In 1981, MTV changed the world with its unique approach to music programming — featuring many of the hit songs that you heard on the radio — sometimes in completely different contextual settings as the music video began to be more prevalent in the promotion of music. From The Buggles to Michael Jackson to Madonna, the pop music world would never be the same.
A couple of years later, the country genre began to include the same promotional-style clips as part of the music business process for singles. Many early clips were simply of the artist on stage performing their songs, but as time went on the same creative process that clips such as “Thriller” unforgettable began to take flight, and careers could be forever changed by the power of a three-minute clip — regardless of chart position. Arguably, this was the hardest country list we have ever put together — so difficult that we came up with 15. Even then, it’s not perfect. A couple explanations to this list are in order before you read…..We tried to limit to one entry per artist (otherwise, it could be the Paisley / Toby / Reba list)……but we did feel the need to make one exception. And, we tried to go the conceptual route than more titillating videos — from both genders.
Here are 15 country music videos we think you’ll be watching from now till the end of time.
See more: Top 15 Country Music Covers | Top 50 Country Love Songs | Top 10 Saddest Country Songs | Top 10 Sexiest Country Songs | Top 10 Country Wedding Songs | Top 25 Relaxing Songs | 15 Songs About Family
15. Mark Gray, “Left Side Of The Bed”
We would venture to say that you might be scratching your head on this one a bit. After all, modern-day country fans are not even likely familiar with the name of Mark Gray, but the former Exile member made a lasting visual impression with this stunning 1984 clip about a man lamenting the end of a relationship. The clip clocked in at nine minutes, but the video was effective in helping the song achieve a top ten hit for Gray. One couldn’t watch this clip and not be overwhelmed by the pure sense of emotion and loss.
14. Lorrie Morgan, “I Guess You Had To Be There”
Morgan has released plenty of videos, with many focusing on her stunning beauty, but maybe her best venture into the CMT world was this 1993 advertisement for this single from her Watch Me. In the video, Morgan alternates between remembering special times with her former lover, and also the pain of watching him move on. The leading man in the video was Kris Kristofferson, ensuring that we bet Morgan had a great day at the office while filming this one.
13. George Jones, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”
Any conversation about great country music videos has to include this seminal clip from 1985 featuring “The Possum.” The storyline revolves around Jones’s tour bus making a stop at an old country store in the middle of nowhere, only to realize that he wasn’t the first notable performer to make such a similar stop. The video used clips of many of the artists that were featured in the song, and the video became an early CMA award winner.
12. Darryl Worley, “I Miss My Friend”
One of the most attractive traits of a video is how they can sometimes change the total complexion of a song. If you simply listen to the audio track, you hear a moving – yet often told – of a man who was missing his former partner. However, the video for this 2002 single ends with a very emotional twist – Worley’s character being a ghost – that helped the song become his first No. 1 hit.
11. Ricky Skaggs, “Country Boy”
Where better for one for one of the top traditional artists of the 1980s to film a video proclaiming the fact that he hadn’t forgotten his small-town roots than…..New York City? In 1984, Ricky Skaggs was in his element, and the setting didn’t matter. In one of the most amusing country music videos, Bill Monroe is featured as Skaggs’ “Uncle Pen,” who comes to the Big Apple to see how uptown his nephew has become. “The Father of Bluegrass” gives some buck dancing tips to some teenagers on the subway, and even then-Mayor Edward Koch gives his endorsement by making a cameo.
10. Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
Ah, yes, that sweet Carrie Underwood, who had just broken through with her big hit single, the tender and sentimental “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” Think again! The singer received a little more of a tough side than her first couple of singles with this fiery performance and clip where she gets revenge on a cheating lover. The moral of the story is ‘Don’t Mess with Carrie,’ unless you want your truck dented in!
