25 Country Songs That Were Almost Hits

Paul W. Dennis | May 27th, 2010

Recently, country music blog My Kind of Country published an article about some of the genre’s most notable near-misses–songs that stalled at the #2 position on Billboard’s Country Charts. While I suppose it is disappointing for an artist to almost reach the top, the fact remains that any song that reaches the Top 10 is a hit.

Not reaching the Top 10, however, is another matter. Many radio stations eliminate from oldies play (or refuse to take requests to play) any song that fails to reach the Top 10. I suppose that in the digital age, storage is not an issue (or at least not as much of an issue as constricted play lists), but in the days of vinyl 45s and cassette singles, storage was a real issue for many stations. Therefore, the real disappointment for an artist was to get marooned at #11 or #12–and thus have his/her record pulled from the station’s library.

Being marooned at #11 or #12 may not have been the kiss of death for a Reba McEntire, George Strait or Babara Mandrell song–the station may have kept keep the song around just because of the identity of the artist. But what if your career record died out at #11 or #12?

Let’s take a spin around the real “broken heartland” (with no apologies to Joe Nichols).

  • 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of Hank Wi25. “Lost Highway” – Hank Williams

    Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” and “Mansion On The Hill” may be the most famous songs ever to miss the Top 10–both pulled up at #12 in 1949.

  • 20 All-Time Greatest Hits24. “How Far is Heaven” – Kitty Wells

    If we were to judge by the number of amateurs attempting to tackle a song, “How Far Is Heaven” would surely come in as one of the all-time classics. Alas, it only reached #11 for Kitty Wells in 1956.

  • 23. “This Old Man and his Horn” – Gene Watson

    Gene Watson is probably one of the finest male vocalists the genre has ever had. Two of my personal favorites–1977’s “The Old Man and His Horn” and 1978’s “Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All The Time”–both peaked at #11.

  • Columbia Country Classics Volume 2: Honky Tonk Heroes22. “Who Will Buy The Wine” – Charlie Walker

    Charlie Walker had a few Top 10 hits, but 16 of his 25 chart records finished outside the Top 30. One of the genre’s better honky-tonk records was the 1960 hit “Who’ll Buy The Wine,” which reached #11.

  • 21. “Life Turned Her That Way” – Mel Tillis

    “Life Turned Her That Way” reached #11 for Mel Tillis in 1967–his biggest record up to that point after a decade of trying. It would take another year or two, but eventually his career would hit top speed. Ricky Van Shelton took the song to #1 in 1988.

  • Lone Star Beer And Bob Wills Music / Truck Drivin' Man20. “Lone Star Beer And Bob Wills Music” – Red Steagall

    Many a bar band has played “Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills Music,” the career record of Red Steagall which reached #11 in 1976. Steagall is probably better remembered as the man who discovered Reba McEntire.

  • RCA Country Legends19. “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” – Sons Of The Pioneers

    Other than “Cool Water” and “Back In The Saddle Again,” there isn’t a more well known modern cowboy song than “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” Oddly enough, it only charted for one week in 1948, placing at #11 for the Sons of the Pioneers. It should be noted that the Sons had recorded the song previously (in 1934) before there were any Billboard charts–either pop or country.

  • Super Hits18. “Where Is My Castle” – Connie Smith

    Connie Smith is the greatest female vocalist ever to grace the genre. She had many Top 10 hits as well as pair of #1s. My favorite of her songs–the Dallas Frazier-penned “Where Is My Castle”–wasn’t one of them, however: It reached only #11 in 1971.

  • The Lord Knows I'm Drinking17. “Between Lust and Watching T.V.” – Cal Smith

    Sandwiched between a pair of number one records, Cal Smith’s 1974 release “Between Lust and Watching TV” only reached #11. I’ve always felt it was one of the best existential country records ever.

  • 16. “I’m Having Your Baby” – Sunday Sharpe

    Sunday Sharpe was born in Orlando in 1946. I don’t know what happened to her, but her first and biggest chart hit, “I’m Having Your Baby,” (an answer song to Paul Anka’s big pop hit of 1974), reached #11.

  • Greatest Hits15. “Catfish John” – Johnny Russell

    Johnny Russell was a successful songwriter and performer for many years. His biggest hit was “Red Necks White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” which reached #4 Billboard/#1 Cashbox in 1973. The next biggest hit after that was “Catfish John,” which reached #12 in early 1973.

  • Live at Billy Bob's Texas14. “Who Do You Know In California” – Eddy Raven

    “Who Do You Know In California” is one of Eddy Raven’s best remembered and most requested songs. Strangely enough, it only reached #11.

