Kyle’s Top 10 Country Singles Of 2019

What is a country song?

I mentioned on Monday that country music itself has punted on this question, leaving the door open for anything and everything to try the label on for size. For the purposes of this blog, I tend to go with “if it’s on country radio, then it’s country enough to merit a review,” but my personal opinion is that “country” is a lot like beauty: It’s all in the eyes (or ears) of the beholder. As such, it falls to each and every one of this to keep an open ear about the music that’s out there, and when we declare whether or not something is “country,” we should think critically about what led us to that decision, and try to understand what criteria (whether implicit or explicit) we used in our evaluation.

For me, the strongest criteria for a “country” song seems to be time, and the lessons, maturity, and experience that comes with it. Party and pick-up songs just feel too short-sighted and ephemeral to me, and while that doesn’t immediately disqualify these sorts of songs from the song, I find that they don’t have the impact or staying power that a song with more reflection and introspection does, and these rankings (mostly) reflect that.

But I’ve digressed for too long already, and there’s a spot in my ‘Song Of The Decade’ bracket up for grabs. Here are my favorite songs from the past year.

Last Year’s Winner: Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses”

Honorable Mentions:

Artist, Song Final Rating
#15 Gone West, “What Could’ve Been” 7/10
#14 Old Dominion, “One Man Band” 7/10
#13 Riley Green, “In Love By Now” 7/10
#12 Aaron Watson, “Kiss That Girl Goodbye” 7/10
#11 Maddie & Tae, “Die From A Broken Heart” 7/10

#10: Dierks Bentley, “Living” (final rating: 8/10)

While 2019 has been a rewarding year for me on balance, it’s also been a really busy one, and while taking care of all this business (including keeping Kyle’s Korner afloat), there haven’t been too many opportunities to stop, smell the roses, and recognize how much you have to be appreciate. Bentley, after fifteen-plus years of grinding away in Nashville, comes to the same conclusion here, and implores the listener to find happiness in the love, family, and natural beauty that surrounds you. Backed with suitably-atmospheric production and straightforward-yet-detailed lyrics, the song is a nice reminder that despite all the noise and negativity in the world, there are still some thing on this planet that are worth cherishing.

#9: Jason Aldean, “Rearview Town” (8/10)

Anger is a powerful emotion, but I find that it often feels misdirected or unnecessary in recent country songs (consider Blake Shelton’s “God Country” or Aldean’s own “They Don’t Know”). However, it can be used to emphatically drive home a point when used effectively, as seen in Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” and here in “Rearview Town.”

In the wake of a failed relationship, the narrator chooses to take a metaphorical flamethrower to everything he held dear, a surprising reaction in a genre that usually deifies small rural communities. Through the standout writing, however, we discover that the narrator’s issues with their hometown and deeper and more longstanding than initially shown, and the song does a nice job capturing the bleakness and corrosion of small-town life in America today. Aldean is known for using overly-dark production and being overly-serious in his delivery, but this time his negative energy feels understandable for a change, and the result is a powerful tune that I revisited often over the course of the year.

#8: Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” (8/10)

Everyone runs into doubters somewhere along the road, and when a person finally reaches some modicum of success, their reaction is often to mock those did not believe this day would come. Taking the high road in this situation hasn’t always been country music’s strength (see: Kip Moore’s “The Bull”), and in truth the lyrics to “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” set McBryde up to lay a smackdown on her detractors.

It’s been said, however, that true strength is having power and choosing not to use it, and McBryde demonstrates an incredible amount of charisma by reflecting on her journey and those who doubted her without a hint of malice or ill will in her delivery. She’s achieved her goal; what’s the point of wasting time going after the naysayers? To their credit, the lyrics paint a vivid picture of McBryde’s journey to Nashville success (a journey that should progress even farther with her recent CMA award), and the simple, restrained arrangement create a forward-looking and optimistic vibe that bolsters McBryde’s credibility.

The radio hasn’t really warmed up to McBryde’s work yet, and I’m not sure that will change in 2020. If they choose to ignore her, however, they’ll do so at their own peril.

#7: Ingrid Andress, “More Hearts Than Mine” (8/10)

Andress was probably the biggest revelation of 2019, showing up with “More Hearts Than Mine” just in time to wreck my mid-year list and having enough staying power to earn a spot on my year-end list as well. There’s nothing particularly novel about a homecoming track like this, but not doing new stuff is totally fine when you can do the old stuff this much better than everyone else. For one thing, the writing was absolutely phenomenal, with enough depth and detail to let the listener visualize every scene on the tour through the narrator’s hometown. The piano-centered production does a nice job setting the mood and supplementing the writing, and Andress sold the story perfectly with an easy, earnest delivery and more than enough charisma to draw the audience into the story. This was an exceptional track, and though its climb up the Mediabase chart has been slow, be on the lookout for big things from Andress in the future.

