A list compiled by Brion McClanahan, Tom Daniel, and Jeff Rogers
Good Time Feelin’ – Dickey Betts
Betts’s solo projects were as good (if not better) than most Allman Brothers albums post Duane Allman. “Good Time Feelin’” is a blistering blues rock tune, and this live version is better than any studio recording of Betts and Great Southern. “I can’t get enough, of that wonderful stuff.”
I’ll Be Running – Molly Hatchet
Molly Hatchet’s debut album is one of the best Southern rock efforts of the 1970s. Their three-guitar sound was arguably better than Skynyrd’s. From the opening riff, “I’ll Be Running” is a groovy in your face guitar assault complete with a harmonica solo, and Danny Joe Brown’s growling vocals are the icing on the cake. “Don’t remember checking in, but I’m certain to check out.”
Ain’t Even Close – Molly Hatchet
“Ain’t Even Close” has every element that made Molly Hatchet the premier Southern hard rock band of the late 1970s and early 1980s: great hooks, amazing solos, and a driving rhythm. After Danny Joe Brown briefly left the group for a solo project, this comeback album showed that Molly Hatchet was always better with their original front man in the band.
Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love – Townes Van Zandt
Townes Van Zandt might seem out of place on a list of Southern rock tunes, but Van Zandt was universally recognized as one of the best songwriters and guitar pickers in the South. Just before he died, the front man for the “grunge” band Sonic Youth contacted him to work on an album together. Years of substance abuse shortened Van Zandt’s life, but perhaps also gave him the inspiration for his haunting style and lyrics. Either way, Van Zandt was one of the most respected “folk” artists in the United States. “Folk” music is quintessentially Southern, and the term originated as a way for Yankees to claim something they had no role in creating. See Bob Dylan. This song showcases Van Zandt’s ability to play a mean blues lick.
Keep on Smilin’ – Wet Willie
Alabama based Wet Willie found commercial success with this tune in 1974, but Southern rock fans noticed the band as they consistently opened for the Allman Brothers throughout the 1970s. Their Southern styled rhythm and blues pop sound fused with the musical talents of Mobile, Alabama’s Jimmy Hall made this band an important part of the 1970s Southern rock scene. Hall often toured with Hank Williams, Jr. and was nominated for a Grammy for his vocals on Jeff Beck’s 1985 album, Flash.
One Way Out – Allman Brothers Band
This little blues tune has Duane Allman showing why he was one of the best slide guitar players in the history of recorded music. Recorded at the Fillmore East in New York in 1971, “One Way Out” is the Allman Brothers at their zenith, from Gregg Allman’s gravelly vocals to the “jam” sound that made them one of the best live acts in the United States.
Remedy – Black Crowes
“Remedy” was the second song on the band’s sophomore effort, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, but they often opened their shows with the tune, and it is one of their more iconic songs. Everything is quintessentially Southern, from Rich Robinson’s muddy guitar sound to the integration of organ and background “soul” singers. This album brought Southern rock back to the forefront of American music in the early 1990s.
Shake Your Magnolia – Blackberry Smoke
Blackberry Smoke has become one of the most recognized Southern rock bands of the last decade, and this little ditty from their first album is as good as any “jukin’” song from the 1970s, including Skynyrd’s “Gimmie Three Steps” or “Down South Jukin’.” This song is intended to make you dance, or more importantly to get the ladies on the dance floor.
On the Run – The Jompson Brothers
“On the Run” highlights Chris Stapleton’s songwriting and his ability to emote a song’s meaning vocally. The desperation drips from every note in his voice while the dark, moody melody puts you on the road with him, pedal down, on a midnight-soaked blacktop, “running from the truth” and “running from a lie.” This song is perhaps better than Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.” It’s grittier and just as authentic.
Highwayman – The Highwaymen
There’s nothing “country” about the song “Highwayman” by the “country” supergroup The Highwaymen. Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson formed The Highwaymen in 1985 and instantly raced to the top of the country charts with “Highwayman,” a blue-collar unapologetic romp through the seedy, hardworking, and adventurous side of American history. Every note in the song pays homage to the rugged individualism that made America, from the western explorers to those who fly “starships.”
