so much of Miranda Lambert. Little Big Town. Dixie Chicks (I know, I know).


    • FeedThemHogs September 29, 2016 / 1:15 pm

      100% agree with everything here.


  7. That Guy September 29, 2016 / 12:06 pm

    For some reason, the first song that comes to mind when I think about what country music means to me is “Where the Green Grass Grows” by Tim McGraw. From the fiddle riff that starts the song off to the rich imagery of the verses to the soaring melody of chorus to McGraw’s earnest every-man delivery to even the alliteration of the hook; it’s a surprisingly layered “simple” song that yearns for a complication-and-drama-free life with the person you love. But what’s more, it’s accessible and catchy and draws you in instead of making you work for a payoff. That’s what I want in my country music.


  8. Frank the Tank September 29, 2016 / 12:35 pm

    “Pancho and Lefty” is a great choice.

    Off the top of my head, without spending to much time thinking about it, I would have to pick between “The Long Black Veil” or “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” for many of the same reasons that Josh chose “Pancho and Lefty.”


  9. petemarshall724 September 29, 2016 / 12:44 pm

    I have 2 good country songs Hank Williams “Your Cheatin’ heart” and Conway Twitty “Hello Darlin'” they both sound so country and they are very good songs. George Hamilton IV “Abilene” is also a good song. any George Strait, Patsy Cline, Merle haggard, and George Jones songs are good.


    • petemarshall724 September 29, 2016 / 11:15 pm

      I also like:
      Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison Blues”
      Waylon any of his songs
      Willie Nelson “Blue Eyes crying in the rain”
      Gene Watson 14 carrot mind”
      Johnny Paycheck “Take this job and shove it”
      I can’t chose just one good country song I almost all of good real country songs!


  10. T-Dub September 29, 2016 / 1:03 pm

    Impossible! Some of my finalists would be:

    Folsom Prison Blues
    Chiseled in Stone
    Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain

    and for the ultimate underground country song ever a couple of nominees of mine would be Hippies and Cowboys by cody jinks and Hurt Somebody by the dirt drifters


  11. seak05 September 29, 2016 / 1:24 pm

    Ok, so country music to me is a lot about the feelings and memories it invokes. So here’s mine “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, not because I think it’s any great shakes country though. I am an Orioles fan, and they play that song every home game during the 7th inning stretch. So every time I hear that song it invokes memories of home, good times with family and friends.

    Beyond that my actual answer changes depending on my mood. Generally though it’s songs where I enjoy the lyrics, they have a societal message, and some good fiddlework.

    And hey Brent Cobb’s new album is npr’s first listen today, so that’s what I’m currently listening too (it’s good).


  12. Cobra September 29, 2016 / 1:53 pm

    Wow…picking one song is tough. I guess gut reaction would be George Strait’s “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.” It’s got everything you could ask for in a country song: heartbreak, loneliness, loss, and a great country instrumentation and production.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. martha September 29, 2016 / 1:58 pm

    “Coal Miners Daughter”. Loretta is so authentic and genuine with her songwriting and I think that’s what makes a great country song.Another one that comes to mind is “El Paso” simply for the great story telling.


  14. Amanda September 29, 2016 / 2:20 pm

    Probably “The House That Built Me”. It has fantastic writing and great instrumentation. It also tells an honest, heartfelt story that everyone can relate to and get behind.


  15. warthog123 September 29, 2016 / 2:58 pm

    Eh, it’s hard for me to pinpoint one song for this, so I’m gonna cheat and pick three.

    1. “Can the Circle be Unbroken” -The Carter Family…no explanation needed.

    2.”Just to Ease my Worried Mind” – Roy Acuff…everytime I hear this song, it makes me think of the rich history country music has.

    3.”Belle of the Ball” – Waylon Jennings…not only my favorite Waylon song, but my favorite song of all time, in any genre. Gives me chills everyone I hear it, and gives me a sense of pride at how great our little genre truly is.


  16. OlaR September 29, 2016 / 3:28 pm

    All Time: Hank Williams – I’m So Lonely I Could Cry

    Modern Era: Matraca Berg – Diamonds & Tears (The Thing Called Love Soundtrack)

    These dreams of mine these precious years
    Oh how they shine like diamonds and tears
    (Chorus-Lyrics / Source: Cowboy Lyrics)


  17. Brett September 29, 2016 / 5:56 pm

    Man! What a tough subject. Ive got plenty runnin through my mind, but i always come back to a Merle Haggard song. To me the man was the definition of what country is, a should be. Waylon, Willie, Hank, Johnny, etc. I love them all, but the Hag takes this one. The song im gonna go with is Swinging Doors. Drinking songs are no strangers to country, but its not just the alcohol that works in the songs. Its the pedal steel, twanging telecasters, back bass beats. And above all the pain and anguish in the lyrics. “Swinging Doors, jukeboxes, barstools, and neon signs.” This one has it all.

