17 of the Best Country Albums of the 1970s

The 1970s were easily one of the golden ages for country music. Legendary country artists like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Cash were making some seriously iconic albums.

In this article, we’ll revisit 17 of those 1970s country albums.

1. Kenny Rogers – The Gambler (1978)

Kenny Rogers took a gamble (pardon the pun) that paid off big with his conceptual country-pop album. It was such a monster success at the time that, only a couple of years after its release, it inspired a series of five movies starring none other than Rogers himself.

In the music world, the album had success, with a No.1 title song on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs.

2. Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes (1973)

Finding a common ground between country and rock helped Waylon strike outlaw gold on Honky Tonk Heroes.

Plus, songwriter Billy Joe Shaver’s poetic narratives do wonders for the songs. Backed by a masterful guitar, Honky Tonk Heroes is a compelling album you can’t get bored of, which explains why it sat on the Top Country Albums chart for 14 weeks!

3. Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser – Wanted! The Outlaws (1976)

While Honky Tonk Heroes peaked at position No.14 on the Top Country Albums chart of 1973, Wanted! The Outlaws topped the country charts in 1976 for six whole weeks.

All in all, the RCA Records album was on the chart for 187 weeks. And we couldn’t expect less from a collaboration between country superstars of this caliber!

It’s also not hard to see why this album became the genre’s first platinum-selling album.

4. Willie Nelson – Red-Headed Stranger (1975)

Willie Nelson’s Red-Headed Stranger is a captivating concept album.

Driven by Nelson’s warmth, the album spins the riveting tale of a preacher fleeing after murdering his wife and her lover.

The songs are super bare-bones, but that makes the tragic tale even more powerful and haunting. But the album is also brimming with remorse and redemption.

Believe it or not, Willie Nelson’s album was made for a mere $20,000. Contrast that to its sales report of two million copies!

5. Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970)

While the Grateful Dead’s true magic often resided in their live shows, American Beauty is a studio masterpiece that peaked at position No.3 on the Top Album Sales charts.

Released just a few months after the country rock-infused Workingman’s Dead (peaked at No.5), American Beauty dug deep into bluegrass and folk with joyous, psychedelic country influences.

6. Charlie Rich – The Fabulous Charlie Rich (1970)

Charlie Rich truly lived up to the “Fabulous” in the title.

The album captured Rich’s style perfectly, especially the melancholy “Life’s Little Ups and Downs,” which was actually written by his wife, Margaret Ann, and produced by Billy Sherrill.

7. George Jones and Tammy Wynette – Golden Ring (1976)

This No.1 duet album between the former husband-and-wife duo George Jones and Tammy Wynette is just heartbreaking. The album was released around the time of their divorce, and you can hear all the emotions in their performances.

Yet for all its hard-earned melancholy, Golden Ring is an essential, top-notch country record. It’s a bittersweet masterclass from two country music legends, one of whom we like to think of as the “First Lady of Country Music.”

8. Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel (1974)

Gram Parsons shined in a few albums (with a few labels, including Reprise and A&M Records) before his tragic death, but Grievous Angel kept his legacy alive. That’s even though the album wasn’t even released in his lifetime!

We’d say this is a more serious and well-rounded album than his debut. His duets with Emmylou Harris are just perfect.

9. Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like a Wheel (1974)

Linda Ronstadt struck gold with Heart Like a Wheel. After years of envisioning the title song as a string-laden ballad, she reinvented it alongside other carefully curated songs for a country album.

The album spent nearly a year on the Billboard charts, including a week at No.1. It also got an “Album of the Year” nomination at the 18th Annual Grammy Awards.

Heart Like a Wheel also had smash singles like “You’re No Good” (No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100) and “I Can’t Help It” (Grammy winner for Best Female Country Vocal Performance). So, she’s easily one of the best female country artists of her time.

