“We ended up turning my great-grandparents’ house into a music hall. That was the first time I ever played and sang in front of somebody.
It was me and a bunch of old men and women in there, playing old country music. It was a pretty easy place for me to gain some confidence, I guess you can say. The first song I remember singing was ‘Mama Tried’.
That was one of my grandaddy’s favorite songs, and one of the ones we loved to play together.”
He also enjoyed a little southern rock back in the day, too. He told Billboard that he wore out an old Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette tape so bad that his dad finally had enough and took matter into his own hands:
“I can remember my dad throwing a Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette tape out the window of his truck rolling down the road one day because I listened to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ over and over and he was tired of hearing it.”
In terms of his own personal taste, he still carries the classics with him and enjoys the musical stylings of more traditional country music:
“I definitely lean more towards the traditional country and the old school guys. There was a song that Randy Travis did with George Jones called ‘A Few Good Ole Country Boys’.
That type of [song] with somebody like Randy would be a cool thing for me.”
But rather than just clips on social media that are hard to play over the car speakers and only last for a minute or two, I want a real deal, studio-quality album with a full tracklist that I can listen to anytime with some of my personal favorite classics.
I’ve seen several comments about him doing this here and there, too, when we’ve posted a ton articles featuring some of his aforementioned covers. So, I thought it would be fun to give him a few ideas, should he ever hit the studio with a project like this in mind.
A couple of the songs on my list are songs that he’s either covered on Instagram or at a concert before, some of them are just old songs I like that aren’t necessarily massive hits, but most of them are songs that we all know and love from the greatest artists to ever do it in country music.
And, I decided to go in order by the year the song was released so it’s also a beautiful little journey through the years of great country music starting in the 60’s all the way through the 90’s (and one exception that’s more recent for the King).
Here we go:
1. Jackson ft. Jessi Alexander (1967)
I mean, if this ain’t a country music classic, I don’t know what is. I’ve said before that I’m a sucker for a good duet, and I’ve still been listening to Riley’s duet with Jessi Alexander on repeat since his new project came out a couple weeks ago. How cool would it be to hear these two team up to do a little Johnny and June?
2. Mama Tried (1968)
As aforementioned, this Merle Haggard hit is the first song Riley remembers singing and one of his all-time favorites. Riley covers it at just about every live show as far as I know, so of course it has a permanent home on this tracklist, too.
We can’t leave out one of the most iconic country artists of all time, Mrs. Loretta Lynn. The sentiment of this song is about how “country” Loretta is, especially coming from a small mining community in Butcher Holler, Kentucky. I think Riley, who’s a big part of the blue collar revolution in country music right now, could pull it off with ease if he changed around some of the lyrics and sang it from a man’s perspective.
4. Sweet Home Alabama (1974)
Riley also mentioned how much he wore this song out listening to it non-stop when he was younger, and seeing as he’s an Alabama native himself, I’m kind of shocked he’s never covered it before. It’s pretty apparent how proud he is of his home state, so this would seem like the perfect opportunity to pay homage to it with an absolutely classic track by the great band Lynyrd Skynyrd.
5. Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys (1978)
It’s not a classic country cover album without Waylon and Willie.And, who doesn’t love this song? Though it was actually a cover for them, too, they made it famous when they included it on their 1978 duet album Waylon & Willie.
6. I Ain’t Living Long Like This (1979)
Another Waylon classic about the the expiration date that comes along with living hard and his outlaw ways, I think Riley’s voice would sound perfect on it.
This particular song was written by Rodney Crowell and first recorded by Gary Stewart on his 1977 album Your Place or Mine.
7. “9 to 5” (1980)
It’s certainly not a country classics album without a song by the Queen of country music herself, Dolly Parton.
I think it would be fun hear this one from a man’s perspective, too, especially because another common theme in Riley’s own music is the value of hard work and determination. This song fits right in with all of that.
8. If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) (1980)
While this one was never a #1 hit, Riley has said before he likes to write heartbreak country songs, so of course we’re gonna throw in a George Jones tune for him here. It’s a heartbreak, drinkin’ song to the core, right up Riley’s alley.
9. A Few Good Ole Country Boys (1990)
Riley has covered Randy Travis before, and he mentioned this song specifically as one he’d like to do himself one day. Since Riley is the living, breathing definition of a country boy, I think it’s a perfect fit, and he can finally have his chance to sing it on a studio recording.
He’d do George and Randy proud with this one.
10. Chattahoochee (1992)
I have quite a few 90’s classics on here. While they’re obviously much more recent that some of my other picks, Riley’s so good at singing songs from this decade. Plus, I don’t think any artist can ever go wrong with a little Alan Jackson. I mean, how fun would it be to hear Riley sing “Chattahoochee”? It’s almost like the older brother to Riley’s song “Georgia Time”.