Taylor Swift may be hot stuff right now, but her songs are going to have to stand the test of time before she can be listed with the 10 greatest country songwriters of all time.
- Merle Haggard. Merle Haggard is the greatest living country artist, and in addition to being a distinctive singer, he's also one of the best country songwriters of all time. The loneliness of "Silver Wings" and the regret expressed in "Mamma Tried" offer just two examples of this man's extensive catalogue. He may not have turned 21 in prison, as stated in the lyric to "Mamma Tried," but he nevertheless did a little hard time. In other words, he's experienced most everything—both good and bad—that he's written about.
- Willie Nelson. It's sad how many only know Nelson because of his endless stream of duet partners and affinity for weed. Yet this man wrote "Crazy" for Patsy Cline, and—much like The Beatles and The Beach Boys—composed a full concept album with "Red Headed Stranger."
- Johnny Cash. This man in black wrote a song called "The Man In Black," as his way of speaking for America's forgotten ones. And any song with a line like, "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die," as Cash did with "Folsom Prison Blues," deserves our undying gratitude.
- Kris Kristofferson. Although both Willie and Johnny tried their hand at acting, Kristofferson became a legitimate movie star. But let's not forget "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," which cements Kristofferson's place in the all time best country songwriter realm. When he sings, "I woke up this morning, with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt," everyone that's ever had a hangover whispers a heartfelt "amen!"
- Hank Williams, Sr. It's been said that old Hank only knew three guitar chords. But just think about all he did with such limited resources! "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" has become a pop standard, in addition to being a great country song, because Williams' work transcended the genre.
- Dolly Parton. Parton may be the eternal butt of big boob jokes, but underneath all that big hair and makeup is the best female country songwriter of all time. Just listen to "Coat Of Many Colors," and you'll know exactly what we mean.
- Loretta Lynn. If Parton is the best female country songwriter of all time, Loretta Lynn is a close second. It's not for nothing that The White Stripes' Jack White produced one of her CDs.
- Harlan Howard. Harlan Howard is one of the few members in this greatest country songwriters club that didn't have success singing his own songs. But with memorable hits for others, like "Heartaches By The Number" and "I Fall To Pieces," reveal a talent just too good to ignore.
- Tom T. Hall. Tom only had a little more solo success than Harlan Howard. And perhaps his best song, "Harper Valley PTA," was a hit for someone else, Jeannie C. Riley.
- Waylon Jennings. Jennings was a proud pioneer of the country outlaw movement, and his "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" is a worthy call to make sure country artists respect their roots.
What Others Are Reading Right Now.
13 Things to Look Forward to in Your 30s
You’ve probably been told that your 20s will be the best years of your life. As someone in their 30s, I can tell you honestly that nothing could be further from the truth. Here are ...
Acting, comedy and strong spirits converge in Speakeasy. When host Paul F. Tompkins interviews entertainers—Key and Peele, Alison Brie, Rob Delaney, Zach Galifianakis—about all sor ...
10 Things to Talk About This Weekend
Ebola, Brad Pitt, and giant spiders.