Brad Paisley: 10 Prime Hits

"He Didn't Have to Be," "Whiskey Lullaby," "Water" Among Staff Favorites

With snow falling across the U.S., Brad Paisley has picked the perfect time to launch his H2O Frozen Over tour. Unfortunately, we can’t make it to Fort Wayne, Ind., for his Friday night show (Jan. 21). With this relentless wintry weather, we’ll be happy just to get out of the driveway. But when the reigning CMA entertainer of the year comes through Nashville in late February, here are 10 prime hits staff members are hoping to hear.

“He Didn’t Have to Be”
I don’t think about this song much, but whenever I hear it again, it sticks with me for a while. I was lucky enough to have a similar experience growing up, and it reminds me to be thankful for two people who always did more than they probably planned for. About a young man who grows up with a dedicated and loving stepfather, “He Didn’t Have to Be” is an important song if only because of its subject matter. Stepdads and stepmoms don’t get enough credit. And with so many first marriages ending in divorce (between 40 and 50 percent), it’s really a wonder to me that more writers don’t shed light on the positive impact of stepparents. — Chris Parton

“I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)”
Sorry, ladies, but even the most loyal of men is obligated to sing this one with a smile. It’s all in fun, though, since we probably won’t actually choose to go fishing after you threaten to leave. But you can bet we’ll tell all of our buddies we did. So with a quick wink and tongue firmly planted in cheek, Paisley does it on our behalf. This single was among the first to show off Paisley’s talents as a funnyman, so it deserves some credit just for that. But I love how it has that playful boys-against-girls feel that both sides can enjoy. — Chris Parton

“Letter to Me”
With its nostalgic theme, this song quietly bridges the gap between a new generation of fans and those of us who grew up listening to country music. Paisley conveys the anticipation that comes with being a teenager, as well as the perspective of someone who’s been around the block. The line about assuming your dad is right — that nails it, even though my father and I rarely disagreed, until I decided to go to college in Nashville, about 800 miles from home. That took a lot of convincing. I don’t have any musical talent myself, but I wanted to be around likeminded, creative people who loved country music as much as I did. So, in my letter, I’d have to write, “Trust your instincts and go to Nashville. It pays off.” — Craig Shelburne

“Mud on the Tires”
If you’ve ever owned a truck or dated someone who drives one, you understand just how sexy a simple pickup can be. In “Mud on the Tires,” the superstar is ready to give the one he loves a spin in his new purchase. Maybe it’s the close quarters, the loud engine or the command of the road that makes these vehicles so appealing for a cozy date night. Whatever it is, Paisley seems to realize his sweetheart, a blanket, a campfire and a whole lot of mud can lead to endless possibilities. — Stephanie Pendergrass

“Waitin’ on a Woman”
Even though we live in an age of instant satisfaction, I can’t think of many more things in life worth waiting for than a woman. And who better than Andy Griffith to help tell the tale in the music video? His guest appearance really helps to drive home the message of the song. From the first date to the wedding, until our time here is at an end, you cherish the moments you have together. And although you may have to wait, what difference does it make? Most of the best things in life take time, and if you have a woman you love, I think waiting makes love all the sweeter. — Cameron Hail

There is so much country-song fodder I cannot personally relate to, like cane poles, pickup trucks and Skoal rings. But “Water”? This is my song. When Paisley starts singing about inflatable pools and riverbanks, it’s like he’s taking me back to my youth. I’ve been swinging from a rope tied to a limb a few times. And wet T-shirt contests on spring break? Done that, too. Skinny dipping? Yes, sir. And so began my love affair with “Water” the very first time I heard it. And that line about “drive until the map turns blue” makes me want to do just that, every single time I hear it. — Alison Bonaguro

“When I Get Where I’m Going”
From his witty, comical ditties depicting fishing and alcohol to his rich and poignant ballads like “When I Get Where I’m Going,” Paisley’s balance of pleasure and pain is remarkable. These haunting lyrics by Rivers Rutherford and George Teren send the listener pondering faith, the afterlife and what it will be like to “shed our sins and sorrows” and “love and have no fear.” The video shows individuals holding photos of their loved ones, and I can’t help but be reminded of the picture I would display. There’s a frame in my bedroom that reads, “Happy Trails to You, Until We Meet Again.” Inside there’s an old photo of my grandpa, great aunt and me giving the “I Love You” sign. We’re all smiling, and I’m wearing bright red, plastic sunglasses. I’d like to think that’s how they’ll greet me when I get where I’m going. — Whitney Self

“Whiskey Lullaby”
It’s one of the few songs he’s recorded that he didn’t have a hand in writing, but I don’t think Paisley will ever have a single regret about cutting “Whiskey Lullaby.” His performance with the angelic-voiced Alison Krauss on the haunting tale of doomed love and death will long be played and remembered. “Whiskey Lullaby” was, in the midst of mostly forgettable shallow country radio hits in 2004 and 2005, both a throwback to the gothic tales of the music’s long-ago roots and an ongoing effort to maintain those deep roots in the modern era. The song was written by the country veteran Bill Anderson and the younger virtuoso Jon Randall. The plot is fairly simple: 1. The man drinks himself to death because of the woman’s infidelity. 2. The woman drinks herself to death because of her guilt. Ah, but there are many subtleties in the song and video, along the way. The song’s signature line — “he put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger” — was purportedly suggested to Randall by his manager at a low point in Randall’s life. Rick Schroder both directed the video and portrayed the soldier who returns from combat to discover a different kind of war being waged against him in his home. “Whiskey Lullaby” was voted the 2005 CMA song and video of the year. The video also won two CMT Music Awards. — Chet Flippo

“Who Needs Pictures”
Peaking at No. 12 on Billboard’s country in 1999, “Who Needs Pictures” isn’t Paisley’s biggest hit, but it gains additional significance as his first single and video. The tone of the audio track highlighted his voice and provided evidence he’d spent a lot of time studying classic country, and video director Jim Shea’s use of closeup shots helped fans make a mental connection between Paisley’s name, face and the song. (That connection is essential for any new act, but you’d be surprised how difficult it can be to actually achieve that.) “Who Needs Picture” provided the groundwork for everything that was to come, including the continuing teamwork between Paisley and co-writers Frank Rogers and Chris DuBois. It’s still an excellent song and performance that any country music veteran could be proud of. — Calvin Gilbert

“The World”
In classic Paisley wit, he takes the simple imagery of everyday people and everyday tasks and arranges a charismatic, upbeat, adoring ode to the woman he loves. To someone you may be just another checking account, head of hair, another house, another fare, etc., but to someone special, you are their entire world. The first summer I moved to Nashville, I had a guy tell me this song reminded him of me. Since I was quite smitten at the time, my face became flushed as I batted my eyes and asked, “Really, which line reminds you of me?” He looked at me and said, “You know, that line about the ice cream shop. You’re just another dip.” — Whitney Self