Narrowing George Strait’s prodigious catalog down to just five songs is an excruciating exercise.
Not only are personal favorites cast by the wayside, but so, too, are stone-cold classics. Nevertheless, we could fill a phone book writing about all of the excellent material Strait has recorded over the decades, but have whittled it down to these five examples of the Lone Star legend’s ability to intepret the words of others as only he can. Visit dfw.com/music to hear each track and tell us your favorite George Strait song. — Preston Jones
‘Amarillo by Morning’
This classic, penned by Paul Fraser and Terry Stafford, had existed for more than a decade before Strait cut his hit version in 1982 on Strait From the Heart. Stafford first recorded the track for his 1973 LP Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose. However, it was Strait’s note-perfect rendition that catapulted the song — an evocation of a long, late night driving home from the rodeo — to prominence. (Fun fact: Asleep at the Wheel, one of Saturday’s openers, has also recorded the tune, which appears on the band’s 2003 addition to the Live at Billy Bob’s series.)
‘The Cowboy Rides Away’
Written by Sonny Throckmorton and Casey Kelly, and taken from his 1984 album Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind, Strait has used this deceptively straightforward tune (which made it to No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart) about a relationship’s collapse to close his shows for decades. Expect few dry eyes in the house when Strait intones, for the last time for the foreseeable future, the line: “It’s time to say goodbye to yesterday/This is where the cowboy rides away.”
‘Check Yes or No’
The lead single from Strait’s 1995 compilation Strait Out of the Box, this Danny Wells/Dana Hunt composition is a sweet evocation of schoolyard romance, and one of Strait’s 60 No. 1 hits. As with most of Strait’s successes, the tale is elegant in its simplicity and told without much adornment (the entire track clocks in at three minutes, 10 seconds). Sometimes, the direct way is the best way.
One of the more oddly polarizing cuts in Strait’s career, this Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran-penned single from his 1985 record Something Special was knocked by some critics for being gimmicky (the song’s conceit is a conversation between a man and a woman in a bar, which concludes with him driving her home). But again, the proof is in Strait’s smart delivery (and The Chair’s eventual rise to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart), the understated style of a storyteller who knows just how much to give away.
The title track from Strait’s superb 2008 album is a stunningly self-aware, late-career masterpiece, authored by Leslie Satcher and Monty Holmes. It’s a song that could only have the tremendous impact it does with the weight of his acclaimed career behind it (“I was a young troubadour/When I rode in on a song/I’ll be an old troubadour/When I’m gone,” Strait sings in the chorus).