  • 13. “Forgive and Forget” – Eddie Rabbitt

    Eddie Rabbitt had many fine records, but two of my favorite of his tracks come from 1975 in the form of “Forgive And Forget (#12) and “I Should Have Married You” (#11). The real breakthrough occurred with his next single, “Drinking My Baby (Off My Mind),” which climbed all the way to the top of the charts.

  • The Essential Ray Price12. “Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me” – Ray Price

    Ray Price made many great recordings during his long and distinguished career. For whatever reason, his superior version of “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me” died at #11 in 1966. He remade the song as a duet with Willie Nelson in 1980, and guess what? Again, it stalled at the eleventh place on the charts. The song went to #1 for Ronnie Milsap in 1989, but his version can’t touch either of the two Ray Price recordings.

  • Loretta Lynn's Greatest Hits Volume II11. “Wings Upon Your Horns” – Loretta Lynn

    In one of the greater disparities between the Billboard and Cashbox country charts, Loretta Lynn’s 1969-70 hit “Wings Upon Your Horns” died at #11 on the former but reached #1 on the latter. According to Billboard, Lynn had 11 solo #1 records and 5 duets with Conway Twitty–11 more of her records reached #1 on Cashbox and/or Record World’s country charts.

  • 10. “Black Velvet” – Robin Lee

    Stardom never happened for Robin Lee, although her cover of “Black Velvet” almost broke through for her in 1990, reaching #12.

  • 9. “Little Arrows” – Leapy Lee

    I still have difficulty believing that Leapy Lee’s 1968 hit “Little Arrows” only reached #11. You simply could not escape from the song during October and November of that year, as every station was playing it (it reached #16 on the pop charts). The song reached #2 in Great Britain, #1 in Canada, Australia, Denmark and 15 other countries–while selling an estimated five million copies in the process.

  • 8. “Don’t It Break Your Heart” – Con Hunley

    Con Hunley never had a Top 10 hit, although he charted 25 times. The closest he got to smash was 1985’s “What’s New With You” which peaked at #11 early in the year.

  • Heritage & Legacy7. “Truck Driving Man” – George Hamilton Iv

    “Truck Driving Man” is one of the most familiar and commonly played songs in country music, especially by bar bands. But the closest it got to being a big hit was George Hamilton IV’s 1965 recording, which reached #11.

  • Tom T. Hall - Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher6. “The Monkey That Became President” – Tom T. Hall

    Tom T. Hall had many hits, but perhaps his most interesting song was 1971’s “The Monkey Who Became President.” The song stalled out at #11, but it asked a very important question: Would you rather have a monkey up in Washington DC, or have those people making monkeys out of you and me? It’s a question still worth asking today.

  • 5. “The Morning After Baby Let Me Down” – Ray Griff

    Ray Griff was a tremendously popular songwriter whose songs were recorded by many American artists. He also had many major hits in his native Canada, with 44 charted singles and eight Top 10s. In the United States, only “The Morning After Baby Let Me Down” (#14), “You Ring My Bell (#16) and “If I Let Her Come In” (#11, #1 in Canada) cracked the Top 20.

  • Shame, Shame On Me (I Had Planned To Be Your Man) / Bluest Heart4. “Bluest Heartache Of The Year” – Kenny Dale

    Kenny Dale did have one Top 10 song, but it is two 1977 numbers–each of which reached #11 (“Bluest Heartache of the Year” and “Shame Shame On Me”)–for which he is best remembered. For the life of me, I don’t know why “Bluest Heartache of the Year” wasn’t a massive hit.

  • 3. “Haunted House” – The Compton Brothers

    It never did happen for The Compton Brothers, although brother Harry did have some success as a songwriter. 1969’s “Haunted House” got to #11–and the follow up, “Charlie Brown,” to #16–but no more Top 20 hits were to follow.

  • Greatest Hits2. “Hopelessly Yours” – Suzy Bogguss With Lee Greenwood

    Suzy Bogguss eventually broke through, but she had to be discouraged when only one of the first eight songs she released to radio broke the Top 20. A 1991 pairing with then-current (but fading) star Lee Greenwood looked like it might pay dividends, but “Hopelessly Yours” died at #12–as did her solo follow up, “Someday Soon”.