10. Linda Martell – Color Me Country (1970)

Linda Martell had just one album: Color Me Country. But it was a total hit in the ’70s.

This folk/country gem peaked at No. 40 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart despite being recorded in a single 12-hour session. All along, Martell’s warm vocals breathed life into songs penned by Margaret Lewis and Myra Smith.

11. Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy (1975)

Campbell has been on a roll since 1962 but relatively “calmed down” in the 1970s with a few bursts of success. Capitol Records’ Rhinestone Cowboy was one of those success bursts.

The hit title track quickly became one of Campbell’s signature songs, and fans loved the Arkansas-based narrative in “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)”.

But the whole album was great as well. With sweet strings, the music throughout the album had a warm, easygoing feel perfect for radio. 

12. Eagles – Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (1976)

This compilation album pulls the Eagles’ most iconic tunes from the early-to-mid ’70s into one cohesive package. What makes it particularly great is that it plays like one complete work—consistent in mood yet varied in texture.

The Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits topped the charts back then. And it’s still one of the best-sellers of all time! 

13. Tanya Tucker – What’s Your Mama’s Name (1973)

Tanya Tucker, who was dubbed “Little Miss Cheatin’ Heart” because of how often she’d cover Hank Williams’s songs, proved she was no temporary child star with her second album What’s Your Mama’s Name. Luckily, her producer Billy Sherrill helped make it a huge success. 

How much of a success, you ask? What’s Your Mama’s Name was on the Top Country Album list for 29 weeks in 1973, peaking at No.4.

That might be due to writers Earl Montgomery and Dallas Frazier’s catchy and clever lyrics. But interestingly, Tucker’s album also balanced edgy songs with traditional country vibes like “California Cotton Fields.” 

14. Dolly Parton – Jolene (1974)

Dolly Parton’s album Jolene was great for her solo career after splitting from her longtime duet partner, Porter Wagoner. 

In fact, some people believe that “I Will Always Love You,” a song in this album about needing independence despite cherishing someone, was composed for Wagoner.

Dolly Parton performing live on stage

Note that the title song here wasn’t the first time we’ve seen a female country artist sing to the “other woman.” Loretta Lynn had done it before. However, Parton’s empathy sets this song apart.

Either way, the album stayed on the Top Country chart for 23 weeks, peaking at No.6

15. Johnny Cash – Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (1970)

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash is a showcase of Cash’s talents as a storyteller. Spanning gospel, road tales, and slice-of-life narratives, it captures the gritty authenticity that defined Cash and put him on top of the country album charts for four weeks.

The album includes Cash’s cover of a Kris Kristofferson song, the soul-baring “To Beat the Devil.”

However, the not-so-secret weapon here is June Carter Cash. Her harmonies are a warm presence, particularly on the Grammy-winning duo “If I Were a Carpenter.” 

16. Kris Kristofferson – Kristofferson (1970)

Since we just mentioned Cash’s cover of his songs in this country list, we have to talk about the man himself—Kris Kristofferson.

The album Kristofferson didn’t hit the country charts right away. But Kris Kristofferson’s outlaw country debut album eventually propelled him to stardom when reissued as Me and Bobby McGee later.

“Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” and “Me and Bobby McGee” were famously covered by legends like Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin.

In total, the album spent 26 weeks on the Top Country Albums charts, much like his ’87 album Repossessed. However, Me and Bobby McGee/Kristofferson’s peak was at position No.10, while Repossessed peaked at No.31.

17. Guy Clark – Old No. 1 (1975)

Despite being Clark’s debut album, Old No.1 was a real standout in the outlaw movement, with three weeks on the Top Country charts in 1976.

The wise, gravelly voice made this album a fantastic start for the Texan singer-songwriter’s career.

Final Thoughts

Even though it’s been decades since those amazing country albums first came out, their magic lives on to this day.

So, if you’re looking for the honky-tonks vibe, just crank up any of these ’70s country gems, and it’s bound to come shining through.