Skip to main content

Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’: Vince Gill, Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline Sales Soar After PBS Doc Airs

The eight-part series concluded Sept. 25 after airing its first episode on Sept. 15.

Ken Burns’ latest documentary, this time covering country music, looks to be a hit for music sales, with various songs from the eight-part series’ 100-plus-song soundtrack seeing notable gains in digital downloads.

Since Country Music’s Sept. 15 premiere, songs from Johnny Cash, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Patsy Cline, Vince Gill and more have jumped in sales both in the week the series premiered and the current week, during which the show’s final four episodes aired. (Country Music premiered its final episode on Wednesday night, Sept. 25.)

They’re paced in overall volume by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s iconic team-up “Pancho and Lefty.” Coming via the series’ seventh episode, the song, itself a No. 1 single on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in July 1983, sold 2,000 downloads in the day of the premiere of the episode in which it was featured (episode seven) and the following day (Sept. 23-24) vs. the previous two days (Sept. 21-22), a 700% gain, according to initial sales reports to Nielsen Music.


More good news for Nelson: A large download count also belongs to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” which he wrote. In the day of its episode’s premiere (episode 4) and the day after (Sept. 19-20) vs. the previous two days (Sept. 17-18), its download jump was 815%, garnering 1,000 downloads in all.

Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” a track featured in the final episode of the doc, has already seen a sizable gain in downloads as well. Its 1,000-download count in the day of the episode’s premiere (episode 8) on Sept. 25 is a 781% jump against Sept. 24.

As for the largest percentage gains, that distinction belongs to Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me,” which moved 1,000 downloads in the day of the episode’s airing and the day following alone (episode 6, Sept. 23-24), a 2,589% boost.


Other strong counts belong to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a trio of Johnny Cash songs (“Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues”), Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

Meanwhile, the latest Top Country Albums chart dated Sept. 28 saw gains for Cash’s The Essential Johnny Cash (31-28, 5,000 equivalent album units, up 6%) and Williams’ 35 Biggest Hits (No. 41, 4,000 units, up 3%), while the sprawling Country Music soundtrack debuted at No. 44 on the chart with 4,000 units, all via traditional album sales — with more entries and gains possible on the Oct. 5-dated list.