#6: Eric Church, “Some Of It” (8/10)

“Monsters” seemed to get more attention, but for me this the superior Church single of 2019. This thing fits my previous definition of country music to a T (unlike Ryan Hurd’s “To A T,” ironically): It’s the rare laundry-list song that you can actually use, as the narrator looks back at all the things they’ve learned in their life and offers it as unsolicited advice to the audience. The production is much more by-the-book than “Desperate Man,” and its restrained approach keeps the focus on the writing while setting a reflective mood for Church to work his magic. I’ve never been the biggest Church fan in the past, but he does a great job conveying a helpful attitude without preaching to the listener, and unlike “Monsters,” he has something more to say than “pray and hope for the best.”

Despite my lukewarm reaction to much of Church’s discography, I can at least say I like “Some Of It” now. 😉

#5: Midland, “Mr. Lonely” (8/10)

It’s not an official Kyle’s Korner Top 10 list without some mention of Midland, but it’s a little surprising to see them this low on the list after earning #1 and #2 the last two years. On the flip side, this song is almost the exact opposite of the “country” definition I dropped earlier (this is all about ephemeral, short-sighted partying), so what’s it doing here at all?

“Mr. Lonely” is a prime example of the “not new, but old done well” phenomenon and a good reason why you should never make your genre boundaries too rigid. It’s got the classic instrumentation with a heaping helping of steel guitar for the traditionalist crowd, the lyrics are sharp and work with the sound to re-create the atmosphere of a raucous barroom, the vocal and harmony work are excellent, and honestly, this is the most fun I’ve had listening to a track since Russell Dickerson’s “Every Little Thing.” This is not only a country song, it’s one of the best country songs I’ve heard all year.

#4: Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow” (8/10)

The best way I could describe this track is that it’s a darker, more-impactful version of “Living.”

I missed out of Musgraves’s 2018 single releases, which turned out to be a major omission when seemingly every other list included them somewhere. I resolved to pay more attention this year, and while she only had one official release in 2019, it was more than worth the effort to find.

This might be the most impressive piano work I’ve heard all year, as it captures both the darkness in the verses and the optimism in the chorus while taking care not to distract from the song’s message. Musgraves proves to be a capable, charismatic artist who projects being understanding towards life’s hardships while also nudging people out of their shells to see that the danger has passed and that there are still things in the world worth seeing and appreciating. The writing makes strong use of the storm/rainbow metaphor (which feels even more impressive now given some of the weaksauce hooks I’ve heard the last few months), and does its best to uplift the listener and push them to hold their hand out to see that the rain has stopped falling.

Radio continues to ignore Musgraves, but from here on out, I’m not going to make that mistake.

#3: Easton Corbin, “Raising Humans” (9/10)

How good is Easton Corbin? So good that he can turn the tropiest of tropes into a great song.

“Somebody’s Gotta Be Country” was okay, but it never quite escaped the fact that it was just another “I’m so country!” song in a genre awash with them. “Raising Humans,” however, raised the bar even higher: Ask any random person on the street what country music is, and there’s a good chance they’ll say “The song where the dog dies in the end.” Well, the dog does die in the end here, but it’s the story before then (abbreviated as it is) that sticks with the listener the most, especially since it’s done from the dog’s perspective and still manages to be not only believable, but endearing! I’ve gushed over Corbin’s charisma in the past, but pulling off this track might be the most impressive thing he’s ever done, and the simple arrangement behind him keeps the focus on the story and makes the song feels comfortable and inviting. (Songwriter Michael White deserves major props as well for tugging at the user’s heartstrings without falling into sickeningly-sweet territory.) It’s a great song that deserves far more recognition than it got, and hopefully it’s a springboard towards an actual record deal for Corbin next year.

#2: Tanya Tucker, “Bring My Flowers Now” (10/10)

2019 was the year that the 1990s struck back, with a plethora of older artists coming out of the woodwork to chase that neon rainbow one more time. Very few of them, however, conceded anything to their experience level, and instead tried to recreate their success from days of yore. Tucker, however, decided to go the route of Trace Adkins’s “Watered Down” and lean into her age, asking people to fete her before she leaves this earthly plane and taking off her rose-colored glasses to try to objectively evaluate her life. It’s the sort of song that only an artist with the history and experience of someone like Tucker could pull off credibly, and the piano-ballad production (boy, there are a lot of these on the list this year…) gives the track a somber, reflective feel befitting a track trying hard to avoid blind nostalgia. It treads dangerously close to saccharine territory (and the hook is , but Tucker is able to avoid it through her still-solid delivery and the sheer force of her personality, and as a result, it earns a premier position on my year-end list.

But it didn’t get the premier position on the list, or the slot in my ‘Song of the Decade’ tournament. That goes to…

#1: Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards” (10/10)

Move over Kelsea Ballerini, you’ve got company.

…Wait, isn’t this even more ephemeral and short-sighted than “Mr.Lonely”? Yes it is, and that’s the beauty of it: The world-weary narrator knows exactly what they’re getting into, and they’re making an informed decision to attach no strings and accept whatever consequences might come next. The self-awareness speaks to the character’s hard-won experience, and McBryde shifts effortlessly from the happy, excited star of “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” to the defeated, give-a-darn’s-busted protagonist on this track. The production isn’t exactly classic, but it creates a matter-of-fact, non-judgemental atmosphere that complements the cold attitude of the speaker, and the writing eschews flowery description to “stick to the one night standards” and deliver its lines straight with no chaser. It doesn’t exactly fit my “country” definition, but it’s hands-down the best country song I heard all year.

