Three days later than intended, thanks to a Blogspot glitch, here’s the first of a few year-in-review entries. Given the incessant single listing on this page lately, it seems only right to kcik things off with my favorite fifty singles of the past year. Observant readers will note that rankings have changed a bit since the 400 Greatest List; what can I say, it’s been three months and tastes change.
Fifty Best Country Singles
Newcomer Anderson’s celebration of the big-and-tall clientele was one of the funniest records to hit country radio this year.
Overshadowed by the admittedly superior “I May Hate Myself In The Morning”, Evans’ ode to the one night stand has its own understated charm.
“Don’t Worry ‘Bout A Thing”
The Osborn sisters get out all of their anger about being used and abused by the Nashville system, and ironically enough, it returns them to the top ten for the first time in years.
A tender ballad that was nearly lost in the early months of the year, it helped her Greatest Hits solidify its place as the top-selling country album of 2005.
“A Hard Secret To Keep”
A wonderful cheater’s lament that is laced with paranoia. Chesnutt’s never sounded better.
“I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today”
While one would hope that co-writer Matraca Berg looked up Tillis, Loveless and Yearwood in her Rolodex before giving this song to Wilson, the newcomer does a decent job staying out of the way of an excellent song.
Big & Rich
A glorious celebration of what success truly means. Toby Keith should embrace the message.
“Good Hearted Man”
Sultry and blues-tinged, this is country of the Bobbie Gentry variety, that Mississippi mud sound that is too often overlooked these days.
“I Play Chicken With The Train”
Cowboy Troy with Big & Rich
This may end up more interesting in the long run to sociologists rather than musicologists, but the collision of musical genres here is wildly entertaining.
“Race You To The Bottom”
There seems to be a growing sector of the artistic community that are raising a voice against incessant commercialism; Dean is sadistic in adopting the voice of greed and envy. Who knew he had it in him?
“She Didn’t Have Time”
The saga of a single mom is lovingly retold by Clark in one of her most sensitive performances to date.
Little Big Town
They’re more Fleetwood Mac than Dixie Chicks, but the harmonies of this trio sell this tale of growing up in the backwoods.
“Comin’ To Your City”
Big & Rich
The Big & Rich boys seem to have a keener understanding of why their debut CD sold so well than their buddy Gretchen Wilson. This anthem is one of the main reasons they are exceeding the sophomore expectations that Wilson is falling short of, at least as measured by SoundScan.
“If You Don’t Wanna Love Me”
Cowboy Troy with Sarah Buxton
It’s a bit campy, but Buxton’s haunting vocal keep this collaboration above water.
Shelton covers one of Conway Twitty’s last hits and pulls it off with dignity. It’s Shelton’s first vocal performance that doesn’t feel strained.
There just aren’t enough songs sung from the grave in country music these days. The fallen soldier that Adkins gives voice to reminds about the cost of war in a way that is simply chilling.
As I’ve said before, if Reba’s not going to make Reba records anymore, somebody has to. Evans absolutely nails this snarky song that revels in a man’s post-cheating decline.
“He Oughta Know That By Now”
Lee Ann Womack
A fully believable every-woman tale about feeling neglected by a man who chooses work over his woman. If “I May Hate Myself In The Morning” was this generation’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, Womack has given us our own “Satin Sheets” with this hit.
“Trying To Find Atlantis”
It’s wonderful to hear an artist that has been written off return with confidence and some great material. This search for the perfect man is clever and entertaining.
“Blame The Vain”
Yoakam is always getting his heart broken on record, but he makes each heartache feel fresh. He sounds revitalized here, on the song that kicks off the fantastic album of the same name.
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
Bon Jovi with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland
Nettles goes toe-to-toe with legend Jon Bon Jovi and more than holds her own. Her extra dose of grit takes this song to a higher level.
Twain returns to her traditional roots with her most fiddle-laden single since she broke through with “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” ten years ago. She sounds relaxed and comfortable on this stopgap single.
Paisley is often guilty of thinking he’s more clever than he is (ahem, “I’m Gonna Miss Her”), but he pulls off a great feat here by singing about alcohol in the first-person. He doesn’t have the honky-tonk grit to make this soar like a John Anderson would’ve done, but his understated vocal has its own charm.
“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”
Country music finally gets its own “Baby Got Back.” There wasn’t a funnier line this year than “We hate to see her go but love to watch her leave.”
