30 Songs About Angels
Whether real or imaginary, the figure of the angel has wormed its way into all facets of country music. From church pews to bar stools, you just can’t escape these heavenly helpers…or the real life folks who may just look angelic.
The list of potential songs for this month’s playlist was quite lengthy, but after shedding blood, sweat, and tears here on The 9513 compound, we’ve narrowed it down to 31. Songs by Alabama (“Angels Among Us”), Tommy Shane Steiner (“What If She’s An Angel?”) and Iris Dement (“Infamous Angel”) barely missed the cut, but they—along with a few dozen others that didn’t make the list—are worthy of your time.
Give these songs a listen, but beware: an angel’s beautiful face can hide some pretty rotten behavior.
- 30. “Wild Angels” – Martina McBride
Perhaps the Martina McBride prominently featured in Country California’s Fake News needs a wild angel to watch over her Danzig covers and slurred diatribes, but real Martina? Probably not so much. We like this song anyway. We’d like it even more if Martina’s alleged wild angel spurs her to record a version of the Misfits’ “Last Caress.”
- 29. “When I Think About Angels” – Jamie O’Neal
O’Neal’s thoughts are all over the place on this supercatchy tune: Rain -> singing -> heaven -> angels -> you. Unfortunately, she missed the boat when it came to penning a sequel song about Ritalin improving her flighty concentration.
- 28. “Angel” – Jamey Johnson
Poor Jamey Johnson. Surveying the wreckage of love gone wrong only leads to more questions, the most important one being ”Am I shaking a devil that’s after my soul/Or sending an angel to hell?”
- 27. “Guardian Angel” – The Judds
My mother likes to say “the higher the hair, the closer to God.” If that’s true, then in their Aqua-Netted prime, Naomi and Wynonna were in spitting distance of the Almighty, not to mention the ancestors watching over them—probably through the hole all those cans of hairspray punched in the ozone layer—in this sweet song.
- 26. “From and Angel to a Devil” – Lefty Frizzell
Lefty traces the devious behavior of women all the way back to scheming Eve. Those Old Testament broads’ll get you every time. Don’t even get ol’ Lefty started on Noah’s daughters…
- 25. “Ten Thousand Angels” – Mindy McCready
The protagonist of this song needs a whole army of angels to keep her from going home with a bad guy. 10,000 angels is either overkill, or they’re all really ineffective guardians. Either way, perhaps a few dozen can be spared to keep an eye on the oft-troubled McCready.
- 24. “Send Down an Angel” – Allison Moorer
Moorer’s another one who needs supernatural protection against a jerk who does her wrong time after time. Must be one of the angelic subsets: cherubim, seraphim, antidouchebagaphim.
- 23. “Everyday Angel” – Radney Foster
Sometimes angels are just folks without wings, rising up to extraordinary occasions; in this case, those occasions include marching for civil rights and dying while attempting to rescue those trapped in the World Trade Center on September 11. In the hands of a lesser singer/songwriter, this is a topic that could be maudlin and emotionally exploitative, but Foster handles it with his typical skill.
- 22. “Your Angel Steps Out of Heaven” – George Jones
So you’ve married an angel and everything is perfect, right? Not so, says the Possum, because that angel has stepped out of the heaven you’ve built and is running around on you. Ouch. Better go see if you can borrow some of Mindy McCready’s angels.
- 21. “Angels in Waiting” – Tammy Cochran
“Angels in Waiting,” a Top Ten hit in 2001, is about Cochran’s twin brothers who died at a young age from cystic fibrosis, trading their sick bodies for angels’ wings. Because I’ve got handicapped siblings of my own, this song hits me on a personal level, and considering its success, it seems that “Angels” hit others in the grief bone as well.
- 20. “Angels Fall Sometimes” – Josh Turner
Sometimes angels fall. And then they marry Josh Turner, who sings about angels falling and marrying Josh Turner. It’s like one of those M.C. Escher pieces with the impossible stairs.
- 19. “You’re An Angel and I’m Gonna Cry” – Chris Thile
Mandolin genius Thile gets sensitive with this whisper-soft ballad from How to Grow A Woman From the Ground. A few lyrics might be a little emo for some (“I can’t have you/And I’m never gonna try” being one), but Thile—who was recently divorced around that time, which explains the emoness—and his skilled band of progressive pickers make it work.
- 18. “When Fallen Angels Fly” – Billy Joe Shaver
I could write a little blurb about this song, but I think the lyrics speak for themselves, especially when delivered by Billy Joe: ”God will save his fallen angels/And their broken wings he’ll mend/When he draws their hearts together/And they learn to love again.”
Sara Evans covers the same subject a little less deftly in another one of this month’s contenders, “Saints and Angels.”
- 17. “Sorrowful Angels” – Patty Loveless
What makes angels weep into their wings? Unrequited love. Also, the perpetual ineptitude of the Philadelphia Eagles come playoff time. No, wait. That’s what makes me weep.
- 16. “There’s A Honky Tonk Angel (Who’ll Take Me In)” – Conway Twitty
Somehow a honky tonk man can always find another woman to put up and put out. Hey, who could resist Twitty’s ‘fro and polyester wardrobe?