Watch your back, Thomas Rhett. This is a #16 seed that’s ready for an upset.

Image from Twitter

So what did we learn from this exercise?

  • Trying to come up with an all-encompassing definition of country music is at least NP-hard.
  • Women are killing it in country music right now: They took five slots out of the Top Ten, nine slots plus the Colbie Caillat-fronted Gone West out of the Top Twenty, and none in the bottom fifteen (although Lainey Wilson just missed it).
  • Mainstream country as a whole feels extremely flawed right now, but it wouldn’t take that much to put it back on the path to quality (giving more airtime to McBryde would be a good start).

Congratulations Madam McBryde, you and your high musical standards have earned my “song of the year” award for 2019. I’m not sure what 2020 has in store (these lists are notoriously volatile, although Watson only fell to #12), but I’m crossing my fingers and hoping we get an equivalent batch of solid songs next year, whether they fit my, or anyone else’s, definition of country music.

Kyle’s Top 10 WORST Country Singles of 2019

Country songs fall all over the quality spectrum, but only a chosen few can earn the dubious distinction of sitting at the bottom of the barrel. Through a special combination of poor production, subpar songwriting, and vacuous vocals, the songs presented below are the sorts of headache-inducing tracks that move listeners to plug their ears, turn their dials, or just run screaming from the room.

Just as with my mid-year list, these songs will be presented without comment because a) I’m lazy (so much so that I copy-pasted all this opening text from last year), and b) I’ve wasted enough words on this junk already in my prior reviews. Let’s get this over with quickly, shall we?

Last Year’s “Winner”: Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” (1/10)

Ray set the record for an all-time low score on the blog last year, so can anyone match his tire fire of a single this time? (I hope not…)

Dishonorable Mentions:

Artist, Song Final Rating
#15 Dustin Lynch, “Ridin’ Roads” 3/10
#14 Dan + Shay ft. Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours” 3/10
#13 Sam Hunt, “Kinfolks” 3/10
#12 Luke Bryan, “What She Wants Tonight” 3/10
#11 Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” 3/10

#10: Kenny Chesney, “Tip Of My Tongue” (final score: 3/10)

#9: Kip Moore, “The Bull” (3/10)

#8: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Alcohol You Later” (3/10)

#7: Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” (3/10)

#6: Rayne Johnson, “Front Seat” (3/10)

#5: LANco, “Rival” (3/10)

#4: Jon Langston, “Now You Know” (3/10)

#3: Blake Shelton ft. Trace Adkins, “Hell Right” (3/10)

#2: Blake Shelton, “God’s Country” (3/10)

To say it was a bad year on the blog for Shelton is an understatement, as he picks up this year’s Dustin Lynch Memorial Anti-Excellence Award for putting two tracks in the bottom five of the rankings. At least Garth Brooks dragged him up the list with “Dive Bar,” I suppose…

#1: HARDY, “REDNECKER” (2/10)

HARDY and his all-caps styling didn’t quite reach the depths that Ray did last year, but frankly, he didn’t miss it by much. When you’re this low on the grading scale, the relative rankings don’t matter anyway: An F is still an F.

The good news is that amazingly, there were no consecutive repeat offenders this year: Everybody on this list in 2018 managed to avoid it this year! …The bad news is that a few folks from 2017’s worst-song list are back again, suggesting that whatever progress they made was fleeting.

On behalf of country listeners around the globe, I humbly ask Mr. Hardy and everyone else on this list to make better single choices in the future. I have a sinking feeling that 2020 is going to be bad enough without bad songs like these clogging up the airwaves…

Kyle’s Official 2019 Country Single Rankings

Eat your heart out, Masahiro Sakurai.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate might think it’s the biggest crossover in history, but it’s got nothing on what we saw in country music this year. You want contemporary hitmakers? We’ve got Aldean, Rhett, Hunt, Dan + Shay, and two Lukes (Bryan and Combs). You want a little more traditional flavor in your music? Say hello to Pardi and Midland. You’re tired of all the faceless dudes clogging up Music Row? Say hello to Andress, McBryde, and Musgraves. You like your country a little more independent? Noe, Jinks, and the Randy Rogers Band can tide you over. You want to relive the 90s? We’ve got McEntire, Strait, and Brooks & Dunn. You don’t even like country music? With Sheryl Crow, Justin Bieber, and Lil Nas X, we’ve still got you covered. Heck, I’ve even reviewed a Waluigi song since last year’s single rankings came out (although it’s not eligible for this year’s rankings)!

Put another way, country music decided to solve its “lack of a definition” problem by declaring that everything is now country music. If you can get airplay on country radio, even if only for a brief moment, you too can join the Nashville movement.

