Emmylou Harris' influence on modern country and Americana music is incalculable. Born in Alabama, she received her first break thanks to collaborations with Gram Parsons; in fact, she is featured prominently on his influential album Grievous Angel.
Soon after, Harris launched a solo career that led to a bevy of country chart hits, starting with 1975's "If I Could Only Win Your Love." She's nabbed five No. 1 country hits, including 1976's "Together Again" and 1980's "Beneath Still Waters," and even more Top 10 hits.
In the '90s, Harris had a resurgence of sorts in the Americana realm, working with Daniel Lanois on 1995's Wrecking Ball and digging into her notebooks for the powerful, self-penned 2000 effort Red Dirt Girl. Through it all, Harris thrived on collaboration -- for example, her Trio albums with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, as well as duo albums with Mark Knopfler and Rodney Crowell.
Read on for The Boot's picks for the Top 10 Emmylou Harris Songs.
"Beneath Still Waters"From 1979's 'Blue Kentucky Girl'
A 1980 No. 1 single for Harris, the melancholy "Beneath Still Waters" was first popularized by George Jones, and focuses on someone who recognizes that their relationship is on the precipice of ending: "Even a fool could see / That you'll soon be leaving me." Despite their sadness, however, there's an air of resignation -- and the determination to survive the breakup with dignity.
"Sweet Dreams"From 1975's 'Elite Hotel'
Harris took the Donald Gibson-penned ballad "Sweet Dreams," which was popularized by Patsy Cline, all the way to No. 1 on the country charts. It's easy to see why: The song is a timeless ode to heartsickness -- i.e., being plagued by nagging memories of an ex you'd rather forget. For good measure, Elite Hotel also ended up being her first No. 1 country album.
"Here I Am"From 2003's 'Stumble Into Grace'
The first track on 2003's Stumble Into Grace, an album containing Harris' original songs and co-writes, is very much in the vein of her mid-'90s work with Daniel Lanois. Space-filled and evocative, "Here I Am" is a determined statement about being both visible and invisible, but standing your ground in the name of faith and personal beliefs.
"Born to Run"From 1981's 'Cimarron'
This No. 3 country hit isn't a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name -- but it is a foot-stomping statement imploring people to be bold and assertive, and retain their individuality.
"Nobody going to make me do the things their way," she says, a defiant tone in her voice. "By the time you figure it out, it's yesterday." The impatience only ramps up as the song progresses and gains intensity and volume: "But I don't need it when I'm old and gray / Yeah, I want it today."
"Together Again"From 1975's 'Elite Hotel'
Harris' first No. 1 country single shows off her gift for interpretation. She adds vulnerability to Buck Owens' smoky ballad about reconciling with a beloved one: Her delivery exudes sadness and relief -- and only tentative happiness, as it's clear she's unsure whether to trust the reunion.
"Two More Bottles of Wine"From 1978's 'Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town'
The Delbert McClinton-penned "Two More Bottles of Wine," Harris' third No. 1 country single, is a hard-driving honky-tonk tune with boogie-woogie piano. Harris portrays a woman who's been jilted by a beau with whom she moved to California, leaving her "16,000 miles from the people I know." Despite the sudden breakup, Harris sounds jaunty and carefree, as she feels "all right because it's midnight / And I got two more bottles of wine."
"Orphan Girl"From 1995's 'Wrecking Ball'
Harris had a resurgence in the mid-'90s, starting with 1995's Grammy-winning, Daniel Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball. Among the highlights was this majestic cover of a Gillian Welch song, whose narrator yearns for faith and solace from God. For good measure, the tune features Lanois on mandolin and U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. adding percussion -- although Harris' wizened vocals are the true star here.
"Red Dirt Girl"From 2000's 'Red Dirt Girl'
On 2000's Red Dirt Girl, which nabbed the 2001 Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album, Harris shows off her own songwriting skills. For example, the title track is a poignant, evocative narrative song about a woman with big dreams who can't seem to escape family tragedy -- or her roots. Contributions from Ethan Johns, Darryl Johnson and Buddy Miller frame Harris' empathetic delivery.
"Pancho and Lefty"From 1977's 'Luxury Liner'
Harris made this 1972 Townes Van Zandt song, which details the dovetailing fortunes of two Mexican bandits, her own; in fact, "Pancho and Lefty" can be considered one of her signature songs, courtesy of an empathetic delivery, melancholy pedal steel and gentle guitar that undulates like desolate tumbleweeds.
"Boulder to Birmingham"From 1975 'Pieces of the Sky'
Harris didn't have many songwriting credits early in her career, but the tunes she did write were powerful. Case in point: "Boulder to Birmingham," a mournful co-write with Bill Danoff that's a tribute to her late mentor, Gram Parsons. Piano, pedal steel and strings curl up around Harris as she works through her grief. "Boulder to Birmingham" is still a staple of her set, while artists such as the Wailin' Jennys have also covered it.