The 25 Best Cowboy Songs

CowboyThe Cowboy is an iconic figure in history.

American history is full of cowboys and the cowboy was actually something present in nearly all countries at one time. For Americans, cowboys became heroes in the ’40s and ’50s and young boys played Cowboys and Indians pretending to be the hero with the gun and a trusty horse.

Cowboy popularity has also been a part of American Country Music. True life cowboys have been singing country for decades. You’ll notice a lot of George Strait and Garth Brooks. George has been a roping cowboy for some time as well as being Garth’s hero.

Here is a list of the best of those classic country cowboy songs…

Cowboy Songs

25. What The Cowgirls Do – Vince Gill

Balladeer Vince Gill cranked up the steel guitars and the electric guitars for his rousing number What The Cowgirls Do. The song is upbeat, catchy, and a tribute to all the great cowgirls out there. For as long as their have cowboys there have been girls to keep them company. Even if the cowboys would leave for life on the range there were always new cowgirls waiting in the next town. But don’t feel too bad for those girls. They have done a little leaving of their own over the years as well. Getting down and having fun isn’t just a cowboy thing. It’s what the cowgirls do.

Listen to and Download What The Cowgirls Do

24. How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls – George Strait

George StraitGeorge Strait may not be riding the range out west and herding cattle for a living but he sure enjoys his time on his ranch. He’s a damn good roper too. Since he first found success on the country charts back in the early ’80s George has been singing about rodeos, cowboys and the good life of living like a true American. For the song How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls George sang out his love for cowgirls. Some may be a little stubborn sometimes, but they sure are the best thing a cowboy could ever find. You can’t put cowgirls in cities. They need to be out in the wide open spaces and they’ll find love there with cowboys like George Jones.

Listen to and Download How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls

23. The Beaches of Cheyenne – Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks said in an interview with CMT some years back that he always wanted to be George Strait. Garth began writings songs and singing the same kind of songs that old George was singing. That included cowboy songs. The Beaches of Cheyenne is a classic cowboy song about a rodeo cowboy that is a bull riding son of a gun. Cowboys live a dangerous life. There was always plenty of danger out in the wide open prairies of the American West. Even rodeo cowboys today go up against some difficult situations especially the bulls. The cowgirls that get left at home are there to feel the pain when they find out their loved ones have passed. Some cowboy stories don’t end well, but when a great cowboy story gets put together with a great melody and a great performer like Brooks there is nothing better.

Purchase Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Hits

22. Beer For My Horses – Toby Keith & Willie Nelson

Toby KeithToby Keith brought back the cowboy in 2003 with the song Beer For My Horses. Toby included good buddy and country legend Willie Nelson on the track and it became a country classic. In the song there is a declaration that justice needs to be brought about in today’s world much like it was back in the old west, in the time of the cowboys. Hang those bad dudes high up in the street and put a few more in the ground. No more messing around with nonsense. When someone does something wrong put them in their place. The song turned into a great music video featuring the two country greats and Toby even wrote and starred in a spin off feature movie.

Listen to and Download Beer For My Horses

21. Wolves – Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks was always known to put his personal favorite song as the last track on each of his albums. For his biggest studio release No Fences Garth chose a song that never became a single. Wolves was never a hit on radio, but the song was popular with all of Garth’s fans.  Garth turned the story of a rancher and cowboy into a story of life. The rancher thinks about the heifers that the wolves pull out from his herd from time to time. Later in the song he relates this to the hard luck some people face in life – in this instance losing a house. It’s amazing to look back at this song released in 1990 and realize that housing is still a big issue today. Garth was quite the artist and he sure knew how to pick great songs to record. He was perhaps one of the best at picking great cowboy songs even if he wasn’t a full blown cowboy himself. We’ll give him a pass on that one. He’s a cowboy country singer.

Purchase Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Hits

20. Ghost Riders In The Sky – Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash had a voice like no other. His deep gravely growl could tell a story that made everybody pay attention. He recorded Ghost Riders In The Sky and with the song Johnny captured the attention of every cowboy fan around. The song has a cool yet dark sound to it. The song has all the classic cowboy images and the beat even reminds you of a horses trot. Any song that sings about horses snorting fire and the devil makes for one of the greatest country songs of all time. A little bit of learning life’s lessons in the this song and there was nobody better to sing it than old Johnny Cash.

