Certain country music so perfectly captures the dimly-lit lifestyle of a smoky dive bar that it shares its moniker with those establishments: honky-tonk. Both as a place and as a song, the honky-tonk is all about the tears in the beers, the camaraderie of an understanding bartender and the good company of some other lonely barstools.
Throughout the years, a handful of artists have dominated the honky-tonk style of country music, both in sound and theme. Names such as Johnny Horton, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams (and his descendents) spring to mind, along with the voices of Travis Tritt, Dwight Yoakam and others from the style's resurgence in the '90s and beyond.
Narrowing down this list to the Top 10 Honky-Tonk Songs in Country Music was as tough as a hardwood dancefloor. Honorable mentions go to the honky-tonk angels such as Loretta Lynn and recent upstarts including Midland, Hayden Haddock and the Shootouts.
The twangy, hip-swiveling cowboy from Bakersfield, Calif., introduced honky-tonk music to a new generation and gave it a West Coast spin. Yoakam both recorded many classic honky-tonk hits and created some all his own, such as this iconic 1986 hit.
Texas troubadour Ernest Tubb is one of the earliest and most proliferate honky-tonk musicians, capturing the brokenhearted themes and dingy dive bar therapy that would become the trademark of the style.
Jones' encounter with law enforcement in "Honky Tonk Song" is filled with the requisite characteristics of the style: a broken heart, too much to drink and a story that goes from bad to worse as the verses play out.
Following in his father's footsteps, Williams Jr. is visited by ghosts of honky-tonk past in this recording of "There's a Tear in My Beer" released in 1989. The original recording, done by Williams' father in 1950, was never released.
The elder Williams wrote and recorded many of the earliest honky-tonk tunes. This would-be hit was originally released as a B-side for a more upbeat tune, which was deemed more marketable than the tune that Elvis Presley called "the saddest song I've ever heard" in his Aloha from Hawaii TV special.
Thompson bemoans the loss of a love to "The Wild Side of Life," acknowledging his inability to compete with the honky-tonk world that has enamored his wandering sweetheart. Thompson's first hit would solicit a response from the fairer sex (keep reading).
"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels" is a direct answer to Thompson's mournful woes. Wells reminds the world in her own hit song that it takes two to make a heartbreak.
Tritt joined Yoakam in bringing honky-tonk music to a whole new generation, with a whole new attitude. Moving beyond the "weeping in your beverage" stage and into carefree retribution, Tritt's 1991 hit reminds us that moving on can be relatively inexpensive.
Haggard hits the honky-tonk nail on the head with this tune from 1980, which reiterates the endless struggle between love and the high life. The singer could go home to strife and turmoil ... but why, when the beer is cold and the company is easy?
Horton was one of the original honky-tonk apologists, acknowledging the helpless draw of nightlife and the reluctant need to go home when the money is spent and the party's over. A moaning jukebox, a jug of wine and a pretty girl is all it takes to make a honky-tonk man.
This song was covered in 1986 by Yoakam, and became his chart-topping debut single.