When you’ve had 61 no.1 hits, it’s safe to assume that you’ve got more than a fair share of bangers in your back catalogue. For George Strait, the hits have come pretty easy over the course of a 40-year career - taking him from Frio County, Texas, to being one of country music’s greatest living legends.
He’s sold more than 100 million records worldwide and has packed out stadiums all across America, culminating in him playing a 48-date farewell stadium stint on The Cowboy Rides Away Tour in 2014.
At the age of 29, he changed the direction of the whole genre with his 1981 debut album, Strait Country, pioneering a "new-traditionalist" sound and look, and bucking the trend of pop-influenced country that was prevalent in the early 80s.
He went on to release 30 studio albums, three live albums, 11 compilations, 125 charted singles and more no.1 hits than any other artist in a single genre. Just a few of the reasons they call him “King George”.
Holler takes a look at the musical highlights from four decades at the very top of country music.
A cute tale of third grade romance, ‘Check Yes Or No’ tells the story of a young girl called Emmylou Hayes chasing the object of her affections around the playground and kissing him on the school bus, before a note she passes to him in class gets intercepted by the teacher, who reads its contents out to the class.
In the letter, Emmylou tells the boy to reveal his true feelings for her by ticking the box either labelled “yes” or “no”. Luckily he felt the same, and 20 years later they’re a married couple with two kids riding around in a limousine together.
"Baby all I got is this beat up leather bag, and everything I own don't fill up half", croons George on the mid-tempo title track from his 1997 album, as he travels around the country, keeping his loved one in his thoughts wherever he goes from “West Virginia down to Tennessee”, looking forward to when they’re finally reunited.
George pulls up a barstool next to a down-on-his-luck drinker drowning his sorrows and “throwing doubles down” one evening. After listening to the man listing off all the things in his life he’s taken a dislike to – the bar, his job, his apartment, all the seasons and weirdly, most of the colours of the rainbow – George decides he should probably call his wife and patch things up with her before he ends up like this cautionary tale. He pays for the man’s drinks before he heads home as way of thanks.
For over 20 years, Conway Twitty had held the record for the most no.1 singles on the Hot Country Charts, but in 2006 George smashed that record into smithereens with this funky chunk of talking blues - his 41st no.1.
Written by country legend Bill Anderson with Jamey Johnson, it finds our hopeless hero sitting amongst the framed photos and furniture from his broken marriage, still unable to move on, long after his wife has left. It won Song of the Year at the ACM awards and the CMA Awards the following year.
One of George Strait’s funniest songs and an absolute punchline country classic, this title track to his seventh studio album saw him telling his lover he wasn’t going to miss her when she was gone and that he wouldn’t ever want to take her back or even be haunted by her memory. But it turns out that he’s talking absolute BS, when he likens the probability of him not doing all those things to having an “ocean front property” in landlocked Arizona.
The very first of George’s 61 no.1 singles, ‘Fool Hearted Memory’ featured on the film The Soldier, which George even made a cameo in. Written by Byron Hill and Blake Mevis, George really stamped his trademark warm twang delivery on this hit, a weeping fiddle riff dancing delightfully around him.
“I still feel 25 most of the time / I still raise a little cain with the boys / Honky tonks and pretty women / Lord I'm still right there with them singing above the crowd and the noise”, George sings, his voice a little rougher and outlook more philosophical. In one of his more personal moments, George looked into the mirror and reflected nostalgically on all his years as a singer; “I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I'll be an old troubadour when I'm gone”.
George looks on helplessly as his ex-lover falls in love with someone else, but can’t help noticing how much happier she looks now that she’s found someone who truly makes her happy, only wishing he’d been able to do the same. The lead single from his 1983 album Right Or Wrong, it set the bar for singers like Garth Brooks and Keith Whitley in the late 80s.
The first song on any ‘Country Songs for Dads’ playlist, George pulls hard on the heartstrings in this single, as a father looks back chronologically on all the things he and his son have done together over the course of his life.
Loading up a station wagon with fishing rods for a weekend of camping, his son turns to him as they arrive at the campsite and says, “Dad, this could be the best day of my life / Been dreamin' day and night about the fun we'll have / Just me and you doing what I've always wanted to / I'm the luckiest boy alive / This is the best day of my life”.
If that wasn’t enough to have you already sobbing into your beer, the father takes his son out for a spin in the new car he’s given him on his fifteenth birthday, and the son is still having the best day of his life, and he’s a bloody teenager!!
The third and final verse takes place on the son's wedding day. As they stand in the church, waiting for the bride-to-be, the son turns to his dad to tell him how much he’s learned from watching his father and mother, before claiming one last time that this is actually the best day of his life. If you’re not a blubbering mess after listening to this song, then I don’t know why you’re even listening to country music.
This single from his 1996 Blue Clear Sky album tells the story of a rodeo cowboy torn between the two passions in his life, calling home to apologise to his lover for always being away and prioritising the rodeo life over his love life. When he assures her that he is coming home, she tells him she’s met someone else who isn’t a rodeo cowboy and she’s thinking of leaving.
Given the ultimatum between saving his relationship and the rodeo, the cowboy decides to go on to Cheyenne to take part in one of the most prestigious rodeos in America.
Probably for the best she met someone else, to be honest.
John Prine and Roger Cook gave George his 42nd no.1 single in 1998, although Prine had recorded a version of it 12 years earlier for his own German Afternoons album. George was in a particularly playful mood here; whistling along with the guitars and twirling his dance partner around the dancefloor in this laid-back country shuffle.
Taken from the Pure Country soundtrack, ‘I Cross My Heart’ is George at his most incurably romantic, delivering lines like “You will always be the miracle that makes my life complete, and as long as there's a breath in me I'll make yours just as sweet” with a profoundly endearing charm on this heartfelt ballad.
The second single from the Ocean Front Property album finds George listing off his ex-lovers – Rosanna, Elieen, Allison and even Dimples – who all reside in various places throughout the state of Texas. He longs to live there too but resigns himself to having to stay in Tennessee, just to avoid them all. Somewhat surprisingly, Drake name checks the song in his single ‘HYFR’.
There are some songs that you could never imagine anyone but George Strait singing, and ‘The Chair’ is one of them. His smooth delivery slips in to tell his one-sided account of a Friday night in a bar, where he walks up to a woman with the famous opening line, “Well, excuse me, but I think you've got my chair”, stumbling over his words as he offers to buy her a drink.
They sit down and, after a night spent talking and possibly dancing, he ends up driving her home. Written by Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon at the end of a particularly long night, it came to them when they were “about written out", as Dillon later described it, after he strummed his guitar and sang the opening line. 20 minutes later, ‘The Chair’ was complete.
Written way back in 1973 by Terry Stafford and Paul Fraser, versions of this song had already been released by Stafford and by real-life rodeo champion Chris LeDoux by the time George got his hands on it.
Sung from the point of view of rodeo cowboy, this time driving through the night to a county fair in Amarillo, Texas, it recounts the difficulties that have befallen him throughout his life - broken bones, wives and girlfriends he’s lost, and ultimately poverty – but concludes that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Despite being regularly included on lists of the best country songs of all time, it’s one of the few singles released that didn’t make it to no.1; stalling at no.4 upon its release.
Listen to the full playlist of Holler's list of The Best George Strait Songs below now: