I was talking to some friends after a show, and was asked who my five favorite country stars were. Without thinking, I named George Jones, Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard. After a few moments of reflection, it occurred to me that I wanted to add more – Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams, and so on – but before I could say another name, my friend Dani pointed out that I had not named a single woman. I sheepishly acknowledged that she was right, and named Norma Jean, to which others added Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn.
The next day, I couldn’t shake my embarrassment at having skipped an entire gender. I started drafting this list in my head. I went through a few iterations of titles, but decided to take Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments about women on the Supreme Court (when will there be enough? “When there are nine.”) and apply them to the best country singers. Why a “Best Of” list comprised entirely of women rather than a “Best Women in Country Music” list? Because too often, “Best Of” lists are entirely men.
You might notice some things about this list. A number of songs are popular songs sung by men rewritten from the perspective of the woman in the situation. Kitty Wells had a number of these “response songs,” though the most famous is “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels,” a response to Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life.” Others, like “Jolene” and “Fist City”, direct anger to other women rather than to the cheating man. Still others, like “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” define the singer by her relationship to a man. My point is, these aren’t modern feminist anthems. They are, however, incredible songs sung by The Best Country Singers Of All Time.
p.s. this is a Rub Wrongways curated playlist – a new project of our record label. Check out the other great Spotify playlists made by Rub Wrongways artists.