Kenny Rogers' songs are iconic, but truth be told, the singer saw success in just about every form of entertainment. In honor of one of the longest and most varied careers in showbiz history, we’d like to take a moment to recognize some of his most memorable recordings.
As one can imagine, this Top 10 Kenny Rogers songs list was extremely challenging to narrow down. However, we’ve tried to select songs that represent several chapters of his career. From the obvious "Coward of the County" and "Ruby" to classic American love songs including "Lady" and "Through the Years," these are the cream of Rogers' crop.
"Twenty Years Ago"From ‘They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To ‘ (1986)
Kenny Rogers was known as one of the great storytellers in country music. The gravelly voice was the narrator for such story songs as "The Greatest," "Tomb of the Unknown Love" and "The Factory." In addition to the story songs that appear on this list of the Top Kenny Rogers songs, we’ve included "Twenty Years Ago," a sentimental journey back in time. Regardless of age, the chorus seems to resonate the feelings of everyone -- that "life was so much easier twenty years ago."
"You Decorated My Life"From ‘Kenny’ (1979)
We could have easily compiled a list of just top Kenny Rogers love songs. Throughout his career, power ballads like "I Don’t Need You," "She Believes in Me" and "Crazy" were best-sellers. In addition to the duets and the love songs that have made this list, we’ve selected "You Decorated My Life" as one of Rogers' overall best. From easy listening AM stations, hot country FM stations, and wedding receptions, this song has meant a lot to a lot of people.
"Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town" (with the First Edition)From ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town’ (1969)
As the lead singer of the First Edition, Kenny Rogers' voice was at the forefront of some of their biggest hits -- like this one. Penned by Mel Tillis, "Ruby" was Rogers' first country chart entry. Although the song peaked at a modest No. 39, it’s since become a staple of his catalog of hits and live shows. The tragic love story, set to a catchy beat, is a must-have on our list of Top 10 Kenny Rogers Songs.
"Buy Me a Rose" (with Alison Krauss and Billy Dean)From ‘She Rides Wild Horses’ (1999)
In the ‘80s, Rogers was the biggest act in country music, selling out arenas night after night. However, when the ‘90s rolled along, the trends changed and the consistent hitmaker fell off the charts. Rogers kept touring to big crowds and working on other entertainment projects, and in 1999 "Buy Me a Rose" brought the legend back to radio with a No. 1 hit. At the age of 61, the Gambler made history as the oldest singer to ever have a No. 1 solo it on the Billboard Country charts.
"Lucille"From ‘Kenny Rogers’ (1977)
After success in rock, folk and pop music, Kenny Rogers had left the First Edition and made the decision to launch his solo career in country music. In 1977, "Lucille" solidified his spot in the genre with his first No. 1 hit, a Grammy for Male Vocalist of the Year and a CMA for Single of the Year. Ironically, as Rogers revealed in his book Luck or Something Like It, his mother’s name was Lucille. The first chart-topper of his country career is a given on our list of the Top 10 Kenny Rogers songs.
"Lady"From ‘Greatest Hits’ (1980)
After years of success with the Commodores, with songs like "Brick House," "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady," Lionel Richie began a career transition by writing a monster hit for Rogers in 1980. It’s no surprise that there would be a mega hit in combining these successful hitmakers. "Lady" topped the Country, Hot 100, and Adult Contemporary charts. The song’s overwhelming success set the stage for Richie to release his first solo album in 1982.
"Islands in the Stream" (with Dolly Parton)From ‘Eyes That See in the Dark’ (1983)
Penned by the Bee Gees, "Islands in the Stream" was one of the biggest multi-format hits in American music following its release. Played around the world (in every format), everyone just fell in love with the chemistry between Kenny and Dolly. The duet launched other successful projects, including a 1984 Christmas TV special, holiday album and 1985’s No. 1 hit "Real Love," which was also accompanied by a TV special. This all-time favorite country duet is a must-include on our Top 10 Kenny Rogers songs compilation.
"Coward of the Country"From ‘Kenny’ (1979)
Billboard ranks this as the biggest country single in all of the 1980s. The infectious chorus dominated country and pop playlists, meanwhile finding its way to television -- like many of Rogers' other hits -- in a made for TV movie. The song was involved in a little controversy when the name ‘Gatlin’ was used as the perp's in the rape verse. However, Rogers apologized, insisted the reference was not about country music's Gatlin Brothers, and invited the three to open up some of his shows.
"Through the Years"From ‘Share Your Love’ (1981)
After Kenny Rogers had great success signing Lionel Richie’s "Lady," Richie went back to work on another Kenny Rogers project. Serving as producer, Richie produced one of the greatest wedding/anniversary songs of all time in any genre of music in "Through the Years." The song has earned its way into the Great American Songbook and will always be a favorite choice for special occasions.
"The Gambler"From ‘The Gambler’ (1978)
Since 1978, "The Gambler" is still one of the most popular singalong songs in the world. From Jamaica, piano bars in Las Vegas and the Bonnaroo Music Festival to small town karaoke clubs, everyone knows -- and loves to join in -- whenever "The Gambler" is played. The album's creative artwork was the inspiration for the longest-running mini-series in television history. Penned by Don Schlitz and originally cut by singers like Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare, Kenny Rogers' version seems to hold the winning hand.