Give it all the love you can, as “Stand by Your Man” tops CMT’s 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music. The ranked list was announced Wednesday (June 4) during an all-star concert highlighted by Martina McBride’s powerhouse version of Tammy Wynette’s country standard.
In between performances of the Top 12 classics, the remaining 88 songs were periodically revealed on gigantic screens hanging over the stage of the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville. The six-hour documentary and concert special debuts on Sunday (June 8) at 4 p.m. ET/PT.
If only in song, Wynette and George Jones were together again, as Jones’ heartbreaker “He Stopped Loving Her Today” ranked No. 2. Jones himself delivered the ballad after enjoying the first part of the show from the front row.
“Crazy,” a front-runner for the top slot, arrived at No. 3. Any female vocalist in Nashville — famous or not — would have been happy to sing the Patsy Cline hit, but the honor fell to American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke. A technical glitch forced Locke to sing it twice, and it’s surprising that nobody tugged at a camera cord just to hear her perform the Willie Nelson composition again. Controlled and poised, Locke stole the show. But one question lingered: Ruben who?
If those are mariachi horns you’re hearing, then it must be “Ring of Fire,” smoldering at No. 4. Marty Stuart surely played it hundreds of times on the road with Johnny Cash, but he and his new band, the Fabulous Superlatives, turned in a sizzling performance. Trace Adkins also offered a strong reading of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” at No. 5.
When Chris Cagle talks about how Garth Brooks has influenced his career, you can believe every word. By the time he strolled through the audience and into the rafters during “Friends in Low Places,” it wouldn’t have surprised anybody if he clipped himself to a wire and glided back to center stage with a maniacal look on his face.
LeAnn Rimes, who hosted the show with Brad Paisley, crooned “I Fall to Pieces,” the second Cline classic in the Top 12, and the fourth overall. (“Sweet Dreams” and “Faded Love” also made the Top 100.) One notch behind at No. 8, Glen Campbell himself revisited the fear of a Vietnam solider in “Galveston,” with musical leader Steve Wariner grinning on guitar and harmonizing to the poignant lyrics.
The piano rarely gets its due when considering the history of country music, but nobody could ever sing “Behind Closed Doors” without it. And if you’re tickling the ivories on that Charlie Rich classic, at No. 9, you gotta have some soul, too. Ray Charles fit the bill, and his interpretation was certainly a highlight of the night.
In an unusual pairing, Deana Carter and Sara Evans united on “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” at No. 10. (Their recorded version is slated to appear on an upcoming Waylon Jennings tribute album.) Although “Blue Moon of Kentucky” is considered more of a bluegrass staple, Vince Gill proudly sang the No. 11 song and noted that he was pleased to see the Bill Monroe classic ranked high in 100 Greatest.
Kenny Chesney got his start within a block of the arena, singing for tips in a rundown country bar where “Amarillo by Morning” was almost certainly requested once or twice. His rendition didn’t stray far from George Strait’s original, but he still presented it with conviction.
Taking a break from the countdown, Wariner and Paisley also dabbled in a few other songs in the Top 100 as No. 1 approached. And those songs — “King of the Road,” “Act Naturally,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” — appeared to be just as beloved, judging from the crowd’s happy applause.
The concert will air during the final two hours of the special and will re-air later in June.