Michael Corcoran has covered music in Texas for 40 years. He’s been a music critic for the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American-Statesman and authored the books All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music and Ghost Notes: Pioneering Spirits of Texas Music. For Texas Highways, he’s written about Western swing, outlaw country, boogie-woogie, and every music genre in between. So, to celebrate Texas Highways’ 50 years of traveling Texas, the longtime music aficionado created a list of 50 Greatest Texas Recordings—the perfect playlist for hitting the road.

First, a question: What makes a song Texan? Corcoran follows simple criteria: It’s either a) recorded by a Texan, or b) has the state, or a location therein, as a subject. He does note that being born in Texas doesn’t automatically make you a Texan. When it comes to music, you’re a native of where you came of age, so Nelly, Buck Owens, Sly Stone, and Lizzo can be claimed by other states.

And he specifies that his list is greatest recordings, not songs. That means influential melodies like “The Entertainer” by Texarkana’s Scott Joplin doesn’t make the list. Sure, that song created a ragtime revival in the 1970s as the theme of The Sting, but Joplin passed away in 1917 before ever recording it.

Also missing are such classic Lone Star songs as “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” and “Streets of Laredo.” Why? There aren’t definitive versions to these ears, though some might say Gene Autry nailed them. “This list limits one song per artist, and I put the singing cowboy from Tioga down for a Yuletide classic he co-wrote,” Corcoran says.

Without further elaboration, let the countdown begin.

50. Delta Dawn (1972)

Tanya Tucker

A 13-year-old girl with a big voice from Seminole has the first hit of an illustrious career still going strong five decades later.


49. Si Una Vez (1994)


The Queen of Tejano made so many great recordings, but this trumpet-peppered modern cumbia stands out for a sense of musical adventure that inspired a 21st-century cover by San Antonio punk band Girl in a Coma.


48. He’ll Have to Go (1959)

Jim Reeves

When the velvet-voiced singer from Panola County sang, “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone,” it helped usher in the pop-country crossover era. This smash was not only No. 1 on the country chart for 14 weeks, but it also hit No. 2 and No. 13 on the Billboard pop and R&B singles charts respectively.


47. Possum Kingdom (1994)


Whatever sound and fury Fort Worth has, the Toadies mustered it in the hardest rockin’ song ever inspired by a lake in a state park. Sinister singer Vaden Todd Lewis made every other rocker on MTV sound like Huey Lewis.


46. Wide Open Spaces (1998)

The Chicks

Written by Susan Gibson of Amarillo, this song about breaking out on your own logged four weeks at No. 1 on the country chart and became the signature song of the bestselling female group of all time.


45. Cowboys From Hell (1990)


Phil Anselmo was Pantera’s Natalie Maines, the new singer who turned around a moderately popular Dallas band. This was the record that established Anselmo and the Abbott brothers, who went by the stage names Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell, as the new savage princes of groove metal.


Black Pumas singer-songwriter Eric Burton in 2019. Photo by Steven Ruggiero/WFUV via Flickr

44. Colors (2019)

Black Pumas

Singer Eric Burton wrote a song about people coming together, and producer/guitarist Adrian Quesada layered on the right shading, resulting in a Record of the Year nomination at the Grammys and sold-out shows all over the world.


43. You’ll Lose A Good Thing (1962)

Barbara Lynn

Left-handed Barbara Lynn was a pioneering guitarist who straddled the border between Texas and Louisiana, swamp pop and blues, with a song she wrote as a student at Beaumont’s all-Black Hebert High. Teenaged female singers weren’t supposed to write their own songs back then, but Barbara Lynn didn’t know that. She still lives in the house she bought with her first royalty check.


42. Hot Girl Summer (2019)

Megan Thee Stallion feat. Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign

Houston’s lyric-spitting queen owned the summer before lockdown with a party song that drove folks to the dancefloor and the gym.


41. Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) (1947)

Gene Autry

The pride of Grayson County was riding his horse in a Christmas parade when the crowd saw the white-bearded man in red behind him and started chanting. Autry’s song about that moment became a beloved Christmas classic.


40. The House That Built Me (2010)

Miranda Lambert

The Lindale native’s first No. 1 single is nostalgic without being maudlin, no matter how hard that steel guitar tries near the end. Co-written by Allen Shamblin (with Tom Douglas) about his own return to the former family home in Huffman.


39. If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time (1951)

Lefty Frizzell

If you hear this song on the jukebox, you’re in the right place, and it’s been that way for over 70 years. Lefty’s influence can be heard in the vocal stylings of Willie Nelson, George Jones, and just about everyone else who sang at a honky-tonk.


38. rockstar (2017)

Post Malone, ft. 21 Savage

The loveable goofball from Grapevine has more Spotify streams than any other Texan, even Beyoncé. But this hypnotic, sludgy, completely original hip-hop number was when Posty started getting respect.


37. Live Forever (1993)

Shaver ft. Brother Phelps

Guitarist Eddy Shaver came up with the melody and papa Billy Joe wrote the words in his head on a long drive home, staying wide awake with the idea that his songs would keep him alive in people’s memories.