- 15. “Midnight Angel” – Miss Leslie and Her Juke Jointers
A cut from covers album Honky Tonk Revival, “Midnight Angel” has Leslie waiting up nights for her no account man to return home after his carousing as she despairs “It seems I spend a lifetime between midnight and dawn/Watching from my window for a cab to bring you home/Listening to the silence while waiting all alone/For my midnight angel to come home.” For the bluegrass types out there, Rhonda Vincent also does the song justice on All American Bluegrass Girl.
- 14. “Play Me The Waltz of the Angels” – The Derailers with Buck Owens
Ohh, this is a sad one. An old man requests “The Waltz of the Angels,” the song that was playing on the day he met his wife, and on the day he buried her. If you’re not listening to The Derailers—and really, you should be—the album this track came from, Full Western Dress, is a good place to start.
- 13. “Drunken Angel” – Lucinda Williams
I never saw that derelict in duct taped shoes, Blaze Foley, in person, but he must have been something special if he inspired such a wonderful song by alt-country’s matriarch.
- 12. “Angel of Death/Angel of Sin” – Hank Williams/Hank III
Those Williams boys ain’t much for the happier side of life. The elder, afflicted with crippling back pain and alcoholism, may have seen that angel in his rearview mirror that cold New Year’s Eve. The younger Williams welcomes his angel on this track from the appropriately named Straight to Hell to the soundtrack of lonesome pedal steel.
- >11. “Cowboys and Angels” – Garth Brooks
Did you know that there is a George Michael song with this very same title? Alas, only one qualifies as country enough for inclusion on the playlist, and this song, from Fresh Horses, is one of Brooks’ best. But I’d pay money to see a Wham! revival with Garth filling the role of Andrew Ridgely. Because, you know, Garth Brooks is so hard up for cash.
- 10. “When the Angels Carry Me Home” – Flatt and Scruggs
There’s a lot of bluegrass gospel, but this one ranks pretty close to the top of the list. Let’s hope Lester is riding the “heavenly glorious train” up there, and that it’s a whole lot nicer than Amtrak.
- 9. “Mountain Angel” – Dolly Parton
A seven-minute epic from Little Sparrow, “Mountain Angel” is another in a long line of amazing Dolly Parton songs. A young woman’s life is destroyed after a handsome, devilish stranger breaks her heart and mind, and the woman is left delivering a stillborn child. So then she goes crazy and after she dies, haunts the crap out of everybody. Trust me: it sounds a lot better coming from Parton. Most things do.
- 8. “The Angels Rejoiced Last Night” – Gram Parsons
It was a tough decision between this song and the equally wonderful “Return of the Grievous Angel,” but this tale of salvation eked out the win. Emmylou Harris’ harmony vocals here are the only proof I need of angels’ existence.
- 7. “Angel of the Morning” – Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez
Taylor, the author of this song, and fiddler Carrie Rodriguez turn this song about a one night stand into a gorgeous, aching duet on Live from the Ruhr Triangle. Sorry, Juice Newton, but this version leaves yours in the dust.
- 6. “The Waltz of the Angels” – Kitty Wells
Just about every country singer worth his or her salt has recorded “Waltz of the Angels,” and with damn good reason: it’s one of the finest love songs ever written. Kitty Wells does a mighty fine job here, but if her voice isn’t to your liking, there’s a thousand other versions for you to enjoy.
- 5. “Seven Spanish Angels” – Willie Nelson and Ray Charles
“Seven Spanish Angels” is like the perfect storm of songs. Amazing vocals from two musical juggernauts, solid instrumentation and production, and incredible lyrics all converged to create this masterpiece of love and death in the valley of the gun. If you haven’t heard it, first of all, Welcome to Earth! I hope you enjoy your stay on this planet. Second, go track down the song right now. The Top Four songs will be here when you come back.
- 4. “Angel Band” – Stanley Brothers
“Angel Band” is one of those seminal songs that everyone knows…of course, its inclusion on the O Brother soundtrack helped more than a little with the most recent generation of listeners. Ralph and Carter, who struggled with his own demons before his death in 1966, do good here.
- 3. “Angel From Montgomery” – John Prine
Need proof that John Prine is one of the best songwriters of the 20th century? “Angel from Montgomery,” from his 1971 eponymous album, is Exhibit A. There isn’t a word out of place, and the images Prine conjures up are simply genius (my personal favorite: “If dreams were lightning, thunder was desire/This old house would have burnt down a long time ago”).
- 2. “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” – Willie Nelson
Love’s the greatest healer of all for a broken angel. Though one day she’ll be cured and leave your side, it’s better to see her up than see her down. Embarrassing confession: when I heard Willie sing this one live in 2005, I sobbed like a tween at a Jonas Brothers show.
- 1. “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” – Charley Pride
If this song doesn’t put a smile on your face, chances are you’re missing a soul. Sweet, catchy, and expertly delivered by Pride in 1971, “Kiss An Angel” is one of country music’s best known and most beloved songs. And as far as personal tenets go, it’s pretty hard to beat “kiss an angel good morning/And love her like the devil when you get back home.”