Updated: Aug 23, 2020
I've spent a lot of time with music over the past few months. I'm always adding to my collection, and it's been a good year for new music with albums from Drive-By Truckers, Lori McKenna, Pearl Jam, Vanessa Carlton, Taylor Swift, Jason Isbell, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle and The Chicks all finding space on my playlist.
But I've also spent a lot of time with old favorites, and I've been digging through my collection to present some of my all-time favorite classic honky-tonk country albums. Volume 1 includes the first five albums out of 50 that I'll present here in alphabetical order over the weeks to come. These are some of my favorite records in that genre that have kept me coming back through the years.
- Kendall Webb
Wild & Blue (1982)
John Anderson's Wild & Blue is not pure hardcore honky tonk throughout, but it does offer some of the best individual examples of Anderson's honky tonk side. That includes the rowdy title track which opens the album and hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart. Other highlights include "The Waltz You Saved For Me," "A Honky Tonk Saturday Night" and the crossover smash-hit "Swingin'".
Asleep At The Wheel
Ride With Bob (1999)
Subtitled A Tribute to Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, Asleep At The Wheel's entire existence is a tribute to the music of Bob Wills. The difference here is that they bring along a stellar supporting cast that includes Dwight Yoakam, The (Dixie) Chicks, Reba McEntire, Clay Walker, Tim McGraw and a host of other '90s country stalwarts. With AATW providing the accompaniment, they all sound like genuine, dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists here. Walker's "Take Me Back To Tulsa" hits the mark, and The Dixie Chicks' playful take on "Roly Poly" is another standout. The only glaring omission is the absence of any contributions from George Strait, the closest thing Western Swing has had to a mainstream country star since ... well, since, Wills himself.
I Just Started Hatin' Cheatin' Songs Today (1974)
This debut album contains one of honky tonk's greatest anthems, the unforgettable "Honky Tonk Amnesia." That's almost enough on its own for this record to make the list, but fortunately it's a solid record throughout. Bandy was an outsider who was keeping it country in 1974 while Nashville was continuing its latest flirtation with the pop charts. The result is an album that still stands out from everything else made during that era, and it's a hardcore honky tonk classic to boot.
Killin' Time (1989)
Clint Black's 1989 debut was filled with toe-tappers designed to get folks out on the dance floor, and it was one of the biggest debuts in country music history. It was a breezy, swing-influenced take on modern honky-tonk, and the album eventually yielded four No. 1 singles including the title track and "Better Man." "Nothing's News" also reached No. 3 on the charts giving the album five major hits.
Garth Brooks (1989)
Wait, Garth Brooks? The same Garth Brooks that packs arenas and stadiums for multiple night stands?
Yeah, that's the one. Before his 1990 album No Fences sent Garth's career through the stratosphere, he released this self-titled debut album that leaned heavily on more traditional-sounding fare like "Not Counting You" and "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)". There were hints of the too-big-for-country superstar Garth was about to become on ballads like "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "The Dance," but more often than not, the songs here feel more at home on a honky tonk dance floor than the hard concrete floor of a 20,000-seat arena.