2011 has been a great year for singles. Like in previousyears we saw plenty of singles by the biggest artists in the genre shootstraight to the top of the charts. There were also plenty, and I mean plenty,of songs that, frankly, were far more superior then some of this year’s charttoppers. For that very reason, our listof 2011’s top 25 singles includes plenty of songs that received chart successas well as a few that you might have missed. The criteria to make the list issimple, all singles released this year are eligible as well as singles thatpeaked this year, which gives songs released in late 2010 the chance to beincluded on this year’s list.
The second single off Josh Kelley’s first country album, Georgia Clay, is a strong single aboutthe difficulties of a break up. It’s the story of the awkward and confusingfeeling one gets when you run into your estranged significant other. Theheartbreaking song is delivered with plenty of soul and emotion, a trait bothKelley brothers (Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum is his younger brother) haveno problem in executing. This song failed to crack the top 50 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, butit was one of the year’s finest singles.
Who would have thought that Dierks Bentley had more tricksup his sleeve than a bluegrass album? The lead single off hissoon-to-be-released album finds the singer delivering a song completelydifferent than what we’ve become accustomed to. The raw, simple production isthe song’s highlight along with the fantastic, tender vocal performance Bentleydelivers. The song sends the message that no matter how hard and rough life canbe there’s always a place we can go called home. This a fantastic shakeup to acatalog filled with plenty of rowdy country songs.
Rascal Flatts have made quite the career for themselves byreleasing some of the genre’s most over-the-top pop power ballads. However, Idon’t think many of them have been as good as this duet featuring the Britishpowerhouse, Natasha Bedingfield. Both Natasha and Gary LeVox sing the heck outof this breakup song, which is probably the best thing about the song. I’venever heard the group sound as good as they do and most of it is because of theaddition of Bedingfield’s fantastic voice.
This is one of those songs that most of you probably havenever heard of. The debut single from Kip Moore offered country radio with asingle that offered strong, creative lyrics as well as a fantastic production.Kip sings about having relations with various women with decent attributes, butnone of them compare to Mary, “the one” who got away. Add Moore’s raw, edgyvoice and you have yourself one heck of a country song. This single failed toclimb inside the top 40 on the charts, but this is one that you shoulddefinitely take a listen to.
Is there anything this traditional country songbird can’tdo? We’ve already seen the soft, tender side of Sunny Sweeney, but with thissingle we get introduced to a completely different woman. It’s very rare tohear a breakup song that is so upbeat and fun-sounding like this single. “Abottle of red, a bottle of white, which one will it be, I can’t decide…I’m agonna drink myself single tonight,” sings Sunny as she vows to drown out her ex’smemory with alcohol. Rather than turning her breakup into a sappy ballad, sheuses a production that could easily inspire a new line dance in the honky tonksof the country. It’s a shame this song went nowhere at country radio.
The fourth single off Jason Aldean’s triple platinum album, My Kinda Party, is probably the singer’sfinest to date. He doesn’t offer anything new in terms of production as heutilizes the same southern, arena rock style of country, but he offers us aunique take on the “I’m proud of where I come from” type of song. Rather thansimply saying he loves where he’s from, he uses the concepts of how thememories and activities he enjoyed at home were more like “tattoos” that he andhis fellow neighbors left on the town: “It sure left its mark on us, we sureleft our mark on it, we let the world know we were here, with everything wedid, we laid a lot of memories down, like tattoos on this town.” This is a fantasticsingle from an artist who is arguably the top artist of 2011.
Last year, The Band Perry’s critically acclaimed single, “IfI Die Young,” landed on our list of the top five singles of 2010. This year,the group once again finds themselves on our list with their current single. Thisstunning ballad of a girl’s love includes one of the best productions I’veheard on a single this year. The simple production resembles that of abluegrass as acoustic guitars, mandolin, and fiddle can be heard throughout thesong. Add a simple yet catchy melody to the mix and you have yourself quite thecatchy country song. It’s hard to believe that this group, who launched theircareer with the poppy “Hip to my Heart,” has become one of the most countryartists in the genre.
