You'd be hard pressed to find a genre that does revenge songs better than country music. The tradition dates back decades, from women scorned to angry outlaws, and country singers know how to bring the hurt. There are a number of situations that prompt revenge anthems, but they are typically rooted in relationships — cheating lovers, another woman after your man, situations of abuse; these kind of wrongs inspire the level of passion required to deliver a convincing ballad of vengeance. Occasionally, though, a song with another subject matter appears — perhaps championing justice on behalf of an entire nation.
We love revenge songs because they represent a feeling we've all had, but would never act on to the degree the characters in these stories do ... Probably. We can live vicariously through them, singing them at the top of our lungs when we feel wronged, knowing someone else understands what it's like. Below is a list of what we think are the best revenge songs in country music. (Please don't try this — any of this — at home.)
"These Boots Are Made for Walking"
Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” is a classic telling-off of a man who has done his lady wrong, “a’messin where [he] shouldn’t have been a’messin’.” The lyrics make it clear the subject of the berating has been involved with another woman, and the narrator gives him a harrowing warning that he’s going to get what’s coming to him. Oh, and by the way, she’s found someone new who’s even better. Sinatra’s song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966. It has been covered by several artists, including Loretta Lynn on her You Ain’t Woman Enough album released the same year.
"Better Than Revenge"
If you haven’t figured it out by now, you don’t want to get on Taylor Swift’s bad side — unless you want to be the subject of a hit song dissing you. “Better Than Revenge” is one of those songs. The track surfaced on her 2010 record Speak Now, before Swift went all-in on pop music, so it’s still got a hint of country roots and a rock sensibility. Told from the point of view of one girl scorned by another, the artist sings about a girl who stole the man she had her eye on, and she’s not going to take it lying down. “She’s not a saint, and she’s not who you think. She’s actress,” Swift sings in her slander campaign. “She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” She doesn’t stop there, warning that the other girl should know there’s nothing Swift does better than revenge. The tune wasn’t a single for Swift, but Speak Now debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the fifth biggest female release ever at the time. It also earned the biggest first week of sales of 2010 and was nominated for a Grammy.
Revenge stories are the most satisfying when the target is truly repulsive. Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” is about a man who abuses his wife, told from the perspective of the 8-year-old daughter, and, according to the song, he gets what he deserves. The woman ends up setting fire to the home to get away from him — marking her true “Independence Day.” McBride doesn’t necessarily recommend arson to stop an abusive situation, but the story is what it is. “I ain’t sayin’ it’s right or it’s wrong, but maybe it’s the only way,” she sings. The tune is one of McBride’s most popular, released in 1994 as the third single from her record The Way That I Am. It was nominated for two Grammy awards in 1995 and won two CMA awards for both Song of the Year and Video of the Year.
"Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)"
One of the few country revenge songs not actually about a romantic relationship, Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” is a sentiment many Americans shared after the horrific terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The song is essentially a battle cry — a call to make the perpetrators of the tragedy pay for what they did. “We’ll put a boot in your a--; it’s the American way,” Keith sings. "Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list … the people will cry and there’s gonna be hell.” The artist is known for his patriotic tunes and an attitude that won’t stand for injustice. It clearly struck a chord with the nation at the time of its release in 2002, as “Courtesy” not only reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart and No. 25 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100, but it was also certified Platinum by the RIAA in 2012, having sold more than 1.3 million digital copies to date.
The Civil Wars
This tune is a little different than the others on our list, as it’s more of a pre-revenge warning than actual retaliation …for now. The Civil Wars' “Oh, Henry” is a story told from the perspective woman who’s heard rumors about her husband cheating on her, warning him about what will happen to him if it’s true. The upbeat melody and driving rhythm makes the listener forget it’s essentially a murder ballad, as the duo sings harrowing lines like, “boy, if you’re smart, you know you only have my heart ’til death do us part,” and “don’t you know that we don’t need one more grave in this town?” The song appeared on the Civil Wars’ self-titled second album, but the band split up before it had time to become an official single.
