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100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time

From "Blue Moon of Kentucky" to the Paisley croon of modern Nashville

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1. Johnny Cash, 'I Walk the Line' (1956)

The defining moment for country's most iconic figure. What makes "I Walk the Line" a great song? Johnny Cash's transcendent baritone ("A voice from the middle of the Earth," recalled Bob Dylan), the Tennessee Two's austere rhythms, the lyrics' puppy-dog romanticism and the goofy hums that telegraph the key changes. But what makes it a great country song? The fact that Cash wasn't always walking said line. At least not in a secular sense: Written on the road (most likely in East Texas) and released in 1956 (Sun Records boss Sam Phillips insisted on picking up the tempo), the tune is largely a reassuring love letter to Vivian Liberto Cash, his first wife – but, given that the 2005 biopic named after the song chronicled Johnny's subsequent eternal love affair with June Carter Cash… well, yeah. Robert Hilburn's 2013 biography quotes Cash conceding that he was partly singing to God, too: "Sam never knew it, but 'I Walk the Line' was my first Gospel hit." By Rob Harvilla

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