Spoon broadcast on WFUV Public Radio from Forest Hills Stadium in New York City in 2019. Photo by Gus Philippas/WFUV via Flickr

36. I Summon You (2005)


This song about a long-distance relationship just melts me with the melody, soaring over choppy rhythm chords. Is it the closest a Texas rock band has come to the Beatles? It’s not even the most popular song on the Gimme Fiction album that made this Austin band stars. But it’s a miracle that sounds like no other song, and all the other songs.


35. Driftin’ Blues (1945)

Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers

A trio of Texas natives living in Los Angeles, including Charles Brown (Texas City) on vocals and piano, took blues from the juke joint to the cocktail lounge with this post-war smash that Ray Charles credited with influencing his style.


34. Heaven (2004)

Los Lonely Boys

A Texican pop-rock sensation, this trio of brothers from San Angelo rode a tasty guitar intro and irresistible harmonies to the promised land. “Heaven” peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 but lived at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart for four months and earned the Garza brothers a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.


33. Walkin’ the Floor Over You (1941)

Ernest Tubb

Texas music is all about dancing, but sometimes the chattering crowd at those big halls would drown out the band. To cut through the sonic haze, Ernest Tubb had the idea of using an electric guitar instead of the standard acoustic. And that, friends, is how honky-tonk music came to be.


32. Harper Valley P.T.A. (1968)

Jeannie C. Riley

Written by Tom T. Hall, this song of small town hypocrisy was a huge crossover hit for the singer from Anson, who became the first female artist to top both the pop and country singles charts with the same song.


31. That’s Right, You’re Not from Texas (1996)

Lyle Lovett

A showstopper for a couple years before Lovett recorded it on Grammy winner The Road to Ensenada, this has become an anthem of quirky Texas attitude, with the inclusionary tag line “but Texas wants you anyway.”


30. Since U Been Gone (2004)

Kelly Clarkson

The cocktail waitress from the Fort Worth suburbs became the first winner of American Idol and went on to prove that she was the real deal with the ferocious chorus of this pop number.


29. Before the Next Teardrop Falls (1975)

A young Freddy Fender in 1957.

Freddy Fender

Born Baldemar Huerta, Fender made his pop breakthrough with this No. 1 bilingual crossover smash. Producer Huey P. Meaux had to convince Fender to sing a country ballad when he just wanted to do rock and soul.


28. Galveston (1969)

Glen Campbell

Jimmy Webb’s subtle anti-war song about a soldier who just wants to go home has been named by Country Music Television (CMT) the eighth greatest country song of all time. A singer from Arkansas and a songwriter from Oklahoma did Seawall City right.


27. She’s About a Mover (1965)

Sir Douglas Quintet

Originally titled “She’s a Body Mover,” and based on the rhythm of “She’s a Woman” by the Beatles, this song by the Alamo City rock group is a raucous patchwork of Ray Charles soul, West Side San Antonio groove, and hippie innocence.


26. Pancho and Lefty (1972)

Townes Van Zandt

The Fort Worth native’s most famous song, about betrayal and burial in Mexico, came to him out-of-the-blue, he once said. Asked what it was about, his evasive answer was that he was still trying to find out. We do know this mystery was partially inspired by Mexican Revolution leader Pancho Villa.


25. Faded Love (1950)

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

A distillation of all that is pure Western swing—and also the end of an era. Country radio’s love for Wills faded not long after this song, featuring Johnny Gimble on fiddle, reached No. 8 on Billboard‘s country singles chart.


24. You’re Gonna Miss Me (1966)

13th Floor Elevators

Psychedelia is born, as Austin rocks to a new soul shouter named Roky Erickson. Recorded at Walt Andrus’ studio in Houston, “Miss Me” reached a higher consciousness than its chart peak of No. 55.


Flaco Jiménez performs with Los Tex Maniacs at Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin in 2016. Photo by Mark Scott via Flickr

23. Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio (1986)

Flaco Jimenez

Written in 1942 by his father, the great Santiago Jimenez Sr., Flaco earned a Grammy with this deft cover, inspired by the Los Lobos version.


22. Dallas (1981)

Joe Ely

“Have you ever seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night?” is as great an opening line as there is (credit to songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore), and Joe Ely keeps up the intrigue with his heel-grinding delivery. “Dallas is a jewel, Dallas is a beautiful sight,” he sings, but then there’s danger beyond the glitz.


21. Wild Side of Life (1952)

Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boys

First recorded by Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters from Taylor, this song became a huge hit for Waco-born Hank Thompson, topping the Billboard country single chart for 15 straight weeks. Even the answer song, Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels,” made it to No. 1.


20. Mr. Bojangles (1968)

Jerry Jeff Walker

During the counter-culture heyday of the Sixties, Walker wrote a 6/8 waltz about an itinerate street dancer grieving a dead dog, and created a page for the Great American Songbook. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had the bigger hit in 1970, and Sammy Davis Jr. used it as a nightly showstopper, but it’s always been Jerry Jeff’s song.


19. Wooly Bully (1965)

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

“Uno dos, one two tres quatro,” this is a party in two minutes, with turban-wearing Sam Samudio of Dallas leading the conga line. You may think you’re sick of this novelty hit, until it comes on and you can’t help groovin’ to it.


