It's impossible to separate Dwight Yoakam from California and, more specifically, Los Angeles. It's where the Ohio-raised artist moved after finding Nashville inhospitable to the style of honky-tonk music he was woodshedding -- and it's also where he found kindred spirits, such as punks X and the rootsier The Blasters, both of whom took vintage country and rockabilly influences and dragged them into the modern age.
Yoakam's music certainly sounded out of time in the 1980s, when he first emerged, in the best possible ways. Hiss first three full-length albums -- 1986's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., 1987's Hillbilly Deluxe and 1988's Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room -- all hit No. 1 on the country albums chart. The latter album also spawned two No. 1 hits, the Buck Owens duet "Streets of Bakersfield" and an original called "I Sang Dixie."
That mix of originals and well-curated covers served Yoakam well in the ensuing decades, as he grew into an heir to the Owens- and Merle Haggard-popularized "Bakersfield sound" and launched a parallel successful acting career. Today, Yoakam continues to write and release music and tour, embracing his status as a link to country music's past who's nevertheless always pushing himself forward.
These are The Boot's picks for Yoakam's Top 10 songs:
"Second Hand Heart"From 2015's 'Second Hand Heart'
Name aside, Second Hand Heart wasn't a covers album, but a collection largely full of original, Yoakam-penned tunes -- such as the title track, an easygoing slice of throwback heartland country-rock. There's hints of '50s warblers in Yoakam's voice as he implores a heartbreak-hardened woman to give him -- or, really, them -- a chance: "So, if you will, I’ll try to start / And take the chance that we might fall apart."
"A Thousand Miles From Nowhere"From 1993's 'This Time'
This sighing No. 2 country singles chart hit astutely captures the ennui that creeps in after a breakup, when you aren't comfortable with anyone or anything. Yoakam's descriptions of the emotional and physical manifestations of heartbreak are even more impressive, however: "I got bruises on my memory / I got tear stains on my hands / And in the mirror there's a vision / Of what used to be a man." Appropriately, the song comes paired with nostalgic guitars that twang and bend with sadness.
"You're the One"From 1990's 'If There Was a Way'
A song originally dating from the early '80s, "You're the One" is a waltzing, romantic slow dance masquerading as a straight-up revenge song. "You're the one that made me blue," Yoakam croons. "So how's it feel, now that you're the one it's happened to?" The syrupy strings and delicate instrumentation (not to mention Yoakam's straight-faced delivery) only serve to magnify the bitter overtones.
"Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose"From 1990's 'If There Was a Way'
The galloping, mandolin-tinged "Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose" finds a narrator taking refuge in a honky-tonk -- and some wild behavior -- while trying to get over a breakup. "Turn it on, turn it up, turn me loose," he implores. "From her memories driving me lonely, crazy and blue / It helps me to forget her, so the louder, the better / Hey, mister, turn it on, turn it up, turn me loose." "Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose" was nominated for Best Male Country Vocal Performance at the 1991 Grammy Awards and peaked at No. 11 on the country charts.
"Ain't That Lonely Yet"From 1993's 'This Time'
Yoakam switched gears for the first single from This Time, releasing an old-fashioned, string-swept ballad that describes a familiar post-breakup scenario: an ex trying to make amends. "After what you put me through, I ain't that lonely yet," Yoakam sings, with wistfulness and longing in his voice. Soon after, however, we discover why he resists: "Once there was this spider in my bed / I got caught up in her web / Of love and lies." As it turns out, this heartache resonated: "Ain't That Lonely Yet" peaked at No. 2 on the charts, and nabbed Best Male Country Vocal Performance at the the 1994 Grammy Awards.
"Fast as You"From 1993's 'This Time'
Yoakam's third straight No. 2 single from This Time, "Fast as You" features a narrator mired in the throes of a tough breakup. To soften the emotional blow, they imagine that one day their ex will feel just as lousy. "Maybe I'll be as fast as you," he drawls. "Maybe I'll break hearts too / But I think that you'll slow down / When your turn to hurt comes around." Slow-boiling music with subtle organ and a rumbling groove underscore the song's vengeful undertones.
"Little Sister"From 1987's 'Hillbilly Deluxe'
Yoakam put his own snappy spin on this honky-tonkin' rockabilly tune, which was originally popularized by Elvis Presley in 1961, courtesy of slinky guitar twang and a bluesy underbelly that gives the song a kick. "Little Sister" was the first single from Hillbilly Deluxe, and hit No. 7 on the U.S. country charts.
"I Sang Dixie"From 1988's 'Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room'
Yoakam's second No. 1 U.S. country hit, the somber ballad "I Sang Dixie," is a subtle commentary on the ways society doesn't always take care of its most vulnerable populations -- and how easily people can fall through the cracks. "The people just walked on by as I cried," Yoakam sings. "The bottle had robbed him of all his rebel pride / So I sang "Dixie" as he died." "I Sang Dixie" also features one of Yoakam's finest early vocal performances; he imbues the song with the right amount of pity-free reverence.
"Streets of Bakersfield"From 1988's 'Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room'
What's a musician heavily inspired by the Bakersfield scene to do once he becomes a country star? If you're Yoakam, you team up with one of the scene's patriarchs, Buck Owens, for a rousing duet of the classic "Streets of Bakersfield." Unsurprisingly, the tune, which also features accordion from Flaco Jimenez, hit No. 1 on the U.S. country charts.
"Guitars, Cadillacs"From 1986's 'Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.'
The de facto title track from Yoakam's debut landed at No. 4 on the charts on the strength of vintage sounds -- fiddle, honky-tonk guitar, strolling rhythms -- and classic sentiments. Nursing a broken heart, the song's protagonist finds solace in the titular pastimes while lamenting his fate. "There ain't no glamour in this tinseled land of lost and wasted lives," Yoakam sings, a lovelorn twang in his voice. "And painful scars are all that's left of me / Oh, but thank you, girl, for teaching me brand-new ways to be cruel / If I can find my mind now, I guess I'll just leave."