THE LIST OF THE DECADE
Your favorites, the ones you forgot about, and the ones that take you back to that special place in time. This is Country Music's greatest (since 2010).
10. Country Girl (Luke Bryan)
And so it begins. Here’s the deal: this is our baseline measurement. If it isn’t as addictive, seductive, catchy and all-out country as Country Girl, it isn’t making the list. The banger that ends every Luke Bryan concert, country girl offers the full range of Bryan’s singing chops with memorable guitar riffs, classic country song story-telling lyrics, and the type of imagery that conjures up back yard bbq’s, sizzling hot pool parties, cool nights around a fire pit, top notch tailgates and around the clock dancing on a sweet southern beach. Close your eyes and place yourself as you listen to Country Girl; where are you? Chances are it’s somewhere close to paradise. What could be better?
How fortunate are we to live in a time where Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, of whom are country gold individually, team up and duet in some of country’s greatest songs of this century is pure luck. We should all be grateful to the country Gods for it. If you’ve ever had a relationship built on the basis of pure passion; a fiery, hot romance that offered some of your life’s favorite memories, here’s the song for you. Paisley and Underwood recount a relationship that’s lost some of it’s luster, but that at one point made you consistently “late for work”, with times when you just “couldn’t control yourself” and all those moments that made them fall “in love with you”. How about those times when you’d wear “my old tee shirt”? Boy, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Given the killer range that both these artists have, you can’t help but fall in love with this song less than halfway through it, as they belt some of Country music’s most beautiful lyrics ever written.
Lets set the scene for a moment. It’s 2013, and country music is experiencing a sort of renniasannce. Not only are country wizards such as Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks, Trace Adkins, Rascall Flatts, and Brooks and Dunn cranking out some of the greatest hits of their career in a style that’s both timeless and modern, but we’ve welcomed with open arms a new sound and swagger, a bold and brash new era of country. I’m talking Randy Houser, Jake Owen, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, Little Big Town, and maybe most notably, Florida Georgia Line. There’s no way to put into words the sheer impact FGL has had on shaping today’s country music. Nothing like Cruise had ever been heard in the history of the country genre. Quite flawlessly, FGL took our favorite parts of country; the list-style storytelling of our favorite parts of southern living, and infuse a hip-hop element between the choruses that’s both ideal for singing along in the car, hyping up for a pregame, or rallying around for a second wind on your best day of day drinking. You can’t help but fall in love with with this piece of country music’s cultural relevancy.
Some songs make you celebrate. Some songs make you reminisce. And some songs can’t help but make your eyes wet. Exhibit A: Jason Aldean’s Tattoos on this Town. An Aldean song usually takes the story mode archetype of country music and tells one that you haven’t heard before (Night Train, Amarillo Sky, etc). Tattoos on this Town probably does this the best and in the most difficult of ways — the really-terribly-ugly-crying-sad type way. Recounting high school sweethearts that tear up a small town in their favorite spots with their friends, the story begins to tug at the heart strings when Aldean shows the young man being sent to a war zone, and, a bit later in the song, the wife being told that he won’t be coming home and their son placing his hand on the father’s casket. Sad, and beautiful, and the writing alone could deserve #7 if not for Aldean offering it some of the best vocals in country music.
The man from down under gives American country music the top of the charts tracks that we love to listen to in every occasion. What he does with Anywhere With You is he reminds us of what we love about country music the most; it’s the adventure into the unknown with someone you love. No other country song comes close to telling this story better about that feeling that yearns deep inside all of us; the get up and go and get out and get wild part of us that we want to do with the person we’re closest with. Yes, country music conjures up great stories, many of which are as American as apple pie. In Anywhere With You, this Aussie tells us why those stories are conjured up in the first place; from the experiences we take outside of our comfort zones.
