Thursday, December 20, 2012

Best Country Singles of 2012 (#30-21)

If you missed #40-31, you can check them out HERE.

30) Clay Walker - "Like We Never Said Goodbye" (Released January, peaked at #46 in March on Country Songs Chart)
Songwriters: Cory Batten, Tiffany Goss
Walker's last big hit, "She Won't Be Lonely Long," was one of the best singles of 2010, cracking the top five and becoming one of Walker's most successful singles in years. I'm not quite sure when or why he fell out of favor (for the most part) with radio, but nothing since has seen much success. "Like We Never Said Goodbye" is quite simply classic Clay Walker: a smooth-as-honey vocal performance, a modern traditional arrangement, and a sweet story you can invest yourself in for three minutes.

29) Kelly Clarkson feat. Vince Gill - "Don't Rush" (October, peaked at #23 in November, currently at #37 on Country Airplay chart)
Songwriters: Blu Sanders, Natalie Hemby, Lindsay Chapman
With only a few contributions to the country market in her career, I'm still not sure about Kelly Clarkson's nomination this year for Best Female Vocalist at the CMAs. But if she continues putting out classy, pleasant-sounding tunes like "Don't Rush," you won't hear much complaining from me. Of course, for my money, Vince Gill's harmonies make the song, but give Clarkson credit for featuring a talent who hasn't had any sort of presence at country radio for roughly a decade. Their performance of the song at the CMAs was more impressive than its radio success has been; Clarkson's duet with Jason Aldean, "Don't You Wanna Stay," has crushed it commercially in every respect, yet more proof that it is an unfair and unjust world we are living in.

28) Wade Bowen - "Saturday Night" (November 2011, peaked at #39 in February)
Songwriters: Wade Bowen, Lee Thomas Miller
Wade Bowen's song with a non-conformist narrator is country in theme, rock in execution, and pop in catchiness. It's about a guy who's out on a Saturday night watching everyone around him have a good time but -- shocker -- he is not. We've all had nights like those where we refuse to conform to the fun-lovin' going on around us, and it's usually due to a -- shocker -- recently broken heart. Bowen's voice is strong, and he's one to keep an eye on for bred-in-Texas Eli Young Band-esque mainstream success in the next few years. Of course, he believes country music is supposed to be sad, so then again, maybe not.

27) Dwight Yoakam - "A Heart Like Mine" (October, did not chart)
Songwriter: Dwight Yoakam
A lot of reviewers of the latest Yoakam album 3 Pears have gone out of their way to mention how they think it's his best album of original recorded material in several albums. I thought Blame The Vain (released in 2005, his last album of new material) was fantastic, however, and I personally haven't enjoyed 3 Pears nearly has much as a cohesive work. Co-produced by Beck, "A Heart Like Mine" is one of the standout tracks on 3 Pears. Loud, jangly guitars, Yoakam's unmatched wailing vocals, a music video showcasing his considerable well-known dance moves -- this is a talented artist at his best and most fun.

26) Zac Brown Band - "Goodbye In Her Eyes" (October, currently at #5 & #3 and climbing)
Songwriters: Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, John Hopkins, Sonia Lee
Zac Brown Band have consistently released the best singles to country radio over the last few years. Slick guitar work, tasteful harmonies and fiddle-playing, and a chugging beat propel this tale of a man who can see the writing on the wall in his lover's eyes. Her kiss is passionless, her smile is awkward, and then he sees it in her eyes and "knows for sure." Sadness but also stubbornly reluctant acceptance is present in the way Brown sings this one.

25) Easton Corbin - "Lovin' You Is Fun" (February, peaked at #7 & #5 in October)
Songwriters: Jim Beavers, Bob DiPiero
This guy just has a great voice for singing country music, certainly one of my favorites out there in radioland. "It's alright to keep it light now, mama, don't ya think?" he sings in "Lovin' You Is Fun," and that's exactly what this song is: light, fun, and sung really well. Not that a reminder to not take yourself so seriously is in short supply at country radio (mostly because the songs lack any semblance of substance), but if a reminder was ever needed, Easton Corbin is the man to sing about it. (I wrote more about the song earlier this year here.)

