1970s country music was no exception. Even though some of the country music artists on our list had legendary careers that spanned decades, they all thrived in the 70s.
With that said, here are the best 70s country artists.
1. Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson branded “outlaw country” music in the 70s, which made him one of the most recognizable 1970s country artists.
Alongside country musician Waylon Jennings, Nelson rebelled against Nashville’s restrictive establishment and began the outlaw movement. This included demanding production rights and creative control.
Nelson would acquire most of his success in the 70s. His album Red Headed Stranger included the hit “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs in 1975.
2. Johnny Cash
Known as “The Man in Black,” Johnny Cash is one of those legendary 70s country musicians whose career spanned decades. He achieved success as a country artist in the 50s and 60s with hit singles such as “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Cash created his rebellious image with his dark outfits and by performing concerts for convicted felons. He famously held shows at both San Quentin and Folsom Prison.
Cash started the 1970s by starring in his own show called The Johnny Cash Show, which was on ABC. It featured many of the top 70s country artists, including several on our list.
3. Conway Twitty
Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in Friars Point, Mississippi, he would later become one of the most iconic 70s country singers known as Conway Twitty.
Throughout the 70s, Twitty would compile several Country Music Awards with hits like “Linda on My Mind” and “Hello Darlin’.” He would gain more success when he teamed up with fellow music legend Loretta Lynn.
Dubbed “The High Priest of Country Music,” Twitty racked up 55 #1 hits in his entire career. In 1999, he would be included in the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously.
4. Dolly Parton
One of the best 70s country artists, Dolly Parton started singing on local radio and television programs in her home state of Tennessee by the age of 10. Since then, she has never looked back.
Parton began to hit the country charts regularly by the early 70s. One of her biggest hits, “Jolene,” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1973. It is a song about a bank teller with eyes for her man.
Parton would become a country music sensation in a career spanning decades, eventually culminating in her own theme park, Dollywood, which has over three million visitors annually.
5. John Denver
John Denver was a country musician with crossover success. His songs were regularly charted on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs, Adult Contemporary, and Hot 100 charts.
Born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in Roswell, New Mexico, John Denver’s recognizable glasses and blond hair were synonymous with country music in the 70s. Some of his biggest hits included “Thank God I'm a Country Boy,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and “Rocky Mountain High.”
He even won an Emmy Award for An Evening with John Denver in 1974.
6. Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell established himself as one of the 70s biggest country stars with his signature #1 hits, “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”
Campbell moved from his home in Arkansas to the bright lights of Los Angeles and earned a reputation as an in-demand session player. He played on recordings by the likes of The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley, who he became close friends with.
By the late 60s into the 70s, Campbell was beginning to prove himself as a talented country artist in his own right. In total, Campbell would go on to have nine #1 hits and win a slew of Country Music Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
7. Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers first found success on the country music charts as the frontman for First Edition, with hits like “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” In 1976, the group would break up. However, Rogers’ solo career would see him become one of the most successful country-crossover artists of all time.
Rogers’ second album, Kenny Rogers, reached #1 on the Billboard Country Album Chart. It featured the international hit, “Lucille,” which reached #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
His multi-platinum album, The Gambler, solidifiedRogers as one of the most successful country recording artists of all time. He also had several successful duets with other country legends, including Dottie West and Dolly Parton.
8. Loretta Lynn
When it comes to country music royalty, Loretta Lynn is at the forefront. She was named the Academy of Country Music’s Artist of the Decade for the 1970s.
In the early 70s, Lynn began a successful partnership with country legend Conway Twitty. Together, they recorded five #1 hits, including “After the Fire Is Gone.” They were named “Vocal Duo of the Year” four years in a row from 1972-1975.
The movie Coal Miner’s Daughter was based on Lynn’s life, starring Sissy Spacek as Loretta. The movie was #1 at the box office, and the soundtrack to the film produced a gold album.
9. Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard was doing time in San Quentin State Prison when Johnny Cash had one of his concerts there. Haggard would later state that seeing Cash inspired him to start playing music, which ultimately changed his life.
Haggard’s band called the Strangers released “Okie From Muskogee” in 1969, which gave them success throughout the 70s and beyond. Haggard would have a total of 16 #1 hits in the 70s alone.
Not only does he have his name in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but he also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
10. Charley Pride
Charley Pride was the third African-American member of the Grand Ole Opry. His success in the 1970s would secure his reputation as one of the best country singers ever.
