The 20 Best Country Radio Hits of 2014

With or without the pervasive "bro country" tag, it's undeniable that country music is as male-dominated as it's ever been in 2014. Only 11 of the top 60 Country Airplay tracks of 2014 had a female vocalist, and Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott is the only woman in the list of the 10 most played artists. With Taylor Swift making her official departure from the genre, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert seem to be gearing up to take turns occupying a Nicki Minaj-like role among an otherwise all-male roster of A-list solo stars. But there are some good songs that bucked the trend this year, as well as some that firmly landed within the trend. Here are the lists I did in 2012 and 2013 and the Spotify playlist of this year's list.

1. Maddie & Tae - "Girl In A Country Song"
#1 Country Airplay, #54 Hot 100
Rob Harvilla's great Wondering Sound year-end country essay did a good job of explaining the state of the 'bro country' phenomenon in 2014 and why "Girl In A Country Song" stood out so much. I also think his description of the song, while funny and accurate -- "too clever by three-quarters (as though lifted directly from a rock critic’s brain), but to its infinite credit actually gets played on the radio occasionally" -- sells it a little short both artistically and commercially. It's currently the #1 song on country radio, and the chorus goes above and beyond simply stating the thesis with the beautifully knotty internal rhymes of lines like "like all we're good for is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend, nothing more."

2. Florida Georgia Line - "Dirt"
#1 Country Airplay, #11 Hot 100
Florida Georgia Line are bro country's Limp Bizkit, the undeniable skeevy poster boys who will bear the brunt of the backlash when it comes. But they did a good job of at least temporarily inoculating themselves against haters like me by making the lead single to their second album such an uncharacteristically beautiful and bittersweet power ballad. Sure, they didn't write it, and any number of acts could've made it a hit, but something about Tyler Hubbard's usually obnoxious voice really works well with it. And I have to admit that when one of my family's cats died a couple weeks ago, this was the song that kept running through my head as I dug a hole in our backyard and laid Harrison into the dirt, so it kind of has personal meaning to me now.

3. Eli Young Band - "Dust"
#15 Country Airplay, #79 Hot 100
Mike Eli has one of my favorite voices in country and pretty much every single they release is gold to me. It's a shame this one didn't get as big as some of their previous hits, though.

4. Eric Church - "Give Me Back My Hometown"
#1 Country Airplay, #36 Hot 100
The Outsiders is the highest selling country album released in 2014, although that seemed to be powered mostly by the fanbase Eric Church accrued with 2011's blockbuster breakthrough Chief. All four of its singles were great (even the title track, which I put on the 'worst' list last year before its brief run on Baltimore's 98 Rock helped me come around to it), but only one of them was a big hit. "Give Me Back My Hometown" has more Springsteen in it than Church's best single, "Springsteen," but it also has a certain eerie beauty all its own. And it has an endearing awkwardness to it, as Church tries to make small talk and dribbles out "man this year's team is stout" (who says that?) and hilariously sniffles "that was our place" when his buddies take him to his ex-girlfriend's favorite Pizza Hut.

5. The Band Perry - "Don't Let Me Be Lonely"
#2 Country Airplay, #59 Hot 100
2013's Pioneer spun off one of my favorite singles campaigns, in any genre, of the past couple years, going right into 2014 with this track's gorgeous guitar leads and the follow-up single "Chainsaw." 

6. Dierks Bentley - "Drunk On A Plane"
#1 Country Airplay, #27 Hot 100
Anyone could've had a hit with that title, but to Dierks Bentley's credit, "Drunk On A Plane" goes beyond its 4-word elevator pitch to actually fill in the details with a nicely sketched backstory that makes it more of a defiant heartbreak anthem than just the 8th song on the playlist about throwing back whiskey. Bonus points for the convincingly drunken-sounding guitar riff.

7. Little Big Town - "Day Drinking"
#2 Country Airplay, #40 Hot 100
Little Big Town have become one of country's best purveyors of drinking songs in the past couple years, from "Pontoon" to "Sober" to "Day Drinking," but it's really the harmonies and playful arrangements that make them one of my favorite groups to hear on the radio.

8. Kenny Chesney - "Til It's Gone"
#5 Country Airplay, #73 Hot 100
I absolutely loathed Chesney when he was the biggest star in country for a few years there. But now that he's not so ubiquitous, I can relax and enjoy some of his songs a little, and this one surprised me as one of the hardest rocking things I've heard on country radio in recent memory.

9. Miranda Lambert - "Automatic"
#3 Country Airplay, #35 Hot 100
This year, Miranda Lambert released Platinum, her fifth album and shaping up to be her first to not reach platinum sales (to be fair, nobody's sold a million copies of a country album this year). I've always felt out of step with other critics who adore Lambert, and sure enough a lot of them hated this song, which I thought was pretty great. The gear shifting sound effects at the end are a bit much, but other than that it's a really thoroughly executed metaphor song that resonates with me even if I don't agree with its thesis on all levels.

