Please note, I’m not saying these are my FAVORITE albums, but the ones that had the most influence on the direction of country music as a whole. Also note that these are NOT the most influential singles, and because that was the way Hank Williams released most of his music, his name will not be found in this particular list.
#6 : Willie Nelson : Stardust
The Outlaws had already changed the face of Country Music, making it appeal to a much wider audience than ever before, but this album of all cover songs, including Georgia On My Mind made Willie Nelson a star that was welcome into any and every household. It also to some marked the official end of The Outlaw era, and hearkened in a new era of wide-appeal pop-style country. But the 1978 album cannot just be dismissed as a ‘sell-out’ project. Willie picked the songs from ones he remembered from his childhood, and when hearing it for the first time, it was said that Waylon Jennings burst into tears, asking “Damn Willie, where did you find all them songs?” Stardust went on to sell over 4 million copies.
#5 : Hank Williams III : Straight to Hell
Straight to Hell
Though this album was nowhere near a commercial success, it broke barriers that no other artist or album had dare to break before. It was the first album released under the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker. It was recorded on a cheap D-1600 home recording device and Hank III’s home, saving on production costs and showing a whole generation of up and coming music artists that the recording process was no longer just for the few. It’s heavy metal and punk influences turned many young people onto Outlaw and vintage country styles, and Disc 2 of the album, with its droning hidden track full of acoustic numbers and ambient sounds was something country music had never experienced before.
#4: Waylon Jennings : Honky Tonk Heroes
Honky Tonk Heroes
Honky Tonk Heroes (1973) is when Waylon officially won complete creative control, and injected his rock n’ roll influences straight into the heart of country music. Made up of songs by fellow Texan Billy Joe Shaver, recorded with his own band, and recorded at ‘Hillbilly Central’ (Tompall Glaser’s independent studio), the album did more for country artists winning creative control of their music than any other album in Country Music history. In fact it is said that Waylon recording the album was the first domino to fall in the eventual collapse of the label-dominated recording studios of the 60’s & 70’s. Waylon had fought RCA and the Nashville oligarchy, and won. And country music would open up because of it.
#3: Garth Brooks : No Fences
Unlike a lot of Country Music’s most influential albums, No Fences (1990) did not break any creative barriers. It’s influence is based solely on it’s remarkable commercial success. Selling over 20 million copies worldwide, it made Garth Brooks a superstar that could sell out stadiums multiple nights in a row. It was his best selling album, and his selling power has put him only behind The Beatles in total amount of albums sold in the United States. It also helped start the ‘Young Country’ or ‘New Country’ pop-oriented movement that country music is still in the midst of today.
#2: Willie Nelson : Red Headed Stranger
Red Headed Stranger
No album did more to expose the flaw of overproduction of country music than Red Headed Stranger. It is also the album that made a semi-unknown songwriter into a country star. It also is one of country music’s first concept albums. Recorded on an extremely small budget in Garland, TX in 1975 over a two week period, using his own band and virtually no second takes or overdubs, this album produced 2 #1 hits. When the label executives first heard it, they said it sounded unfinished. Country music at the time was washed in strings and choirs. Willie asserted his creative freedom he had won in his contract, believing in his production, and the album became known as a masterpiece. Red Headed Stranger is ranked #1 on CMT’s 40 Greatest Albums in Country Music.
#1: Wanted : The Outlaws
Wanted! The Outlaws
This is it. This was the album that turned Country Music on a dime, and gave it it’s first cross-genre appeal with a new generation. It was the first Country album to sell 1 million copies ever. EVER! And it cost virtually nothing to make. It was a compilation of previously-released material from Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Coulter. This album’s influence cannot be understated.
Honorable Mention: Certainly Johnny Cash’s live prison albums had a huge influence on country music. I also think that Hank III’s Straight to Hell or even Damn Right, Rebel Proud could increase their influence as time goes on.
So what do you think?