For my second list of the year, I’m going to rank all of the top singles that were released from 2017. In case you missed my rules for this list, check them out here (they’re also re-stated below):
“This will actually be a collaborative list that I will do with my buddies Markus Meyer and Chris Baggs over at This Is Country Music (where I also write single reviews). This will be my fourth year helping out with the list, and while you won’t see that one until later, think of my list as an individual ballot if you will. My list will consist of 20 singles all released as proper singles anywhere from December of 2016 to November of this year Chart success will not factor in at all with this list. Much like all of these lists, these picks will based upon my opinion of them as well as their quality.”
Now, what actually constitutes a “single” can be hard. I thought I had this list figured out until I went over to Country Universe to check out their master list of singles, and I realized it’s a much broader category than I thought. So yeah, this was actually a pretty hard list to ultimately come to a conclusion.
Ultimately though, this list is meant more to highlight the best of the mainstream, so I’m going to stick with songs that were released to mainstream country radio and (seriously) battled it out for adequate chart positions. Anyway, while mainstream country had one of its most dreadful years in recent memory with some truly awful songs and increasingly frustrating radio politics, we also got a strong batch of quality singles as well. In fact, the batches have been getting better and better every year, even if most of them don’t actually translate into bonafide hits. I don’t foresee 2018 making things any better, but if more artists push against the system, we’ll all be better for it.
I think that just about covers it, so let’s get on with the show.
First, some honorable mentions…
- Chris Stapleton – “Either Way”
- Joe Nichols – “Never Gets Old”
- High Valley – “She’s With Me”
- Lauren Alaina – “Doin’ Fine”
- Eric Church – “Round Here Buzz”
Now on with the top 20!
20. Russell Dickerson – “Yours”
Yeah, I see the hair, and yes, the album that this song stems from is quite atrocious, but what can I say? This is a well done pop-country song that tackles the feeling of being in love in a unique fashion. First of all, good on the hook for saying he’s hers rather “thank God you’re mine”. It shows a lot of class. Additionally, Russell Dickerson doesn’t do half bad at selling this song with a good performance, and the song’s darker mix helps to ground in the serious mood. Hey, I don’t think I’ll be rooting for this guy’s followup singles, so for now, I’m going to celebrate what we have.
19. Scotty McCreery – “Five More Minutes”
Aside from sounding exactly like Cody Johnson’s “With You I Am”, Scotty McCreery returned with a genuinely mature, well-written song that explores the passing of time in a nuanced way. His vocal performance is compelling enough, and the song strikes a nice balance between sounding contemporary and (somewhat) traditional. I’ve been hard on Scotty in the past, but he earns his place here.
18. Rascal Flatts – “Back To Us”
It’s not the most original theme in the world, but the song does feature some great liners such as “maybe you’ll save me from myself”, and Rascal Flatts have always been good at handling more serious pop-country ballads. The trio may have chased trends to unfortunate results on their latest album, but “Back To Us” is a good example of what Rascal Flatts can sound like at their best.
17. Ronnie Dunn – “I Worship The Woman You Walked On”
Yeah, this is one of those weird singles that you really wouldn’t know is a single unless you actually pay attention. Ronnie Dunn’s latest album was pretty embarrassing, but considering lush pop-country was what he was trying (key word – trying) to go for, he at least succeeded with this song. It takes the whole Gary Allan “Man To Man” approach to good results, and overall if Ronnie Dunn actually released more quality singles like this in his post-radio years, maybe people would actually start paying attention to him again. Just sayin’.
16. Carly Pearce – “Every Little Thing”
I was surprised at how much this song grew on me. It’s still a little vague, and the song does creep along at a frustratingly slow pace, but for an emotive interpreter, Carly Pearce does a pretty good job. The overall mood and emotion is what will ultimately draw you in, and hey, it’s even got a dobro solo. The only unfortunate part about all of this is that news of this hitting number one is cause for celebration, when really it should just be a normal, everyday (week?) thing. We can only hope for change in 2018.
