I originally got hooked on country music in the late 1970s. Not the twang of Hank and Merle, but that new sound emerging at the time, "country pop" or "countrypolitan" as some labeled the genre. More Alabama and Restless Heart, less Porter Wagoner, Tammy Wynette and Whisperin' Bill Anderson.
At that time, much of the "new" country reminded me of what I had grown up listening to at the junior high- and senior high-age level, the classic and bubble gum rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which eventually gave way to — ugh — disco. That's about the time the "new" country music grabbed my ear.
I've drifted away from country in recent years, preferring to frequent those classic rock and oldies channels on my radio dial. But I'll never forget those 20 or so years when Alabama and Alan Jackson were on my must-listen list. During that time, I also learned to appreciate a few of the country stars from yesteryear, too.
Here's my all-time top 10 country songs:
1. "YOU WERE ALWAYS ON MY MIND" by Willie Nelson: The red-headed stranger's version is even better than the one Elvis gave us. Few singers could make a grown man weep, but Willie was — and still is — one of that select few. And isn't that what country music is all about — cryin' in your beer? (Or Mountain Dew, of course.)
2. "OLD FLAME" by Alabama: The best country band ever. Randy Owen was the perfect lead singer at the perfect time for the band that personified that "new" country sound.
3. "I'M ALREADY THERE" by Lonestar: I'm convinced it is impossible not to cry — at least a little — when you hear this classic. Interestingly, I think this song has more of an emotional impact on the radio or CD, rather than "seeing" it performed. The words have more of an impact if you don't try and follow along with the pictures. Normally, a picture is worth a thousand words, but not in this case.
4. "SOMETHING IN RED" by Lorrie Morgan: Don't tell my wife, but I still have a crush on Lorrie Morgan, who was the No. 1 ticket among female country singers for about a five-year period 20 years ago.
5. "I WAS COUNTRY WHEN COUNTRY WASN'T COOL" by Barbara Mandrell: From the lady who have us "You Can Eat Crackers In My Bed Anytime."
6. "HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY" by George Jones: Kind of old school, but a great, great classic. I always tried to figure out who used more hair spray, the ol' Possum or Dolly Parton?
7. "LOVE IN THE FIRST DEGREE" by Alabama: The Beatles of country music deserve to have two songs in the top 10. I saw Alabama in concert a couple of times during their heyday, and they were worth every penny of the ticket.
8. "SOME MEMORIES JUST WON'T DIE" by Marty Robbins: This was Robbins' only hit in the "modern" era of country music, and it was tremendous. Another artist who passed away long before he should have. He always seemed to me to be the kind of guy you'd want to invite over on a Saturday afternoon to watch Ohio State beat the living crap out of Michigan in a college football game.
9. 'WANTED" by Alan Jackson: It's ironic, at least to me, that Alan Jackson complains about the old country sound being gone, yet the "new" country is what made him his fame and fortune.
10. "REDNECK GIRL" by the Bellamy Brothers: "Redneck girl got the name on the back o' her belt" might be my most favorite line in any song by anyone. I had a tough time deciding between this Bellamy Brothers song and my equally favorite, "You Just Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie."