The Five Most Personal Country Music Songs


Most country songs are drawn from the songwriter’s personal experiences, but there are a few that are truly personal for the singers, especially when they penned the songs themselves. Here are a few of the most personal country music songs and the stories behind them.

Mama Tried // Merle Haggard

Released in 1968, “Mama Tried” tells the tale of when Merle Haggard served time in San Quentin Prison on robbery charges. The song recalls how his mother tried to help him, but failed. The lyrics tell how “No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried./Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading, I denied./That leaves only me to blame cause Mama tried.”

Coat Of Many Colors // Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton sometimes introduces this 1971 song in concerts as “a true story” about a patchwork coat her mom made her from a box of rags. While the song does bring to mind images of Joseph’s coat of many colors, it’s really a song about the love between a mother and child, as when Parton sings “Momma sewed the rags together sewin’ every piece with love./She made my coat of many colors that I was so proud of.” It became a hit for Parton and was even the basis for a children’s book. You can see the actual coat that was the inspiration for the song when you visit Dollywood Museum.

Man in Black // Johnny Cash

Also released in 1971, “Man in Black” became Johnny Cash’s personal anthem. Cash often found that people would ask him why he always wore black on stage. Although the real reason was that it was the only color he owned in the beginning of his career, he soon found a deeper answer to the oft-asked question. The lyrics explain his reasons why: “I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town./I wear it for the prisoner who is long paid for his crime/But is there because he’s a victim of the times.”

Choices // George Jones

Few country artists have had as public a struggle with addiction as George Jones had. Once he finally overcame his inner demons, he recorded the 1999 song “Choices.” While Jones didn’t write the song, there is no denying that he felt a deep connection to the song with lyrics like “I’ve had choices since the day that I was born./There were voices that told me right from wrong./If I had listened, no I wouldn’t be here today/Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.” What might be even more notable than this song, though, is the controversy that erupted that year when the Country Music Association asked Jones to perform an abridged version of the song on the awards show. The country legend refused, and when fellow star Alan Jackson heard what happened to one of his personal heroes, he switched midway through his live performance and finished playing “Choices” as a sign of protest.

Baby Girl // Sugarland

Sugarland’s first single, “Baby Girl,” was much more than just their first hit. It was a cathartic retelling of their struggles to make a dent in the Nashville music scene, as Jennifer Nettles has stated in interviews. With lyrics like “I know that I’m on my way./Well, I can tell every time I play./And I know it’s worth all the dues I pay,” it’s certain that whatever dues were paid, Sugarland definitely found their success.

Image Source: CMA