He can be as traditional country as they come, with his natural Kentucky-born vocal approach, but there’s more to the sound of Dwight Yoakam than just being…a “Honky Tonk Man.” (We couldn’t resist!) The singer is equally at home playing with rock and roll acts, and covering a wide variety of music. He’s the only performer to notch Top 20 country hits with songs made famous by both Johnny Horton and Queen, and his music is just as much influenced by the Los Angeles club scene as it is the hills of his native Pikeville, Kentucky — also the hometown of future duet partner Patty Loveless.
In selecting 10 Dwight Yoakam songs for this list, we picked an equal amount of tracks that show his reverence for the past, yet also show an artist who never shied away from showing his edge. Yoakam is truly one of a kind as an entertainer, and these songs are a defining reflection of this!
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10. Dwight Yoakam – “Things Change”
A 1998 single from his A Long Way Home disc that represented one of his final hits at country radio. The singer details how his point of view on a former relationship has evolved over time as the pain began to heal somewhat. There was a definite air of self-assuredness in this Dwight Yoakam song that the singer pulled off beautifully.
9. Dwight Yoakam – “Streets Of Bakersfield”
In the fall months of 1987, Dwight was scheduled to play the Kern County Fair in California, when he showed up — unannounced — at the Bakersfield office of Buck Owens, one of his major influences. Owens joined the rising star on stage that night, and from that performance, the two would be forever linked together, with this single from the summer of 1988 becoming his first number one hit — and Owens’ first since 1972. The song had been recorded by Owens on a 1973 album, Ain’t It Amazing Gracie.
8. Dwight Yoakam – “You’re The One”
Turnabout is fair play, and Yoakam knocked this performance out of the ballpark concerning a man’s observation that his former lover is now being treated in a manner that is very similar to the way that she treated him. The song was one of six singles from his 1990 If There Was A Way.
7. Dwight Yoakam – “Guitars, Cadillacs”
The title cut from his legendary 1986 Reprise album, this song had all the ingredients of a classic country song — a thumping bass, twangy guitars and a honky-tonk bravado that was straight out of the George Jones/Johnny Cash playbook. A crucial part of this song’s success was the ultra hip video directed by the late Sherman Halsey.
6. Dwight Yoakam – “Little Sister”
For the lead single from Hillbilly Deluxe, Yoakam once again tipped the covers hat — but this time to Elvis Presley. This attitude-fueled cut became a huge hit in the spring of 1987.
5. Dwight Yoakam – “Little Ways”
Before Bakersfield, Yoakam demonstrated a natural affinity for the Buck Owens sound with this 1987 single that sounded like the perfect combination of Buck and Don — complete with the classic-sounding cold introduction. No wonder Owens became such a huge fan of Yoakam. After all, the style was very familiar.
4. Dwight Yoakam – “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”
Yoakam narrowly missed the top spot on the singles chart with this 1993 track from This Time, where the singer lamented the sadness and despair that he felt after the breakup of his relationship. The feel of this Dwight Yoakam song was very murky and mysterious, which lent itself to the anguish that he was singing about.
3. Dwight Yoakam – “Fast As You”
As much as traditional country was a part of his sound, Yoakam also cut his teeth on the punk rock scene of Los Angeles. He captured that sound with this rollicking slice of swagger that hit No. 2 in early 1994.
2. Dwight Yoakam – “Honky Tonk Man”
There was nothing subtle about Yoakam’s opening introduction to country radio, a cover of a 1956 Columbia single from the late Johnny Horton. Other artists would cover the song through the years, but it was Yoakam who brought the song to a wider influence with a cutting-edge sound that signified the beginning of a sound that nobody had heard the likeness of in many years.
Dwight Yoakam – “Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)”
The title track of his 1988 album is perhaps Yoakam’s crowning achievement as a tunesmith. You can feel the anger and the guilt in each and every line of this song about a man who takes a final revenge on a cheating lover and the man who led her astray. The murder ballad failed to dent the Top 40, but it remains a Dwight Yoakam song performance for the ages!
1. Dwight Yoakam – “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”
Outside of his own pen, Yoakam developed a huge love of the songwriting of Kostas, who co-penned this 1993 single with the talented James House. The track was a little more modern sounding than Yoakam’s previous work, and country radio responded, making this song one of his biggest hits. It also netted the singer the first of his two Grammy wins as a recording artist, for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male.