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21 Most Unexpected Rockers to Go Country

From Steven Tyler’s new Nashville obsession to Tina Turner’s 1973 curveball

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Steven Tyler is the latest rock god intoxicated by Nashville, releasing his country-flavored We're All Somebody From Somewhere solo album today — a project that stunned Aerosmith fans (and even bandmates). But jumping on the country bandwagon is nothing new. Just like Tyler, Tina Turner's very first solo album was country. Before her, Conway Twitty transitioned from hugely successful pop star to country music royalty. And some of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bob Dylan's most memorable work was largely country-flavored. Here are our picks for the 21 rock, pop, R&B and rap acts with the most shocking (and, for the most part, successful) leaps to country.

CEDAR PARK, TEXAS - APRIL 24: Bret Michaels performs in concert at the Cedar Park Center

CEDAR PARK, TEXAS - APRIL 24: Bret Michaels performs in concert at the Cedar Park Center on April 24, 2016 in Cedar Park, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images)

Gary Miller/Getty

Bret Michaels

During the late Eighties, Bret Michaels scaled the highest of highs with his glam-metal band Poison – only to plunge into the lowest of the lows after grunge abruptly ended the hair-metal era in the early Nineties. After a long stretch of Behind the Music-style bad juju (including a near-fatal car wreck), Michaels swapped out his trademark bandana for a cowboy hat and even re-recorded some of his old Poison hits country-style. After serving as a judge on the 2005 season of Nashville Star, Michaels released a full-on country album, Freedom of Sound, which yielded up a charting country single with Jessica Andrews, "All I Ever Needed." — D.M.

Listen: "All I Ever Needed" with Jessica Andrews

UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 01: HAMMERSMITH ODEON Photo of Tina TURNER, with dancers, performing live onstage - solo era

UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 01: HAMMERSMITH ODEON Photo of Tina TURNER, with dancers, performing live onstage - solo era (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

David Redfern/Getty

Tina Turner

A little-remembered fact: Turner's first solo album was a curveball called Tina Turns the Country On! Up until then, her work with Ike Turner had been rooted in gritty R&B, funk, and blues. But on her 1974 debut, she gave raw, powerful performances of songs by Hank Snow ("I'm Movin' On"), Dolly Parton ("There'll Always Be Music"), and Bob Dylan ("Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You"). And, with due respect to Sammi Smith, she delivered perhaps the definitive reading of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night," amping up the song’s simmering sexual tension. ("'Cause tonight I need a man," she pleaded, changing "friend" to "man.") Also worth finding is Turner’s righteous take on Loretta Lynn's "You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man)." — J.R.

Listen: "Help Me Make It Through the Night"

BOCA RATON, FL - JUNE 11: Cyndi Lauper performs at Mizner Park Amphitheatre on June 11, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida.

BOCA RATON, FL - JUNE 11: Cyndi Lauper performs at Mizner Park Amphitheatre on June 11, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo by Ralph Notaro/Getty Images)

Ralph Notaro/Getty

Cyndi Lauper

Her neighborhood wasn't exactly a hotbed of country music, but for young Astoria, Queens, native Cyndi Lauper, the country songs her Aunt Gracie was listening to left an indelible impression. Lauper flirted with rockabilly as a member of the band Blue Angel before superstardom came wrapped in the colorful New Wave of her 1983 LP, She's So Unusual. She mined classic country and rockabilly for 2016's Detour, which showcased the quirky singer's lovingly rendered interpretations of tunes popularized by Patsy Cline, Ray Price and more. Adding guest appearances from Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson was a nice touch. — S.B.

Listen: "Heartaches By the Number"

Lionel Richie On stage performing

Andreas Rentz/Getty

Lionel Richie

Some artists’ catalogs are so universally beloved that they transcend genre. You can be a true-blue country fan and still know every word to Richie’s “Hello” or “All Night Long (All Night).” So it made sense when the Eighties pop titan ventured down a dusty road on 2012's Tuskegee, named after his Alabama birthplace. He added some torch and twang to his greatest hits, with a little help from his friends Blake Shelton, Shania Twain, Willie Nelson, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Darius Rucker, Jimmy Buffett and others who helped make it the biggest-selling country album of that year. – J.R.

Listen: "Stuck on You" (with Darius Rucker)

Darius Rucker performs at the 7th Annual "Darius And Friends" Concert at Wildhorse Saloon on June 6, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 06: Darius Rucker performs at the 7th Annual "Darius And Friends" Concert at Wildhorse Saloon on June 6, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)

John Shearer/Getty

Darius Rucker

The statistics are pretty impressive: Darius Rucker fronted one of the biggest-selling rock bands in the world in the mid-Nineties, yet he’s had more Number One albums and way more Number One songs as a country artist. When he announced Hootie & the Blowfish’s hiatus in 2008 so he could pursue a solo career, pretty much everybody figured this thing would be a flash in the pan. But with an honest appreciation for the genre, heartfelt songs and unique, raspy-but-warm vocals, he’s become a truly beloved figure on the scene. (And nobody calls him Hootie anymore.) — C.P.