18. Flying Home (1942)

Illinois Jacquet with Lionel Hampton

The honking, stuttering Texas Tenor saxophone sound that musicians like King Curtis of Fort Worth and Bobby Keys of Slaton took to the top of the pop and R&B charts grew out of Illinois Jacquet’s monster 64-bar sax solo on this song. The Houston native was just 19 at the time of the recording.


17. Crazy Arms (1956)

Ray Price

Elvis Presley’s rockabilly invasion threatened to make country music obsolete, but this East Texan invented a new dancehall rhythm, the 4/4 country shuffle, and kept honky-tonk alive. The “Ray Price Beat” still rules the counterclockwise dancers.


16. Amarillo by Morning (1982)

George Strait

This fiddle-woven tune about the long drive home from a rodeo was a fixture on the Texas/Oklahoma country nightclub scene for 10 years (by co-writer Terry Stafford, produced by Earl Poole Ball) before this kid from Pearsall covered it on his breakout LP Strait From the Heart.


Destiny’s Child at the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show in 2013. Photo by Pete Sekesan by Wiki Commons

15. Say My Name (2000)

Destiny’s Child

The first great single of the millennium was one of the first radio songs to reference the cellphone culture that would come to dominate social interaction. Even more significantly, this announced Beyoncé as an artist in control, with her syncopated rap-style creating a new way to swing.


14. El Paso (1959)

Marty Robbins

This “gunfighter ballad” by singer-songwriter Marty Robbins gives a musical movie plot in 4 minutes and 38 seconds. With Grady Martin’s Spanish guitar, you can almost feel the spirit of border town love.


13. Tighten Up (1968)

Archie Bell and the Drells

This classic Southern dance jam should be credited also to the T.S.U. Toronados, a group of Texas Southern students who recorded the instrumental hook days before Archie Bell and the Drells stepped inside the studio.


12. Only the Lonely (1960)

Roy Orbison

The shade-wearing master of operatic pop set the stage for his solitary man persona with this majestic hit. It was the first of many that Orbison wrote with fellow West Texan Joe Melson.


11. Honky Tonk Heroes (1973)

Waylon Jennings

This revved-up version of the Billy Joe Shaver song proved Waylon to be the Elvis Presley of country music, a vocalist who could sing anything, and make it his own.


10. Blue Yodel (T for Texas) (1928)

Jimmie Rodgers

The Singin’ Brakeman’s first hit, which remained his biggest, can be considered the foundational tune of country music. And Texas got top billing over Tennessee! Rodgers built his dream home in Kerrville the next year, but, tragically, died from tuberculosis in 1933.


09. Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me (1991)

Geto Boys

Putting urban paranoia over a slinky Isaac Hayes sample, Houston’s Geto Boys took gangsta rap to a headier space and put the “Dirty South” on the worldwide radar. The more strutting “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta” also works in this spot.


08. I Fought the Law (1965)

Bobby Fuller Four

Written by Sonny Curtis (who would later pen The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme) and originally recorded in 1960 when he was a member of the post-Buddy Holly Crickets, the definitive version was by these guitar-rockers from El Paso. Even the Clash’s version couldn’t top this one.


07. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927)

Blind Willie Johnson

A moaning slide guitar instrumental, this haunting number was the model for Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Paris, Texas, Cooder calling it “the most soulful, transcendent piece in all of American music.” Not bad for an itinerate singing preacher from Marlin.


06. He Stopped Loving Her Today (1980)

George Jones

This “morbid son of a bitch” (George Jones’ initial reaction to the songwriters’ demo) is generally regarded as the greatest country single of all time, the record that made an East Texas hayseed country music’s Sinatra.


05. Mal Hombre (1934)

Lydia Mendoza

A young woman with a 12-string guitar in San Antonio created a worldwide anthem with a melodramatic song about a bad man. Women didn’t perform solo back then, but Mendoza stepped out of her family band for this one, whose lyrics she found on a bubble-gum wrapper. The original Queen of Tejano!


Willie Nelson performing at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey in 2012. Photo via Wiki Commons

04. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain (1975)

Willie Nelson

The stripped-down Roy Acuff cover from Red Headed Stranger made Willie Nelson a star far beyond the outlaw country cult. Before this tune shot to No. 1, Nelson had not had a Top 10 country hit in 13 years.


03. La Grange (1973)

ZZ Top

This air guitar classic about a cathouse in Fayette County never gets old. Doctors could use this song to measure “how how how” fast blood races to the brain.


02. That’ll Be the Day (1957)

Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Perhaps the most influential single in the history of rock ’n’ roll, Holly’s smashing chart debut provided the model for the self-contained rock combo. Inspired, a fab new band from Liverpool took their name in homage to the Crickets.


01. Me and Bobby McGee (1971)

Janis Joplin

This Kris Kristofferson song about a hitchhiking couple finding love and then distance on the road was really the story of Janis, so full of life, but also sorrow. The Port Arthur native recorded the song four days before her overdose death in October 1970. It became her only No. 1 record four months later.

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