So what does this mean from a quality standpoint? Is it “the more the merrier,” or is there just more garbage to clean up every week? To be honest, my perspective changed from quarter to quarter: Things would get better, things would get worse, things would start oscillating like a sine wave…and then Boyfriend Country showed up and dragged us all down into the mud. In the end, the year still resembles the previous two that I’ve ranked: Some good stuff, some bad stuff, and a lot of stuff in the mushy middle.

But hey, we’re all here for one thing and one thing only, right? I ranked every single I reviewed in 2017 and 2018, and even though 2019 is the largest group thus far (134, and honestly it felt like twice that number), we’re going to compare ’em, rank ’em, and then put on our Bob Kingsley hats and count ’em all down.

The only rules for this list are as follows:

  • A song must have been reviewed during the 2019 calendar year to be eligible (Waluigi gets ignored again).
  • Rankings are not strictly tied to my review ratings, as my opinion of a song may have changed between now and the review date.

Just like the radio countdowns, let’s pause for a moment at the start to recognize last year’s winner one last time:

2018 #1 Song:  Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses” (final rating: 10/10)

Watson only had one single release this year and it failed to top my midyear list, so we’re likely looking at a new champion this year. Let’s find out!

Rank Artist, Song Final Rating
#133 HARDY, “REDNECKER” 2/10
#132 Blake Shelton, “God’s Country” 3/10
#131 Blake Shelton ft. Trace Adkins, “Hell Right” 3/10
#130 Jon Langston, “Now You Know” 3/10
#129 LANco, “Rival” 3/10
#128 Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” 3/10
#127 Rayne Johnson, “Front Seat” 3/10
#126 Mitchell Tenpenny, “Alcohol You Later” 3/10
#125 Kip Moore, “The Bull” 3/10
#124 Kenny Chesney, “Tip Of My Tongue” 3/10
#123 Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” 3/10
#122 Luke Bryan, “What She Wants Tonight” 3/10
#121 Sam Hunt, “Kinfolks” 3/10
#120 Dan + Shay ft. Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours” 3/10
#119 Dustin Lynch, “Ridin’ Roads” 3/10
#118 Lainey Wilson, “Dirty Looks” 4/10
#117 Dan + Shay, “All To Myself” 4/10
#116 Mitchell Tenpanny ft. Seaforth, “Anything She Says” 4/10
#115 Filmore, “Slower” 3/10
#114 Cale Dodds, “I Like Where This Is Going” 4/10
#113 Hunter Hayes, “Heartbreak” 4/10
#112 Billy Currington, “Details” 4/10
#111 Morgan Evans, “Diamonds” 4/10
#110 Brantley Gilbert, “Fire’t Up” 4/10
#109 Jason Aldean, “We Back” 4/10
#108 Trea Landon, “Loved By A Country Boy” 4/10
#107 LANco, “What I See” 4/10
#106 Jimmie Allen, “Make Me Want To” 4/10
#105 Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town” 4/10
#104 Drew Baldridge, “Middle Of Nowhere Kids” 4/10
#103 Justin Moore, “Why We Drink” 4/10
#102 Chris Janson, “Good Vibes” 4/10
#101 Miranda Lambert, “Bluebird” 4/10
#100 Dylan Schneider, “How Does It Sound” 5/10
#99 Brandon Ratcliff, “Rules Of Breaking Up” 5/10
#98 Ryan Hurd, “To A T” 5/10
#97 Adam Craig, “If You’re Lucky” 5/10
#96 Granger Smith, “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads” 5/10
#95 Luke Bryan, “Knockin’ Boots” 5/10
#94 Jake Owen, “Homemade” 5/10
#93 Michael Ray, “Her World Or Mine” 5/10
#92 LoCash, “One Big Country Song” 5/10
#91 Carrie Underwood, “Southbound” 5/10
#90 Seaforth, “Love That” 5/10
#89 Keith Urban, “We Were” 5/10
#88 Morgan Wallen, “Chasin’ You” 5/10
#87 Haley & Michaels, “Taking Off” 5/10
#86 Miranda Lambert, “It All Comes Out In The Wash” 5/10
#85 Reba McEntire, “Freedom” 5/10
#84 Chris Young, “Raised On Country” 5/10
#83 Abby Anderson, “Good Lord” 5/10
#82 Eli Young Band, “Break It In” 5/10
#81 Jameson Rodgers, “Some Girls” 5/10
#80 George Strait, “The Weight Of The Badge” 5/10
#79 The Highwomen, “Redesigning Women” 5/10
#78 Tim McGraw, “Thought About You” 5/10
#77 Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” 5/10
#76 Tucker Beathard, “Better Than Me” 5/10
#75 Riley Green, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” 5/10
