Ronnie Milsap is one of the most successful country artists in history, especially from a charts standpoint: In a career that dates back to 1963, he's earned an impressive 35 solo No. 1 hits in the U.S. A Grand Ole Opry member as of Feb. 6, 1976 — and a 2014 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee — Milsap has also won six Grammy Awards.
The North Carolina native's longevity and popularity make sense: He has always incorporated varied influences into his piano-based tunes, including gospel, R&B and even rock 'n' roll, and has continued to tour and record regularly. On his 2019 duets album, Ronnie Milsap: The Duets, he re-imagines some of his best-known hits with country legends (Willie Nelson, George Strait, Dolly Parton) and modern stars (Kacey Musgraves, Luke Bryan).
Below, get a listen to The Boot's picks for the Top 10 Ronnie Milsap songs.
"What a Difference You've Made in My Life"From 1977's 'It Was Almost Like a Song'
A heartfelt piano ballad sliced with sweeping strings, the No. 1 hit "What a Difference You've Made in My Life" is Milsap at his most straightforward. More specifically, he's a besotted romantic sharing how a significant other has transformed his life for the better. "What a change you have made in my heart," he sings, with tenderness in his voice. "You replaced all the broken parts / Oh, what a change you have made in my heart."
"Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends"From 1974's 'Pure Love'
Written by Kris Kristofferson, "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" spent two weeks at No. 1 and earned Milsap his first Grammys trophy, for Best Country Vocal Performance. A lovely slow dance fringed with pedal steel, the tune is about living in the moment and enjoying a romantic evening — without worrying about what tomorrow might bring.
"Prisoner of the Highway"From 1984's 'One More Try for Love'
A Top 10 hit, "Prisoner of the Highway" — which boasts prominent keyboards and one of MIlsap's most forceful vocal performances — feels like an outlaw country song updated for the '80s. It's the story of a long-haul trucker who has a love-hate relationship with the road, and finds it both freeing and restricting. Mark Wills and Aaron Tippin have also covered the song.
"(I'd Be) A Legend in My Time"From 1974's 'A Legend in My Time'
Milsap shows off his vibrato-laden croon on this Don Gibson-penned No. 1 ballad, which has also been covered by Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. The approach is appropriate: "(I'd Be) A Legend in My Time" features a lovelorn protagonist, who tries to make light of his situation by joking he'd win a heartbreak contest ("If loneliness meant world acclaim / Everyone would know my name"). Plaintive piano, soaring orchestras and sweet backup harmonies give Milsap's version a throwback '50s vibe that suits him well.
"Pure Love"From 1974's 'Pure Love'
Written by Eddie Rabbitt, Milsap's upbeat first No. 1 country hit is a sweet and somewhat-cheeky ode to the little things that make a relationship special. "With pure love, baby, it's pure love," he sings. "Milk and honey and Cap'n Crunch, and you in the mornin'." What's better than that?
"Stranger in My House"From 1983's 'Keyed Up'
Milsap adjusted to the slicker production and keyboard-heavy style of the '80s better than many of his '70s country peers. Exhibit A: the dark, rock 'n' roll-leaning "Stranger in My House," which crossed over to the pop charts and depicts a relationship breakdown with thundering keyboards and a heavy electric guitar solo. Luke Bryan joined Milsap for an appropriately tough take on this song on the latter's 2019 duets album.
"(I'm a) Stand By My Woman Man"From 1976's '20/20 Vision'
If this song makes you start singing Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man," that's no accident: The Grammy-winning tune starts out an introspective piano ballad, before blooming into a jaunty, swinging nod to the iconic country hit. Milsap portrays a man who touts love and fidelity toward his partner: "When she's down, she knows I'll be beside her / 'Cause I'm not just her lover, I'm her friend."
"Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night)"From 1985's 'Greatest Hits, Volume 2'
Milsap channeled early rock 'n' roll melodrama on this No. 1 hit, which remains one of his signature songs. Woozy saxophone and twinkling percussion add a retro '50s touch to the besotted ballad. For an extra-authentic feel, the song incorporates elements of the Five Satins' 1956 classic "In the Still of the Night." The song spent two weeks at No. 1 on the country chart, and also crossed over to the Top 10 of Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. "Lost in the Fifties Tonight" also earned Milsap a Grammys trophy for Best Country Vocal Performance.
"Smoky Mountain Rain"From 1980's 'Greatest Hits'
A No. 1 hit on both the country and adult contemporary charts, and a Top 40 pop crossover hit, the mid-tempo soft rocker "Smoky Mountain Rain" tells the story of a man hitching a ride back to Tennessee because he's had a change of heart about an ex. Unfortunately, his beloved has disappeared, and while he understands ("I can't blame her for letting go / A woman needs someone warm to hold"), he's vowed to find her: "I feel the rain running down my face / I'll find her no matter what it takes."
"(There's) No Gettin' Over Me"From 1981's 'There's No Gettin' Over Me'
Known by a few names over the years (including "No Getting Over Me"), this song was Milsap's biggest pop crossover hit, landing at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Milsap sings from the vantage point of someone who's been dumped, but knows his ex won't be able to forget him: "I'll be the bill you forgot to pay / I'll be the dream that keeps you awake / I'll be the song on the radio." On his 2019 duets album, Milsap teams up with Kacey Musgraves for an inspired modern update; in fact, adding a female perspective brings new, richer dimensions to the song.