Monday, July 23, 2012

Best Singles of 2012 So Far (that actually had/have a chance at radio)

There are bright spots to be found on country radio; songs that don't name check trucks, songs trying to keep traditional country alive to the small degree that it can be done in the Clear Channel era, and even a few pop-country guilty pleasures. The following is a list of my favorite songs released to country radio this year that radio actually gave, or is giving, a chance to succeed, slight chance though it may be for some of them. They are in no particular order except for the top five at the bottom.

Greg Bates - "Did It For the Girl" - I just heard this song the other day and was immediately impressed with it. Sure, it's nothing new, but it sounds good and is so damn catchy. It's about as neo-traditional as country radio gets these days. We'll see what his album sounds like, but with the sound of this new single, Greg Bates has a chance at becoming the new Easton Corbin.

Big & Rich - "That's Why I Pray" - Call me crazy, but I think the new one from Big & Rich sounds unique in the mainstream country landscape, partly for the unmistakeable harmonies and a verse style that makes the song stand out. Big & Rich display here an ability to write and sing positively about personal faith without pandering or putting down those who don't believe.

Eli Young Band - "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" - Another song with a positive message, this is one that begs the listener to keep on dreaming no matter what. Failure is not only an option, it's a guarantee. But you keep doing whatever it takes no matter how many times the odds reload against you. Veterans of the Texas music scene, Eli Young Band have taken country radio by storm. Here's hoping they stick to their Texas roots and don't go too corporate Nashville on us.

Easton Corbin - "Lovin' You Is Fun" - His upcoming album is one of my most anticipated of the year. "Roll With It" and "Leaving a Lonely Town" from his impressive debut were both stunning songs. "Lovin' You Is Fun" is, well, a fun song about being in love, and probably a good choice for a first single off the new album. It's catchy, light-hearted, and confessional, and every Easton Corbin song already starts out with one advantage: his voice.

Gloriana - "Kissed You (Goodnight)" - I check the singles charts every Thursday. I kept seeing this song for a few weeks without ever hearing it, thinking, "Dear Lord, what have they come out with this time?" But much to my surprise, when I heard it for the first time I was already singing the chorus before the song was over. It tells a pretty good story, simple though it may be, that we can all relate to. Call it a guilty pleasure if you must, but this is one of the most infectious singles of the year.

Lady Antebellum - "Dancin' Away With My Heart" - Okay. I would totally get it if you stopped reading right now. Gloriana and Lady Antebellum back to back on a 'best of' country radio list? Well... oh well. This one sells nostalgia beautifully, and the group's best asset, their harmonies, really shine on this one. For me, it joins the company of "Lookin' For a Good Time" and "American Honey" as one of their best singles.

Little Big Town - "Pontoon" - Without a doubt, the song of the summer in my opinion. I'm honestly surprised at how slow it's rising on the country charts (currently it sits at number 15, but it's at number 13 on the all-genre iTunes singles chart). I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it becomes their first number one, but I also wouldn't be surprised if radio programmers shaft them yet again. Somehow they always seem to find a way. (My earlier review of "Pontoon" can be found HERE.)

Tim McGraw - "Better Than I Used To Be" - One of his best singles in years, especially coming after the lazy unabashedly aiming-for-the-soccer-mom-deomagraphic "Felt Good On My Lips," which is one of the worst of his career. "Better Than I Used To Be," with its poignant self-reflective lyrics, conjures up similar feelings to past McGraw singles "My Next Thirty Years" and "Angry All the Time." I only wish we were going to get more like this from the singer after his departure from Curb Records, rather than embarrassing, pathetically bad songs like "Truck Yeah." (Do yourself a favor and check out Sammy Kershaw's excellent take on the song as well.)

Zac Brown Band - "The Wind" - ZBB have only had two singles not reach the number one position ("Whatever It Is" and "Keep Me In Mind" only reached number two) on the charts. "The Wind" really shows the band at its bluegrassy best: they are ferocious pickers and players of their respective instruments. The song moves at such blistering speed that the lyrics at first seem unimportant. But after you hear it a few times, you realize the lyrical depth is there, which is rare for a such an up-tempo single. Try sitting still and not singing along or tapping your toe when this one comes on (careful if driving).

Chris Young - "Neon" - The best song on his most recent album of the same name, this neo-traditional classic is--to the surprise of no one-- very slowly making its way up the charts. If I were less cynical about country radio, I would blame the director and whomever else was responsible for the atrocious video for "Neon." But I am indeed quite cynical when it comes to country radio; simply put, they rarely know a good country song when they hear one anymore. If they did, this would be the fastest rising single of Young's career. (My review of "Neon" from earlier this year can be found HERE.)

Eric Church - "Springsteen" - Church's second straight number one is a piano-laced affair driven by steady drums, crisp production, and non-pandering nostalgia. It's a song that, despite desperate wishes to the contrary by some, proves Eric Church isn't going anywhere anytime soon. (More thoughts on "Springsteen" can be found HERE.)

Alan Jackson - "So You Don't Have To Love Me Anymore" - One of the best singles of Jackson's storied career, this song was all over the video countdowns on CMT and GAC, but of course failed to strike much of a chord at radio. It's only on the "singles that radio actually gave a chance" list because it at least cracked the top 30. Depressingly, Jackson hasn't had a song reach the top ten since 2009's "Sissy's Song," (number nine) and I'm not sure which song on his latest album, Thirty Miles West, would have the best chance at breaking that streak. Another duet with Zac Brown would be helpful, but unfortunately not one that's seven minutes long (see "Dixie Highway" from Thirty Miles West). Perhaps "Talk Is Cheap"? (My earlier review of "So You Don't Have To Love Me Anymore" can be found HERE.)

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