Taylor Swift continues to deliver some of the best writtensongs in country music. This number one single is no exception. Once againTaylor manages to turn a song about infatuation that should relate only to her fan base of teenage girls into a songthat reaches beyond that demographic. The song includes an incredibly catchychorus and melody that remains in your head long after the song’s end. The fantasticpop production includes some experimental usage of dynamics which range fromfull force, in-your-face to a quiet acapella line during the chorus. This ispossibly my favorite song from Swift, and by far one of my favorite songs ofthe year.
Terri Clark was one of the many women who dominated the1990s in country music and she’s still continuing to release quality musicnearly 20 years after her debut. This single of her Roots and Wings albums is probably one of my favorites from thesinger. This is a little on the cheesy side with lyrics about not wanting tofall in love until you find “the one you can’t live without,” but Terri’ssimple vocal performance breathes life into this Tom Shapiro and Jim Collinspenned ballad. The production is country with a few mainstream twists thrown inin an effort to make the song more radio friendly. But, like most songs we’veseen on the list so far, radio failed to warm up to this fantastic single.
2011 wasn’t a great year for traditional sounding songs tomake a splash at country radio. This hardcore traditionalist gave it his bestshot with this tune that nearly made it inside the top 30. This song aboutdrinking through heartache includes all the sounds that took over country radioduring the traditionalist movement of the 90s. Steel and acoustic guitars aregelled together to create a song that should be included in nearly everyhonky-tonk jukebox across the country. Throw in Gaskin’s fantastic voice, whichsounds a lot like Travis Tritt’s, and it’s incredibly difficult to not drink abeer while listening.
This is easily one ofthe most catchy songs to hit country radio this year. A fantastic productionfilled with mandolin and slide guitar is the background for thiscountrified-pop song about being thankful someone you love breaks up with the wrongperson to be with you. The chorus is the song’s bread and butter as itcreatively rhymes “thank God Hallelujah” with “hooped and hollered” andincludes plenty of catchy runs of “na na na na” that have you singing right alongwith the trio. The fantastic harmonies and vocal performances the groupdelivers are some of the best to come from a new artist this year. This is afantastic introduction to a trio I hope will be around for a long time.
It’s amazing how year after year, decade after decade, anartist as legendary as George Strait can continue to deliver hit after hit.This year was no different as the King of Country Music struck gold with thetitle track off his recent album. This uptempo ditty has Strait’s signaturewritten all over it. The production includes Strait’s signature blend ofmainstream and traditional country sounds like steel guitar and fiddle. Thesinger’s familiar aged voice adds wisdom and experience to the song’s message aboutliving life to its fullest. This is a standout in a catalog of hits that datesall the way back to the early 80s, and a standout among this year’s mostsuccessful singles.
Sunny Sweeney is one of two artists who appear twice on ourlist. The second single off the singer’s Concretealbum is probably one of the album’s highlights. This stunning mid-tempo songtells the story of how staying in a doomed relationship is sometimes the wrongchoice and should be left behind to protect everyone involved from goingthrough more pain than necessary. Sweeney delivers the heartbreaker of a songwith conviction and her signature country twang that makes her one of the besttraditional artists country radio has seen this year. Here’s to hoping that 2012 will bring thesinger more success than 2011 did.
Lady Antebellum has continued to ride the wave of momentumlast year’s Need You Now created forthem. This year they reached the top of the country singles chart twice, buttheir best single of the year was this smash hit. A beautiful pop production isthe backdrop for the relatable song about wanting to take a new relationshipslow and avoid rushing into things. Hillary Scott’s personal relationship wasthe inspiration behind this song so it’s only fitting she takes the lead vocalwith her fantastic raspy voice. This song doesn’t quite measure up to theGrammy winning “Need You Now,” but it was one of 2011’s highlights.
