My first year end list of 2011 looks back at my favourite country singles of the year. There were so many that a top 10 list ended up doubling in size by the time I was finished! Enjoy.
20. Rascal Flatts ft Natasha Bedingfield ‘Easy’
Most people on this side of the Atlantic will have forgotten about the charms of Daniel Bedingfield’s little sister, but while the Grammy nominated singer’s last album failed to make an impression over here or in the UK, she’s still in demand in America, teaming up with Simple Plan and Nicki Minaj, appearing on Jay Leno, and most significantly, lending her pipes to Rascal Flatts’ powerful pop-country ballad ‘Easy’. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but anything that gives Bedingfield a chance to shine is good by me.
19. Toby Keith ‘Somewhere Else’
Toby Keith tried to make another anthem with ‘Made in America’, released just two weeks before Independence Day, but he need not have bothered, as he already had a monster single up his sleeve with ‘Somewhere Else’ from his 2010 album Bullets in the Gun. Keith’s songs are always fun, and this is no different.
18. Justin Moore ‘If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away’
Originally recorded by Rhett Akins back in 2006, but never charted, ‘If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away’ is a classic country tearjerker that’s taken five years to finally find its audience. It’s Moore’s second number one country hit, and when he sings it, you feel every word. A poignant song about those he has lost, it’s a sad triumph from start to finish.
17. Steel Magnolia ‘Bulletproof’
After winning the second season of US talent show Can You Duet, Steel Magnolia launched with a fantastic debut single ‘Keep On Lovin You’ back in August 2009, but only got around to releasing their debut album at the start of 2011. Two other fantastic singles stoked anticipation for its launch, and fans weren’t disappointed. ‘Bulletproof’ came out in August, and although it didn’t have the same impact as their debut single did, but once again showcases the wonderful vocal harmonies of Meghan Linsey and Joshua Scott Jones.
16. Jason Aldean ‘Dirt Road Anthem’
Forget that nonsense that LMFAO released, this was the only anthem anyone needed in 2011. Originally appearing on country-rapper Colt Ford’s 2008 album Ride Through the Country, accompanied by Brantley Gilbert, and later on Gilbert’s own record, it’s been around a while. However, Aldean brought it to the masses, and shook up the country charts with something fresh. It polarised opinion, but it’s fantastic to see established acts move out of their comfort zone, and actually make a good hash at doing so.
15. Chris Young ‘Tomorrow’
Filling in their facebook profile under music, most people put “Everything except country”. They imagine country to be the kind played on local radio stations, and suffixed with “& Western”. Most of the songs on this list are as far from that as you can imagine, being closer to rock or pop than country & western. However, Chris Young’s seventh single is probably the most straight-up country song of the year. But that’s no bad thing. Listen to this and tell me you don’t like raw country music…
14. Eric Church ‘Drink in My Hand’
Back in 2009, I felt that Eric Church’s Carolina was a greatly overlooked album, it was consistent, but it was lacking a monster hit. In 2011, his third album Chief came along, and with it ‘Drink in My Hand’, a fun and exciting song that was exactly what we were waiting for. It has everything needed in to make a monster country hit – enjoying life and booze – what else do you need?
13. Pistol Annies ‘Hell on Heels’
A world without the Dixie Chicks is not a world I want to live in. But while they get their act together to record their fifth adult album, we’ll have to find something to fill the gap. Pistol Annies do a damn good job of it. Comprising of Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and the wonderful Miranda Lambert, it’s an old-fashioned country record, but is filled with sass.
12. Kenny Chesney ft Grace Potter ‘You an Tequila’
After hearing the original Deana Carter version of this song, Kenny Chesney became a fan of the song, and finally got around to recording it this year with the excellent Grace Potter from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. It’s a simple, laid back song that draws you into the love-hate lyrics, but this would be nothing without Potter’s input, as the song works best as a duet.
11. Martina McBride ‘I’m Gonna Love You Through It’
“The Celine Dion of Country Music” has been around a long time, and it’s this experience that allows her to record a song like ‘I’m Gonna Love You Through It’. No-one else, in any genre, could record a song about coping with cancer that works just as well as this. Twenty years on, McBride is still making fantastic country songs, and still inspiring people with her songs. You can’t really ask for much more than that.
