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Southern Comforts: 25 Best Songs About the South

From “Sweet Home Alabama” to “Carolina in My Mind,” we count down the top tunes celebrating life below the Mason-Dixon

Ray Charles and George Strait

Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind" and George Strait's "All My Exes Live in Texas" are two of the best songs about the south.

Gary Null/NBC via Getty; Christopher Polk/Getty

From Nashville cats who play clean as country water to Bible Belt rappers who chronicle the wheelings and dealings of the Dirty South, musicians have a long history of setting the pace, pulse and people of Dixie to music. Here, we bring you the best of the old, sweet songs that've kept Georgia — and all of the southern states — on our minds during one of the coldest winters in decades.

Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell, “Alabama Pines”

Jason Isbell may have kickstarted his career as a member of the hard-rocking Drive-By Truckers, but he was over it by 2011, when this song spun the story of a ragged, road-weary southerner who can't get through a Sunday afternoon without a visit to Wayne's Liquor store. Released on Isbell's last album as a drinking man, "Alabama Pines" is technically a work of fiction. In a classic case of art imitating life, though, Isbell — who frequented Wayne's Liquor during his wetter days — checked himself into rehab one year after the song's release, turning his own life around before it "kind of vanishes away" like the first name of his song's narrator. Some Southern anthems glorify the highs of the drinking lifestyle; this one shines a light on the hang-ups and hangovers instead. 

Brad Paisley Obama

Brad Paisley, “Southern Comfort Zone”

Brad Paisley has always pushed country's boundaries — geographically, musically and ideologically. Without ever sounding condescending, he takes the listener around the globe on 2013's "Southern Comfort Zone," explaining, "I can't see this world unless I go outside my Southern comfort zone," and that there are wondrous adventures to be had in places that seem at first strange and unfamiliar. But, as he concludes, the nicest part of any trek is getting to come back to "my Tennessee home," even if he knows he's not going to be down on the farm for long before wanderlust sets in again. For the song's video, the country superstar visited eight countries in eight days, running into (literally) the Band Perry in Norway and jamming with a giraffe in Kenya.

Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon, “Back Down South”

By 2010's Come Around Sundown, the brothers (and cousin) Followill had come a long ways from their days touring in a beat-up Oldsmobile driven by their traveling-preacher father. But the global rock stars remembered their roots (and perhaps some of that country twang that might have played on their dad's radio) on the album's unambiguously wistful fourth single, "Back Down South." Over drippy steel guitars, weepy fiddles and a porch-stompin' groove, Caleb Followill croons about starry nights, loud fights, pretty women and cold beer. Apropos of the song's title and sentiment, it's golden-tinted music video featured shots of broken-window farmhouses and double-wide trailers, main-street barbershops, young-and-in-love fast-food employees racing down two-lane roads, horses, tractors, good ol' boys shootin' skeet, mixin' dranks and doin' doughnuts in the mud with their pick-up trucks — scenes more common to CMT than MTV.

Tom Waits

Tom Waits, “Wish I Was in New Orleans”

So many songs are written about a place while really being about a woman; and so many songs are written about a woman while really being about a place in time. Tom Waits' "I Wish I Was in New Orleans (In the Ninth Ward)" is no confused love affair — draping his deep, crooning rasp over the piano, it sounds like the streets of the Big Easy after the jazz clubs have closed; a last drink over bittersweet saxophone notes before the first hints of sunrise. The city, and the city alone, is his only mistress. "I can hear the band begin 'When the Saints Go Marching In,'" he sings on this track off of 1976's Small Change, that makes both sinners and saints feel like the tattered, beautiful streets are calling their names.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, “Sweet Virginia”

The bohemian bourgeois shores of the Cote D'Azur might not seem like a place where one could conjure up southern spirits, but somehow, when the Rolling Stones decamped to the infamous Villa Nellcôte with a stash of heroin, a flock of models and a little help from Gram Parsons, they came out with this Exile on Main Street stunner that slides in with a swampy harmonica breeze blown through Mick Jagger's famous British lips. Whether the 16-bar country-blues of "Sweet Virginia" is about the state, a drug-induced state of mind or a woman who's sweeter than both is up for debate — knowing the Stones, it's probably all three.

Little Feat

Little Feat, “Dixie Chicken”

"Dixie Chicken" so entirely embodies the sly, swampy gestalt of what it means to be from below the Mason-Dixon Line that it instantly transports you there. From Bill Payne's stone-skipping, light-handed piano intro to Lowell George's slightly slurry delivery, the title track from Little Feat's seminal 1973 album takes place in Memphis, but the slinky, full-bodied sound is straight out of New Orleans. The lady in question is such a smooth Southern belle that before the Dixie Chicken knows it, his Tennessee Lamb has taken all his money and left him for the guitar player and his fine memories. Not only have Phish and Garth Brooks performed excellent covers of the song, the Dixie Chicks named themselves after the tune.

Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band, “Ramblin’ Man”

When you're born in the backseat of a Greyhound bus, is there any doubt that you'll spend your life on the road? Not if you're the protagonist of the Allman Brothers' biggest hit, 1973's "Ramblin' Man," who spends time traveling from Nashville to New Orleans and points in between. Dickey Betts may have loosely based the song on Hank Williams' 1951 tune of the same name, but the band created its own unique tune that ultimately became a tentpole of the Southern rock movement and was just enough of a step into country that some of the band members were initially hesitant to record it. As soaring as the track is on their Brothers and Sisters album, the jubilant, extended live version became the cornerstone of the band's concerts for years.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Sweet Home Alabama”

Like it or loathe it, Lynyrd Skynyrd's tribute to Dixie has been damn near inescapable for four decades, rendered immortal by several generations of classic rock radio DJs and proud southerners. It's also a bundle of contradictions: a song called "Sweet Home Alabama" that was written by a band of Florida natives, recorded in Georgia and delivered as a kiss-off to the Canada-born Neil Young, who'd taken potshots at the American South with "Southern Man" and "Alabama." Regardless, nothing could stop "Sweet Home Alabama" from becoming the rebel (flag) yell heard 'round the world. More than 40 years later, it's still pulling double duty as the signature song not only for Skynyrd, but the entire Southern rock genre.