“As Good As I Once Was”
I said, Daaaave…
“If Something Should Happen”
Worley ditches the fake bravado of his nauseating “Have You Forgotten” and returns to what he does best. He walks the tight rope between bravery and fear as he asks his friend to look after his family if he doesn’t survive surgery.
Cross Canadian Ragweed
Raw and angry, this is a fed-up challenge to people who don’t even know what they’re fightin’ for. Interpret as you will.
“It’s Getting Better All The Time”
Brooks & Dunn
Every once in a while, Ronnie Dunn reminds us that he’s one of country’s best vocalists by ripping into a painful ballad. Shades of mid-60’s Beatles color this hit.
Try denying this voice when matched with a flawless story song. You feel like you’re actually in the truck with her.
“My Give A Damn’s Busted”
Jo Dee Messina
What a relief to hear a kiss-off anthem that doesn’t mince words. Messina’s comeback hit is among her best to date.
Hill acquits herself admirably in this pointed response to critics who feel she’s become above her raising. It helps that she has a killer hook assisting her defense.
“Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago”
Lee Ann Womack
What a shame that Womack chose to film a video for this song that is a vain period piece when she could’ve fully visualised the middle-class, middle-aged woman that she wrote about in this song. Close your eyes and listen, and you hear the voice of every woman who drives her kids to school every morning and quietly accepts those lines on her face as the marks of a road well-traveled.
“Wake Up Older”
The only song worth your time on Roberts’ debut CD, she takes a man home to help her forget the true love she sings to, but she confesses “I thought about you the whole time we were getting it on.”
“Tonight I Wanna Cry”
A gorgeous showcase of his talents and clear evidence that those big CMA awards were deserved.
“Jesus, Take The Wheel”
She’s selling records at a clip that women (and men) in country music rarely ever experience. It’s more than that American Idol victory fueling it. She has the best voice to hit country music since Trisha Yearwood, and this first hit and its mass appeal indicates that she may be the most significant ambassador for the format to surface since the Chicks seven years ago.
“I Would Cry”
Dalley’s matter-of-fact dismissal of a cheating lover is surprisingly and effectively rational; no desperate emotions here. “You made a choice and now there’s no way to ever make it right; if my tears had any power, I would cry.” Put out the damn album already, Curb.
“They Don’t Understand”
A three-act morality play that reminds us to check in with our neighbors before assigning them blame.
“Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way”
Rimes finally sounds like the heir of Tanya Tucker with this Southern Gothic meditation on early death and the borderline insanity it can cause. Listen closely and you can hear the ghost of Delta Dawn.
“Like We Never Loved At All”
Faith Hill with Tim McGraw
A classic power ballad that sounds better with each listen.
“Drugs or Jesus”
It’s amazing that a contemporary mainstream country star was able to have a hit with a song that suggests that drugs and religion fill the same need. He still has the best ear for material in Nashville.
“Who You’d Be Today”
I still can’t watch the video. I leave the room when it comes on. This heartbreaking hit is Chesney’s finest moment on record.
It takes a great country record to make you want to quit your job for the three minutes it’s on. The answer to anybody inquiring why this band has exploded can be granted by listening to their biggest single so far.
“Keep Your Distance”
Sometimes it’s all-or-nothing. I’m fascinated by the character in this song who apparently went against her better instincts by falling for this guy, but has now gotten enough of a grip on reality to know to cut him off and begin undoing the damage: “I played and I got stung, now I’m biting back my tongue, and sweeping out the footprints where I strayed.”
“A Real Fine Place To Start”
An explosion of just-fell-in-love energy.
“Best I Ever Had”
Allan takes this song and makes it his own, twanging it up and adding a darker tinge to lines like “Was it what you wanted? Could it be I’m haunted?” that give unspoken weight to his wife’s suicide last year.
“Our children are watching us, they put they’re trust in us, they’re gonna be like us.” Remember that, the Chicks warn. We’re role models whether we want to be or not. What an important and perfectly constructed message.
“My Old Friend”
There aren’t that many great songs about friendships; lovers get most of the attention. McGraw’s lament for a friend who has passed on is poignant and a firm reminder to keep in touch with the people who matter to you.
“You’ll Be There”
A surprisingly spiritual Strait confesses that he’s only walking the line in the hopes that he’ll see his loved one in heaven when he dies: “I know that I want to go where the streets are gold cause you’ll be there.”
“Dancin’ Circles ‘Round The Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”
Vibrant and forceful country-rock philosophy, with one life lesson after another until an entire path for the good life has been constructed.
Quite possibly the best record about mother and child in country music history. It still gives me goosebumps with each listen.