20 Sad Country Songs You Just Can't Forget

Country music has developed a reputation as the designated genre for sad songs. While feeling blue isn't the only theme country music explores, it's certainly one the genre has mastered. Country artists have recorded some of the poignant tearjerkers of all time. Here are the 20 of them. 

20
of 20

George Jones: 'He Stopped Loving Her Today'

George Jones - I Am What I Am
Epic

For many purists, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is the greatest country music song of all time. Released in 1980 off the album "I Am What I Am," it was Jones' first chart topper in six years. After he died in 2013, the song hit the charts a second time.  

In this country classic, Jones sings of a man's love for a woman that outlasts their relationship and doesn't end until the day he dies. It is considered Jones' defining song in a career that began in 1954 and had more than a dozen No. 1 hits.

Lyrics:

"He stopped loving her today / They placed a wreath upon his door / Soon they'll carry him away / He stopped loving her today."

Download/Purchase "He Stopped Loving Her Today"

19
of 20

Sammi Smith: 'Help Me Make It Through the Night'

Sammi Smith
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Sammi Smith got her start singing in the bars of Oklahoma City in the mid-1960s. With some help from Johnny Cash, she got a contract with Columbia Records and had her first minor hit in 1968. But it is this song, from her landmark 1970 album "Help Me Make it Through the Night" that Sammi Smith is remembered for.

Originally written and recorded by Kris Kristofferson, Smith's version would peak at No. 1 on the country charts and cross over to No. 8 on the pop charts. She would also win a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for the song in 1972.

In the song, Smith sings of spending the night with a man who, it is implied, is not her husband. The frank lyrics were unconventional for a country song of that era.

Lyrics:

"Yesterday is dead and gone / And tomorrow's out of sight / And it's sad to be alone / Help me make it through the night."

 Download/Purchase "Help Me Make It Through the Night"

18
of 20

Hank Williams: 'Your Cheatin' Heart'

Hank Williams
GAB Archive / Redferns / Getty Images

An icon of country music, Hank Williams Sr., recorded this song at his final studio session before dying on New Year's Day of 1953. Released after his death, the single would reach the top of country charts and become part of Williams' musical legacy.

The song wasn't just a hit for Williams. Joni James, Ray Charles, Loretta Lynn, and LeAnn Rimes are just a few of the singers who have had hits with their own renditions of this country staple of love, lament, and loss.

Lyrics:

"Your cheatin' heart will make you weep / You'll cry and cry and try to sleep / But sleep won't come the whole night through / Your cheatin' heart will tell on you."

Download/Purchase "Your Cheatin' Heart" 

17
of 20

Vince Gill: 'Go Rest High on That Mountain'

Vince Gill - When Love Finds You
MCA Nashville

Vince Gill wrote this ballad in honor of two lives lost: country artist Keith Whitley, who died in 1989, and Gill's brother, who died in 1993. Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs provided backing vocals. Released as a single in 1995, it peaked at No. 14 on the country music charts. The album it appears on, "When Love Finds You," reached No. 2 on the country charts.

Vince Gill won the 1996 Country Music Association's Song of the Year award for this song, as well as two Grammys for Best Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song. In the lyrics, Gill also pays homage to Whitley's song "I'm No Stranger to the Rain."

Lyrics:

"Go rest high on that mountain / Son, your work on earth is done / Go to heaven a shoutin' / Love for the Father and Son."

Download/Purchase "Go Rest High on That Mountain"

16
of 20

Bryan White: 'Someone Else's Star'

Bryan White - Bryan White
Asylum

Bryan White made quite a splash with his 1994 eponymous debut album because it contained this song, which became his first chart-topping single. Released in 1995, "Someone Else's Star" was one of four singles off the album, which went platinum.

In this song, White finds himself alone, wishing he could find his true love. He laments his lack of good luck and wonders if he's looking in the wrong place.

Lyrics:

"I guess I must be wishing on / Someone else's star / It seems like someone else keeps getting /  What I'm wishing for / Why can't I be as lucky / As those other people are / I guess I must be wishing / On someone else's star."

Download/Purchase "Someone Else's Star"

15
of 20

Steve Wariner: 'Holes in the Floor of Heaven'

Steve Wariner - Burnin' the Roadhouse Down
Capitol Nashville

Steve Wariner's single, released in 1998, peaked at No. 2 on the country music charts that year. The song, from his album "Burnin' the Roadhouse Down," earned Wariner Song of the Year honors from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.

In the song, Wariner describes three moments from a young man's life: the death of his grandmother, the death of his wife, and the wedding of his daughter. As the man thinks of his late wife during the wedding, it begins to rain, just as it had in earlier sad times. The drops of rain, Wariner sings, are tears from the loved ones who wish they were with us.

Lyrics:

"And there's holes in the floor of heaven / And her tears are pouring down / That's how you know she's watching / Wishing she could be here now."

Download/Purchase the "Holes In the Floor of Heaven"

14
of 20

Martina McBride: 'God's Will'

Martina McBride - Martina
RCA Nashville

Martina McBride enjoyed a string of crossover hits in the years before and after the turn of this century. One of four hit singles from her seventh studio album "Martina," "God's Will" peaked at No. 16 on the country charts in 2004. McBride made this song a family effort, with backing vocals from her daughters Emma and Delaney.

