It's your job to pass on these great songs to the next generation.
While Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, and Rascal Flatts may dominate country radio these days, they owe their careers to the strumming, twanging and yodeling of the artists who came before. Artists like Dolly, Johnny, Patsy, and Hank helped pave the way for artists like Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, and Florida Georgia Line—and there’s no doubt that they respect their elders. Take the kids on a trip into country music history with this list of 11 classic country songs that every kid should know:
1. “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton
While the title sounds biblical, Parton pulled a story out of her own past to write this beautiful song, telling audiences that this was "a true story about a little patchwork coat my Momma made me from a box of rags." When Dolly became famous, the coat was put on display at the Dollywood Museum so kids could come learn about Parton’s real life rags-to-riches story.
2. “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” by Hank Williams
There are few songs that can make you both want to sing and make you hungry, but Hank Williams managed it with “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”. The song is an ode to Cajun life and is one the country legend’s most popular tunes.
3. “You Don’t Know Me” by Ray Charles
Charles may be best known for his bluesy soul music, but this country tune went all the way to number 2 on the charts. Charles thought blues and country were the most honest forms of music around. “Country songs and the blues is like it is," Ray Charles once told Rolling Stone, who put this song at number 7 on their list of 100 greatest country songs. If you don’t think Ray Charles belongs on a country music list, just think back to his iconic version of “Georgia on My Mind.”
4. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn
Lynn’s autobiographical tune about growing up in a coal-mining town in Kentucky just might remind kids that they don’t have it so bad after all. When she sings, “We were poor, but we had love,” it reminds us all that families can survive a lot of hardships if they have a lot of love to get them through.
5. “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
The Man in Black sure knew how to make an ominous country tune. He took the tune written by his wife June Carter and songwriter Merle Kilgore, added his pitch-black voice and an electric guitar and some horns and turned it into a hit. The song sounds like it’s an ode to acting naughty, which is why kids always love it so much.
6. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
While the song was written for West Virginia—even though neither Denver nor his co-writers the Danoffs had ever been there—it tugs at the heartstrings of anyone who has a little red-dirt country road in their heart. This song is perfect for singing along to with the windows down and voices raised.
WATCH: 10 Southerners Who Defined Country Music
7. “Keep on the Sunny Side” by The Carter Family
The Carter Family was a real family affair with A.P. and Sara Carter, and their sister-in-law Maybelle, and later her daughters Helen & Anita. Their unique guitar playing and harmonizing helped invent country music as we now know it. Their classic song “Keep on the Sunny Side”, which appeared in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a good reminder for kids—and adults— to focus on the positive.
8. “New San Antonio Rose” by Bob Wills
Back in 1938, Texas swing star Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys recorded the song “San Antonio Rose.” Two years later, he recorded it again, adding a few more lyrics and removing some of the fiddles. “New San Antonio Rose” was an instant classic and kids are sure to want to emulate Wills’ trademark twang.
9. “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford
While this hard-working tune was written by Merle Travis about his coal-mining father, but Tennessee Ernie Ford made it his own. Not only is this song fun to sing along to, but it is a great teaching opportunity to talk to your kids about hard work in the mines or in the office. Follow it up with Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It”.
10. “King of the Road” by Roger Miller
This is the perfect song to queue up for family road trips, not only because it’s topical, but because it is a lot of fun to sing along to while driving. Miller wrote the track while he was touring the country, playing his music in one state before moseying on to the next, and you can hear it in every note.
11. “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline
This was Patsy Cline’s first big hit and it helped turn the country crooner into a star. The song’s message of heartache and loneliness just might help soothe a middle school student’s broken heart—or at least give them something to sing at the school talent show.