15. Justin Moore – “Kinda Don’t Care”
Well, at least it’s a nice break from his usual redneck debauchery. For once, he actually isn’t an outlaw. He’s a normal everyday guy just looking to blow off some steam, and that’s a hell of a lot more relatable and likable that his usual persona. Plus, the song itself is pulling (sort of) from the outlaw country era, and overall it actually ends up being a pretty enjoyable, fun song.
14. Chris Stapleton – “Broken Halos”
The song’s lyrical content can be hard to follow at times, that I will give you. Still, in terms of the overall theme, I’d say Chris Stapleton does a fairly good job honoring loved ones who have been a part of our lives and who taught us something along the way. Plus, it’s nice to hear a song stripped down to the barebones with little more than just a guitar at his side.
13. Ashley McBryde – “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega”
Yeah, it might be just a vague uplifting song at the end of the day, but there’s something to love about the recording of this. The production is oddly stripped back, enough to where Ashley’s vocals cut through that much more to deliver this song with the conviction it needs. It works well.
12. Brothers Osborne – “It Ain’t My Fault”
It’s not the most intelligent single of the year, but what it lacks in that area it more than makes up for in boot stomping energy and attitude. John Osborne’s fiery guitar solo is pretty killer, and to hear TJ Osborne sing in his usual lower register helps to give this song a lot of gritty passion. They’ve already established themselves as the new kids on the block when it comes to Country duos, so let’s hope the creative streak continues for these guys.
11. Charlie Worsham – “Cut Your Groove”
Yeah, it’s kind of a sappy, crappy motivational “do your thing” song. However, much like Eric Church did with “Record Year”, Charlie Worsham frames a familiar concept around musical language, and that makes for more interesting examples, one-liners and overall flow as well. Plus, the more elegant instrumentation with the strings and the horns halfway through help to give it an uplifting tone, and considering the path Charlie has been on so far as a musician, I can’t help but feel this is a personal song for him as well.
10. Brad Paisley – “Last Time For Everything”
A lot of people would say that Brad Paisley is out of ideas at this point, but I honestly thought Love & War was one of his best albums in quite some time (with this song being one of the best cuts on it). It tackles the feeling of life never slowing down from a unique perspective with a great hook, and considering Brad’s own career, a lot of the references made here (such as the Prince one) feel earned. It’s a shame this sputtered out just inside the top 20, because it was one of Brad’s best songs in awhile.
9. Miranda Lambert – “Tin Man”
Speaking of songs coming from unique perspectives, we have a song that pulls from The Wizard Of Oz of all places to deliver a song that’s honest, well-written, and captivating. The story flows extremely well, right up to the point where you realize the entire song doesn’t leave you with a happy ending. Her talk with the tin man doesn’t end with any salvation. She wants his armor instead of a heart, and while it may not be a fairytale ending, it’s an honest one.
8. Montgomery Gentry – “Better Me”
Look, if this song had actually been just average or even bad, I wouldn’t have talked about it at all, so don’t think this is a tacky sympathy push. We’ve seen Eddie tackle the subject of growing up and moving on with life numerous times before between the duo’s singles and deep cuts. For Troy however, it’s a different side of the story. It came at an ironic time, because while the 2010’s have not been kind to the duo, it really seemed like Troy was working behind the scenes to become a better person for himself, his family, and his friends. It’s admittedly hard writing anything for this given the circumstances, but trust me, it rightfully earns its place here.
7. Lee Brice – “Boy”
For a couple years it seemed like I might have had to turn in my Lee Brice fan card. The I Don’t Dance album was a mess, and the only truly great single from it was the lead one. Thankfully, Lee Brice bounced back in a huge way with his self-titled album, and “Boy” was certainly a highlight of it. Like many songs here, it tackles a simple theme with more details, so I feel like I’m repeating myself here. Still, it’s not so much reassuring his boy through false promises that everything’s going to be magically alright everyday. It’s about reassuring him that there are natural phases of life that he’ll experience as well as be able to watch when he has his own boy. The song even gives enough of a clue to insinuate that the learning process doesn’t end at parenting.