Listen: "All I Want" (featuring Brad Paisley)

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 698 -- Pictured: Musical guest Jerry Lee Lewis performs on May 24, 1995

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Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the original wild-man firebrands of rock & roll, but his career cratered in 1958 after he married his 13-year-old cousin. A decade spent howling in the commercial wilderness reduced Lewis to his lowest ebb, but it also turned him into a semi-tragic character who could convincingly sing twangy barroom weepers. So Lewis embraced his honkytonk side, and 1968’s "Another Place, Another Time" returned him to country’s Top 10 for the first time since 1957. More country hits followed over the next decade, nearly two-dozen Top 10s in all, and the best of them was “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)” – a mournful song that the younger, swaggering Lewis probably could not have pulled off. — D.M.

Listen: "What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)"

Conway Twitty

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Conway Twitty (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Michael Ochs/Getty

Conway Twitty

For as much as Twitty is one of country's greatest and most successful artists of all time, it's often overlooked that he started out in pop and rock & roll. After a short stint with Sun Records when he wrote the Roy Orbison hit "Rock House," Twitty moved to MGM and released the 1958 Number One "It's Only Make Believe," which featured backing vocals from the Jordanaires. He followed that with rockabilly-flavored singles like "Danny Boy" and "Lonely Blue Boy" but moved to country in the early Sixties when his rock singles stopped charting. From there, of course, he went on to accumulate the most country Number Ones in history until George Strait eventually eclipsed him. More importantly, he brought a sensuality and sexuality to country music that can still be heard in the work of everyone from Blake Shelton to Sam Hunt. — J.F.

Listen: "After the Fire Is Gone" with Loretta Lynn

Kid Rock during Kid Rock Live In Concert - May 10, 2002 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic)

Kid Rock during Kid Rock Live In Concert - May 10, 2002 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic)

Debra L Rothenberg/Getty

Kid Rock

As the scion of rap rock who exploded to stardom with a song called “Bawitdaba” and walked around in shiny track suits, who in 1999 could have imagined that Kid Rock would eventually have a viable country music career? If you looked close there were early signs — songs like “Only God Knows Why” especially — but it was hard to see past lyrics referencing strippers, G’s with 40s, crackheads and caps of meth at the time. By 2002, though, Kid was dueting with Sheryl Crow (or Allison Moorer) on country radio, had a Number Four hit by 2008 (“All Summer Long”) and went on to host the CMT Music Awards twice (2010 and 2011). — C.P.

Listen: "Picture" (with fellow rocker-gone-country, Sheryl Crow)

Singer Tiffany performs at Broadway's "Rock Of Ages" at Helen Hayes Theatre on July 26, 2011 in New York City.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26: Singer Tiffany performs at Broadway's "Rock Of Ages" at Helen Hayes Theatre on July 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Dario Cantatore/Getty Images)

Dario Cantatore/Getty

Tiffany

Once the pop-music princess of American shopping malls, Tiffany recast herself as an independent country artist with 2011's Rose Tattoo, trading the synths of her earlier records for a mix of pedal steel and acoustic guitar. The album's thunder was partially stolen by the low-budget movie Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid, which premiered that same year and, in a bizarre moment of Eighties nostalgia, featured a food fight between Tiffany and former chart rival Debbie Gibson. Half a decade later, though, Rose Tattoo holds up considerably better than Mega Python, with songs like "He Won't Miss Me" showing off the writing chops that her catalog of Reagan-era hits — half of which were covers of Sixties songs — overlooked. — A.L.

Listen:  "He Won't Miss Me"

Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp of The Wreckers during SELF Magazine Introduces "Self Spotlight," Benefit to Support Breast Cancer Awareness at Crobar in New York City

Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp of The Wreckers during SELF Magazine Introduces "Self Spotlight," A First-Ever Benefit to Support Breast Cancer Awareness at Crobar in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage for Self Maga

Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Michelle Branch

Still riding high on the success of back-to-back pop albums, Michelle Branch switched gears in 2005, teaming up with her longtime friend and former backup vocalist, Jessica Harp, to form short-lived country duo the Wreckers. The pair's only record, Stand Still, Look Pretty, was released one year later, sending its first single — "Leave the Pieces," one of only two tracks not written by the girls themselves — to the top of the country charts. "Tennessee" tugs the heartstrings with more conviction, though, while also reversing the Wreckers power dynamic, recasting Harp as the lead singer and Branch as the sideman. — A.L.

Listen: "Tennessee"

FRANCE - MAY 18: Ray Charles behind the scence at the Olympia in Paris, France on May 18, 1962.

FRANCE - MAY 18: Ray Charles behind the scence at the Olympia in Paris, France on May 18, 1962. (Photo by REPORTERS ASSOCIES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

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Ray Charles

Released during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music blurred the racial boundaries that divided mid-century America. The year was 1962, and country music was still a white man's game. Modern Sounds changed that, with Charles taking a soulful stab at country classics by the Everly Brothers, Hank Williams and Don Gibson. The best track? A gorgeous version of Eddy Arnold's "You Don't Know Me," dressed up with orchestral strings and thickly-stacked vocal harmonies. — A.L.

