Signature Country Music Songs

American Icons, Celebrities, Featured Article
on February 24, 2008
Robert K. Oermann Collection Jonny Lee's album "Lookin' for Love"

Every singer hopes to find the perfect song, the one with a melody you cant get out of your head, lyrics that make you laugh or cry, or just a catchy beat that sets your toes to tapping. When a great song meets the right singer, the results can be extraordinary.

Each of the singers featured here has been blessed with such a song. For some, the tune made them famous; for others, it blasted an already-thriving career into the stratosphere. Here are 10 unforgettable country songs and the people who brought them into our hearts.

Johnny Lee
Lookin For Love

To find just the right song for Johnny Lee to sing in the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy, a Paramount Pictures executive took the singer to a hotel room filled with boxes of tapes from hopeful songwriters. I think the good Lord blessed me, because within the first 10 or 20, I pulled out this song called Lookin for Love, recalls Lee, who now lives in Branson, Mo., with his teenage son. At 61, Lee continues making new music and performing oftenand he still enjoys singing Lookin for Love. Lots of people wish they had something like that, he says. I do, and Im proud of it.

T. Graham Brown
Hell and High Water

T. Graham Brown and songwriter Alex Harvey came up with Hell and High Water during a writing session at Harveys home in Nashville, Tenn. Both men were moved to tears as they created the musical pledge of devotion, but neither knew just how special the song was until they played it for Harveys wife and she burst out crying. Georgia native Brown (whose T initial stands for Tony, short for his first name of Anthony) quickly saw the 1986 song become his first No. 1 hit. Now 53, Brown still is in demand. His latest album, The Present, features versions of uplifting pop and rock classics.

The Kendalls
Heavens Just A Sin Away

The odds were stacked against 1977s Heavens Just a Sin Away becoming a hit. The father-daughter duo of Royce and Jeannie Kendall recorded it quickly, then released it as the B-side of another 45-rpm single. But DJs started flipping the record over, and before long the Kendalls had a certified smash. The song went on to hit No. 1 and win Single of the Year honors from the Country Music Association. Maybe we had a little angel on our shoulder, says Jeannie Kendall, 53, whose father died of a heart attack in 1998. It seems like no one has tired of the song, to this day.

Bobby Goldsboro

Bobby Goldsboro first heard the heartbreaking ballad Honey in 1968 when its writer, Bobby Russell, played him a version recorded by another singer. A week later, Goldsboro asked Russell to find him something like Honey, but instead wound up simply recording the song himself. The result sold a million copies during its first three weeks in stores. In recent years, Goldsboro has shifted into television as the creator of the childrens series The Swamp Critters of Lost Lagoon. But the Florida native, 67, now devotes much of his time to art; hes a successful painter whose oil landscapes have been shown across the nation.

Mel McDaniel
Babys Got Her Blue Jeans On

Mel McDaniel figures the enduring appeal of his 1984 smash Babys Got Her Blue Jeans On is pretty simple. Just about everybody wears blue jeans of some kind, and everybody loves those girls in em, he quips. McDaniel, who splits his time between homes in Nashville, Tenn., and Weber Falls, Okla., loves the song so much he included a new version on his latest album, Reloaded. Its incredible, what this song has done for me, says McDaniel, 65. A lot of things you dont have any control over. You just hope and pray that youre going to stumble in the right direction and happen onto something.

Lynn Anderson
Rose Garden

Lynn Anderson first heard Rose Garden as a rendition by the man who wrote it, Joe South. She knew the song would work for her, but she had a hard time convincing anyone else. She hounded then-husband and producer Glenn Sutton by playing the song endlessly at home and at the office until he finally agreed to help her record it. The result was a five-week No. 1 blockbuster in 1970. The longtime resident of Taos, N.M., 60, continues to record. She earned a Grammy nomination for 2004s The Bluegrass Sessions, and last year teamed with her mother, songwriter-publisher Liz Anderson, for an album titled Cowgirl.

John Anderson

John Anderson and co-writer Lionel Delmore knew they had something when they got the idea for the lighthearted courtship ode Swingin, but they werent satisfied with the finished song. Even at the recording session, John tweaked the tune between takes. In fact, he wasnt certain the song was good until he heard the finished product. Swingin topped the chart in 1983, sold more than a million copies and won the Country Music Associations Single of the Year award. Johns career remains in full swing today. The 53-year-old Florida natives recent Easy Money album hit the Top 40.

Janie Fricke
Hes a Heartache (Looking for a Place to Happen)

Janie Fricke recalls being thrilled to learn that her 1983 chart-topper Hes a Heartache (Looking for a Place to Happen) was a particularly big hit with truck drivers. I can just see them driving down the highway, turning up Hes a Heartache, she says with a chuckle. Its got a great beat to it, so Im sure that helps them drive. Fricke has lived in Lancaster, Texas, for more than 25 years. She doesnt perform often, but when she does, Hes a Heartache is always a highlight. It really gets em going, says Fricke, 60, whos working on a new album. They get really revved up.

David Frizzell and Shelly West
Youre the Reason God Made Oklahoma

After David Frizzell formed a duo with his sister-in-law, Shelly West, the two found themselves turned down by every record label in Nashville, Tenn.that is, until actor Clint Eastwood heard their song Youre the Reason God Made Oklahoma and decided to include it in his 1981 movie Any Which Way You Can. It quickly became the first of six Top 10 hits theyd enjoy together. West, 49, the daughter of late country superstar Dottie West, since has left the music business, but David, 66, the younger brother of the late Lefty Frizzell, continues to record and perform. Last year, he embarked on his Silver Anniversary Tour, celebrating his quarter century of success in country music.

Lee Greenwood
God Bless the USA

Lee Greenwood began performing for American troops on overseas USO tours when he was a teenager. Wherever I went, Id heard people say, Im proud to be from France, or, Im proud to be from Italy, recalls Greenwood, 65. It had been a long time since Id heard somebody say, Im proud to be an American. So Greenwood said it in song by writing God Bless the USA. It was a Top 10 hit in 1984, and its stature has only grown in the decades since. This song will live after my life is over, Greenwood says.