Listen to and Download (Ghost) Riders In The Sky

19. The Cowboy Rides Away – George Strait

You’ll notice quite a few songs on here from one of country’s greatest stars George Strait. The Cowboy Rides Away is a great cowboy song that George often uses to ride out of stadiums as the final goodbye to his loving fans. The song uses an iconic image from life and screen of a cowboy riding away after settling a score or saving a town. In the song George sings about a cowboy that loses the love of his life. As things get settled down and the two finally realize it’s all over he knows this is where the cowboy rides away. It’s kind of a sad song yet there is always hope on the horizon just as there always was when the cowboy rode away in the movies. Cowboys had a habit of heading off into the distance. It was always the end of one part of life and the beginning of a new adventure.

Listen to and Download The Cowboy Rides Away

18. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys – Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson sang about cowboys in his slow kind of fashion when he put together the song My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys. In the song Willie describes all the unique things that make him love the thought of being a cowboy. We all grow up idolizing someone. It can be a parent, a sibling, and aunt or uncle. Other times it can be a person we see on TV or in a movie. Even more it can be a real life person we’ve met or have grown to know. For those out there that have had the pleasure of meeting a cowboy and seeing them work the cattle or working the range there is nothing more impressive than seeing a cowboy or cowgirl ride their horse with an effortless appeal. Lots of people have had heroes. Many of those people have looked up to cowboys.

Listen to and Download My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

17. Wild Horses – Garth Brooks

It’s amazing that many years after it was released on the album No Fences that the Garth Brooks song Wild Horses was promoted as a single. For whatever reason the record company or Garth thought this song deserved a chance and I think fans were the real winners. It’s hard to believe that not every country fan had already heard the song since nearly 20 million people bought the album but people loved this song when they heard it on the radio for the first time. It’s a song about a rodeo cowboy that tells his girl that he’s giving it up. He’s done. He’s through. He’s coming home to be with her and be the family man. But in the end he can’t give it up. He loves it too much. He’s made the promises before and he just can’t let himself do it. Wild horses keep pulling him in.

Purchase Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Hits

16. Wildfire – Michael Martin Murphy

Michael Martin Murphy will forever be remembered as the great country singer that recorded everybody’s favorite song about a horse – Wildfire. The song has that haunted kind of feeling. It fits the story of the song well as the narrator sings about a horse called Wildfire and his lost woman. The song is so great that it’s still popular and kind of has a cult following many years after its release. Michael Martin Murphy is a true cowboy that performed great cowboy songs for his entire career. Michael Martin Murphy made a living doing what he loved most. His passion came through on all his songs and he made a living singing cowboy songs. He had to be included on this list.

Listen to and Download Wildfire

15. Good Ride Cowboy – Garth Brooks

In 2005, country music and cowboy song fans lost a treasure. Chris LeDoux succumbed to cancer at a young age. He was a great cowboy and a great performer. It’s no secret that Garth Brooks credits his ability on stage to Chris. To pay tribute to Chris three songwriters wrote an upbeat song and it was the perfect song. No one else could sing the song besides the man himself Garth Brooks. Good Ride Cowboy because a huge hit on radio and everybody was looking up stories and facts about Chris. It was a great tribute to one of the modern day real life cowboys.

Purchase Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Hits

14. Don’t Call Him A Cowboy – Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty can sing any kind of song. He put out Don’t Call Him a Cowboy and everybody was tapping their feet along to the beat. Conway is a country legend. He has more number one hits than most country fans have birthdays. His cowboy song was directed to women as a warning that there are quite a few guys that like to dress up and play cowboy while there are still only the true few that actually live the life and can love a woman like a cowboy. New York City and such places normally don’t have too many cowboys if any so there is no reason to look there. Head out to those country taverns and honky tonks where they play Conway Twitty and you’ll probably find a few true blue ropers.

