Country music’s biggest hits in 2017 touched on feelings and elements of humanity that are universal to everyone.
Lauren Alaina scored her first No. 1 hit with her song of self-acceptance, “Road Less Traveled.” Compassion starred in Keith Urban’s popular waltz “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” Midland, Jon Pardi, Aaron Watson offered timeless country with “Drinkin’ Problem,” “Heartache on the Dance Floor” and “Outta Style,” respectively. Then there were the timely message songs — Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl” and Urban’s “Female.”
Here is a list of 17 personal favorites from CMT.com writers Alison Bonaguro, Ed Morris and Lauren Tingle:
“Road Less Traveled” by Lauren Alaina
A power banjo anthem? Why the hell not? I think everyone can see themselves in Alaina’s breakout hit. For teenage girls, the “don’t let the world decide what’s beautiful” message is critical, but even someone outside that demographic can appreciate the “show what you got and just own it” idea. Alaina co-wrote this one with Jesse Frasure and Meghan Trainor, whose “All About That Bass” has a similar you-do-you appeal. And while they may not have written this tune for the #MeToo movement, the timing couldn’t have been better. A.B.
“Drunk Girl” by Chris Janson
A few singles into his career, Janson has flipped the script. Yes, he wants a Yeti 110 iced down with Silver Bullets. And yes, he can fix you a drink and pour it on ice. But then what? Well, that’s where this song comes in. After that night (or day) of drinking, you take that “Drunk Girl” home. Janson co-wrote the ballad with Tom Douglas and Scooter Carusoe, and it is a solid song with a solid message: do the right thing. I just hope that in a genre full of drinking songs, enough men take this end-of-the-night, to-do list song seriously. A.B.
“Blue Ain’t Your Color” by Keith Urban
Before I heard this song, I saw the lyrics somewhere and thought it sounded kind of mean. As in, you’re ugly when you’re sad. But something about how Urban’s honest vocals and waltz-y beat of the ballad come together in a way that changed my mind. He may be telling this lonely woman at the bar that blue doesn’t become her, but he’s also telling her that it’s so black and white that she’s been hurt. And he’s there to make that hurt stop. A.B.
“We Should Be Friends” by Miranda Lambert
She gets us, you guys. That’s how I felt — how I bet a lot of women felt — when this song was released. Lambert wrote this one on her own — it’s the only track off her double album The Weight of These Wings that she wrote alone. So when you hear lines like, “if you use alcohol as a sedative and ’bless your heart’ as a negative,” and/or “if you’ve got some guts and got some ink, well then, we should be friends,” you know that they’re coming from her pen because that’s how she truly feels. If this is Lambert’s list of qualities she’s looking for in a friend, she’s got one in me. A.B.
“Drinkin’ Problem” by Midland
Everyone’s talking about the throwback groove on this Texas trio’s debut single, and I tend to agree. I do love a good slow-dance country song. But I’m also in awe of this song’s rhymes; like how later and later rhymes with hate her; and how drawing conclusions rhymes with I call it a solution; and how bottle off the wall rhymes with no problem drinking at all; and ultimately, how drinkin’ problem rhymes with I hit rock bottom. At a time when country music didn’t really need another drinking song, Mark Wystrach, Cameron Duddy, Jess Carson, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne put their heads together and came up with one worthy of a Grammy nomination. A.B.
“It Ain’t My Fault” by Brothers Osborne
The most entertaining thing about a scoundrel is hearing his excuses for being one. This is surely the high-water mark of that peculiar art form. Best line: “Blame the fight on the bouncer that couldn’t take a joke.” Best (and most tortured) rhyme: “Blame my reason on my name/Blame my name on my reason/Blame my lack of knowing better on public education.” Well, why not? E.M.
“What Ifs” by Kane Brown with Lauren Alaina
Speculation on outcomes inevitably runs both ways, and it’s always a rhetorical triumph when you can turn your opponent’s words against him (or, in this case, her). Each repetition of “what if” adds to the song’s emotional momentum. Do I seem coldly analytical? What if I’m just warming to the subject? E.M.
“Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert
In truth, Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” adds no surprises to what we heard in Kenny Chesney’s “The Tin Man” back in 1994. Both envy the fictional character’s not having a heart to break. But it seems to me there’s a level of bitterness in Lambert’s song that we don’t feel in Chesney’s. “If you ever felt one breaking,” she laments, “you’d never want a heart.” I’ll confess, though, to being a bit puzzled about the exact nature of Lambert’s cardiac problems. In one line, she says her heart is “in pieces” and in the next that it has “scars.” So what injury do I visualize? Shouldn’t the scars have preceded the pieces? Do I have too much time on my hands? E.M.
“Legends” by Kelsea Ballerini
Who doesn’t feel legendary in the first throes of romance? Scarlett and Rhett, Scott and Zelda. But Ballerini expresses it with such vividness — “neon in a gray crowd,” “written down in permanent marker,” “full of blood, sweat and heartbeats.” And just think — there’s not one line concerning “skinny dippin’.” E.M.
“I’ll Name the Dogs” by Blake Shelton
What struck and held me to this song is its profusion of rural images. You know, things that used to be common in country music — roosters crowing, gardens growing, planting flowers, crickets and frogs, front porch swings. The title alone drew me in. I saw it and thought, “What the hell is he talking about this time.” E.M.
“Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt
If anyone has ever witnessed the live reaction to this song, it’s clear “Body Like a Back Road” is ear crack from note one. Simple, playful and effective, everyone in music wishes they could write a smash like this. Lines like, “Had to get her number, it took me like six weeks,” gives the song an unanticipated depth, suggesting that real love is worth the work. And it’s Hunt’s most successful songs yet. “Body Like a Back Road” broke records for having with the longest run at the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and it has been certified 3X platinum. It was also named CMT’s inaugural song of the year at the 2017 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony. L.T.
“Better Man” by Little Big Town
Reviewing music, it’s easy to skip straight to the liner notes and judge the material strictly based on the names behind the songs without even listening to them. Little Big Town didn’t let that happen with “Better Man,” the lead single from The Breaker. When they released the song in October 2016, they decided to wait at least two weeks for fans to live with the song before revealing that it was a Taylor Swift original. Sounding nothing like the popular mid-nineties Pearl Jam anthem of the same title, Little Big Town’s “Better Man” has the lead character longing to forget the good times in a previous relationship and losing sleep over wondering if the love would have lasted if it wasn’t so dysfunctional. L.T.
“I Could Use A Love Song” by Maren Morris
This song is a striking display of the feelings and actions many people go through when getting over a bad end to a relationship. But instead of focusing on the negative, Morris’ lyrics focus on the positive. The song was co-written with Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins. L.T.
“Heartache on the Dance Floor” by Jon Pardi
Pardi continues to show that he is a master of rhythm and melody with danceable traditional country songs like “Heartache on the Dance Floor.” Written with Bart Butler and Brice Long, it’s the third single from his latest album California Sunrise. L.T.
“If I Told You” by Darius Rucker
Anyone who has ever fallen in love can relate to this ballad’s sensitive subject matter. The song’s main character asks the love of his life whether she’d still love him despite all his faults: “What if I told you about my little nothing town / The two-room house where I came from / The man that I got my name from / I don’t even know where he is now.” The combination of lyrics and soaring melody in this ballad is a gut punch. L.T.
“Female” by Keith Urban
Urban was originally slammed for mansplaining when he first released this very important message song. But the timing of the ballad is significant. Written by Shane McAnally, Nicolle Galyon and Ross Copperman, the song celebrates women in everything they are in a time where sexual misconduct Hollywood, politics and sports continues to make headline news. The timing of this song is especially important in country music because, among the lists of 2017’s top performers and songs on country radio, no female artists are represented. L.T.
“Outta Style” by Aaron Watson
After nearly 20 years of making music professionally, Watson is enjoying the benefits of still being called an emerging new artist with timeless radio hits like “Outta Style.” Watson’s brand of traditional country is needed and provides a much-needed balance to the pop country on today’s airwaves. L.T.