Taylor Swift is the other artist who makes two appearanceson our 2011 list. This superbly written song about regretting breaking someoneelse’s heart is without a doubt the best thing Swift has released. Thebeautiful haunting melody and seductive hook create a brilliant backdrop forthe song’s lyrics and Swift’s emotional vocal performance. Filled with plentyof piano, guitars, and full string backing, the production paints a bleakpicture and brings the heartbreaking story to life. Swift is no stranger todrama and she throws out all the stops to deliver an achingly, painful vocalperformance that oozes regret and sadness. This was one of early 2011’s mostbrilliant singles.
This song from one of Texas’ finest artists is purebrilliance from start to finish. The simple production features a primaryacoustic guitar melody, a little mandolin, and an incredible fiddle which blendtogether to blow a much needed breath of fresh air into country radio. Leadsinger Josh Abbott’s incredible raspy vocal tone blends well with NashvilleStar contestant Kacey Musgraves’ voice, which is nearly just as raspy. Thisyear saw several duets hit the charts, but only a couple were done better thanthis lesser known gem.
This song is one of those songs that listeners either lovedor hated this year. I just happened to be one of those that loved it. There’ssomething about Bryan’s delivery that makes this one of the year’s best singles.It almost seems like the singer knows that this song is incredibly mediocre sohe’s just trying to have as much fun with it as he can…and he succeeds byproviding plenty of energy and a carefree spirit. Even though this song is oneof those “country-rap” tunes, the production is kept surprisingly country withplenty of fiddle, guitar, and even a little steel guitar that had everyone “shakingit for the birds” this year. Say what you will about this song, but it waswithout a doubt the year’s most fun single.
Not enough can be said about just how brilliant Sara Evans’comeback hit is. First you have an extremely well-written and personal songabout hitting rock bottom and coming back stronger than ever. There’s noquestion the song’s lyrics hit the singer in the heart because of the lows the singerendured during her highly publicized divorce. Second, you add the singer’ssignature voice that exudes plenty of heart, emotion, and soul into an alreadyemotional song. Last you pair that voice and lyrical message with an incredibleproduction that is both mainstream and country all bundled up in one. This isone of the few songs by a female artist to hit number one this year, but it’sdefinitely the best.
This song is an instant country classic if you ask me. Youhave the incredibly sad story of a man who chooses to chase his dream overstaying with a woman. However, he’s soon regretting that decision and begins tosee the woman around in him in a waitress’ voice or through smelling herperfume through the “whisperin’ pines.” Zac Brown’s incredible vocal deliveryand the rest of the group’s harmonies provide the song with the requiredemotional aspect needed to pull off a song of this nature. The cold, bareproduction brings the idea of colder weather to life as it includes a gloomy,haunting melody. It’s taken a while for me to warm up to this group, butbecause of this song, I think I’m officially a fan.
The debut single from Miranda Lambert’s extracurriculargroup, Pistol Annies, is unsurprisingly one of the best things to hit countryradio in some time. The vintage production was unmatched in terms of productionthis year. A simple acoustic guitar melody and light drum beat are the maincomponents of the bluegrass/folk production. Meanwhile, the vocal performancesturned in by all three members of the group (Lambert, Ashley Monroe, andAngaleena Pressley) are filled with loads of sass and attitude…something we haven’theard from a group since the Dixie Chicks reigned supreme during the early2000s. This talented trio is off to a superb start with this outstanding debutsingle.
This year saw several artists experience breakthrough yearsincluding Chris Young. This year, Young topped the charts with this outstandingcountry ballad. “Tomorrow” is yet another song about how saying you’re going toend a turbulent relationship is easier said than done. Young sings about thestruggles of wanting to end a relationship, but at the same time wanting tostay in it. Ultimately, he chooses to put off the breakup for just one more night. Chris delivers the storyof struggle and heartbreak with his most emotional and soulful performance todate. He uses his entire vocal range on this song from the low, deep tone heardduring the verses to the soaring upper register he hits during the chorus andthe bridge. This is a superb single and it will most certainly go down as oneof 2011’s most memorable.
