With over 50 years in the business, endless collaborators, multiple sounds, numerous record labels and one iconic hairstyle, narrowing Marty Stuart’s impressive catalogue down to 20 songs was quite the task, but we've given it a hearty shot.
Here is Holler's list of the best Marty Stuart songs.
Arlene remains significant as Marty’s first official single and entry into the charts, from 1985’s Marty Stuart, his only album with Columbia Records. It’s a classic tale of forbidden love for Marty and the titular Arlene, complete with red dresses and shotgun toting fathers.
The Mac Wiseman and Osborne Brothers version is best known, but Marty and his old boss Lester Flatt played their own on this collection of live recordings from Marty’s time with Flatt’s band. The opening audio showcases the great affection with which the two men held each other.
A Merle Haggard duet co-written with Marty’s wife, fellow country singer songwriter Connie Smith, Marty lays bare the endless struggles and relentless cycle of trying to make a living from the land. Merle even yodels on this melancholy ballad that marvels at the unmerciful hand of mother nature.
Religion has always played a part in Marty’s musical repertoire. 2014’s The Gospel Music of Marty Stuart, recorded live, put it front and centre. Marty is one of country music’s good guys; maybe it’s just because he knows the inevitability of everything working out okay in the end.
Marty has described the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo as the blueprint for his musical life. This instrumental track from 2014’s Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions was recorded on Clarence White’s telecaster and was awarded the last ever Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance.
This ominous and eerie track is mostly spoken rather than sung, in an ode to Wagoner himself. It’s somewhat unexplainable but Marty, who wrote it on the way home from Wagoner’s funeral, sees it clearly when he shares his wisdom that “sometimes angels and strangers are one and the same”.
From Marty’s latest album, Altitude, it was third time lucky for him and his Fabulous Superlatives, following their attempts to record this track for two earlier albums. On this cool cruiser they find themselves “cruising slow down the street, looking cool laid back in the seat”. We believe it.
If whiskey is country music’s ultimate painkiller, then red wine is its close second. This track, with its rousing backing vocals, finds its narrator’s 10 years of sobriety ended by the heartbreak of a love gone wrong, the cigarette smoke, powder and pain never quite soothing as it should.
Has any other type of venue inspired quite as many tunes as a honky tonk? One of several Travis Tritt duets, he and Marty fill the place on this party tune that celebrates the hedonism and bright lights of a good Saturday night spent on the dancefloor.
Marty was a longtime collaborator and one time son-in-law of Johnny Cash, even joining him on the legendary Class of 55 album. They turn up the guitar on this version but Cash’s presence looms over the entire track, becoming truly ominous when his vocal announces itself with a low hum.
A strange and dark tune from 1999’s concept album The Pilgrim, this track incorporates spoken word elements and was inspired by a lone crow Marty spotted during a pit stop whilst on tour. Proof that heartbreak is universal, the aforementioned crow finds a love rival in a parakeet.
From 2012’s Nashville: Tear the Woodpile Down, this was a good indication of what we’d come to expect from Marty and the Fabulous Superlatives on later records Way Out West and Altitude, both sonically and lyrically. The strings are cosmic and the lessons foreboding: time is on your side until it’s going, going, gone.
Reaching number 7 in the charts, this fourth and final single from 1991 album Tempted sees Marty’s lust reach teenage levels of swoon. Here he finds himself caught up in a love so fiery and all encompassing that it wobbles both his voice and his knees.
Marty’s list of musical collaborators is as long as it is impressive, but some have had more longevity than others. Here with guitarist and Fabulous Superlatives bandmate Cousin Kenny Vaughan, he finds one more to add to the list, their vocals and strings melding together as seamlessly as ever.
The title track form his 1991 album, this is Marty’s highest charting solo single. Co-written with prolific English songwriter Paul Kennerley, Paul McCartney expressed his admiration of the song in the most uniquely rock and roll way ever...by radioing from his tour bus when they passed by Marty’s in Texas.
Marty and the Fabulous Superlatives were always cool, but spacey 2017 album Way Out West put them on ice. This feel-good singalong ode to the road life was made for an open highway straight into the cosmos, and the best possible tribute to Marty’s life as a self-proclaimed ‘roads scholar’.
George Strait, pickup trucks, a jukebox, the do-si-do, good ole boys and western girls: this track has all the makings of a perfect country song. Complete with a singalong call and response of a chorus, you’ll find yourself still chanting along days after listening.
The most successful of his collaborations with Travis Tritt, this track won both artists a Grammy. As they find out, the bottle can soothe the pain but only a true honky tonk angel, “warm and willing” can take it away. Though hitting a career best of number two in the charts might have helped, too.
Part cautionary tale, part real life lesson in how to avoid the warning at its heart, Marty shows how to marry the traditional and the modern on this psychedelic track. You can bury your head in those desert sands Marty sings of but you can’t avoid the simple truth: that time don’t wait on nobody.
No matter how commercial his sound drifted, none can deny Marty’s well known commitment to the preservation of musical history. This song serves as both the title track of the album that marked the beginning of his time in the mainstream with MCA Records, and a potted biography of hillbilly music. Diligent as ever.
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