Whether old, new or unrequited, love comes in abundant supply in country music. But try and put one of these lists together and you’ll likely evoke some less warm-and-fuzzy emotions, too. (Hey, where’s “Stand by Your Man”?!) So we enlisted a panel of experts (see below) to help us out. Of course, everyone’s got their personal faves, so let us know at people.com/countrylove and tell us which songs you think should have made the cut.
1. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU, Dolly Parton, 1974
Whitney Houston’s rafters-rattling remake got more hype, but nothing touches the heart quite like Parton’s pared-down original.
2. BLESS THE BROKEN ROAD, Rascal Flatts, 2004
“This song has eternal appeal,” says NSAI’s Bart Herbison. “The emotion is so strong and so beautifully expressed.”
3. HOW DO I LIVE, Trisha Yearwood, 1997
A perfect combo of soul-stirring music and lyrics that pack a punch: “Without you, there’d be no sun in my sky, there would be no love in my life, there would be no world left for me.”
4. CRAZY, Patsy Cline, 1961
The ultimate example of country music’s knack for making unrequited love sound blissful. “You felt that song when she sang it,” says BMI president Del Bryant.
5. THE DANCE, Garth Brooks, 1989
With bittersweet lyrics like “I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance,” it’s the kind of ballad that actually makes full-fledged cowboys weepy.
6. ALWAYS ON MY MIND, Willie Nelson, 1982
A heart-wrenching apology for love gone unspoken.
8. BREATHE, Faith Hill, 1999
Hill’s voice whisks you through the many facets of love—from the quiet intimacies to those “shout it from the rooftop” moments.
9. HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY, George Jones, 1980
“An all-time heartbreaker from the king of country music,” says Herbison.
10. I SWEAR, John Michael Montgomery, 1994
Truly the ultimate “first dance” wedding song, it also turned into a hit for the R&B group All-4-One later that same year.
11. YOU’RE STILL THE ONE, Shania Twain, 1998
Part ballad, part rousing anthem for all those couples no one really believed would ever last.
12. FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN, Randy Travis, 1987
The singer’s promise to love and be faithful resonates to the very end.
13. REMEMBER WHEN, Alan Jackson, 2003
An achingly tender ballad about getting a second shot at love.
14. UNANSWERED PRAYERS, Garth Brooks, 1990
A song about a guy finding his true love in spite of himself. “It’s got great lyrics,” says the ACM’s Bob Romeo.
15. HOW FOREVER FEELS, Kenny Chesney, 1999
With clever allusions to Jimmy Buffett and Richard Petty, Chesney proves he’s a master at turning a love song into the perfect tune for a top-down road trip.
16. THE WORLD, Brad Paisley, 2005
One love song that even unsentimental good ol’ boys can listen to proudly.
17. AMAZED, Lonestar, 1999
Memorable harmonies only add to an irresistibly sweet take on what is no doubt an all-consuming love.
18. WHEN YOU SAY NOTHING AT ALL, Alison Krauss, 1995
Keith Whitley’s version is soulful, but it’s Krauss’s plaintive take that sticks in your head.
19. I CROSS MY HEART, George Strait, 1992
“A classic,” says Opry GM Fisher of the old-school-meets-new-school ballad complete with a soaring string section and a steel-guitar solo.
20. SHE BELIEVES IN ME, Kenny Rogers, 1978
The singer’s emotion-filled tribute makes anyone believe in the power of being loved.
21. GENTLE ON MY MIND, Glen Campbell, 1967
“This song has to be on the list,” says Bryant. “It’s so defining of its era of music.”
22. CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE, Elvis Presley, 1961
Killer lyrics paired with Presley’s swoon-inducing baritone.
23. SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, Keith Urban, 2002
Urban proves that a love song can still get you up on your feet and dancing.
24. WHERE’VE YOU BEEN, Kathy Mattea, 1989
“It honors enduring love, love that lasts through better and worse,” says SESAC associate VP Tim Fink.
25. STRAWBERRY WINE, Deana Carter, 1996
The beautiful paean to young love is “such a unique song, and Deana did such a memorable performance,” says Herbison.
PANEL OF EXPERTS
Pete Fisher, GM of the Grand Ole Opry; Bart Herbison, executive director, Nashville Songwriters Assn. Int’l; Del Bryant, president/CEO of BMI; Connie Bradley Sr., VP, ASCAP; Jay Orr, VP–Museum Programs, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; Bob Romeo, executive director of the Academy of Country Music; and Tim Fink, associate VP, SESAC