Nashville music writer and singer/songwriter Peter Cooper recently compiled “50 Country Songs Every Songwriter Should Know,” and the majority of ranking honky-tonk prototypes are BMI classics. Featured in the current issue of American Songwriter, the list kicks off with “Lost Highway,” penned by BMI songwriter Leon Payne and inimitably recorded by BMI legend Hank Williams. In fact, eight out of the top ten genre-shapers are BMI standards: the aforementioned “Lost Highway”; Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings”; “Long Black Veil,” written by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill, recorded by Lefty Frizzell; Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”; Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe”; John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind,” recorded by Glen Campbell; “You Don’t Know Me,” written by Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold; and Tom T. Hall’s “Mama, Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken).”
What follows is the work of a writer’s writer: 40 more gems, composed by Willie Nelson, Jerry Chesnut, Harlan Howard, Bobby Braddock, Dolly Parton, Roger Miller, John Prine, Todd Snider, Peter LaFarge, Rosanne Cash, Loretta Lynn, and many more, each representing a pinnacle of craftsmanship unto itself.
Before heading out to pick up the May/June issue of American Songwriter, enjoy a preview of Cooper’s list here.
Cooper also penned the issue’s cover story, which profiles BMI Icon Merle Haggard. Now 73, Haggard released I Am What I Am in April of this year. As the title suggests, the collection traverses self-reflection and nostalgia—and the poignant mixture of sadness and joy perpetuated by both. Cooper digs in to Haggard’s legacy and contemporary relevance:
“Songwriting gets harder and harder, unless you just want to try to write a better version of what you’ve already done,” said Merle Haggard, 73, sitting in a Middle Tennessee studio and making clear that he wants much more than that.
Meanwhile, hundreds of nearby Nashville songwriters worked in vain to write even passable versions of what Haggard has already done. And what Haggard has done is to create a catalogue of work that is staggering in its size, breadth and brilliance.
Read “As He Is,” Cooper’s entire American Songwriter ode to Haggard, here.