Ask 100 people his or her favorite George Strait song. You’ll likely get 100 different answers. That’s how influential the King of Country Music has been since releasing his debut studio album, Strait Country, in 1981.
George’s list of No. 1 songs—44 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart—is longer than a Texas mile. His trophy case is bigger than the Panhandle, with three CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards, the ACM Artist of the Decade Award (2000s), a Grammy Award, and a Country Music Hall of Fame plaque, among many others. Only Garth Brooks has sold more country albums, according to the RIAA.
In honor of George Strait’s 70th birthday on May 18th, we tasked Outsider‘s Caroline Bynum, Wes Blankenship, and Jim Casey to wax poetic about their favorite songs from the King’s catalog.
‘I Saw God Today’
My plan was to arrive with guns ablazin’ for George’s birthday. But then “I Saw God Today” came on my Spotify shuffle, and sappiness ensued.
This song isn’t solely for the people who sit in wooden pews each week or the people who have more than just their favorite verse memorized. Your church may be the noise of the crowd after a touchdown, or the renewing feeling of cool ocean water hitting your toes, or the way your heart jumps when you feel a tug on the line. Your pew can be a rocker, recliner, pickup bench seat, stadium bleachers, I don’t care—just give the song a listen and let it serve as a quick devotion to open your eyes and see a bit more good.
“I’ve been to church, I’ve read the book, I know He’s here, But I don’t look, Near as often as I should, Yeah I know I should,” George croons in the chorus.
We all have those moments. Holy moments even when we weren’t sharing hymnals in a crowded congregation. My dad down the hall testing out Jackson Browne classics for the first time in a while. Like flowers growing in the middle of the sidewalk, peeking out of the concrete.
So yeah, George Strait is singing about the twinkle in his newborn’s eyes. A new life: pure and full of love. But what George is saying is that God is everywhere. Not just the hue of little pink socks or the glow of a new mother. God is in the shining moments we miss, if we’d just open our eyes.
And if you don’t pray, the song is still for you. Just see it as the little victories. The small shining moments.
‘You’ll Be There’
I was a scrawny high school freshman in March 2005 when George Strait released “You’ll Be There.” My physique is relevant here, because I was trying to bulk up in our football weight room that spring.
Our offensive coordinator and strength coach, Jim Tiller, only played country radio during workouts. Country music wasn’t the most inspiring soundtrack for many of my teammates. Especially not the station Coach Tiller preferred—106.7 The Eagle—which mostly played hits from the ’80’s and ’90s. Just to paint the picture: he’d stop the workout if Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” came on. He really loves that song, and would make us listen as he shouted out every line.
I didn’t mind the music. No genre was inspiring my long arms to break any bench press records, anyway. Strait, obviously, qualified as a country performer worthy of having his modern work played on a retro station. I’d become familiar with his older hits by that time. “You’ll Be There” informed my developing musical interests. Of course, The King of Country Music had his crown in 2005.
I can’t pick George’ Strait’s best track. But the nostalgia when I pressed play on this one sums up my relationship with his work. It consistently makes you feel deeply.
His songs are his, but they’re also yours. You can’t hear many of them without associating their lyrics with an experience or a person in your own life. From love to horses to heaven—no topic is untouchable.
When a classmate passed away the following February, “You’ll Be There” still came on the radio every now and then. It wasn’t “A Boy Named Sue.” But it stopped me in the middle of quite a few workouts.
It made me think about the inconvenient fact that our time here doesn’t last forever. “You’ll Be There” still makes me embrace the hope that our time after this does.
‘Amarillo By Morning’
I was about to crank out 300 words on why “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” is George Strait’s best song. And while I stick by that statement, Caroline and Wes’ sports-related walks down memory lane have inspired me to do a 180.
Now, this here story I’m about to unfold took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the late 1990s.
In 1998, as a member of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team, our coach decided each of the 10 starters needed personal walkout music before our home matches. Or maybe we begged him. I don’t know, to be honest. Regardless, it became a big deal. I know. We needed more in our lives, but these were the times we lived in.
I remember each song like it was on a Spotify playlist, but keep in mind, this was ’98, and we couldn’t even burn a CD (yeah, I’m sure the technology was around). I picked the Ramones’ “Blizkrieg Bop,” while my roommates went with Metallica’s “Fade to Black” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” This was a DI wrestling match, not a rodeo . . . and country music wasn’t even considered. Except by our 125-pound freshman, Johny, from Amarillo, Texas.
True to his Texas roots, Johnny decide to pick the least inspirational music a wrestler could hear on his way to the mat: “Amarillo By Morning.” It’s not exactly a banger. But perhaps Johnny was trying to enter a state of Strait-like Zen.
Whatever his desire, it didn’t work. About the time George got to his second chorus, Johnny looked like a roped calf. I can’t swear by this, but I think the ref blew his whistle and slapped the mat—signifying a pin—at the exact moment Strait was singing: “And I hope that judge ain’t blind, Amarillo by morning, Amarillo’s on my mind.”
At every reunion, someone fires up “Amarillo By Morning” . . . and we all have a good laugh. Except for Johnny, who disputes the entirety of this story, other than the fact he’s from Amarillo.