Miranda Lambert is not known for being mild-mannered or keeping quiet when she has something to say in her music, and “Kerosene” is a testament to that attitude. The uptempo tune tells the story of a woman being cheated on by her husband, and rather than being sad, she gives up on it altogether. The video suggests the “dousing it in kerosene” lyric is literal, as Lambert walks around what is assumably her soon-to-be-ex’s house, trailing the flammable liquid behind her as she goes, until she reaches her man in bed with another woman. Lambert lights the trail ablaze, leading back to her ex’s house, which also goes up in flames. The song was the third single off Lambert’s debut record by the same name. It was her first certified gold single and reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot Country Chart.
"The Thunder Rolls"
In what might be one of the most eerie ballads of revenge, Garth Brooks spins a yarn about a woman worried about her significant other who’s been out all night, hoping it’s something innocent but knowing deep down it’s not. The man comes home eventually during the stormy scene, and the woman goes out to greet him but loses it when she smells the other woman’s perfume. She goes back in to get the pistol in a dresser drawer, and though it doesn’t explicitly say it in the song, the lyrics imply it does not end well. “Tonight will be the last time she’ll wonder where he’s been,” Brooks sings in the originally-omitted third verse; the intensity of the music reflects the haunting storyline perfectly, creating a vivid tale of revenge. The song is one of Brooks’ most famous. The fourth single from his record No Fences, the 1991 release is his sixth No. 1 hit.
A sassy girl vs. girl warning, “Fist City” by Loretta Lynn is an unassuming, polite country tune on the surface, but underneath it’s laced with extra attitude. Written by Lynn, the upbeat song is directed at a woman encroaching on her man, including some rather scathing lines about the competition. “The man I love, when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can,” Lynn sings with a smile in her voice, knowing full well what she’s saying. “I’m here to tell you, you’d better lay off of my man, if you don’t want to go to Fist City.” Lynn wastes no time throwing down the gauntlet with this tune, daring any woman to try come near her guy and see what happens. The unexpectedly threatening song was one of the tunes that got Lynn banned from several radio stations in the '60s for her controversial themes, but it was her second No. 1 hit, topping the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in 1968. It remains one of Lynn’s best-known tunes and has been covered in recent years by Pistol Annies, even performed in front of Lynn at the Grand Ole Opry.
The Dixie Chicks have earned a reputation for speaking their mind over the years, and “Goodbye Earl” is no exception. The ironically lighthearted feel of the tune is juxtaposed with dark lyrics about an abused woman whose best friend decides to help her take action to get rid of her dangerous husband. The song begins with friends Mary Ann and Wanda in high school and follows Wanda through her meeting of Earl and the abuse that began after the couple got married. Its escalating trauma results in the women decided to take matters into their own hands. The song goes on to explain the murder by black-eyed-peas, and the women move on, living happier lives selling jam on the side of the highway. The somber story is infused with a spirit of triumph and joy due to the severe nature of the villain, so it maintains its peppy feel through until the end. Written by Dennis Linde, the song was originally recorded by Sons of the Desert but officially released as a single by the Dixie Chicks in 2000 on the band’s record Fly (1999). It hit No. 13 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart.
"Before He Cheats"
One of Carrie Underwood’s biggest hits of her career, “Before He Cheats” has all the elements of a perfect revenge song: infidelity, anger, property damage, essentially everything you need to complete the story. The tune is a lesson in girl power, a testament to the fact that women won’t take men treating them poorly lying down. Underwood tells the story of a man off with another girl, while she single-handedly destroys his reportedly fancy car, right down to the headlights. “Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats,” she concludes, shrugging off her act of revenge. It’s got a touch of female pride and bonding as well, with Underwood declaring she may have prevented future heartbreak for another girl by making him pay, but one thing’s for certain, she won’t be had again. The Grammy-winning song — oddly enough written by two men (Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear) — appeared on Underwood’s 2005 album Some Hearts. It was the fifth single released from the record and at the time, achieved the honor of the best-selling country song of all time, becoming the first country single to sell more than two million copies digitally. “Before He Cheats" was named by CMT as one of the 40 Greatest Songs of the Decade at no. 25 and was certified 5x platinum by the RIAA. It’s certainly one of the most well-known revenge tunes, and rightfully so, earning it a spot at the top of our list.
What's Your Favorite Revenge Song?
Did we include your picks in our Top Revenge Songs list? Or did we leave any out? Let us know in the comments section below.