  • Best Of The Best1. “Bright Lights And Country Music” – Bill Anderson

    Following a string of Top 5 records, Bill Anderson hit a skid in 1965 and 1966 when “Certain” (#12), “Bright Lights and Country Music” (#11) and “Golden Guitar” (#11) all pulled up short. Fortunately for Whisperin’ Bill, the B-side of “Golden Guitar” was “I Love You Drops,” which DJs discovered and pushed to #4.

  • 0. “It’s Time We Talked Things Over” – Rex Allen, Jr.

    A fine song that died at #12. Rex never really caught on in a big way, scoring only five top tens hits. His three biggest peaked at #8.

1 Ping

  1. [...] eventually.  The point is, record labels need hit singles to make money.  They don’t like “mights”.  If a song “might” be a hit, they’ll rarely take the chance.  That’s why [...]
  1. nm
    May 27, 2010 at 9:20 am

    You are eeeeeevil. I had managed to repress all memories of “Little Arrows” and now they have returned. That’s cold.

  2. Josh
    May 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

    All of the selections are way too old for my taste and definitely years before my time. But nonetheless an interesting spin on the “spacial needs for CD/vinyl rotations”. It is assumed by the author then that all of radio hits now are compiled on iPods and are thus more diverse in rotation…if only this was actually true. As is mentioned throughout this blog for several years: radio only focuses on the top 10 and neglect anything else. Sad but a worthy point of discussion.

  3. Trent
    May 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Also worth noting, not for quality though, is “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” by Kenny Chesney. It is probably one of his best known songs but only reached #11.

  4. Drew
    May 27, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I’d probably put the first song on the list (Hank) at the end of it. “Lost Highway” is the biggest song on there.

  5. Benny
    May 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    nice selection including many forgotten older artists.. I always thought “Who Will Buy the Wine” and “Truck Drivin’ Man” made it higher since they’re pretty much standards. I agree that nothing beats Ray Price’s version of “Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me” – what a great Hank Cochran song..

  6. Nicolas
    May 27, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Sara Evans’ “As If” only reached #11, which was a disappointment for me because that song could’ve easily been a #1 hit.

  7. Anna K
    May 27, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I’m still surprised George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning” never hit the top spot. It peaked at #4 in 1983.

    Granted it hit #1 on the Canadian charts…

  8. Rick
    May 27, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Wow, I’m only familar with a few of these songs as most weren’t included in Time-Life “Classic Country” CD compilations. (Well, at least not the ones up through the 1960’s anyway. I kind of lose interest after that until the mid 1980’s.)

    That Tom T. Hall song has got me thinking that ole Tom may be a gifted prophet and seer along the lines of Nostradamus! If ever there was a song written to describe the Obama presidency years before his tragic election, that is it!

  9. idlewildsouth
    May 27, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    I hadn’t heard of Bobby Lee until I read this post, then Jason Blume mentioned her and this song in one of his songwriting books I’m currently reading.

  10. luckyoldsun
    May 27, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I thought when I saw the Tom T. Hall title that it sounded like something that a racist would give a new meaning to–and embrace–today, and I turned out to be right. I must be Nostradamus!

  11. Bob
    May 28, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Love the Suzy Bogguss – Lee Greenwood duet. I’d like to see Suzy and Gene Watson get together for a duet.

  12. Dusty Dee
    May 28, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I had to take my shoes off and get my brother to come help me, but isn’t that 26 songs?

  13. Emmy
    May 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    I must admit to not knowing any of these songs. Granted, I’m too young to have heard most on their first go-round. But I listened to a classic country station for two years, and don’t recall any of these being played, which goes to show – year after the fact, nobody plays a song that didn’t hit the top ten.
    I do remember the Suzy Bogguss song Someday Soon, which I still think is a fabulous song.

  14. Paul W Dennis
    May 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I should mention that I did not rank these in the article – even now, they are simply in inverted alphabetical order. Of these records “Little Arrows” was the biggest seller globally, and it sold pretty well in the US as well. The two Hank Sr. songs would probably follow next along with the original release of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”, a huge seller in 1934, allegedly (or unofficially) a million seller

    Tom T Hall was pretty liberal so I suspect that he approves, at least partially, of the Obama presidency. I’m sure the TARP program appalled him, however

  15. Lewis
    May 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    “Someday Soon” has been around a long time. In 1969, it was a pop hit for Judy Collins who wrote the song and in 1982 it was a country hit for Moe Bandy.

  16. nm
    May 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Ian Tyson (of Ian and Sylvia) wrote “Someday Soon.”

  17. luckyoldsun
    June 2, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Tyson wrote quite a few great songs–including Four Strong Winds.

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