By now, you have probably seen a thousand lists devoted to the best rock albums ever made, but one rarely finds this type of list for country LPs, especially one that attempts to examine the entire history of the genre and all of it's many branches. Although I'm sure I'm leaving many great albums out, I am trying to do my part to correct the general media bias against country albums.
One thing that I should point out is that, as with rock, many of country's greatest artists often strove to release great singles rather than great albums and that many of the all-time greats of the genre such as Jimmie Rodgers, the original Carter Family, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, etc. existed in an era of three-minute 78rpm records. Since I have opted to not include compilations, artists from both categories are missing from my list to a large extent. Maybe after I finish, I will do a post titled "The Top 25 Artists Not Featured on the Top 100 Albums in Country Music History."
I will also note that I included only artists who billed themselves (or were billed by their labels) as country artists for the majority of their career (with one or two possible exceptions). That means that artists like Woody Guthrie and Doc Watson are missing, as are Southern rockers such as The Charlie Daniels Band. This is not meant as a slight, as I will be the first to admit that there are some albums by all three artists which are better than some of the albums on my list.
Like any list, I'm sure that there will be some disagreement regarding my picks and the order I place them in. I look forward to a lively discussion in the comments section.
100. Willie Nelson- Sings Kristofferson (1979)
When this album was released in 1979, Kris Kristofferson's acting career was at it's peak, with Kris working for such acclaimed directors as Martin Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah and appearing in hit films such as A Star is Born. If nothing else, this album from a man who was then at the peak of his popularity as a recording artists, may have helped re-introduce the music of one of the genre's three best songwriters, but it is the performances themselves that really stand out here. Willie performs nine Kristofferson tunes here in his own distinctive style, ranging from the well-known hits like "Me and Bobby McGee" and "For the Good Times" to lesser known gems such as "You Show Me Yours (And I'll Show You Mine)" and "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends." Perhaps the best song here is a seven-minute rendition of "Sunday Morning Coming Down," which is every bit as great as the better-known Johnny Cash version.
99. Guy Clark- Old No. 1 (1975)
Like the debut albums of Kristofferson and Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark's debut was an album that Nashville's top performers would continue to draw from for years afterward, cementing Clark's place as one of the top songwriters in the business. This was also one of the most important albums of the Texas school of singer-songwriters and an important building block in what would later be known as alt. country or Americana.
98. LeAnn Rimes- Blue (1995)
Say what you will about LeAnn Rimes, but there's no denying that her career had a very promising start. Produced by the legendary Owen Bradley, the major label debut of then 13-year-old Rimes was a breath of fresh air for fans of traditional country and still stands as one of the best albums released in Nashville during the '90s.
97. Stonewall Jackson- Help Stamp Out Loneliness (1967)
From one of the most underrated country performers of all time, Help Stamp Out Loneliness should be listened to by any aspiring county singer for a primer on how it's done. Rare for a country album in this particular era, there's not even a hint of filler. Instead you get two sides of some of the purest honky tonk ever released.
96. Tennessee Ernie Ford- Sings Civil War Songs of the South (1961)
Possessing one of the finest voices in all of music, Tennessee Ernie Ford built his reputation in the sub-genre known as "hillbilly boogie" until he found national fame with hits such as "Sixteen Tons" and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett." By the time this 1961 album was released, his albums were heavily produced and orchestrated and he had increasingly began to focus on gospel music, but that didn't stop him from delivering a sincere set of songs from the Confederacy.
95. Rosanne Cash- Seven Year Ache (1981)
Coming when outlaw country was already a thing of the past and before the neo-traditional school led by Randy Travis, John Anderson, and George Strait took hold, Rosanne Cash's second album was the very rare record that manages to satisfy both country and rock audiences without sacrificing anything. Producer Rodney Crowell was already seen as one of Nashville's hottest songwriters, but this album proved to a mainstream audience for the first time that he knew a thing or two about making records as well, leading to his own success as an artist.
94. Elvis Presley- Elvis Country (I'm 10,000 Years Old) (1971)
Coming on the heels of his '68 comeback and his iconic 1969 Memphis sessions, the King of Rock 'n' Roll continued the journey back to his roots by covering everybody from his contemporary Jerry Lee Lewis to influences such as Bill Monroe and Bob Wills to up-and-comers like Willie Nelson and Anne Murray. With legendary guitarist James Burton behind him, Elvis was at the peak of his vocal power at the time and would never make an album quite this good again.
93. Kris Kristofferson- Border Lord (1972)
If Kris Kristofferson's third album fails to reach the heights of the first two, who cares? Few albums do. Here he plays several of his minor classics such as "The Burden of Freedom," "Kiss the World Goodbye," and "Gettin' By, High and Strange" and the presence of his road band and the extensive touring between albums had increased his confidence as a performer.
92. Chet Atkins & Merle Travis- The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show (1974)
With Jerry Reed joining them on rhythm guitar, both the student (Atkins) and the master (Travis) pick and reminisce through 11 songs, providing a rare opportunity for listeners to hear three of country music's greatest guitarists on one album.
91. Travis Tritt- Country Club (1990)
While neo-traditionalists such as George Strait and Randy Travis attempted to update the sound of Merle and Lefty for a new generation, Travis Tritt released this debut album that owed just as much to Lynyrd Skynyrd as Waylon and Willie. From hits like "I'm Gonna Be Somebody" to mission statments such as "Put Some Drive in Your Country" and the title track, Tritt proves on this debut album that he was a force to be reckoned with and reminds us of what a real tragedy it is that he didn't outsell some of the more pop-influenced acts of the '90s. If he had, country radio would be a hell of a lot more listenable today.
That's it for this week. Come back next Thursday for numbers 90-81.