Emmylou Harris' 10 Best Songs: Critic's Picks

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns
Emmylou Harris performs in Nijmegen, Netherlands in 1977.

The protégé of the legendary Gram Parsons, nobody can deliver a song aching with sadness and loneliness quite like Emmylou Harris. When she pours her heart and soul into a lyric, you are instantly grabbed emotionally in a way that few artists can. When she began to take the country music world by storm in the mid 1970s, there was nobody quite like her. With her long brown hair she looked to be perhaps the biggest hippie in country history, at least to that point.

Audiences latched onto Harris in an instant manner because with just one listen, they could tell that she was coming from a place of reality, without fabricated emotion. Her astounding forty-six Grammy nominations and thirteen wins are proof of this, as well as her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Along the way, she has helped to shine the spotlight on many of the genre’s forgotten heroes. Let’s look back on one of richest musical legacies in music history, which thankfully is still developing, with these ten essential Emmylou Harris songs.

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10. Emmylou Harris- “Together Again” 

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After nearly a decade in "Kornfield Kounty," as the co-host of Hee Haw, many in the business has lost sight of what a great artist Buck Owens had been in the 1960s and early 1970s,  knowing him as the man who wore his overalls backward. However, Emmylou Harris was not one of those. Owens was one of her absolute favorite artists, and she paid him a lovely tribute with the lead single from Elite Hotel, becoming her first number one hit in the process. Harris later paired with Owens on 1979’s “Play Together Again, Again,” an underrated gem.

9. Emmylou Harris- “Born To Run”

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Harris didn’t have to venture far to discover this rollicking number, which was one of the big hits on country radio in the summer of 1982. It was written by her future husband, Paul Kennerly. This Emmylou Harris song set itself apart because it was more up-tempo than many of her singles during the decade.

8. Emmylou Harris - “In My Dreams”

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While Harris has always been at home with a heartfelt ballad performance, Kennerly knew that she also could turn up the tempo from time to time.  Two years after the song that ranks as No. 9 on our list, the couple partnered up for this single from her White Shoes album.

7. Emmylou Harris - “To Daddy”

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Dolly Parton, with whom Harris would record a pair of albums with Linda Ronstadt, wrote this song about her parents’ relationship. She recorded the song in 1976, but her version wouldn’t see the light of day for almost two decades. Harris released the song in December of 1977 as a track from her Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town, and it quickly became a fan favorite.

6. Emmylou Harris - “Blue Kentucky Girl”

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It should come as no surprise that many of the songs on this list are covers. After all, she has taken great pride in making younger generations aware of the legends. Her final single of the 1970s was no exception, as she reached back into the Loretta Lynn song arsenal for one of the biggest early hits for the ‘Coal Miners’ Daughter.’

5. Emmylou Harris ft. Earl "Peanutt" Montgomery - “One Of These Days”

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 Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery contributed this hopeful number to the Emmylou Harris song catalog, and the track made it all the way to the top five in 1976. The flip side was also notable, as it was the original version of “Til’ I Gain Control Again,” written by Rodney Crowell.

4. Emmylou Harris ft. Herb Pedersen - “If I Could Only Win Your Love”

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In 1975, purists likely didn’t know what had hit them. After all, here was this folk singer who was flying into the top ten with a Louvin Brothers song. Well, the first hit from Emmylou Harris might have taken people by shock upon first listen, but they caught on to her amazing talent rather quick. Early on in her career, she was in a zone--where she continues to this day.

3. Emmylou Harris - “Two More Bottles of Wine”

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So you’ve moved over sixteen hundred miles from home and the one that you made the pilgrimage for leaves you suddenly. What do you do? Well, if you’re Emmylou Harris, you try to look at the bright side--you’ve still got a little bit of adult beverages to get you through the heartbreak. Of course, the song was written by the incredible Delbert McClinton.

2. Emmylou Harris - “Wayfaring Stranger”

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In a career that has been filled with brush strokes from outside the lines, perhaps the most unlikely hit in the Emmylou Harris song catalog was this haunting take on a spiritual classic, which became a top ten hit single for the singer in early 1980. Even more so strange was the fact that this song, made famous by Burl Ives in 1944, was actually the first single from her latest album at the time, the bluegrass masterpiece Roses In The Snow.

1. Emmylou Harris - “Beneath Still Waters”

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Harris is a self-described George Jones junkie, and she would have to have been to be aware of this song that the “Possum” cut in 1967. Harris turned in a jaw-dropping vocal performance that remains one of her greatest triumphs. For songwriter, Dallas Frazier, it was a case of every dog getting his day. Frazier had to wait thirteen years before this composition became a hit, much the way he had to do with “Elvira.” He originally recorded the song in 1966, only to have to watch the tune land in the lap of several different artists, until the Oak Ridge Boys had a massive hit on it in 1980. Sometimes, as cliched as it sounds, it is all about timing!