McBride sings of a young boy who wears braces on his legs. He may have problems with mobility, McBride sings, but he has no problem at all with his big heart. The song concludes on an uncertain note as the boy and his family prepare to move to California, and McBride wonders what will become of the boy.

Lyrics:

"And I never got to tell her that the boy showed me the truth / 
In crayon red, on notebook paper, he'd written 'Me and God love you.'"

Download/Purchase "God's Will"

13
of 20

Collin Raye: 'Love, Me'

Collin Raye - All I Can Be
Epic

Collin Raye first gained notice when he went by the name Bubba Wray, part of the country group The Wrays. His debut solo album, "All I Can Be," went platinum on the strength of this single, which peaked at No. 1 on the country charts in 1991. The song was just the first of 30 singles that hit the charts over the next two decades.

In this ballad, Raye sings of a young boy who finds out that his grandmother's father didn't approve of his grandfather and tried to keep the lovers apart. A planned elopement fails when his grandfather finds a letter, telling him that love must wait... but not to give up hope. 

Lyrics:

"If you get there before I do, don't give up on me / I'll meet you when my chores are through / I don't know how long I'll be / But I'm not gonna let you down, darling wait and see / And between now and then, till I see you again / I'll be loving you / Love, me."

Download/Purchase "Love, Me"

12
of 20

Tracy Lawrence: 'Paint Me a Birmingham'

Tracy Lawrence - Strong
Dreamworks

Memories of a lost love can make anyone break down and cry, and Tracy Lawrence's 2004 single "Paint Me a Birmingham," has made many a country music fan weep. Lawrence's single, off the album "Strong," reached No. 4 on the country music pop charts.

In the song, a man encounters a painter on the beach and asks if he paints anything besides ocean scenes. The artist replies that for $20 he can paint anything. The man then asks the artist to paint a picture of the plans he had with his lost love.

Lyrics:

"Could you paint me a Birmingham / Make it look just the way I plan / A little house on the edge of town / Porch going all the way around / Put her there on the front yard swing / Cotton dress, make it early spring / For a while she'll be mine again / If you could paint me a Birmingham."

Download/Purchase "Paint Me a Birmingham"

11
of 20

George Jones: 'A Picture of Me (Without You)'

George Jones - Essential George Jones
Legacy

George Jones's second ballad on this list is from 1972. "A Picture of Me Without You" peaked at No. 5 on the charts that year, a busy one for Jones. He released three solo albums in 1972, as well as two with then-wife Tammy Wynette. But he was also battling severe alcoholism, and his career could decline precipitously before his comeback in 1980.

In this song, Jones sings of how lost he'd be without the love of his life. His world, he sings, would be like a garden where nothing grows or a river that has dried up.

Lyrics:

"Imagine a world where no music was playing / Then think of a church where nobody's praying / If you've ever looked up at a sky with no blue / Then you've seen a picture of me without you."

Download/Purchase "A Picture of Me (Without You)"

10
of 20

Mark Wills: 'Wish You Were Here'

Mark Wills - Wish You Were Here
Mercury Nashville

Mark Willis released this chart-topping single in 1999 from his album of the same name. It was just one of 16 hits that would be in the Top 40 in a span of just seven years from 1996 to 2003. 

In this ballad, Willis sings of a man who takes a trip, telling his wife he'll talk to her that night. Instead, she receives a call telling her that husband has died in a plane crash. Later, she receives a postcard addressed from heaven. It is a message from her beloved husband, wishing she were with him.

Lyrics:

"Wish you were here, wish you could see this place / Wish you were near, I wish I could touch your face / The weather's nice, it's paradise / It's summertime all year and there's some folks we know / They say, "Hello", I miss you so, wish you were here."

Download/Purchase "Wish You Were Here"

09
of 20

Carrie Underwood: 'Just a Dream'

Carrie Underwood - Carnival Ride
Arista Nashville / Sony BMG

Carrie Underwood won acclaim on "American Idol" when she won the TV show in 2004. Since then, she's had several hits, including this chart-topper in 2008 from the album "Carnival Ride."

Underwood sings of a young couple who marry just before the husband has to go off to war. Like many service families, the pair has dreams of a future together. But her husband is killed in action, and those dreams die along with him.

Lyrics:

 "Baby, why'd you leave me, why'd you have to go? / I was counting on forever, now I'll never know / I can't even breathe." 

Download/Purchase "Just a Dream"

08
of 20

Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss: 'Whiskey Lullaby'

Brad Paisley - Mud on the Tires
Arista Nashville

Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss are country stars in their own right. Together, they produced the album "Mud on the Tires." It spawned the 2004 hit "Whiskey Lullaby," which hit No. 3 on the country charts and went double-platinum.

It won both Song of the Year and Video of the Year at the 2004 Country Music Association Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards. In this tale of alcoholism, adultery, and death, a woman cheats on her husband. Discovered by her husband, the pair split and eventually drink themselves to death.