Workin’ – Lynyrd Skynyrd
The post Ronnie Van Zant Lynyrd Skynyrd released several records in the 1990s and early 2000s, and this song shows that the new lineup with Johnny Van Zant on vocals and Hughie Tomasson (Outlaws) and Ricky Medlocke (Blackfoot) on guitar had as much punch—if not more—than the original group. Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, and Leon Wilkeson were still part of the band when this album was released in 1999.
Gimmie Back My Bullets – Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Gimmie Back My Bullets” is one of the more unapologetic songs in the Skynyrd catalog. The mean streak in this song was born on the streets of blue-collar Jacksonville and in the ditches of the music industry. Van Zant clearly had a chip on his shoulder and the band seemed to have a renewed vigor in 1976. “Tell all those pencil pushers, better get outta my way.”
Ain’t No Fool – Doc Holliday
This is one of the best unknown Southern rock tunes of the early 1980s. “I may be from the country, baby, but I ain’t no fool.” Doc Holliday mastered the guitar harmonies of Molly Hatchet and Lynyrd Skynyrd in this fast-paced rocker where Bruce Brookshire makes it known that “sweet Dixie” is his home. “Don’t you forget it.”
Running With The Crowd – Charlie Daniels
This song wouldn’t be included among a Charlie Daniels greatest hits collection, but it should be. From the album High Lonesome, “Running With The Crowd” taps into Daniels’s Southern upbringing. He was always honest about his affinity for the people of North Carolina and the South in general, and his advice in this song is timeless: “Do a honest days work for the money you spend, be fast with the ladies and slow with the men, be kind to your horses and true to your friends, and treat every mother’s son fair. Don’t stay in town late on a Saturday night, don’t let no one tease you into a fight, ‘cause when they’re settled with guns, there ain’t nobody right. It’s a short trail that leads to nowhere.”
Birmingham Blues – Charlie Daniels
This is by far the best “jam” from any Charlie Daniels album. “Birmingham Blues” shows how musically talented the Charlie Daniels band was at every instrument, and the lyrics pining for home are quintessentially Southern. “Sitting here in L.A. lookin’ down at my shoes, drowin’ my troubles in small talk and booze, sittin’ here wonderin’ if I could have been born to lose. Had me a fine woman down in Birmingham town, took care of my money and she didn’t play around, and all I got left is a bad case of Birmingham blues.” Many Southern acts of the 1970s spoke of the allure of Los Angeles only to realize that those L.A. streets weren’t paved with gold, as Daniels wrote in the song “Georgia.”
Ballad of a Southern Man – Whiskey Myers
Whiskey Myers shows that you can still be proud of being Southern and commercially successful in the modern age. In fact, that might be why they are. The band is as non-PC as any mainstream act in the business, and “Ballad of a Southern Man” is a full expression of the paradox of Southern life: despair filled with hope and defiance in search of acceptance.
Champagne Jam – Atlanta Rhythm Section
“Champagne Jam” is one of the most popular tunes from ARS and has a harder edge than some of their other material. This is one of the reasons the group eventually dissolved. Some members wanted to follow this path while others enjoyed the light rock sound of songs like “So Into You.” This song also shows that ARS could jam with the best of the bands from the South.
Every Little Kiss – Bruce Hornsby and the Range
Bruch Hornsby wouldn’t have been as successful had he not had he feet firmly planted in the South. “Every Little Kiss” is not just a love song, but a beautiful reflection of small Southern blue-collar America, of longing for home. Hornsby is often lumped into the Midwestern rust belt feel of 1980s pop music, but there isn’t anything Midwestern about him or his music. Even his biggest hit, “The Way It Is,” while critical of the South, wouldn’t have been written if not for the South.
Georgia Pine – Cry of Love
This funky little tune from Cry of Love shows why Audley Freed was in high demand after Cry of Love failed to have much commercial success in the 1990s. He is without question one of the better Southern guitar players of the last thirty years. “Georgia Pine” not only has a face melting guitar solo but a tight rhythm that paces the song throughout. This band should have been more popular.
Over and Over – Georgia Satellites
“Over and Over” is what rock n’ roll was supposed to sound like and what the Georgia Satellites do best. You can’t get a better “feel good” rock song than this, and it’s easy to imagine why the band was signed to a major record label. It’s also easy to see why they didn’t have much commercial success and have been relegated to “one hit wonder” status. Americans don’t seem to like straight ahead rock anymore.