Country music is rooted in a variety of musical traditions, including American and British folk, jazz, blues and rhythm and blues, cowboy song, Appalachian string bands, and Southern church music. It began to coalesce out of these influences and become its own thing early in the 20th century, and by the 1920s it had become a viable commercial genre of its own.
That genre has changed significantly over the past century, becoming more popular than ever as it expanded to include such variations as Western swing and later “outlaw country” and “party country,” embraced elaborate studio production values, and opened itself to collaborations with pop, folk rock, and even hip-hop.
To determine the 100 most popular country music albums of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index based on the number of weeks an album spent on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and its certified U.S. sales according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Only albums with at least a Platinum certification from the RIAA or unit sales of at least one million were considered. (For a different kind if ranking, see every country music album of the year since 1967.)
The results span more than half a century, reaching from 1968 up to the present day. Among the artists represented are such cultural icons as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson; numerous “hat acts” (so named for their on-stage headgear) including Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, and Toby Keith; and such country queens as Shania Twain, The Chicks, and Taylor Swift (the last of whose music is now far more pop than country) — among many others. (These are the 50 greatest country music stars of all time.)
Whatever the particulars, these albums represent one of America’s greatest musical traditions.