#74 Luke Combs, “Even Though I’m Leaving” 5/10
#73 Chris Janson, “Done” 5/10
#72 King Calaway, “World For Two” 5/10
#71 Caroline Jones, “Chasin’ Me” 5/10
#70 Carrie Underwood, “Drinking Alone” 5/10
#69 Eric Church, “Monsters” 5/10
#68 Matt Stell, “Prayed For You” 5/10
#67 Maren Morris, “The Bones” 5/10
#66 Toby Keith, “Don’t Let The Old Man In” 5/10
#65 Blanco Brown, “The Git Up” 5/10
#64 Cody Johnson, “Nothin’ On You” 5/10
#63 Chris Stapleton, “Tennessee Whiskey” 5/10
#62 Tenille Townes, “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking)” 5/10
#61 Rodney Atkins, “Thank God For You” 5/10
#60 Carly Pearce & Lee Brice, “I Hope You’re Happy Now” 5/10
#59 Matt Stell, “Everywhere But On” 5/10
#58 Chris Young, “Drowning” 5/10
#57 Brooks & Dunn ft. Luke Combs, “Brand New Man” 5/10
#56 Travis Denning, “After A Few” 5/10
#55 Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” 6/10
#54 Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans” 6/10
#53 Florida Georgia Line, “Blessings” 6/10
#52 Maren Morris, “GIRL” 6/10
#51 Randy Houser, “No Stone Unturned” 6/10
#50 Scotty McCreery, “In Between” 6/10
#49 Tyler Rich, “Leave Her Wild” 6/10
#48 Zac Brown Band, “Someone I Used To Know” 6/10
#47 Rachel Wammack, “Enough” 6/10
#46 Trisha Yearwood, “Every Girl In This Town” 6/10
#45 Caylee Hammack, “Family Tree” 6/10
#44 Lady Antebellum, “What If I Never Get Over You” 6/10
#43 Kane Brown, “Homesick” 6/10
#42 Hootie And The Blowfish, “Hold On” 6/10
#41 Garth Brooks ft. Blake Shelton, “Dive Bar” 6/10
#40 Sheryl Crow ft. Stevie Nicks and Maren Morris, “Prove You Wrong” 6/10
#39 Lindsay Ell, “I Don’t Love You” 6/10
#38 Craig Morgan, “The Father, My Son, And The Holy Ghost” 6/10
#37 Jordan Davis, “Slow Dance In A Parking Lost” 6/10
#36 Kane Brown, “Good As You” 6/10
#35 Cody Jinks, “Same Kind Of Crazy As Me” 6/10
#34 Brad Paisley, “My Miracle” 6/10
#33 Ian Noe, “Between The Country” 6/10
#32 Thomas Rhett, “Look What God Gave Her” 6/10
#31 Randy Rogers Band, “I’ll Never Get Over You” 6/10
#30 Easton Corbin, “Somebody’s Gotta Be Country” 6/10
#29 Kelsea Ballerini, “Homecoming Queen?” 6/10
#28 Luke Combs, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” 6/10
#27 Brett Young, “Catch” 6/10
#26 Jon Pardi, “Heartache Medication” 6/10
#25 Little Big Town, “Over Drinking” 7/10
#24 Dillon Carmichael, “I Do For You” 7/10
#23 Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good” 7/10
#22 Walker Hayes, “Don’t Let Her” 7/10
#21 Thomas Rhett, “Remember You Young” 7/10
#20 George Strait, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” 7/10
#19 High Valley, “Single Man” 7/10
#18 Runaway June, “Head Over Heels” 7/10
#17 Gabby Barrett, “I Hope” 7/10
#16 Tenille Arts, “Call You Names” 7/10
#15 Gone West, “What Could’ve Been” 7/10
#14 Old Dominion, “One Man Band” 7/10
#13 Riley Green, “In Love By Now” 7/10
#12 Aaron Watson, “Kiss That Girl Goodbye” 7/10
#11 Maddie & Tae, “Die From A Broken Heart” 7/10
#10 Dierks Bentley, “Living” 8/10
#9 Jason Aldean, “Rearview Town” 8/10
#8 Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” 8/10
#7 Ingrid Andress, “More Hearts Than Mine” 8/10
#6 Eric Church, “Some Of It” 8/10
#5 Midland, “Mr. Lonely” 8/10
#4 Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow” 8/10
#3 Easton Corbin, “Raising Humans” 9/10
#2 Tanya Tucker, “Bring My Flowers Now” 10/10
#1 Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards” 10/10

New Arrivals: 52 (!) artists

  • Best “New” Artist: Tanya Tucker, #2
  • Worst New Artist: HARDY, #133 (i.e. dead last)

Artists Returning to the Top 10: 2

Just 2 Again?! What Happened This Time?:

Artist 2018 Position 2019
Aaron Watson #1 One release, #12
Midland #2 One release, #5
Alan Jackson #3 No releases
Kelsea Ballerini #4, #10 One release, #29
Dierks Bentley #5 One release, #10
Cole Swindell #6 No releases (“Love You Too Late” spent most of the year climbing the chart)
Willie Nelson #7 No releases
Brad Paisley #8 One release, #34
Carrie Underwood #9 Two releases, #70 and #91

Artists Returning To The Bottom 10: 0
Artists Returning To The Bottom 10 From 2017: 1

Top Risers:

Artist 2018 Peak 2019 Peak Gain
Maddie & Tae #95 #11 +84
Jordan Davis #112 #37 +75
Lauren Alaina #89 #23 +66
Rodney Atkins #114 #61 +53
Little Big Town #75 #25 +50
Maren Morris #102 #52 +50

Worst Fallers:

Artist 2018 Peak 2019 Peak Loss
Kenny Chesney #23 #124 -101
Jimmie Allen #12 #106 -94
LANco #37 #107 -70
Chase Rice #57 #123 -66
Brantley Gilbert #48 #110 -62
Carrie Underwood #9 #70 -61
Miranda Lambert #26 #86 -60

“Hey, this is MY spot!” Award:

Position Artist 2018 2019
#18 Runaway June “Buy My Own Drinks” “Head Over Heels”

Kyle’s Song Of The Decade: The Selection Show

Okay, so music in the 2010s was a lot weirder than I remembered…

Barring a surprise single release in the next few days, the field for my 2019 “Song Of The Year” title should finally be set! As I broke out Excel and began to compile my list, however, a funny thing happened: The rest of the world decided not to stop at 2019, and “_____ Of The Decade” features starting popping up everywhere. With the 2010s nearly behind us, folks are looking back to see just how far we’ve come (or how far we’ve fallen) in the last ten years.

As much as I rail against trend-hopping, the idea piqued my curiosity: Based on my reviews, purchases, and iTunes play counters, what song would I consider the best of the last ten years? Deciding that it would be a nice change of piece after a week of mediocre reviews and Pulse posts, I set out on a grand adventure to scour all my electronic devices, compile some numbers, apply some completely-subjective criteria, and solve the equation to determine my #1 song of the era.

This quest ran into some early obstacles:

  • I’m primarily a country music fan, but frankly, country music had a pretty rough decade, forcing us all to suffer through the Bro-Country, Metropolitan, and now the Boyfriend Country eras. This opened the door for some decidely not-country tunes to sneak onto the list and provide some much-needed relief from the Florida Georgia Lines of the world.
  • I, er, haven’t actually crowned a best song of 2019 yet. Can I really make a “best of the decade” list without the best of 2019?

Thus, Kyle’s Epic-But-Off-Brand March December Madness was born:

  • Sixteen songs would be selected to compete for the coveted “Song Of The Decade” title.
  • Ten of these songs would be the “conference champions,” i.e. the best song from each year would get an automatic bid into the competition. (Year eligibility will be based on album release dates rather than single release dates.)
  • Six songs would then be granted “at-large” bids based on their relative popularity and importance to the various phases of my life during the past decade.
  • Songs would then be seeded based on their play counts and pitted against one another in one-on-one matches, working their way through the bracket until a champion is crowned.

With our rules in place, a committee of me, myself, I, and my plushie collection sat down, deliberated, argued, and eventually selected the sixteen lucky contenders for “Song of the Decade.” The envelope, please…

2019 Conference: ???

This slot will remain open until next week, but the committee already has a pretty good idea who will fill this slot (and if you follow my Twitter, you probably do to). Unfortunately, since I haven’t actually purchased this song yet, it’s going to have to start from the bottom and work its way to the top.

Seed: #16

2018 Conference: Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses”

For as many failed sex jams that country music has tried to put together in the last few years, this is the one that really connected with me. I love the dark, “forbidden romance” vibe of this track, and Aaron Watson throws down an incredible performance as an intense, passionate narrator that you can really feel. The writing was okay, but it left enough hooks for everything else to elevate it past “Burn Out” and claim last year’s title. Midland’s still a little salty about this, however, and they’d like to claim some revenge…

Seed: #8

2017 Conference: Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem”

This song was a revelation when I first heard driving around Austin back in the day, and while it would up being only the fourth-best song on On The Rocks, it still holds up as a perfectly-executed retro cry-in-your-beer song. The production harkens back to the 70s and 80s, the writing was sharp and vivid, and Mark Wystrach showed the world that he was more than just a male model. They’ll have a seeding advantage over Watson to start, but will it be enough to overtake him?

Seed: #7

2016 Conference: William Michael Morgan, “Missing”

How ironic: “Missing” is exactly what Morgan has been since this song flopped on the radio. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Vinyl was an excellent album and this was probably the best track on it. This was a solid combination of neotraditional production, a strong spirit of wanderlust, and Morgan’s smooth delivery, and it deserved far better than its disappointing #29 airplay peak. This is its chance to get the recognition it deserves.

Seed: #10

2015 Conference: Thomas Rhett, “Crash And Burn”

If you’re surprised to see this here, you’ll be even more surprised when you see its seeding. I stumbled across this song completely by accident when that other Kyle ripped it to pieces, and to my surprise, I was hooked from the start. Nothing about this song makes sense: It blatant plagiarizes its style, its production and subject matter are completely orthogonal to one another, and Rhett barely sells the narrator’s role. Yet this thing became such a jam of mine that is has over twice the plays of the next closest song on iTunes! (These are the depths of madness that graduate school will drive you to…) I liked it then, I still like it now, and with its credentials it’s got a very good chance of claiming this title.

