Top 10 Most Important Country Albums



Top 10 Most Important Country Albums

Script by QV Hough

These are the classic album releases of a traditional American genre. Welcome to, and today we'll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Important Country Albums.

For this list, we're focusing not on the most popular albums of country music history, but rather those that progressed the genre forward.

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Top 10 Important Country Albums

These are the classic album releases of a traditional American genre. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Important Country Albums.
For this list, we’re focusing not on the most popular albums of country music history, but rather those that progressed the genre forward.

#10: “Foggy Mountain Jamboree” (1957)
Flatt & Scruggs

Just before the death of the late Buddy Holly and just after Elvis became a household name, this album emerged and reminded 50s America about the beauty of bluegrass. The weight of the names Flatt & Scruggs may be lost on the younger crowd, but the unique aesthetic of Foggy Mountain Jamboree revealed a couple masters at work, thus strengthening the familiar country genre as the pop industry rapidly changed. Recorded by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, who would late take on the name Foggy Mountain Boys, this album marked a pivotal moment in terms of accessible country music, highlighting both the artistry and commercial appeal.

#9: “Patsy Cline Showcase” (1961)
Patsy Cline

At the time of release, this album reintroduced Patsy Cline to pop culture America after four years off. But sadly, she would pass away within two years of its release. Even so, Showcase remains a legendary work in the country music genre, large in part to the pristine vocals of a woman in full command of her craft. Willie Nelson actually wrote the iconic lyrics of “Crazy”, and a song like “I Fall to Pieces” has long been considered one of the landmark vocals that modern singers have turned to for guidance. And while Patsy Cline didn’t live beyond the 60s, herShowcase has survived the test of time.

#8: “No Fences”
Garth Brooks (1990)

While the “sophomore slump” has long been part of pop culture language, a Midwestern musician paid no mind to this concept with his now classic second album. On the heels of a monster debut production - released not even a year and a half before - Garth Brooks brought the goods with No Fences in 1990. Led the by the mega hit “Friends in Low Places”, the album dominated the charts, thus positioning Garth alongside the most famous names in the music industry. Before the release of No Fences, the pop and country genres co-existed but never quite like when Garth came out swinging with his thunderous and momentous 2nd release, followed by yet another classic withRopin’ the Wind.

#7: “Coat of Many Colors” (1971)
Dolly Parton

As Dolly’s eighth studio release and one of her personal favorites, this album ushered in a new wave of realism in pop culture music. Combining Parton’s own work and three songs written by Porter Wagoner, “Coat of Many Colors” not only endeared her to the counterculture movement, but the album told a personal story of poverty that hit home for many. And so, “A Better Place to Live” became a signature song of the times, while Dolly’s knack for songwriting solidified the album as a definitive release of 70s country music. Like many authentic artists, Dolly Parton put her heart and soul into the music. And for her genre and beyond, the originality meant everything.

#6: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (1972)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

In the country music genre, artists often embrace a family concept that typically seeps into live shows. And it’s this concept that makes the 1972 Nitty Gitty studio release such a transformative album. It’s got the aforementioned Earl Scruggs, with all his banjo-picking excellence, and the production includes a who’s who of country-bluegrass music. So while it’s not “radio friendly” in the traditional sense, it’s is, in fact, traditionally a well recognized classic of the genre. Bringing the old school together with the new, this album stands up decades later through its unique blend of artistry, demonstrating a familial bond that would be so crucial to the genre moving forward.

#5: “Come On Over” (1997)
Shania Twain

Nowadays, Shania doesn’t tour as much, but in the late 90s she was THE country artist as far as the mainstream was concerned. And while 1995’s The Woman in Me changed the essence of pop country, Shania Twain’s follow-up was a force of pop culture music. Not only did Come On Over rule the charts for essentially a full year, but the album was loaded, and we do mean loaded, with singles that remain karaoke classics and, more importantly, landmark pop country hits. Touching on relationships, feminism and life itself, this album paved the way for the likes of Taylor Swift  and Carrie Underwood.

#4: “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” (1962)
Ray Charles

Five years into his recording career, the legendary Ray Charles strayed from his familiar soul aesthetic and explored a new sound. And given the times, it might’ve been considered a bold move in some circles, but not necessarily for the inquisitive Ray. Fortunately, the musical shift only heightened Ray’s mainstream popularity, as his fresh take on the country genre expanded his personal fan base while introducing a new school of consumers to the style. And so, this poignant and rich collection of songs inspired artists looking to build upon each genre.

#3: “Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)” (1967)
Loretta Lynn

As Loretta’s first gold record, and the first gold record by any female country artist in fact, Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' was a representation of true artistic integrity. No, the upfront style wasn’t for everybody, and though Loretta Lynn already had a full six albums under her belt, this one solidified the singer as a force to be reckoned with among a genre of hardened male artists. At only 29 minutes in length, the cleverly-titled release offered an alternative vibe to the peaceful and free-loving counterculture movement. And while Loretta did have plenty of positivity to spread, the overall message was both raw and undoubtedly real. 

#2: “Red Headed Stranger” (1975)
Willie Nelson

These days, Willie Nelson may strike a chord with marijuana enthusiasts, and for good reason. Yet, back in the mid-70s, his legend grew by way of a rollicking concept album that established the country icon as an outlaw of pop culture, and certainly in his chosen genre. In terms of the country music industry, well, Red Headed Strangerput Willie at the forefront, especially considering the emergence of fellow outlaws. And though the freewheeling style stands out, it’s the music that endures, as the album has survived easily into the 21st century, representing the ideals of outcasts and modern day outlaws.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room” (1988)
Dwight Yoakam
“Wanted! The Outlaws” (1976)
Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter and Tompali Glaser
“Wide Open Spaces” (1998)
Dixie Chicks
“Livin’ It Up” (1990)
George Strait
“Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs” (1959)
Marty Robbins
“Elite Hotel” (1975)
Emmylou Harris

#1: “At Folsom Prison” (1968)
Johnny Cash

While the studio is where most country artists traditionally develop their craft, the “Man in Black” had something different in mind for his first live album. Released in 1968, At Folsom Prison was famously recorded within the confines of a northern Californian detention center. And if that doesn’t say “outlaw”, well then nothing does. Of course, Johnny Cash was a storyteller, and while some of his lyrics were meant for a specific demographic, the overall production ultimately transcended the genre itself. It’s an acquired taste for some, but even so, At Folsom Prison elevated Johnny Cash from a well-known country artist to a pop culture icon.
So, do you agree with our selections? Which album do you think is the most important to country music? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to