10. Brett Eldredge - "Beat of the Music"
#1 Country Airplay, #44 Hot 100
Eldredge's breakthrough "Don't Ya" was one of the best surprises of 2013 country radio, and its follow-up single quietly became the biggest airplay hit of 2014, possibly one of the least obnoxious songs to ever be the biggest country song of its year.

11. Keith Urban - "Somewhere In My Car"
#1 Country Airplay, #49 Hot 100
There's a lot of Americana signifiers and boilerplate country song topics that the genre's biggest star born on another continent probably doesn't feel completely comfortable working into his lyrics. But they got cars in Australia, and they sure as hell got cars in Keith Urban songs, lots of 'em.

12. Jason Aldean - "When She Says Baby"
#1 Country Airplay, #38 Hot 100
It sounds stupid to say, but there are voices I love when they're singing good songs and hate when they're singing bad songs. And a prime example is Jason Aldean, who sounds goofy and ridiculous on athems like "My Kinda Party" but has a tender soulful tone that comes out really well in romantic songs like "When She Says Baby."

13. Blake Shelton f/ Gwen Sebastian - "My Eyes"
#1 Country Airplay, #39 Hot 100
If you're a contestant on "The Voice," you'll probably never have a hit of your own. But if you're lucky, your celebrity mentor will make their duet with you the 5th single and it will actually be good enough to go to #1.

14. Blake Shelton - "Neon Light"
#1 Country Airplay, #43 Hot 100
Blake Shelton has a hell of a Q rating thanks to his primetime TV gig and power couple marriage, but he always seemed to me like a minor star who had the charm and luck to stumble into the big time. 13th straight airplay #1s make a strong argument for his songs, though, which are mostly okay or better. And this is one of his best vocal turns, actually reminding me a little of my country idol, George Jones, in spots.

15. Sara Evans - "Slow Me Down"
#17 Country Airplay, #89 Hot 100
Her best and most enduring hit, "Suds In The Bucket," is also her most country. But for the most part, Sara Evans sings adult contemporary songs with a charming Missouri twang, and this is one of the most enjoyable ones she's done in the decade since "Suds."

16. Thompson Square - "Everything I Shouldn't Be Thinking About"
#4 Country Airplay, #69 Hot 100
Thompson Square is one of those married duos who mostly sings disgustingly lovey dovey duets about how in love they are. But "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" was sublimely saccharine, and this one is close to it.

17. Justin Moore - "Lettin' The Night Roll"
#1 Country Airplay, #49 Hot 100
Of all the young guys dominating country right now, Justin Moore has by far the best voice, a warm and rich instrument, and I was happy to see him get his third big hit this year. I love the little arrangement details in this song, like the blasts of organ and crash cymbals between lines on the second verse.

18. Luke Bryan - "Roller Coaster"
#1 Country Airplay, #43 Hot 100
Luke Bryan is the new Kenny Chesney, in terms of being the biggest star of the moment who just sums up everything that sucks about the era and very little of the good. But being that big in Nashville means you inevitably get sent some good songs, and this is one he managed not to ruin with his Gomer Pyle voice. Good for you, bravo, now get out of here before I change my mind, kid. 

19. Big & Rich - "Look At You"
#7 Country Airplay, #73 Hot 100
In the decade since Muzik Mafia's divisive blitz of initial fame, Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson and all have pretty quickly sunken from prominence. And even though "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)" now looks like an influential example of proto-bro country (while being far better than pretty much all the recent hick hop hits), their biggest hit in years was a sweet midtempo song, trading on the duo's distinctive harmonies.

20. Lady Antebellum - "Compass"
#1 Country Airplay, #46 Hot 100
A lot of Lady Antebellum's recent singles have a chirpy chipper quality that seems totally at odds with the smoldering romantic side shown on "Need You Now" and other singles from their commercial peak a few years ago. But this folksy upbeat song works pretty well for them, uses both lead singers' voices to better effect than the more anonymous stuff like "Downtown" or "Bartender" that they've done lately. 

The 10 Worst Country Radio Hits of 2014: 
1. Luke Bryan - "Play It Again"
2. Jerrod Niemann - "Drink To That All Night"
3. Dustin Lynch - "Where It's At (Yep Yep)"
4. Miranda Lambert f/ Carrie Underwood - "Somethin' Bad"
5. Garth Brooks - "People Loving People"
6. Chase Rice - "Ready Set Roll"
7. Frankie Ballad - "Sunshine & Whiskey"
8. Dan & Shay - "19 You + Me"
9. Brad Paisley - "River Bank"
10. Tim McGraw f/ Faith Hill - "Meanwhile Back At Mama's"
« Home | Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »

Post a Comment