Listen: "You Don't Know Me"

TWIN LAKES, WI - JULY 18: Singer/Songwriter Jessica Simpson performs her first live performance in 3 years debuting music from her forthcoming Country Album at the 16th Annual Country Thunder USA

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Jessica Simpson

It was the live performance heard around the world – and landed with a thud. As part of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2006, Simpson saluted Dolly Parton but kept flubbing the words to "9 to 5." That didn’t prevent the pop star from going full country two years later with Do You Know, a slick Nashville outing that debuted at Number One on the country charts. (And to prove there were no hard feelings, Parton sang harmony on the title track.) – J.R.

Listen: "Do You Know," featuring Dolly Parton

Van Morrison in Concert at Chester Racecourse - August 18, 2006 at Chester Race Course in Chester, Cheshire, Great Britain

Van Morrison during Van Morrison in Concert at Chester Racecourse - August 18, 2006 at Chester Race Course in Chester, Cheshire, Great Britain. (Photo by David Munn/WireImage)

David Munn/Getty

Van Morrison

Soulful Irishman Morrison has built his career around exploring the different aspects of American music in its myriad forms — jazz, soul, garage rock and everything in between. But in 2006, he went full country (or at least a bygone representation of it) with Pay the Devil, issued by venerable roots label Lost Highway. In addition to covers of the chestnut "There Stands the Glass" (recorded by Webb Pierce) and Rodney Crowell's "'Til I Can Gain Control Again" (recorded by Emmylou Harris), Pay the Devil features a handful of Morrison's original compositions styled to fit with the classic material. — J.F.

Listen: "Your Cheatin' Heart"

Singer-songwriter Steven Tyler performs onstage during 2016 CMA Festival - Day 3 at Nissan Stadium on June 11, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 11: Singer-songwriter Steven Tyler performs onstage during 2016 CMA Festival - Day 3 at Nissan Stadium on June 11, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)

John Shearer/Getty

Steven Tyler

When the promo cycle for Aerosmith's Music From Another Dimension began to die down in 2013, Steven Tyler took a semi-permanent vacation to Nashville, making surprise appearances at Keith Urban gigs and country music awards shows along the way. Two years later, he launched his country solo career with "Love Is Your Name," a song that pitched its tent halfway between Aerosmith's Get a Grip-era arena-rock and Mumford & Sons' Americana. A full-length album, We're All Somebody from Somewhere, followed in July 2016, but Tyler's kickoff single still packs the biggest punch. — A.L.

Listen: "Love Is Your Name"

Elvis Costello performs on stage, New York, 1982

Elvis Costello performs on stage, New York, 1982. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Michael Putland/Getty

Elvis Costello

In 1981, English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello took a pretty surprising detour from the caffeinated new wave he'd perfected with albums like This Year's Model and My Aim Is True. He headed to Nashville and recorded Almost Blue, a collection of classic country tunes that saw him working with country heavyweight producer Billy Sherrill instead of Nick Lowe (who had produced all of Costello's albums to that point). Comprised of songs like Merle Haggard's "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" and Hank Williams' "Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To," Almost Blue still twitches with Costello's trademark nervy energy but his sincere love of the form is evident as is his skill for singing it. — J.F.

Listen: "Almost Blue"

Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland and Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi perform "Who Says You Can't Go Home"

Rick Diamond/Getty

Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi rode their steel horse to Nashville for 2007's Lost Highway album, one of the rock icons' most successful projects to date. Produced by Nashville treasure (and former rocker himself) Dann Huff (Faith Hill, Keith Urban), the LP was nowhere near a 180-degree turn for the New Jersey group. It simply saw them putting a little more pedal steel to their arena-rousing sound. Duets with LeAnn Rimes, Big & Rich and Jennifer Nettles helped boost the album's country cred, with the infectious, anthemic Nettles collab, "Who Says You Can't Go Home," as its chart-topping standout. — B.D.

Listen: "Who Says You Can't Go Home"

NEW YORK - 1961: Bob Dylan performs at The Bitter End folk club in Greenwich Village

NEW YORK - 1961: Bob Dylan performs at The Bitter End folk club in Greenwich Village in 1961 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Sigmund Goode/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

Sigmund Goode/Getty

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan's early records always hinted at an appreciation for country music, but never as potently as John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline, two albums that doubled down on Tennessee twang and crisp, story-based songwriting. Dylan even adopted a new singing style for the occasion, filling Nashville Skyline with a gentle croon more suitable for a back-porch picking session than a rock & roll show. "Lay Lady Lay" remains timeless, but it's "Girl From the North Country" — his loose duet with Johnny Cash — that stands as Dylan's most countryfied moment to date. — A.L.

Listen: "Girl From the North Country"

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