Seed: #1

2014 Conference: Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”

This is when things start going crazy, folks. With Sam Hunt making his ascent in country music and pulling the genre into the Metropolitan movement, I started looking outside the boundaries of country music in search of quality, and I (like much of the country) stumbled across this absolute banger of a song. Thomas Rhett was striving for a retro feel, but Ronson and Mars actually achieve it here, and you can’t help but get up and move when this thing hits the speakers. The writing had its moments (“smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy”), the sound had more groove than perhaps any other song this decade, and Mars took this thing to another level with his excellent performance. Don’t be surprised to see this contend for the crown.

Seed: #4

2013 Conference: Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”

Are you noticing a pattern here? The writing isn’t all that great here and there isn’t a whole lot to the production, but Williams acquits himself well behind the mic, and the two robots behind the mixing board take their sparse arrangement and spin it into an upbeat, energetic romp with some serious groove behind it (that peppy drum machine that pops up behind the duo’s line has got some serious kick to it). While country music tried desperately to be every genre but country in the middle 2010s, the people that were already part of the pop world showed them up badly. This could surprise some people in this competition.

Seed: #2

2012 Conference: Jason Aldean, “1994”

Hey, at least somebody remembers that Joe Diffie exists. This is basically Bro-Country taken so far to its logical extreme that it’s practically satire: The hardest of hard-rock guitars, the token banjo, odd percussion choices, and shallow lyrics that bounced between inspired references and nonsensical statements, all crammed together in a bombastic package that makes the listener laugh out loud at how bizarre it all is. It’s got some energy and a decent beat, but this thing is all about the Diffie references and how they work far better than they have any right to. I’m not sure how well its aged, but it deserves a spot in this conversation.

Seed: #6

2011 Conference: Psyguy, “Waltz Of The Forest”

Can you tell this was a bit of a weak year? While this seems to be officially credited to Psyguy, this is a collaboration from Kirbopher, ShadyVox, MusicalMike, and Psyguy based on Super Mario RPG (the greatest game ever in my opinion, although I actually don’t think Geno belongs in Super Smash Bros.) and Yoko Shimomura’s amazing Forest Maze composition. I’m really impressed by how well it blends different styles of music (rap and opera?), all four performers turn it sold efforts, and the lyrics are pretty decent considering they were crafted to fit a preexisting cadence. I’m not sure this will stand up against the rest of the competition here, but like “1994,” it’s impact on my musical habits back in the day deserve to be recognized.

Seed: #9

2010 Conference: Easton Corbin, “I Can’t Love You Back”

It seems like this song came out fifty years ago, but it really wasn’t that long ago that Corbin was actually a big thing in country music. “I Can’t Love You Back” was one of my favorite tunes from his self-titled debut album, with the somber production, passable writing, and Corbin’s earnest, emotional delivery. Although his career went sideways when Bro-Country crashed the party, I remain one of the few diehard fans who have enjoyed Corbin’s discography in spite of itself, and though it may not have the clout of others in this tourney, it earned the right to stand up and be counted.

Seed: #12

My Little Pony Conference: JackleApp & Mic The Microphone, “One Trick Pony”

Given that the roots of Kyle Korner’s are planted firmly in MLP fanfiction, it doesn’t seem right to put together a competition like that without the candy-colored ponies being represented. The community produced some pretty solid tracks over the years, but my favorite is this rager from JackleApp and Mic The Microphone, defiantly proclaiming that they didn’t need approval from the masses to perform their art. Anger hasn’t been used terribly well in music lately (*cough* “God’s Country” *cough*), but this feels both raw and understandable coming from a niche fandom that most people give the side-eye to as they hurry past. One trick or not, this song represents a important phase in my life that helped lead me to my current position, and thus it warrants a spot in the all-decade conversation.

Seed: #13

Video Game Conference: Levar Allen, “My Year”

This popped up in my last “Lost In The Shuffle” post, but it’s back for a bigger crown this time. This was crowded out in what was a surprisingly-tight 2014 field, but with razor-sharp writing and impressive production that fuses video game tracks with self-made instrumentals, Allen is the class of the field (even more than “Waltz Of The Forest”) when it comes to my video game music collection. It’s a shame that Allen isn’t bigger then he is, but maybe this will help get the man the recognition he truly deserves. Whether he can make “My Year” into “My Decade,” however, remains to be seen.

Seed: #11

At-Large Bid: WALK THE MOON, “Shut Up And Dance”

2014 gets a third entry into the tournament thanks to a silly-yet-catchy dance track with energy and spirit to burn. WALK THE MOON (with its HARDY-esque all-caps styling) hasn’t made much of a splash on the Hot 100 since, but there are worst tracks to become a “one-hit wonder” with, as this track used bright electric guitars, a steady percussion line, and Nicholas Petricca’s bubbly vocals came together to make a song that spewed exuberance, optimism, and fun from every pore. This might be the most fun song in the competition, and that’s not nothing.