Listen to and Download Don’t Call Him A Cowboy

13. That Girl Is A Cowboy – Garth Brooks

It wasn’t Garth’s biggest hit, but it became another classic cowboy song for country’s biggest superstar in 2006. The song is about a girl that has the nerve to stand up and have somebody’s back. She has the attitude, the look, and the toughness of a cowboy. Sometimes the best cowboys are not cowboys at all. This song is unique in the fact that it points out the nature of being a cowboy isn’t unique to guys. Women have their place in the modern west as well and perhaps they’ve even carved out there own niche in the cowboy world. Some girls are cowboys and the world is better for it.

Purchase Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Hits

12. Cowboys Like Us – George Strait

In 2003 King George Strait released another great cowboy song. Cowboys Like Us became another favorite for the baby boomers that loved to believe they were pat cowboys. I think the song was about bike riders – kind of the modern day cowboys. Or maybe it was about truckers. Either way the cowboy way of life was captured again in the song. Hitting the open road. Look for adventure. Talk about life but still act tough in front of our buddies. The song was kind of a sentimental song for the older generation. It reminded them that there is still adventure in life and there are still a few good cowboys out there just like us.

Listen to and Download Cowboys Like Us

11. The Cowboy In Me – Tim McGraw

Tim McGrawTim McGraw released what would become his cowboy song in 2001. The Cowboy In Me was a three part description of a man realizing he has cowboy in him even though me may not look the part or live the actual lifestyle. Acting like there is nothing to lose. Foolish pride. Short temper. Testing the limits. All of these things are mentioned in the song and they all seem to fit the nature of the cowboy we have all created. Over time cowboys have taken on a personality we all relate to the image. Tim McGraw’s song is a beautiful depiction of what a cowboy means to people today how some modern me are spitting images of the old cowboys…even if they don’t ride horses or rope cattle.

Listen to and Download The Cowboy In Me

10. Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) – Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks wasted no time mentioning his cowboy and country artist hero. In Brooks’ first single Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) became Garth’s first hit on radio in 1989. It was Garth’s first single and his record label was ready to put a stop to the promotion of the song once it started showing signs of stalling in the 40s on the charts. Feeling the pressure, Garth and his management team did some hard work and spent their own money to work the song at radio and at shows. The song climbed into the top ten and the rest was history. The song was about the tough life of a rodeo cowboy. Getting worn down on life was something country fans could relate to though and the song is still played frequently on radio today.

Purchase Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Hits

9. Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold) – Dan Seals

This song was kind of the wild card on the list. Most might not think of this song when they think cowboy songs, but it sure fits all the criteria. Dan Seals was an adult contemporary pop star in the ’70s before he was a country star in the ’80s. One of his biggest hits was Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold). The song is about a guy and his daughter. They have to make due on their own because the woman in their lives has left for the life on the rodeo. The song is unique because it kind of turns things upside down on our usual thought of the cowboy life. It can be lonely for those left behind, but the pull of the adventure and life on the road is too much for those cowboys out there.

Listen to and Download Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)

8. What’cha Gonna Do With A Cowboy – Chris Ledoux & Garth Brooks

By 1992, Garth Brooks was able to get his hero a major record deal. Chris LeDoux had been a rodeo cowboy and a successful rodeo singer with the cred to back up the lifestyle he sang about. Chris was known for rocking shows. He would fly all over the stage and leave everybody in the crowd worn out just from watching him. The song is about the cowboy lifestyle. It takes the upbeat approach to what women will do with the cowboys. It’s a great song with two great country artists. One a true cowboy and the other a country singing cowboy that took country music to new heights.

Listen to and Download Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy

7. Amarillo By Morning – George Strait

It was a remade song but George Strait turned Amarillo By Morning into a top ten hit back in the early days of his career. This is really the song that showed everybody George’s love for the cowboy lifestyle including the rodeo. The song has the rolling groove to it that kind of follows the way it can be out on the road. Lots of downtime alone with your thoughts. This song is true cowboy all the way through. It’s a great country song and although it wasn’t one of George’s million number one hits it sure was a memorable song in his collection.

Listen to and Download Amarillo By Morning

6. Cowboy Take Me Away – Dixie Chicks

Dixie ChicksThere aren’t many women on this list, but the Dixie Chicks make it near the top for their cowboy song. The tune is actually about the girls out there that want to be swept away by their cowboy dream men. The song was written by sister Marty for her sister Emily. At the time Emily was married to country singer Charlie Robson. He was the cowboy that swept her off her feet. It seems to be many girls’ dreams to find their romantic cowboy. However, cowboys don’t always turn out to be the dreams they want. The leaving, the hard work, the roaming, the adventure. It’s part of the mystique.

Listen to and Download Cowboy Take Me Away

5. El Paso – Marty Robbins

We go way back for this classic cowboy song. Marty Robbins was one of the greatest country singers of all time. He recorded a great cowboy song with El Paso. The song is the story of a gunfighter. He falls in love with a Mexican beauty. The cowboy life takes over and eventually he is taken down in a gunfight. It’s the classic hero tale kids grew up watching on TV and in movies. The song is still popular on classic country radio today. Story songs have long been part of country music and cowboy story songs seem to have a more special place in the hearts of fans. This one is truly a great country cowboy song.

Listen to and Download El Paso

4. Rodeo – Garth Brooks

Garth BrooksFor Rodeo Garth Brooks left everything rodeo image out on the table. The song is all about the mud, the crud, the guts and the blood. The song shows listeners how gritty and grungy the rodeo life is. There is of course a woman in the story that has to put up with the life of loving a cowboy while hoping he someday changes his ways. The song has a unique sound and it’s probably what made it a hit initially. Now the song remains popular because people can still see themselves in place of the cowboy riding the bulls at the rodeo.

Purchase Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Hits

3. I Can Still Make Cheyenne – George Strait

George Strait seems to sing the best rodeo and cowboy songs. I Can Still Make Cheyenne is a song about a rodeo cowboy. He’s out on the rode feeling run down and worn out. He calls to say he’s heading home. His woman tells him not to bother. She can’t take it anymore. He’s gone too much and the cowboy life is too much. In the end the cowboy doesn’t know what to do but he knows if he heads out right now he can still make Cheyenne and the next stop on the rodeo tour. It’s kind of a sad song but a little look into the life of a rodeo cowboy.

Listen to and Download I Can Still Make Cheyenne

2. Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys – Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings

The title of the song says it all. Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys was a plea from the great Willie and Waylon to all the women out there to not let their kids grow up to be wild, restless, and a little crazy. The song became a huge hit for the duo and it carried their stardom to new heights. Still today people look back fondly at this song. There is just something about cowboys that people both love and hate. The lifestyle of working hard and earning a living out in the wild open mixed with the restlessness and leaving has an allure to it that makes us all wish we could live like that. Mamas may forever try to keep their babies on the straight arrow, but guys and gals will forever keep trying to be cowboys in some fashion.

Listen to and Download Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys

1. Should’ve Been A Cowboy – Toby Keith

Toby Keith had the biggest hit on the ’90s with Should’ve Been A Cowboy. The song debuted in ’93 so it was already at a disadvantage. The difference between this song and others was the fact that the cowboy theme and the sentiment of guys wanting to be their heroes really connected with the country audience. It’s hard to imagine that when guys look back on their lives they don’t dream about being a cowboy. The reason cowboys were so popular in the ’40s and ’50s was because there was a sense of adventure, freedom, and accomplishment about living out west and being a cowboy. Should’ve Been A Cowboy is the all time greatest cowboy song. It expresses the love for the cowboy life and the envy all of the little kids in us had when we saw our heroes on the big screen or out on the actual range living the life.

Listen to and Download Should’ve Been A Cowboy

Cowboy image courtesy of Lew57

Dayne Shuda

Founder of Country Music Life. Follow on Twitter: @dayneshuda Follow on Google+: Dayne Shuda

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  1. Chad says

    I can see how finding the top 25 cowboy songs of all time can be a difficult thing to do. But after looking at this list and CMTs list of top 20, I feel that somebody has made an error or they just don’t know their cowboy music or a cowboy’s frame of mind. There are some greats that have been left off this list. For instance; Gene Autry, Moe Bandy, and although he made the list in a duet, Chris Ledoux. That being said, just because a song mentions a horse, or a cowboy, or anything relative to those, it does not make it a “cowboy” song, let alone one to make the top 25. No offense to Toby Keith and what he has done for country music, but “Beer for my horses” is not likely tagged as a “cowboy” song by anybody living on a ranch or chasing rodeos. Likewise, Dixie Chicks? I doubt there’s a single cowboy out there that doesn’t turn the station when they come on, no matter what song.

    Back to Chris, I see that one of his songs made the list, but it came along with Garth Brooks. And yes, they were good friends and all but you’ve gotta remember were it not for Chris, Garth Brooks might have never made it to where he is…to such a degree. I guarantee that there is hardly any cowboys or cowgirls out there that changes the station when Chris comes on the radio. And believe me, here in Wyoming he’s still on the radio pretty often (thank the Father the stations out here haven’t succumb to only playing what they call ‘country music’ now, but that’s a whole other subject.) Chris’ songs like “seventeen,” “Riding for a Fall,” “Hooked on an 8 Second Ride,” “Copenhagen,” “He Rides the Wild Horses,” “Stampede,” “Silence on the Line,” “All Around Cowboy,” “Bareback Jack,” and my two personal favorites “10 Seconds in the Saddle” and “National Finals Rodeo.” I can’t possibly see why any of those wouldn’t make the list.

    If that’s not enough song options, here’s a list of all his songs. And if just having the word “cowboy” or “ranch” is what you need to make this list, I’m sure there’s a couple on the list.

    Last thing, (if anybody’s even read this far) if none of these artists or songs made it on the list because they’re unknown to most listeners, and I’m sure they are since country music is just pop now, how did “Wolves” make it on there? I’m guessing because Garth Brooks sings it… if that’s the case, why doesn’t Rascall Flatts make the list with their (no good) cover of “Life is a Highway?”

    I think this list along with CMTs needs to be rethought.

    Chad, Wyoming.

    PS… Wasn’t “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” actually a metaphorical song since Toby Keith was being looked at by the Dallas Cowboys to play football? I could be wrong there. It’s a good song, but the very best cowboy song? maybe compared to the Dixie Chicks and Natalie Merchant.

  2. says

    Hi Chad,

    It’s true most of these songs were the more more well known songs that referenced cowboy life and not made specifically for the hard core cowboy music fans.

    Chris Ledoux would take over that list along with others. Thanks for sharing some of his songs.

    I’m not sure on the Toby part. I think you could be right. It would make sense that the idea came from football and he simply turned it into the song it became. Not sure.

    Take care,


  3. Joel says

    Putting together lists can be tough, my top 25 list would be dominated by the “independent” or “non-Nashville” artists (Ian Tyson, Brenn Hill, Dave Stamey, Gail Steiger, Kyle Evans, and of course Chris LeDoux) that the list above ignores. I agree with Chad, your list could begin and end with just Chris LeDoux. Some of the best songs that your list is lacking are the likes of “Navajo Rug” & “MC Horses” by Tom Russell / Ian Iyson / Brenn Hill, “The Cowboy Song” and “Coyote” by Don Edwards, “The Romance of Western Life” by Gail Steiger, “Donny Catch A Horse For Me” by R.W. Hampton, and for me the greatest cowboy song ever written, “The Old Double Diamond” covered by any of the 90 or so western artists.

  4. Chad says

    Dayne, Thanks for your considerations.

    I completely agree with Joel on “cowboy songs” are typically best by the independant artists. Nashville does not recognize the artists that are making music anymore. They’re so far out of touch with what country fans want, it is not funny. Perfect example, my brother in law (singer/songwriter) made it to the top 40 for Nashville star a few years back and was told he would continue to the top 10 if he sang some particular songs… I don’t recall what the songs were but they were new “country” songs. That is not his genre so he respectfully declined. He would not turn into just another suit. He has his own idea of where his country music is going, and Rascal Flatts songs weren’t going to cut if for him.

