What does it take to become one of the Top 50 classic country artists? Hit songs and a Country Music Hall of Fame resume (if not induction) are essential, but the very best country music legends will also have an influence on the artists that come after him, her or them.

Each of these classic country stars has that. In fact, their influence on contemporary country was given much more weight than other factors in building the Top 50. For example, both Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. are legends worthy of Top 10 status. Senior is a true pioneer, but ask yourself this: which one of these men is more influential on artists of the 21st century?

That's a question that stirred great debate among the Taste of Country team, and you'll see how it shook out below. We did our best to explain the ranking for each of these 50 classic country artists, especially as it pertains to matters of influence.

To qualify as classic country, an artist needs to have notched a hit song or notable achievement prior to 1990. For this reasons, modern legends including Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn and Shania Twain do not make the cut. Others whose influence has timed out also miss out on our list.

Strength of catalog and success in retail stores and on country radio will move a classic country artist higher on this list. The top artists do all of this, and lead the way in some other tangible way, like an innovation, or business or how he or she approaches the career in the later years.

No. 1 is an icon known for so much more than music. Can you guess who it is? Scroll down to see the full list of the Top 50 Classic Country artists and then let us know where we got it right, or wrong.

50 Classic Country Artists Today’s Fans Should Know

Today's country music stars owe a debt of gratitude to the legends who formed and cultivated the genre, starting in the early 20th century. These 50 classic country artists remain relevant today. Some developed a style that's emulated on today's country radio. Others set a bar for vocal talent or songwriting skill.

This list of 50 influential classic country artists features country music singers who started their careers before 1990. It's ranked by each artist's current influence on the country music format today, not individual, lifelong impact. Tell us where we got it right or wrong on Twitter.

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