Kyle’s Top 10 Country Singles of 2016

It’s that time of year folks, where every two-bit Internet commentator with a platform announces their ‘Top X of Y’ picks, which are immediately torn to shreds because no one agrees with them. Sounds like fun!

Up to this point, this blog has focused primarily on (country) music and (Nintendo) gaming, and that’s where most of my list-making attention will be focused. Without further ado, let’s kick things off with my Top 10 country singles for 2016!

The Rules:

  • To be eligible for inclusion on this list, the song must have been released as a country music single within the 2016 calender year. As much as I’d like to give the #1 slot to Cole Swindell’s excellent “You Should Be Here,” it was released last December and is therefore ineligible.
  • The only other rule is that there are no other rules. All choices are completely subjective and represent my own warped view of the world and the genre. (This also means that songs I ranked highly in my individual reviews may now fins themselves slotted underneath lower-ranked songs on this list.)

Honorable Mentions:

#10: “Lights Come On,” Jason Aldean

Aldean’s wheelhouse has always been loud, in-your-face rock music, and “Lights Come On” is the perfect marriage of artist, attitude and sound. There’s no pretense of traditional country here, just hard-hitting beats and brash electric guitars that crank the song’s energy level up to 11. Aldean brings his usual serious-sounding delivery to the table, but it fits the dark, edgy tone of the song well, and honestly, he even sort of sounds like he’s having fun here.

While Aldean has the ability to sing deeper, more traditional songs (see “Any Ol’ Barstool”), I’d rather see him explore this hard-rock avenue more, because no one in the business does it better.

#9: “Baby, Let’s Lay Down And Dance,” Garth Brooks (review)

(Sadly, Garth & co. seem to have removed every trace of this song from YouTube.)

If there’s one trend I’ve noticed in country music this year, it’s the number of failed attempts at sultry sex jams. Being the cagey veteran that he is, however, Brooks wisely opts for a more-playful take on the trend, and the result is the most fun-sounding song about foreplay since Josh Turner’s “Why Don’t We Just Dance.”

Brooks does what he always does by blending traditional country with a more-modern sound, slapping a solid vocal track on top of it, and riding it all the way back to the top of the heap. Despite the song’s title, Garth isn’t “laying down” on the job, and I expect him to make a strong push to make this list again next year.

#8: “Are You With Me,” Easton Corbin

This song was originally included on Corbin’s 2012 album All Over The Road, which made people scratch their heads when it appeared again of 2015’s About To Get Real. While the inclusion was an obvious attempt to cash in on the unexpected worldwide popularity of the song’s Lost Frequencies remix, I would also argue that this is a darn good song that deserved its eventual single release.

These days, most songs that involve a guy asking a girl a question like “are you with me?” usually revolve around alcohol, cornfields, and having sex in a truck bed. Corbin, on the other hand, asks the woman to travel the world and simply experience life with him, with *ahem* “physical interactions” playing only a minor role in the proceedings. This song deserved much better than its #41 airplay peak.

#7: “Today,” Brad Paisley (review)

Yes, this song is vague and generic, and yes, this song is covered in more cheese than a deep-dish pizza. No one can sell a song like this better that Paisley, however, and he’s wisely built a third of his career on material like “She’s Everything,” “Perfect Storm,” and “Today.” (The second third contains the fun comedic songs like “I’m Gonna Miss Her” and “Online,” and “Whiskey Lullaby” is another third all by itself.)

“Today,” in both its instrumentation and themes, is a throwback to the pre-Bro Country era of country music, and Paisley’s delivery is emotional and heartfelt enough to melt the coldest of hearts. I’m looking forward to more material like this when Paisley releases his next album in 2017.

#6: “Star Of The Show,” Thomas Rhett (review)

“Star Of The Show,” on the other hand, is a perfect example of how to perform cheesy love songs in the current “Metro-Bro” era, and while Rhett isn’t quite the vocalist that Paisley is, his emotions and romantic inclinations feel no less genuine.

Rhett and his team have employed a masterful single-release strategy in the Tangled Up era (the massive bomb that was “Vacation” notwithstanding), and they know that releasing universally-likeable songs like “Star Of The Show” gives them the latitude to release fun-but-unorthodox tracks like “Crash And Burn” and “T-Shirt”. (Incidentally, “Crash and Burn” would have been my runaway #1 single pick for 2015, even over Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here” and Rhett’s own “Die A Happy Man.”) Rhett’s many haters may not want to hear this, but I’d say he’s got a long, bright future in this league.

#5: “Record Year,” Eric Church

Unlike a lot of critics, I’ve never quite understood Church’s popularity, and have found his singles to be generally mediocre over the years. “Record Year,” however, proved to be the exception to the rule, with its old-school vibe, musical diversity, and above all, its clever songwriting. More songs like this and less junk like “Springsteen” and “Creepin’,” please!

#4: “Holdin’ Her,” Chris Janson

Unlike most singers who just sing about living the party life and surviving its darker side, Janson has actually lived it, and “Holdin’ Her” is the story of how he met his wife and how she turned his life around. The writing is a bit clunky, but the production is excellent, and Janson delivers the performance of a lifetime on the vocals. You can’t help but root for the guy after hearing this song.

#3: “Sober Saturday Night,” Chris Young feat. Vince Gill

This song officially changed my opinion on Young from “meh, he’s okay,” to “okay, this guy’s got some skills.” The production is haunting, the writing is sharp, and Young demonstrates that he’s one of the best vocalists in the genre today.

Back when Young’s I’m Comin’ Over came out last year, critics derided it for being generic and sterile, not eliciting any emotion from the listener. After two decent No. 1 singles and this gem, however, I say bring on more of this “generic” music!

#2: “Peter Pan,” Kelsea Ballerini

I can hear you now: Wait, the Disney princess of country music is THIS high on your list? My response: If Ballerini and her label did a better job of picking singles, she wouldn’t have gotten this “Disney princess” label in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong: “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Dibs,” and “Yeah Boy” are fine songs (in fact, I gave “Yeah Boy” an 8/10), but they’re basically all the same song. “Peter Pan,” on the other hand, gives us a glimpse of how Ballerini writes and performs deeper material, and it’s pretty awesome. If more songs like “The First Time” or “Secondhand Smoke” had been released from her debut album (which would have been the 2015 Album of the Year) instead of the light, fluffy singles we got, Ballerini would be considered the young critical darling of country music instead of Maren Morris. (Then again, Ballerini has three No. 1 hits while Morris can barely crack the Top 10, so maybe light and fluffy was the way to go after all.)

#1: “Missing,” William Michael Morgan (review)

My fellow Kyle over at Saving County Music and I have slightly different views of the genre, but we actually came to the same conclusion about the #1 mainstream single. “Missing” is everything I want in an upbeat country song: A good balance of escapism and reality, the perfect combination of writing and delivery, and the kind of production that would have made this a #1 song twenty years ago (and will hopefully make it a #1 in 2017).

I’m genuinely excited to see what country music has to offer next year, and singers like Morgan are the biggest reason why. As much as people like to complain about modern music, with singers like those from our Top 10 in the fold, I believe the genre is actually in pretty good hands.

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