Lyrics:

"He put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger / And finally drank away her memory / Life is short, but this time it was bigger / Than the strength he had to get up of his knees."

Download/Purchase "Whiskey Lullaby" 

07
of 20

Kathy Mattea: 'Where've You Been'

Kathy Mattea - Willow in the Wind
Island Def Jam

Kathy Mattea had a top-10 hit with this 1989 single off the album "Willow in the Wind." The song won a Grammy Award two years later for Best Female Country Performance.

In the song, Mattea tells the story of a young woman married to a traveling salesman. When he's gone, Mattea sings, she isn't the same. As the song concludes, the elderly pair is in the hospital together. The woman has apparently become senile... until her husband appears. 

Lyrics:

"Where've you been? / I've looked for you forever and a day / Where've you been? / I'm just not myself when you're away."

Download/Purchase "Where've You Been"

06
of 20

Tim McGraw: 'If You're Reading This'

Tim McGraw - Let It Go
Curb Records

Country star Tim McGraw premiered this song at the Academy of Country Music Awards and released the live recording in 2007 on the album "Let It Go." It reached No. 3 on the country charts.

McGraw has said the song is a tribute to the U.S. armed forces. In it, he imagines a letter written by a young soldier to his family as he is leaving for war. He speaks of his longing for his wife and of his regret at not seeing his daughter grow.

Lyrics:

"If you're reading this halfway around the world / I won't be there to see the birth of our little girl."

Download/Purchase "If You're Reading This"

05
of 20

Jason Michael Carroll: 'Alyssa Lies'

Jason Michael Carroll - Waitin' in the Country
Sony BMG / Arista Nashville

Jason Michael Carroll was discovered at a talent show in 2004. Two years later, he released his debut album, "Waitin' in the Country." The album spawned three hits, including "Alyssa Lies," which peaked at No. 5 on the charts.

This ballad recounts the tale of a schoolgirl who suffers physical abuse at home, yet hides her bruises from her classmates and teachers. As in Martina McBride's song "Concrete Angel," it's too late to save the girl.

Lyrics:

"She doesn't lie in the classroom / She doesn't lie anymore at school / Alyssa lies with Jesus / Because there's nothing anyone would do."

Download/Purchase "Alyssa Lies"

04
of 20

Blake Shelton: 'The Baby'

Blake Shelton - The Dreamer
Warner Nashville

TV fans know Blake Shelton from TV's "The Voice," but country music fans know him for hits like "The Baby" from 2002. The song would become a No. 1 hit and make the album "The Dreamer" certified gold.

In the song, Shelton sings of a man, the baby of the family, who learns that his mother is severely ill and expected to die. The man, who is on the road when he learns the news, rushes to his mother's side as fast as he can, but he's too late.

Lyrics:

"She looked like she was sleepin' / And my family had been weepin' / By the time that I got to her side / And I knew that she'd been taken / And my heart it was breakin' / I never got to say goodbye."

Download/Purchase "The Baby"

03
of 20

Martina McBride: 'Concrete Angel'

Martina McBride - Greatest Hits
RCA Nashville

Martina McBride makes a second appearance on this list with "Concrete Angel," which hit No. 5 on the country charts in 2005. This power ballad was one of four singles released off her "Greatest Hits" album.

As with Jason Michael Carroll, McBride sings about child abuse. In the song, she tells the tale of a little girl who is very much on her own. Although people can see the bruises on her tiny body, no one does anything until it's too late.

Lyrics:

"A statue stands in a shaded place / An angel girl with an upturned face / A name is written on a polished rock / A broken heart that the world forgot."

Download/Purchase "Concrete Angel"

02
of 20

Joe Nichols: 'I'll Wait for You'

Joe Nichols - III
Universal South

Another song about a traveling husband who is never home enough to be the partner he ought to be, Joe Nichols' 2006 hit single reached No. 7 on the charts. The album it came from, "III," was, in fact, Nichols' fourth album. It went gold.

In "I'll Wait for You," Nichols sings of the man, who learns that his wife has been hospitalized and is gravely ill. The man drives home, desperate to reach his loved one, but he's too late. At the hospital, the grieving man is handed a note from his deceased wife. In it, she says she'll wait for him in heaven.

Lyrics:

"And it said 'I'll wait for you at Heaven's gate / Oh I don't care how long it takes / And I'll tell Saint Pete I can't come in / Without my love and my best friend, Oh this ain't nothing new / Sweetheart, I'll wait for you.'"

Download/Purchase "I'll Wait For You"

01
of 20

Patty Loveless: 'How Can I Help You Say Goodbye'

Patty Loveless - Only What I Feel
Epic

Singer Patty Loveless had a No. 3 hit with this 1993 single from her album "Only What I Feel." The song is one of ​the dozens she's had in the charts in a career that's spawned five No. 1 hits and four certified platinum albums so far.

In the song, Loveless recounts three sad episodes from her life: moving away from her best friend, divorcing her husband, and burying her mother.

Lyrics:

"And with her final word, she tried to help me understand / Mama whispered softly, Time will ease your pain / Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same."

Download/Purchase "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye"