The soft glow of a jukebox in a dark honky-tonk is as reassuring as a lighthouse on a stormy coast. Like lighthouses, the jukebox serves as an anchoring point, a guide. And just like every lighthouse has its own distinct signal pattern, no two jukeboxes are exactly alike. In fact, part of what distinguishes one honky-tonk from another is the selection on its juke. But in any honky-tonk worth its beer salt, you can count on a few classics to always be there.
Below are eleven honky-tonk standards, all written or performed by artists who hung their hats in Texas. (And on the digital jukebox—aka Spotify—you’ll find 7o more great tunes we’ve curated to get you in the honky-tonkin’ spirit.)
“Honky Tonk Blues”
Al Dexter (1936)
This is considered the first country song to use the term “honky-tonk,” though the first of any genre was “Down in Honky Tonky Town,” released two decades earlier, about an African American jazz club.
“Walking the Floor Over You”
Ernest Tubb (1941)
For my money, nobody—not even Hank Williams—could out-honky-tonk ol’ E.T. And while Tubb left us a whole jukebox of country classics, this was the single that jump-started the honky-tonk subgenre.
“Bubbles in My Beer”
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (1947)
Cowritten by the incredible Cindy Walker, this western swing/honky-tonk mash-up still stands out among the crowded field of drinking songs.
Floyd Tillman (1949)
This might not be the first cheatin’ song, but it’s certainly one of the first to become a hit. Seventy years later, it remains a staple.
“If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time)”
Lefty Frizzell (1950)
Frizzell died at 47 from decades of hard living, but he left behind some of the finest honky-tonk songs ever recorded. This is one of them.
“The Wild Side of Life”
Hank Thompson (1952)
This weepy standard admonishes a woman who chooses “the gay nightlife” over domesticity, a conceit that Kitty Wells countered in her classic rebuke, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels.”
Johnny Horton (1956)
Few songs get the blood flowing on a Saturday night like this bass-thumpin’ ode to hard-core honky-tonking, a fact confirmed by the chart-topping success of Dwight Yoakam’s cover three decades after Horton’s original.
Ray Price (1956)
Price redefined honky-tonk music when he used this shuffling 4/4 arrangement, a rhythmic innovation that would eventually become a model for country songwriters.
“The Race Is On”
George Jones (1964)
The Possum was already moving toward the polished Nashville sound, but this hit proved he still had one boot firmly planted in the honky-tonk tradition.
Willie Nelson (1973)
Though Nelson wrote some of the most popular jukebox hits of all time (Patsy Cline’s version of Nelson’s “Crazy” is second only to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”), it was his former bandmate Johnny Bush who wrote what has become one of Nelson’s signature tunes.
“Honky Tonk Heroes”
Waylon Jennings (1973)
Armed with an entire album’s worth of songs written or cowritten by Billy Joe Shaver, Jennings helped usher in a new era of country music populated by “lovable losers and no-account boozers.”