9. Travis Tritt, “Anymore”
Again, a video can sometimes take you places that a recording can’t. This 1991 hit proves this. The song was itself is a passionate plea for the return of a partner, but in the video, Tritt takes on the role of a wounded solider named “Mac,” who is in the process of going through rehab and is resisting his wife / lover – until the end. The video was very much responsible for putting Tritt on the A-list. The 1995 sequel “Tell Me I Was Dreaming,” was even more effective, but this is where the story started. A heart-tugging clip then and now.
8. Dierks Bentley, “Drunk On A Plane”
“Riser Air” might not be the safest airline that one could fly to their dream destination on, but it would be one of the most fun, no doubt. The video for this 2014 single — about a party in the friendly skies — notched a big win for the singer at the award shows, which brought him back to his roots in a sense. His career-opening single, “What Was I Thinkin,” was aided on its chart climb with an effective video, as well.
7. Brad Paisley, “Celebrity”
In 2003, American Idol was at its popularity peak, and Brad Paisley took a comical aim at the series with this entry into the greatest country video list with a film that took a shot at the excesses of being in the public eye. William Shatner parodies the Simon Cowell role on AI brilliantly, with appearances from Jason Alexander, Jim Belushi, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Bachelor star Trista Rehn. How could one not love a guest list like that?
6. Reba McEntire & Linda Davis, “Does He Love You”
There was a little bit of a Dallas / Dynasty feel to this 1993 clip about two Hollywood leading ladies, and the man who they have in common. The looks that the two give each other in this clip are straight out of Joan Collins and Linda Evans territory, with the Reba character deciding to off the other two — or so you think. The Dallas-style twist at the end — featuring Rob Reiner – turns out to be a priceless turn.
5. Martina McBride, “Independence Day”
Chart-wise, this 1994 single wasn’t even a top ten hit, but the song that helped to send the career of Martina McBride soaring was this Gretchen Peters composition about an abused wife / mother who can take no more. Had it not been for this video clip, listeners may have never paid true attention to the lyrics. The song and video represented career-defining moments for the four-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, helping to shed light on a society problem that was — and is — all too true.
4. Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now?!”
Who hasn’t lived the words of this 2000 Toby Keith hit? The video for this song further documented the triumph that a guy feels when he gets a chance to show that he’s made it – in the face of the girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day? And, regardless of gender, there’s someone who fits that bill in your life that you think about from time to time…
3. Hank Williams & Hank Williams, Jr., “There’s A Tear In My Beer”
Where would you find an instance of a 39-year old man standing next to his 20-something year old father, who has been deceased for almost three decades? In 1989, it would be on the video screen, as the benefits of modern technology made it possible for ‘Bocephus’ to share the same stage as his dad — who died in the back of a black Cadillac when he was a mere three years old. Today, almost three decades later, technology would allow so much more to be done in this vein, but the effect today of this clip is the same as it was in 1989 — mesmerizing.
2. Reba McEntire, “Fancy”
OK, what makes Reba McEntire so special that she gets two entries on this list? Have you ever seen her videos? Sure, artists like Paisley and Keith have released many more clips that could fall on this list, McEntire’s videos were more than just simple releases in the 1990s. They were mini-movies, telling stories sometimes that would make you laugh….and sometimes cry at how life could take some twisted turns. In this clip, Fancy Rae Baker returns to the place she grew up, and begins to recall her troubled childhood, a mother who had no choice to push her daughter into the world’s oldest profession, and the ultimate triumph. It was clips like this one that helped Reba set the course for a winning acting career that would go on to include her own sitcom.
1. Garth Brooks, “The Dance”
The idea of putting some simple clips of public figures to a musical lyric might not make that big of an impact in 2017, but in 1990, it was a different time. Tony Arata’s lyrics about living life to the fullest in the moments that you are given on this earth combined with the images of John Wayne, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, the Challenger crew, Keith Whitley, and rodeo rider Lane Frost (the last two having passed away died just a year before) stirred an emotional reaction not equaled before or since by viewers, easily making this the top pick on our greatst country videos list.