Our Favorite 18 Songs from 2018

From Breakup Ballads to Southern Gothic Tales, CMT.com Staff Names Their Personal Picks

2018 was a monumental year for ballads, breakup anthems, bold declarations, and honky-tonk swagger, and picking a best-of list seemed more daunting than ever before. So, the staff at CMT.com compiled a list of our personal favorite songs of the year instead.

Some you may recognize a few hits, some as standout moments and some you may not recognize at all. We hope you find a new favorite amongst this diverse compilation, listed in no particular order.

Contributing to the list are Alison Bonaguro, Edward Morris, Samantha Stephens and Lauren Tingle.

  • “Break Up in the End” by Cole Swindell

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    I wouldn’t exactly call this a break-up song. Yes, the couple does split, but the gist of this song is that even knowing that that is the inevitable end, there are no regrets. He’d go through it all over again. That’s how good the love was. And the way Swindell sings it lets his voice shine, more so than on any of his uptempo hits. Moving ballads may not be what’s hot on country radio right this minute, but if this song is any indication, maybe they’re on their way back. AB

  • “Got My Name Changed Back” by Pistol Annies

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    Is the part about Lambert’s ex getting along good with a couple road whores real? We’ll never know because it’s none of our business. But it’s a small mystery that makes “Got My Name Changed Back” so addicting. Arguably the greatest breakup anthem to come out of 2018, it packs a punch in less than three minutes not only lyrically but musically, as well. There’s a steady build that starts with an infectious drum groove and goes from there with burning acoustic slide guitar solos. Lambert boldly takes the lead listing all the things that come with divorce while singing about not letting an ex get the best of you. LT

  • “Life Changes” by Thomas Rhett

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    Any song that can combine college dorm life with adopting a baby from Uganda is already five on a scale of five in my book. And it’s all so irresistibly bouncy, upbeat and believable. EM

  • “The Mother” by Brandi Carlile

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    I have always been told that motherhood is one of the single greatest sacrifices and blessings a woman can ever experience. I wouldn’t know yet, because I am not a mother. But like so many I long to be, and like so many other artists I know, the pull of one’s career seems to constantly be in a tug-of-war with the dream of parenthood. It’s easy to glorify and romanticize the balance of both, but Carlile’s raw and utterly vulnerable portrait of life as an artist and most importantly, a devoted, working mother cuts right to the heart of the matter. The verses don’t always rhyme or flow perfectly, but isn’t that life? This is the purest, most honest testimony to sacrifice and unconditional love you’ll hear all year, and it leaves my heart swollen with longing everytime I listen to it. SS

  • “Kite” by Lucie Silvas

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    “Kite” is a dark and funky anthem for all the wild women out there. They never get the blues because they refuse to be tied down by people or thoughts that don’t serve them. Foot stomps and hand claps hold the backbeat while guitars dance around Silvas’ vocals. Then there is the nonstop attitude and expressive guitar work by husband John Osborne and Derek Wells. LT

  • “My Religion” by Dierks Bentley

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    When you say it like that — that loving me is not your decision, but it is your religion — well then, the feeling is mutual. This song is so simple, and almost kind of quiet, but in my heart, it feels loud. The piano, especially. That combined with Bentley’s suitably weathered vocals makes what he has to say sound so believable. Like he truly feels that it’s out of his hands. I give Bentley bonus points for letting the traditional country instrumentation echo his surrender. AB

  • “Prayer and Six Pack” by Kimberly Kelly

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    Who says girls can’t honky-tonk like the boys? Texas native turned Nashvillian Kelly created quite a stir this year with her independent EP Don’t Blame It On Me, a tried and true blue ode to the twang of her childhood and the glory days of countrypolitan. The five tracks range from steel-centric ballads to rowdy, fiddle-riddled honky-tonk anthems, like “Prayer and a Six Pack.” Kelly stands out, eschewing stereotypes of modern country by favoring classic sounds and subject matter, and style—her own included. SS

  • “The Man Who Comes Around” by Motel Mirrors

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    I’m a sucker for a good story about people I’ve never met; especially when it involves a flirtatious and sordid affair involving the ice man. Motel Mirrors’ John Paul Keith and Amy LaVere deliver on “The Man Who Comes Around,” a swinging two-step shuffle with fiery guitar solos by Will Sexton. The perspective is from the mother’s children who consider the ice man someone they want to grow up to be because it seems as if his job is just to screw around and have fun with mom. LT