    Close runner-ups: The Door is Always Open- Waylon Jennings or Jamey Johnson version, and Together Again- Buck Owens or Emmylou Harris


  18. John Tyler September 29, 2016 / 6:12 pm

    Unknown Hinson’s entire catalogue.

    In all seriousness though, for me, it has to be Nobody In His Right Mind, the George Strait version. The sense of heartbreak, the emotion, the mournful steel. To me it defines the genre for the most part.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Tyler September 29, 2016 / 6:50 pm

      That or Desperados Waiting for a Train.


  19. Derek Hudgin September 29, 2016 / 9:10 pm

    Oh man, I don’t think I could pick just one. But twist my arm, put a gun to my head, and I’ll have to pick “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” It’s hard to pick against Hank Williams in a case like that.

    “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
    “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
    “Cruise” (just kidding!)

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Jonathan September 29, 2016 / 9:39 pm

    Something by Johnny Cash. Probably “Folsom Prison Blues.” Attitude and story telling that grabs your attention and sticks with you.

    I was surprised y’all didn’t mention the new Drive-By Truckers album dropping tomorrow. A number of their songs, particularly the Mike Cooley contributions, fit the criteria, at least in my mind, of a great country song (See “Cartoon Gold” for instance).

    Anyway, love the site and the conversations you guys are having. Keep up the great work.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. lorenzofloris96 September 30, 2016 / 9:48 am

    I’d say “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” by Travis Tritt. I know it’s a Darrel Scott cover but I always thought Tritt’s version is the essence of what country music means to me: perfect instrumentation, carefree melody and optimistic lyrics make it my favorite country song ever.


  22. Kent September 30, 2016 / 1:29 pm

    Sorry if I’m a bit late…

    Instead of Just a song that I believe define Country Music I’ve taken the liberty to use A video instead there Jamie Lin Wilson sings “South Texas Girl”.

    First of all it’s “Country songwriting” at its very best. And Jamie sings this wonderful song with so much heart and passion. You can really hear how much she loves this song. What I’m trying to say is: The song AND her heartfelt way to sing it…. This is to me what defines Country Music.

    I know I bent the rule a little and wish I was much better at expressing myself…


  23. Scotty J September 30, 2016 / 2:02 pm

    I’m going to go by decade here:

    1930s: ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart’ Patsy Montana (1935). The very first major hit by a ‘girl singer’ in what is now known as country music.

    1940s: ‘Walking The Floor Over You’ Ernest Tubb (1941). Generally considered the first honky tonk song this stands the test of time 75 (!!!) years later. One of the greatest country songs ever.

    1950s: ‘If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time’ Lefty Frizzell (1950). The debut single for arguably the greatest honky tonk singer of them all. Unlike Hank Williams Lefty continued to live and saw his career wane as his personal demons ate him up but he was nearly on par with Hank in those peak years.

    1960s: ‘Make The World Go Away’ Eddy Arnold (1965). Originally recorded by Ray Price the Arnold version has become the definitive performance of this great song that has come to personify the Nashville Sound that dominated most of the 1960s in country music.

    1970s: ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain’ Willie Nelson (1975). The song that kicked Willie’s career into high gear and was his first #1 after bouncing around for over a decade.

    1980s: ‘Forever And Ever, Amen’ Randy Travis (1987). Very few songs have had the influence on country music as this one. It kickstarted the trend that would bring Keith Whitley, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and others to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s and may have single handedly saved country music from the malaise that had engulfed it.

    1990s: ‘Gone Country’ Alan Jackson (1995). An amazingly prescient song that still speaks truth over 20 years later. This is a great example of a song touching a real nerve in a genre and that has allowed it to stand the test of time. Written by one of the greatest country songwriters of all time Bob McDill (wrote Don Williams ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me’ and Pam Tillis ‘All The Good Ones Are Gone’) this perfectly encapsulates country music from the mid 1990s onward.

    2000s to now: Not enough time has passed to judge what will stand out for me. Standing the test of time is the best gauge of songs greatest for me.


  24. theknightswhosayni4 September 30, 2016 / 3:22 pm

    Blackberry Smoke is also releasing a new album in October!


  25. Tyler De Jong October 1, 2016 / 3:47 pm

    Ian Tyson: M.C. Horses. A song about horses that is about passing time, loss, celebration, memories, sung by a silver voiced cowboy.

    I could have chosen most any of his songs though.

    Funny thing, I hated him whenever my Dad played him when I was young. It wasn’t until I moved to Manitoba, started a family and grew the hell up that I got it.

    Oh and most anything by Corb Lund.


    • Frank the Tank October 2, 2016 / 2:47 pm

      Another great choice! Corb Lund’s version of “M.C. Horses” is also excellent.

      I felt the same thing about Dwight Yoakam when I was young. My mom was a fan, but I wasn’t at all until I grew up and figured it out (he’s now one of my favourites).


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