After making a career in the military, Jamey Johnson transitioned to country music. His first single, "The Dollar," debuted in 2005.
Johnson's songs haven't done particularly well on the charts -- "The Dollar" and "In Color" are his only two Top 20 hits -- but the artist has earned a reputation for writing high-quality songs with incredible lyrics. In addition to his own music, Johnson has also written songs for everybody from Willie Nelson to George Strait -- how's that for a resume?! -- and he's earned a number of awards nominations and wins for his work.
Johnson has released five full-length studio albums, but none since 2012; a Christmas EP from 2014 is his latest project. New music, whenever it comes, will be a welcome surprise for fans for the singer-songwriter, who still plays live plenty.
Below are The Boot's picks for Johnson's five best songs, both those he's recorded himself and those he's penned for others:
"The Dollar"From 'The Dollar' (2006)
Upon first listen, “The Dollar” might appear to be a guilt-trip to working dads: It tells the story of a little boy who scrapes together all of his spare change, hoping that it can buy him some time with his father. However, Johnson wrote "The Dollar" from a place of experience, inspired by the time he had to spend away from his daughter while working a construction job.
“Say, mama, how much time will this buy me? / Is it enough to take me fishin’ or throw a football in the street?" go the lyrics of "The Dollar." "If I’m a little short, then how much more does Daddy need / To spend some time with me?”
"The Dollar" was Johnson's debut single; it landed at No. 14 on the country charts.
"Macon"From 'The Guitar Song' (2010)
Johnson’s song about wanting to get back to Macon, Ga., comes from his highly acclaimed 2010 double album, The Guitar Song. “Macon” is on the project's second disc, which features more hopeful music, following a much darker and more somber first disc; in that vein, the narrator of “Macon” is concerned with only one thing -- getting back to his love.
“I gotta get back to Macon / Love all night," Johnson sings. "Look out, Macon / Here I come.”
"Macon" earned Johnson a Grammy Awards nomination for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
"Bad Angel"From Dierks Bentley's 'Up on the Ridge' (2010)
Recorded by Dierks Bentley with Miranda Lambert and Johnson, this mandolin-heavy, blues-inspired bluegrass jam is featured on Bentley’s 2010 album Up on the Ridge. All three artists showcase their vocal mastery in this song, with gritty solos and tasty harmonies each chorus: “Bad angel, get off of my shoulder / Bad angel, let me be," the three artists sing. "I’m standing at the crossroads / Of Temptation and Salvation Street.”
"Give It Away"From George Strait's 'It Just Comes Natural' (2006)
This breakup song was made famous in 2006 by George Strait and was co-written by Jamey Johnson, Bill Anderson and Buddy Cannon. You know you’ve written a good song when Merle Haggard says he’s jealous of you -- and Haggard admitted that he was jealous that he didn’t write this song.
“It’s about two people breaking up,” Haggard explained. “He says, ‘What are we gonna do with the chairs and table?’ She says, ‘F--k it! Give it away.’ Jamey is the first to come along in a long spell with the ability to write that way.”
Aside from making Haggard jealous, “Give It Away” also earned the title of Single of the Year and Song of the Year at the ACM Awards. The song was also named Song of the Year at the CMA Awards.
"In Color"From 'That Lonesome Song' (2008)
“In Color” is one of Johnson’s most celebrated songs. The first single off of his second major-label album, That Lonesome Sound, “In Color” became Johnson’s first -- and, thus far, only -- Top 10 hit. The song, which is narrated by an older man showing black-and-white photographs of himself during important life moments -- the Great Depression, World War II, his wedding -- to his grandson is underscored by his repeated line, “You should have seen it in color.”
"In Color" was co-written by Johnson, James Otto and Lee Thomas Miller. It won Song of the Year at the ACM Awards and received two Grammys nominations (Best Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song).