Before becoming a country music recording artist, Pride was training to become a baseball player. However, when that did not pan out, he became one of the most eminent artists at RCA Records.
“Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” would sell more than a million copies, leading him to earn the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award in 1971.
11. Waylon Jennings
Along with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings was a pioneer of the outlaw country movement that shifted away from the Nashville establishment. He created his own outlaw image with his 1972 album, Ladies Love Outlaws.
Jennings’ signature song, “Good Ol’ Boys,” was written for an episode of Dukes of Hazzard. It would be his biggest crossover success and his 12th #1 single on the Hot Country Singles chart.
Jennings was close to not having a career as a country music star at all. In 1959, Jennings decided not to go on a charter plane, giving up his seat to J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The plane, unfortunately, crashed, claiming the lives of Richardson, Buddy Holly, and Ritchie Valens.
12. Ronnie Milsap
One of the most famous musicians in this genre in the 1970s was Ronnie Milsap. He caught fire with seven #1 singles during the decade, such as “It Was Almost Like a Song” and “(I’m a) Stand By My Woman Man.”
Milsap, who was blind since birth, was singing and playing piano at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles when he was discovered by country music legend Charley Pride. Pride would go on to tour with him, making Milsap his opening act.
Milsap is one of the top three country singers who has the most #1 country hits, alongside George Strait and Conway Twitty. With six Grammy Awards under his name, it was only a matter of time before he would be included in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
13. Dottie West
Dottie West is considered one of country music’s groundbreaking female artists. In 1973, she wrote “Country Sunshine,” a song for a Coca-Cola commercial. It was such a hit that it reached #2 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles.
Her career would reach the next level when she teamed up with country powerhouse Kenny Rogers. As a duet, West and Rogers would have a string of #1 songs, including “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” “All I Ever Need Is You,” and “What Are We Doin' in Love.”
West was the first woman in country music to earn a Grammy Award. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously in 2018.
14. George Jones
George Jones recorded what is considered one of the most famous country tracks ever, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
In 1969, when Jones and Tammy Wynette got married, they would become known as “Mr. & Mrs. Country Music.” They played music together in the early 70s and had several #1 hits, including their most commercially successful, “We’re Gonna Hold On.”
Despite a life battling alcohol and drug addiction, Jones’ career lasted almost 60 years, with 13 #1 country hits under his name.
15. Tammy Wynette
Tammy Wynette entered the 70s on a roll, having recorded several #1 hits in the late 60s, including “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “Stand By Your Man.”
The hits kept coming for Wynette throughout the decade. She was a successful solo recording artist and had hits with her third husband, country legend George Jones. The duo scored #1 singles with “We’re Gonna Hold On” and “Golden Ring.”
Wynette’s iconic voice would define country music of the 1970s. Her ability to convey emotion in her songs was unparalleled. Wynette was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
16. Mel Tillis
Mel Tillis was one of those country artists of the 70s that paid his dues. He started recording music in the late 1950s and found success the following decade as a songwriter. He wrote popular songs for Charley Pride, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers and First Edition, among others.
However, the 70s were Mel Tillis’ time to shine. He hit his stride as a country music force with several hits in 1970 alone. Tillis continued his run of success throughout the decade with singles regularly charting in the Top 10 on the Hot Country Songs, including “Heart Over Mind” and the #1 song “I Ain’t Never.”
In 1976, Tillis had two more #1 hits, “Good Woman Blues” and “Heart Healer.” That year, Tillis won the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award.
17. Olivia Newton-John
It is easy to forget Olivia Newton-John’s country roots after she became a star in the movie Grease, as well as her 1981 chart-topping pop hit, “Physical.”
But Newton-John was a country music star in her own right. She topped the album charts twice in the mid-70s with If You Love Me, Let Me Know, and Have You Never Been Mellow. In 1973, she won a Grammy for Best Country Female and an Academy of Country Music Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist.
Despite having crossover appeal on the pop and adult contemporary charts, Newton-John was named the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year, controversially beating out established country singers Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, and Dolly Parton.
Top 70s Country Artists, Final Thoughts
The 1970s was a decade for great country music. With so many country artists recording so many great country songs, it is difficult to compile a list of the best 70s country artists that includes everyone worthy of mention.
Emmylou Harris, Lynn Anderson, June Carter Cash, Don Williams, Charlie Rich, and Tanya Tucker were all great country musicians. So was Elvis. Ray Charles could sing country with the best of them. So, who is your favorite country artist of the 70s?