Seed: #5

At-Large Bid: Brad Paisley, “Beat This Summer”

Paisley’s had himself a relatively rough decade, but this thing gave “Get Lucky” a real run for its money for the 2013 conference, and might be the equivalent of the confident mid-major no one wants to face. Paisley was really starting to branch out with his musical styling and blend his fiddle-and-steel style with modern sensibilities, and the result is a bittersweet song that captures the mixed emotions tangled up in a summer romance that’s doomed to fail. I eventually anointed “Get Lucky” as the more-memorable offering, and this might have a slight whiff of a legacy invite given my history with Paisley, but the iTunes play counts don’t lie: This has a real shot at taking the title.

Seed: #3

At-Large Bid: Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl”

Janson has been a hit-or-miss artists throughout his career, but this was a hit among hits: Amidst the shallow, objectifying songs that dominated country music in the 2010s, this song dared to take the high road and make the narrator act like a mature, thoughtful adult for a change. The piano-only sound created the perfect atmosphere for such a serious topic, the writing was vivid and detailed, and Janson actually put his charisma to good use for a change by setting aside his “Buy Me A Boat” persona and show us his good side. It’s got a tough road to the title, but if “Drinkin’ Problem” is here, this one should be too.

Seed: #15

At-Large Bid: Cole Swindell, “Dad’s Old Number”

As much as it hurts to leave “You Should Be Here” out of this competition, this thing proved to be a more-than-capable sequel, and just like with “Drunk Girl,” if “Run Wild Horses” deserves a shot at the title, this track does too. The death of Swindell’s father and Swindell’s surprisingly-earnest delivery make him the perfect person to cover this track, and the understated production keeps the focus on the solid, meaningful writing that moves the listener to consider their own parents wherever they are. It’s got a long road ahead of it as a low seed, but this was the best overall song of 2018, so if any song can do it, it’s this one.

Seed: #14

So there you have it; the field is set! Once the #16 seed is set next week, we can sit back and watch the madness commence! Stay tuned to find out who will claim the barely-coveted title of Kyle’s Song of the Decade!

Kyle’s Favorite Songs of 2019 So Far

As we pass the halfway mark of 2018 2019, it seems like a good time to copy-paste my opening sentence from my 2017 halfway list revisit my pile of music reviews over the last six months, and highlight the best songs I’ve looked at thus far. As I mentioned in my “worst of 2019 thus far” list, this year has felt a bit weird in country music, as we’re yet to see any obvious candidates for song of the year yet (I haven’t given out a grade higher than an 8 yet). That means that our list so far feels more volatile than usual, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the year-end list looks very different than what we have today. Still, the great songs released so far deserve to be recognized, and that’s precisely what we’re here to do.

Just like last year, I’m not going to comment on these songs here, since a) I’m lazy, and b) I’ve already gone over each one in great detail in my reviews. Let’s go to the montage, shall we?

Honorable Mentions:

  • Old Dominion, “One Man Band” (review)
  • High Valley, “Single Man” (review)
  • Tenille Arts, “Call You Names” (review)
  • Walker Hayes, “Don’t Let Her” (review)
  • Riley Green, “In Love By Now” (review)

#10: Maddie & Tae, “Die From A Broken Heart” (review)

#9: Jason Aldean, “Rearview Town” (review)

#8: Aaron Watson, “Kiss That Girl Goodbye” (review)

#7: Dierks Bentley, “Living” (review)

#6: George Strait, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” (review)

#5: Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” (review)

#4: Ingrid Andress, “More Hearts Than Mine” (review)

#3: Eric Church, “Some Of It” (review)

#2: Midland, “Mr. Lonely” (review)

#1: Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow” (review)

Kyle’s LEAST Favorite Songs of 2019 So Far

2019 has a been a weird year for country music: The first quarter seemed to trend toward the extremes (but not too extreme; 7s and 3s ruled the day), while quarter two sat squarely in the mushy middle with a plethora of 5s and 6s. Of course, there will always be a select few who defy the odds for better or worse, and it’s the latter that we’ll be listing today (the best of the bunch so far will be coming later this week). Whether through unneeded sleaze, unjustified anger, or unvarnished idiocy, these artists have made some poor choices thus far in 2019, so much so that for all its shortcomings, “Old Town Road” didn’t make the list at all.

I’m not going to waste any more time than I have to on these tire fires. Ladies and gentlemen, kids and squids, I give you the worst songs I’ve heard thus far in 2019.

Dishonorable Mentions:

  • Cale Dodds, “I Like Where This Is Going” (review)
  • Chris Janson, “Good Vibes” (review)
  • Ryan Hurd, “To A T” (review)
  • Jimmie Allen, “Make Me Want To” (review)
  • Dan + Shay, “All To Myself” (review)

#10: Hunter Hayes, “Heartbreak” (review)

#9: Filmore, “Slower” (review)

#8: Dustin Lynch, “Ridin’ Roads” (review)

#7: Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” (review)

#6: Kip Moore, “The Bull” (review)

#5: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Alcohol You Later” (review)

#4: Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” (review)

#3: LANco, “Rival” (review)

#2: Blake Shelton, “God’s Country” (review)

#1: HARDY, “REDNECKER” (review)