6. Brandy Clark – “Three Kids No Husband”
Yeah, color me shocked at this one too. I didn’t know it was even a proper single until I sat down to make this list. Now, given that I was raised by a single mother, this admittedly hits home for me. However, like any truly great song, this one is able to cut through to a deeper emotional level as evidenced by Brandy’s convincing delivery. If anything, I can also use to plug what was one of 2016’s best albums, so take a listen to this song and Big Day In A Small Town if you haven’t already.
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5. Thomas Rhett – “Marry Me”
If you had told me one day I would be placing Thomas Rhett on a “best of” list, I would have laughed. If you had told me one day I’d be placing him on a “best of” list and placing him in the top five, well, I would have told you that you were crazy. What can I say though? While folks are still ripping on Thomas Rhett and his latest album (to be fair, quality aside it doesn’t belong in Country), he actually stepped up his game this year. The production on this track is better than ANYTHING else in his catalog, and for once the writing here is actually well-structured and nuanced, enough to the point where it has a surprise hook that you actually don’t see coming the first time! I’ve been hard on Thomas Rhett in the past, and Lord knows I likely will be again, but I also like to give credit where it’s due.
4. Maren Morris and Vince Gill – “Dear Hate”
While this may be the only song that was never an “official” single, I’d be remiss not to at least mention it. 2017 was marred with a diverse number of tragedies which unfortunately included mass shootings. Granted, nobody can stop a natural disaster, but man-made ones such as those shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Maybe it is “cheesy” to say that love’s going to conquer all at the end of the day, but at the end of the day when we’re reminded of the life we’re given and the people who we’ve been blessed to know, you certainly can’t say hate is going to dominate our lives or choose how we live. That’s what the message of this song.
3. Jon Pardi – “She Ain’t In It”
I’ve been hard on Jon Pardi, but for good reasons. I hopped onto the bandwagon when this guy arrived in 2014, and I don’t regret it. However, 2016 and the earlier half of this year brought about some dreadful single choices for him, enough to the point where it disappointed me as a fan. But dag-nabit, Jon Pardi managed to bring me back in with what is easily his best song to date. Those fiddles sound like something out of a long lost George Strait song, and for once, Jon Pardi is able to slow things down a bit and deliver a compelling performance rather than fighting a faster tempo with his nasal tone. This is a classic country song at its finest.
2. Trace Adkins – “Watered Down”
You could literally cut Trace Adkins’ career in half if you wanted to sort it out by the “dark” and “light” sides of his career. He’s cut some truly awful cuts, but when he’s on, he’s on, and “Watered Down” was by far one of his best songs in a long time. The production is crisp and warm, inviting you in with the tasteful instrumentation. Moreover, it’s refreshing to hear someone looking forward to the days ahead rather than try and capture their youth (which is ironic overall for Trace if you listen to his recent album but I digress). If Trace Adkins can use his golden voice for good songs like this in his post-radio career, we could be looking at a serious powerhouse in terms of quality. Don’t let me down, Trace, because you did excellent here.
1. Alan Jackson – “The Older I Get”
Sure, winning the lottery and being able to not worry about any of life’s stresses might be the key to happiness for a lot of people, but I’ll also settle for a
burger and a grape snowcone new Alan Jackson song too. As much as it pains anyone to admit it, artists don’t usually start making the absolute best music of their careers the moment their radio stardom dies. Sure, you get outliers like Johnny Cash and Marty Stuart, but the norm is to usually try and do what the “cool kids” do (which usually points to disastrous results..see Trace Adkins aside from “Watered Down”) or just record material that’s pleasant but ultimately safe and forgettable. Alan Jackson can join the former camp though, because “The Older I Get” is exactly what you expect it to be – a country song born to be a classic coming from an artist who knows how to paint a song with nuance and real weight to it. It’s also a nice, different spin on looking at what the rest of our days entail once we reach “old” age. They say age is just a number, and considering Alan Jackson is whopping most young ‘uns butts when it comes to crafting great music, I’m inclined to believe that.