24) Dierks Bentley - "Tip It On Back" (August, currently at #22 & #16 and climbing)
Songwriters: Ross Copperman, Joe Knight, and Tully Kennedy
I think by this point many people agree that Home was nowhere near as good as Up On The Ridge, but that would have been a near impossible task to ask of Dierks. Home does have a few good tunes though (and I must say that it's still one of the strongest mainstream country releases of the year), and I think this is one of its best. With a narrative set firmly within the reality of the recession and a tone that is wonderfully dark, "Tip It On Back" is quite literally a song about drinking to forget the harsh realities of life, even if only for a few hours. "Tip it on back, make it feel good, drink a little more than you know you should" -- once you've lived enough life to know that it's not all candy and roses, there are times this can seem the only advice to heed.

23) Greg Bates - "Did It For The Girl" (April, peaked at #14 in October, currently at #5 and climbing)
Songwriters: Greg Bates, Lynn Hutton, Rodney Clawson
Well, since Easton Corbin has fizzled out at radio... oh wait. Easton Corbin had a hit single at radio this year? Nevermind. Anyway, the first time I heard this song it immediately reminded me of Corbin: voice, style, subject matter. "Did It For The Girl" would fit perfectly on a playlist between "Roll With It" and "Lovin' You Is Fun." I'll wait and see what he releases as his next single (which probably won't be until well after the new year as this one is still climbing the Airplay charts) before I determine if he's someone to watch, but it's hard to think of a better first single to introduce yourself to a mass listening audience. (More on "Did It For The Girl")

22) Big & Rich - "That's Why I Pray" (May, peaked at #16 in September)
Songwriters: Danelle Leverett, Blair Daly, Sarah Buxton
Say what you want about Big & Rich, but even on their worst songs the dudes sound good harmonizing together, and it's especially evident on ballads such as this and "Holy Water" from their 2004 debut album. You won't find deep theological insight here, only a song about practical, personal, life-affirming, facing-life-head-on faith. And it's one of those songs that just makes you feel good. It seemed to have a lot of momentum after its release but unfortunately only reached as high as #16. Based on that chart performance a cynic might say something snarky about how prayer doesn't work; but, though I can indeed be quite the cynic, I'll just say that even if you don't pray, you might still find yourself humming along.

21) Josh Abbott Band - "I'll Sing About Mine" (November, did not chart)
Songwriters: Brian Keane, Adam Hood
To really let you know what this song is about, I'll just share the lyrics of the chorus with you:

Because tractors ain’t sexy
And workin' is hard
For small town people like me
And the radio's full of rich folks singin'
About places they’ve never seen

Now I ain’t sayin' their lives ain't hard
I'd love to hear about it sometime
Let 'em sing about their own life

And I’ll sing about mine

I would say that's a hell of single to release from their major label debut, one that's certainly going to be pushed for mainstream airplay more than any of their past albums. It's honestly quite surprising that the label let them release it as a single. I always wondered if they were talking about Eric Church with this line: "When you talk about the Dairy Queen, pickup trucks, and Springsteen/ Make the place I love sound like a bad cartoon." But page two in this Billboard Country Update PDF clarifies that Abbott was not knocking Church's "Springsteen," and that he actually likes the song. In the same article co-songwriter Brian Keane says the "Because tractors ain't sexy" line was actually about Jason Aldean's "Big Green Tractor" and not Kenny Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy." But anyway... It would have been awesome to hear this on mainstream country radio sandwiched in between all those songs it rightfully calls out, but alas, it was not to be. It didn't even chart.

*first number in parentheses is chart position on Billboard Country Songs; second number is chart position on Billboard's recently created Country Airplay chart (which is basically the old Country Songs chart that had been around for decades), unless otherwise noted. (None of this will never not be confusing)

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