The Godfather, The King, the Country Papi of modern day country music. The music industry as a whole owes a massive debt to the leader of No Shoes Nation for his contributions to country music over the past forty years. Arguably, no single artist in the history of country music has been as successful in consistently creating high quality music for their old fans and new fans alike. It’s a gift; it’s why he’s the country papi. And it’s why he strikes gold with number 5 on our list. What Chesney did in 2013 was create, if country was represented by a single magazine issue, it’s cover story. Summertime takes the best stuff in a country song and elevates it. With the smoothest voice in country and a fan base more rabid than all of New England (of whom are also rabid Chesney fans, which further reflects his reach) Chesney gives credence to not only why we love the season of country, the summer, but why we love country music. “Its a smile, it’s a kiss, it’s a sip of wine it’s summer time” and “school’s out and the nights roll in and just like a long lost friend you haven’t seen in a while, you can’t help but smile”. See this man live and tell me you’re not enthralled by how this song makes you feel; and in turn, you’ll find nothing you love more than summertime.
And now we come to the best band in country music ever assembled, Zac Brown Band. The hardest hitting country albums that have come out in the best ten years have to include every single album of ZBB, because that’s just what they are. It’s not one or two great songs; it’s albums-worth. In Free, it’s the story of a couple who live off the road in a van and seek enjoyment through the adventures the road provides them. It’s star gazing. It’s holding hands while driving. It would be the song track for @vanlife on Instagram. And in classic ZBB cleverness, the melody shifts and resets near the end of the song to make you fall in love with it over and over and over again. Of course, Zac Brown belts out our favorite lyrics at the end of the song as our heart beats a thousand miles a minute. You can’t help but ask yourself if you should sell the farm and hit the road with that special someone you love, too...
Few better messages as we close out the decade than country papi’s Get Along instills in you as we listen to his smooth voice grace an upbeat set of country lyrics. Get along offers a interesting mix of emotions, almost a yearning for something more? Maybe something better? Are their challenges you have yet to face that you need to overcome? Are there challenges that we collectively need to face, as a nation, a people, humanity, that can set all of us free? With the bullet list story telling style that makes Kenny Chesney the country papi, we could listen to this song on repeat in every occasion.
You didn't think we'd forget the man who set country over the top, did you? The reason we resonate in pop culture today is a testament to the ability of Tim McGraw to bring the genre out of the dark ages. Just like Chesney, it's difficult to find a more versatile yet consistent voice in the country music landscape. For decades, we've appreciated the sheer passion and joy McGraw's brought to every country music album he's dropped. In 2015, he took it to a new level. Humble and Kind brings the country music principles to the forefront. Told in the story of an up and coming country music artist heading out of their small town to make something of themselves, we can't help but fall in love with the sheer simplicity of this song's message. You never forget who you are, where you came from, or who left the light on for you. Humble and Kind tells the story of our better angels, and pushes all of us to be the best we possibly can be.
It’s where The Godfather, the King, the Country Papi belongs. Out of everything about Chesney and the other phenomenal artists mentioned above, nobody does nostalgia better than him; that’s sort of what the essence of country music is all about. I Go Back is the summarily quintessential country classic. It's placed against an upbeat (yet somehow melancholy) rhythm, recalling, with prideful yet saddening lyrics, the greatest hits in a life worth living. High School sports teams, old girlfriends, best buddies no longer with us and the props of pickup trucks, cheap wine and rock classics like Jack & Diane and Keep on Rockin' Me Baby make us throw this song on repeat time and time again. And, just when you think the song is over, the greatest part begins; the lyrical riffs that close every great Chesney song, such as "to the feel of a fifty yard line, a blanket, a girl, some raspberry wine, I go back" and "to the loss of a real good friend and the sixteen Summers I shared with him, I go back" hit you like a ton of bricks.
The sound. The lyrics. The melancholy, bittersweet, sad happiness. I'll end this ranking with the best line of the song, and the reason why we laugh, cry, dance, listen, sing, and love country music with every fiber of our being and every stitch of our soul:
"To watchin' Summer fade to Fall, growin' up to fast and I do recall...I go back"