  • “Guy Going’ Nowhere” by Garth Brooks

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    It’s impossible not to love this song from Ashley McBryde’s debut album. It has a low key how-do-you-like-me-now vibe, as she’s telling everyone who discouraged her from following her dream that they were wrong. But to hear Garth Brooks sing it on his Triple Live album, knowing he recorded his version at the Spokane Arena, feels even more vindicating. How good must it feel to sing, “I see the crowd, I look around, and I can’t find an empty chair” to chairs full of 12,000 fans, after putting in time at a whole lotta run-down dives and rain-soaked fairs? AB

  • “Downturn” by Adam Hood

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    Hood’s mournful ballad is the essence of coupledom in that love was never meant to be an easy ride. In Hood’s lyrics, one partner checks in on the other, who is clearly having the blues in music. In the bridge, he offers words anyone can relate to: “The circles I run in are cycles older than time / But I refuse to abide an unchanging life.” Dead. LT

  • “Stoned Age” by Hannah Dasher

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    In a year where we said goodbye to the “Bandit,” no first line of a song hit harder than Dasher’s single “Stoned Age” — “Bam, bam / Burt Reynolds in a jet black Trans-Am.” What a picture in our minds. “Stoned Age” cuts deep to the most nostalgic corners of your mind, rolls along a perfectly lazy groove and lingers like a solid high you don’t want to come down from. Dasher’s blend of sassy country, fuzzy rock ’n’ roll, charged guitar licks and unabashed blues is so sharp, it’s sure to carve out the perfect spot for her in the country music arena. She has more than earned her signature hashtag: “Hannah Damn Dasher.” SS

  • “Rearview Town” by Jason Aldean

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    Small towns began spouting arterial blood with the arrival of the interstate highway system. Then came satellite television, affordable airline tickets, the Internet and, ultimately, Walmart to drain what little communal life remained. Aldean alludes to a broken romance as the trigger event for leaving his particular cluster of broken dreams. But, as he bitterly concludes, “I could tough it out, but what’s the use?” EM

  • “Alabama” by Bishop Gunn

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    Who doesn’t love a good thriller? Featuring bare handclaps, stomps, acoustic blues and haunting Gospel singing by Geoffrey Robinson (“G. Mane”), it’s a fictional story written by Nicolette Hayford and the band’s Travis McCready and Ben Lewis about a driver who picks up a strange woman with a calling from the Lord to go to Alabama. But a dark twist unravels when the driver notices she’s carrying a pistol. It all started with Hayford’s line, “Higher than a junkie dryin’ out in the slammer / Lord I hope I don’t die in Alabama.” LT

  • “Die From a Broken Heart” by Maddie & Tae

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    “Mama, the nerve of this guy.” Man. I am somebody’s daughter and somebody’s mother. So, I can relate to that lyric and this song all day long. Any time a country song can tackle the mother-daughter bond in a new way, I am all about it. And in this one, like most of Maddie & Tae’s music, it captures the emotions so perfectly. Marlow’s voice — heavy with heartbreak — is able to make you feel like you are right there, eavesdropping on her conversation with her mom and dad. AB

  • “Miss Me More” by Kelsea Ballerini

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    Surrendering oneself to a lover has long been a songwriting convention. Remember “Stand By Your Man?” Well, says Ballerini, let that insanity stop right here! I don’t know about you, but I’m inclined to humor her. EM

  • “Sad Girls” by Jillian Jacqueline

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    I first heard Jacqueline sing this original, co-written with Tofer Brown and Lori McKenna, during a writer’s round at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley and instantly my heart sank. Maybe because I’d recently had my heart nicked, maybe because it’s lyrics painted such a visceral picture that I felt like I was in the back seat of that car. One of Jacqueline’s many strong suits, in addition to turn-of-phrase and impeccable imagery, is relatability. We’ve all been the passenger in that car, stuck on a road to nowhere, wishing you were anywhere but where you are with no end in sight. SS

  • “Hands On You” by Ashley Monroe

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    Holy smokes: that’s the first thought we all had upon hearing Monroe’s scintillating single from her 2018 release Sparrow. It was everything you’d want a long-anticipated follow-up record to be and then some because I don’t know that anyone was expecting this downright sexy throwback of a tune to come from this East Tennessee songbird. Monroe digs deeper on this record, fully immersing herself in every complex layer of her spirit and her womanhood, which is an important message for all womankind, especially new mothers out there like Monroe. Never forget your power, your gifts, your sensuality — and own them all. SS