Leann Rimes continues to release some of the best songsunder the radar. Last year she gave us “Swingin’” and a couple years ago shedelivered the outstanding “What I Cannot Change.” In 2011, she’s once againprovided us with a brilliant, heartfelt song in “Give.” The outstanding singleoffers the powerful yet simple message of if you want something you just haveto give it. This song applies that philosophy to common wants like love,forgiveness, friendship, and kindness. Rimes’ phenomenal vocal range is on fulldisplay here as she delivers the song with incredible power, conviction,emotion, and inspiration. A song of this nature is difficult to deliver, but I don’tthink anyone could’ve done it as well as Leann does. This is yet another gemthat radio shamefully ignored this year. (If you haven’t heard this song Isuggest listening to the acoustic version rather than the studio version)
The other 22 songs on our list could possibly be a littlepredictable, but I highly doubt anyone expected this song to not only be on ourlist, but be a part of the top three. However, this single is easily one of themost fantastic songs to climb into the top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. This incredible mid-tempoballad puts a fairly modern take on one of country’s classic themes: cheating.When thinking of songs of this nature, I can’t think of one that finds thecheater pleading for the guilt and regret to be poured on him like this onedoes. Nail’s brilliant vocal delivery is filled with the same soul we heard onhis hit “Turning Home,” and shows off his fantastic vocal range which ismatched by only a few male vocalists in the genre. This song is taken up anotch by the inclusion of Sarah Buxton’s fantastic voice taking the harmonyrole. Her distinctive tone adds another layer of vocal brilliance that matchesperfectly with David’s smooth, polished tone. This brilliance of this singlewas a bit of a surprise to me, but it goes to show that David Nail is anartistic force to be reckoned with in the country genre.
Addiction is the theme of this outstanding Matraca Berg andDeana Carter penned classic. On the surface, the song could be seen as a man’saddiction to tequila and an ex flame. However, scratch underneath the surfaceand you’ll find the struggle the man endures when trying to deal with hisaddiction. He wants to give up the bottle and the woman, but both provide him witha high and rush that it’s nearly impossible to resist. He contemplates having justone more hit, but as the last line in the chorus says “one is one too many andone more is never enough.” Chesney offers a sincere and subtle vocal performancethat we’ve rarely heard from the superstar. Rocker Grace Potter graces the songwith her outstanding voice as the harmony vocalist. The singer’s soulful voicecompliments Chesney’s to perfection and she even adds her own spin to the songwith the closing vocal runs. The production is stripped down and consistsprimarily of acoustic guitars and faint drums and allows the superb vocaliststo shine through. This is easily one of Chesney’s finest moments of hisillustrious career and was nearly good enough to top our list of best singles.
Thank God for Little Big Town. While most of country’sbiggest superstars are relishing in successes brought upon them by mediocre andunenthusiastic material, this group is trying to gain that same success byreleasing music of high quality and substance. I don’t think the group has exhibitedmore substance and higher quality than the effort they put forward on “Shut UpTrain.”
It’s always difficult getting over a failed relationshipbecause there are usually small things that remind you of that person and thelife you once had together. Here, writers Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey, andChris Tompkins, metaphorically represent those little things with a train. “Shutup train, I’m trying to sleep, can’t you show me a little sympathy, this is theonly time I can get any peace, so shut up train,” pleads the singer as she’sreminded of her heartache by the passing of train during the night. Lead singerKaren Fairchild does a remarkable job in delivering such an emotional song withher gorgeous vocal tone. Meanwhile, the remaining three members of the groupsupport her with their signature harmonies. The song’s production begins in anacoustic fashion and then is joined by an electric guitar during the song’sbridge. The simple production is proof that this group doesn’t need to use anytricks, they simply open their mouths and pure brilliance just comes pouringout. “Shut Up Train” is far and away this year’s best single, and without adoubt the best thing Little Big Town has recorded.