What's the Most Honored Country Recording of All Time? Let's Figure It Out

Bobby Braddock
AP Photo/Ed Rode

Bobby Braddock photographed on May 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tenn.

A total of 19 singles have been voted single of the year at both the CMAs and the ACMs.

Ever wondered what the most honored country recording of all time was? Let’s figure this out right now.

We begin with recordings that were voted single of the year by both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. A total of 19 singles have won top honors at both shows. These are our semi-finalists. (The two shows have different eligibility periods, so some singles competed in different years at the two shows.)

While we’re at it, I show you how they fared on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. It’s noteworthy, but not surprising, that all 19 reached No. 1. These are all home-run hits.

Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” (1969/70). No. 1 for four weeks.

Donna Fargo’s “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” (1972). No. 1 for three weeks.

Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” (1973). No. 1 for two weeks.

Cal Smith’s “Country Bumpkin” (1974). No. 1 for one week.

Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille” (1977). No. 1 for two weeks.

George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (1980). No. 1 for one week.

The Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” (1981). No. 1 for one week.

Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” (1982). No. 1 for two weeks.

Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen” (1987). No. 1 for three weeks.

Kathy Mattea’s “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” (1988). No. 1 for two weeks.

Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” (1990/91). No. 1 for four weeks.

Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” (1993). No. 1 for four weeks.

John Michael Montgomery’s “I Swear” (1994). No. 1 for four weeks.

George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” (1995/96). No. 1 for four weeks.

Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” (2000). No. 1 for five weeks.

Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (2001/02). No. 1 for five weeks.

Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” (2004). No. 1 for seven weeks.

Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” (2009/10). No. 1 for five weeks.

Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man” (2015/16). No. 1 for six weeks.

Shout-out to Jackson, who, as you can see, is the only artist to win single of the year at both leading country music award shows twice.

Now, let’s check to see which of these artists also won Grammys for these recordings. The Grammys don’t have a country single of the year category, so we’ll count any performance or songwriting category where the artist won.

Surprisingly, we lose nine of our semi-finalists. Haggard, Brooks, Jackson (for “Chattahoochee”), Montgomery, Womack and Rhett were Grammy-nominated for these works, but didn’t win. Mattea and Strait weren’t even nominated for these recordings. Smith was never Grammy-nominated. (He died in 2013.)

(Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” won the CMA Award for single of the year on Nov. 13 and is nominated in that same category at the COVID 19-delayed ACM Awards on Sept. 16. So it has the potential of becoming the 20th single to take single of the year at both shows. Shelton was nominated for a Grammy for his performance on the track, but lost.)

Since we’ve lost almost half of our list, let’s take another look at the 10 records that are still in play -- classics that won single of the year at both the CMAs and the ACMs and also brought the artist a Grammy. These are our finalists:

  • Fargo’s “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
  • Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors”
  • Rogers’ “Lucille”
  • Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
  • Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira”
  • Nelson’s “Always on My Mind”
  • Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen”
  • Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"
  • McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying”
  • Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”

Next, we’ll look to see which of these recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (open to all recordings that are at least 25 years old) and/or the National Recording Registry (open to all recordings that are at least 10 years old).

All 10 of our finalists have been in release long enough to be eligible for the National Recording Registry. “Need You Now” just became eligible this past year: It was released in August 2009; the most recent inductions were announced in March.

All but the last three finalists have been in release long enough to qualify for the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Three of these 10 recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame: “Behind Closed Doors,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “Always on My Mind.”

One of these 10 recordings has been inducted into the National Recording Registry: “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

By process of elimination, then, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is the most honored country recording of all time. As it happens, the single was No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart 40 years ago this week. It was Jones’ 10th No. 1 hit on that chart (counting three collabs with Tammy Wynette). With the single’s ascent to No. 1, Jones became the first artist to top Hot Country Songs in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman co-wrote “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Billy Sherrill co-produced the single with Jones.

Jones died in 2013, followed by Sherrill in 2015 and Putman in 2016. Of the key people responsible for the recording, only Braddock is still living. So hats off to Bobby Braddock, co-writer of the most honored country recording of all time.

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