    These Nashville Exec’s are ruining country/cowboy music. We want to hear steel guitars and fiddle solos with the occasional harmonica. We want to hear MUSIC, not mixes (Miss Taylor). New country is a different genre… its pop. If I wanna hear some vegetarian belt it out at the top of her lungs for way too long, I’ll listen to Whitney Houston. It’s not country anymore, it’s not even good music (for the most part). Lets find more guys like Blake and Miranda, George, Jason, and the like. I miss the music we listened to in the late 90s (my teens).

    Please bring it back.



  5. says

    I agree, Chad. I grew up on ’90s country and it’s by far the best decade for country music. I like a lot of country music, but I love the traditional stuff the most.

    Thanks for sharing that story of your brother in law. I’ll definitely be checking him out.

  6. Nathan Bush says

    Man I was looking for a song I heard years ago and ran across you guys. Was lucky enough to meet Mr. Ledoux at a concert where he sang a concert riding a mechanical bull WITH A CAST ON A BROKEN LEG !!! I tried my hand at bullriding when I was younger and looking back was the best time of my life . Anyway the song I was looking for was about a bull rider who needed the win to buy a ranch,been years but remember he landed on his feet and he had done it . By the way I hate all this weepy pop country by people soft as marshmallows who wouldnt know barbed wire from their shoe strings. If anyone knows it email me at

  7. says

    Hi Dayne
    found your list today while looking for a quick inspiration for a few rodeo songs to add to my gig tonight. As as a singer/songwriter, I am often asked what is my favorite song(well my own, naturally) but as to my favorite, that depends on mood, weather, light, wind, etc.To make a list would be almost beyond frustration for me as it would want to be changed by the time I got to the middle.
    I was surprised at the amount of a few artists, mostly Nashville. But I realize that machine has the money to pump the artists and material, so it is more widespread exposure. I agree whole heartedly with Joel, and I am guessing he must be a western afficianado, if not a singer/songwriter himself to list the artists he chose. I think the greatest thing about art is the subjectivity and the greatest thing today is that with the advent of the internet, sites like yours and the world communicating instantly, we can find, share and discuss music, find new likes, find new friends, and keep traditional music heard. Thank you for taking the time to write you list and being open to some more artists beyond the tried and true. Independents are working musicians, keeping the honk in honky tonk, the west in western, and the try in Country!

  8. nich says

    jeez. the 90s? the best decade for country music?

    it’s funny, because the 90s laid the groundwork for how pop it is now.

    But yeah. Huge shocker. The best music ever was made during everyone’s teen years.

    The best cowboy songs and best country in general is all from the 60s or earlier. Back when there were people who were alive during the time before cars passing their tales down directly.

    As far as Nashville not giving country fans what they want.. Who cares? They’ve found a market that makes them more money than real country fans, so they’re going to go ahead and do that.

    It’s so weird how people care so much about what’s popular. Most popular rap, country, rock and electronic music is absolutely hideous, but all 4 of those overarching meta-genres see multiple brilliant releases every single month. We’re in the internet age now. Be thankful that your music doesn’t come through the tiny pipelines of CMT, FM Radio and MTV anymore. I don’t know where people get this idea that music was so pure in the 90s- or 80s- 70s- 60s- whenever their teenage years were.

    It was always just as corrupt and solely focused on money as it is now. Blame everyone you know for the fact that great lasting records don’t sell anymore. Don’t blame the recording industry for acknowledging it. There is so much great music being made on the margins that i couldn’t care less.

  9. Veto F. Roley says

    No Sons of the Pioneers (Cool Water, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Pecos Bill)? No Riders in the Sky (That’s How The Yodel Was Born, Ride with the Wind, Wasteland)? No “Ghost Riders in the Sky” by Johnny Cash or any others that have covered this song? No “Rawhide” by the Blues Brothers, or any of the others who have covered this song? Only one song by Marty Robbins who also has “Big Iron”, “Number One Cowboy”, and two other songs in his El Paso trilogy? Nothing by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys?

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