10. Thompson Square ‘Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not’
The Grammy-nominated single from the writers of ‘Big Green Tractor’ and ‘She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy’ was bound to be brilliant, wasn’t it? With that pedigree. Instead of writing for Aldean or Chesney, Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy have provided words for husband and wife duo Thompson Square who have proven to be one of the country breakthroughs of the year. And with Keifer’s gruff vocal intertwining with Shawna’s soft serenade, it’s easy to see why they’re doing just so well.
9. Miranda Lambert ‘Heart Like Mine’
Four the Record has only spawned one single yet, but Revolution had five. This final one appeared in January, and was a real slow-burner for me, it’s understated and is no different than anything Lambert has put out before, but in its simplicity lies the song’s charm. She doesn’t need to try. She just gets it.
8. Lady Antebellum ‘Just A Kiss’
It’s going to be impossible for Lady Antebellum to ever reach the heights of ‘Need You Now’, one of the greatest country singles ever – never mind the last decade – but they’ll keep trying. ‘Just a Kiss’ is the standout song from middling third record Own the Night, but it easily stands alongside past hits such as ‘American Honey’ and ‘Hello World’. This is a band that oozes confidence, and with harmonies as wonderful as theirs, they’ll keep belting out gems like this for as long as they’re allowed.
7. Brantley Gilbert ‘Country Must Be Country Wide’
Better known as the writer of two of Jason Aldean’s biggest hits, Brantley Gilbert’s second album Halfway to Heaven finally brought him the attention he deserved last year. Twelve months on he released a tribute to his craft that peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Country Songs chart, knocking Taylor Swift off the top with a brand of country-rock that just oozes cool.
6. Blake Shelton ‘God Gave Me You’
As one of the judges on the US version of The Voice alongside Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton has an ear for a great voice. Which is probably partly because he has such great vocals himself. A cover of Dave Barnes’ 2010 Christian rock single, it’s filled with tremendous hooks, and shows why Shelton is the hottest property in US country right now.
5. Brad Paisley ft Carrie Underwood ‘Remind Me’
Although it’s Paisley who does the majority of the singing on this track, and it’s his name on the sleeve, this song is great because of Carrie Underwood. Her own last album was disappointing, but her appearance on ‘Remind Me’ reminds us just how powerful and pristine her voice is. Oh, and Paisley isn’t half bad either.
4. Zac Brown Band ‘Keep Me in Mind’
The Zac Brown Band have now got to the stage where they are as much a jam band as a country band, probably following in the footsteps of the similarly named Dave Matthews Band, whose production designer Fenton Williams directed the video for this tune, at the staple DMB venue: the Gorge Amphitheater. It’s a funky country tune, which will have you dancing by the time it gets to the second verse.
3. The Band Perry ‘You Lie’
Brother-sister trio the Band Perry stand out from their crowd through their brilliant self-penned songs. Their self-titled debut album has all the usual country hallmarks, but on each and every song the lyrics shine through. I mean who else could get away with a line like “I never liked the taste of crow but baby I ate it”. ‘You Lie’ stands out through the fantastic similes drawn on by the title, and who could put it better than this: “Well my daddy’s gonna straighten you out like a piece of wire.”
2. Taylor Swift ‘Sparks Fly’
There’s a reason why Taylor Swift could release five singles from third album Speak Now – because it’s a flawless record that repeatedly stands up to scrutiny, and may just be the best pop album since Thriller. Yes, it’s that good from start to finish. Any of her three singles this year could merit inclusion in this list, but album opener ‘Sparks Fly’ is just so upbeat and uniquely Taylor that it stands above the greatness of the others. The breakdown section itself is just so amazing, even if the rest of the song was a mess, that would make it worthwhile. Luckily though, the whole thing is perfect.
1. Jason Aldean ft Kelly Clarkson ‘Don’t You Wanna Stay’
Technically first released in November 2010, but it didn’t actually hit the top spot of the US Hot Country Songs chart until March 2011, Aldean’s duet with former American Idol winner Clarkson had the best chorus of any country song this year, and perfectly matched Aldean’s genre experience with Clarkson’s more rock-pop edge, bringing this monster ballad out into the wider world, and achieving platinum sales. Simply gorgeous.