Top 10 Country Singles of 2003 Writers Offer a Few Dissenting Opinions -- Again

A handful of new artists came on strong with hit singles, but otherwise, the established country stars proved in 2003 that they have more than earned their stripes.

Despite strong showings by George Strait, Patty Loveless, Dierks Bentley and others, no unanimous verdicts were delivered after four of’s music writers compiled their individual lists of the best country singles of 2003.

The lists include some singles released in 2002 that didn’t reach their peak chart positions until 2003. Record label promotion executives — the ones designated to get their artists’ records played on the radio — often complain that the country singles chart doesn’t revolve nearly as quickly as it did in years past. Indeed, it’s not unusual to find singles that have been played on the radio for 26 weeks — or more.

• Craig Shelburne’s Top 10

Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” (Arista Nashville)
This song came out in late summer, but it will be a staple of every summer from now on. And it’s about time Buffett was No. 1 everywhere.

Josh Turner, “Long Black Train” (MCA Nashville)
I like the rumble in his baritone. The fact that he wrote this song and that he infuses it with determination, makes it even more memorable. A victory.

Toby Keith and Willie Nelson, “Beer for My Horses” (DreamWorks)
Keith resurrected his career with spite (a la “How Do You Like Me Now?!”), but who else would have pegged Willie Nelson as the face of revenge?

Patty Loveless, “Lovin’ All Night” (Epic)
Nobody sings a country ballad better than Loveless, but her rollicking side is a real treat too. A feisty turn from a longtime favorite.

George Strait, “Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa” (MCA Nashville)
I’ve never been to Tulsa, so I can’t tell you anything, bad or otherwise. But I will say that Strait sounds revitalized here, and yet very comfortable.

Billy Currington, “Walk a Little Straighter” (Mercury)
Currington remembered his alcoholic dad and vowed not to make the same mistake. He showed a surprising maturity for a first single.

Brad Paisley, “Celebrity” (Arista Nashville)
Months later, this novelty song still cracks me up. Paisley has turned in excellent love songs in the past, but I reckon this one’s for the kids.

Brooks & Dunn, “Red Dirt Road” (Arista Nashville)
Nostalgic songs are usually too sappy for my taste, but this one crackles. Remarkable writing and singing from the dynamic duo.

Shania Twain, “Forever and For Always” (Mercury)
Without a perky “Let’s go!” or even a “whoo!” Twain offered the most romantic ballad of 2003. Nice rolling rhythm underneath the melody, too.

Jimmy Wayne, “Stay Gone” (DreamWorks)
Wayne shoots straight from the heart with this one, inspired by his sister’s no-good marriage. The boy’s got soul too.

• Edward Morris’ Top 10

Of my choice of the 10 best singles of 2003, I need say only this: I love songs that prey on my heart or funny bone, and I abhor those that attempt to incite physical motion.

Rodney Crowell, “Earthbound” (DMZ/Epic)

Diamond Rio, “I Believe” (Arista Nashville)

Craig Morgan, “Almost Home” (BBR)

Patty Loveless, “On Your Way Home” (Epic)

Sherrie Austin, “Streets of Heaven” (BBR/C4)

Jennifer Hanson, “This Far Gone” (Capitol Nashville)

Vince Gill, “Young Man’s Town” (MCA Nashville)

Dierks Bentley, “What Was I Thinkin'” (Capitol Nashville)

Craig Morgan, “Every Friday Afternoon” (BBR)

Tracy Byrd, “The Truth About Men” (RCA)

• Chet Flippo’s Top 10 (in alphabetical order)

Dierks Bentley, “What Was I Thinkin'” (Capitol Nashville)
A talented rookie hits big with that rarity: a really fun country song.

Brooks & Dunn, “Red Dirt Road” (Arista Nashville)
Ronnie and Kix co-wrote one of the best songs of their long career, exploring that red dirt world they both came from. Ronnie sings the hell out of it.

Dixie Chicks, “Travelin’ Soldier” (Monument)
If Natalie Maines could only speak (and think) as eloquently as she sings, this great Bruce Robison song might still be on country radio.

Vince Gill, “Young Man’s Town” (MCA Nashville)
Gill looked in the mirror one day and saw his mortality. The result is a magnificent song.

Pat Green, “Wave on Wave” (Republic)
This Green co-written composition is a real mark of maturity by him and a solid, lasting song.

Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” (Arista Nashville)
All hail the return of the drinking song to country music.

Patty Loveless, “On Your Way Home” (Epic)
In a year when women country artists are all but invisible, Loveless stands very tall indeed and songs like this — and a galvanizing performance like this — are why.

Joe Nichols, “Brokenheartsville” (Universal South)
The first time I heard this, I thought it was an old George Strait recording that I had somehow missed. I’ll bet George wishes he had found this song first. Nichols may yet become the next Strait.

George Strait, “Cowboys Like Us” (MCA Nashville)
No year is complete without a good cowboy song or Texas song from the old master, Strait himself.

Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses” (Word-Curb/Warner Bros.)
It was heartening this year to see Travis come back with a No. 1 song, and not only that — it was a No. 1 with a gospel song. Long may he reign.

• Calvin Gilbert’s Top 10 (in alphabetical order)

Brooks & Dunn, “Red Dirt Road” (Arista Nashville)
Despite rhyming “Jesus” with “pieces,” Brooks & Dunn made one of the most powerful records of their career with “Red Dirt Road.”

Reba McEntire, “I’m Gonna Take That Mountain” (MCA Nashville)
McEntire finally released a new album, and her voice returned to the radio airwaves. That’s reason enough to rejoice.

Craig Morgan, “Almost Home” (BBR)
Teaming with Kerry Kurt Phillips to co-write the poignant “Almost Home,” Morgan demonstrated that he’s capable of delivering original material that’s on a par with anything Nashville has to offer.

Joe Nichols, “Brokenheartsville” (Universal South)
Between this and his follow-up single, “She Only Smokes When She Drinks,” Nichols lives up to his accomplishments in 2003, including a top new male vocalist nod from the Academy of Country Music and a Horizon award from the Country Music Association.

Brad Paisley, “Celebrity” (Arista Nashville)
When it comes to topical songs, timing is everything. While it’s hard to imagine Paisley singing “Celebrity” two decades from now, he made us smile with his clever observation of all things shallow.

George Strait, “Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa” (MCA Nashville)
Strait is perhaps even more laid back than usual on this track from his Honkytonkville album. In a conversational tone, Strait tells you how he feels — and you believe him.

Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses” (Arista Nashville)
With a religious theme, “Three Wooden Crosses” is a remarkable song performed by a singer country radio had all but abandoned. Songwriters Doug Johnson and Kim Williams picked up the CMA’s song of the year award — and Travis scored a huge hit. Come to think of it, the success may be even more inspirational than the lyrics.

Shania Twain, “Forever and For Always” (Mercury)
At this point, even their detractors would have to admit that Twain and her producer husband know how to make great sounding records. With so many of Twain’s songs designed as arena anthems, it’s nice to hear something that would work in an acoustic club.

Keith Urban, “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me” (Capitol Nashville)
I’m a sucker for records that bring to mind the open highway. I’m also a sucker for records containing great guitar riffs. Urban provided the combo platter.

Jimmy Wayne “Stay Gone” (DreamWorks)
Newcomer Wayne seems to have the charisma to capture a younger audience, an eroding demographic for mainstream country music. Aside from the potential cool factor in widening country’s audience, the song and performance were a solid introduction to a unique personality.