The 20 Best Country Radio Hits of 2015
A year ago in this space, I noted that in 2014, country radio was as male-dominated as it'd ever been, with only 11 of the top 60 songs on Billboard's year-end Country Airplay chart featuring female vocalists. This year that number dropped to 10 (and 3 of those were female guests on songs by male artists), and there was a pretty big media controversy about a comment a country radio consultant made in which women were described as the "tomatoes" in the airplay "salad," which was soon dubbed Tomato-Gate. Truthfully, a lot of men who are totally indistinguishable from each other are singing some real garbage on country radio these days, but that helps the women who are there stand out more. Check out the Spotify playlist, and the previous lists I did in 2012 and 2013.
1. Little Big Town - "Girl Crush"
#3 Country Airplay, #18 Hot 100
I'm still not clear on how much the 'controversy' over "Girl Crush" was real or manufactured (some stations supposedly refused to play a song where a woman sings "I've got a girl crush," even though the song is essentially about jealousy over a man). But the publicity it generated helped push a song that sounded little like anything else on country radio into becoming a major country radio hit as well as their breakthrough to adult contemporary radio and Little Big Town's biggest Hot 100 hit to date.
2. Brothers Osborne - "Stay A Little Longer"
#8 Country Airplay, #65 Hot 100
This is still rising up the charts right now but it really shot up towards the top of my list as soon as I heard it. Anything produced by Jay Joyce (who's done every Eric Church album and the latest Little Big Town and Carrie Underwood records) sounds so much better than almost everything else on country radio, so that partly made this stand out, but it's just a great song. And these guys are from Deale, Maryland, not far from where I live, so I'm really rooting for them, their album comes out in January. You don't hear a lot of guitar solos on country radio that aren't by Brad Paisley or Keith Urban, and those guys are good guitarists, but it's really refreshing to hear John Osborne let a long amazing solo rip at the end of this song, even in the radio edit a fair amount of it plays out.
3. Cam - "Burning House"
#6 Country Airplay, #48 Hot 100
Cam is a songwriter who worked on Miley Cyrus's Bangerz and Jeff Bhasker is a producer best known for working with fun. and Kanye West, but together this unlikely pair made the most spare and harrowing country ballad I've heard all year. Love the 7/8 meter in the verses.
4. Thomas Rhett - "Make Me Wanna"
#1 Country Airplay, #43 Hot 100
Thomas Rhett is the only act who I just had to put on the list twice this year -- the lead single from the album he just released is further down the list, but I just had to go to bat for the fifth and final single from his 2013 debut, which just has the most delightful lightfooted Bee Gees groove.
5. Sam Hunt - "House Party"
#1 Country Airplay, #26 Hot 100
You can scroll down to the 'worst' list to see how I generally feel about Sam Hunt, who has released some absolutely terrifying songs where he does a 'slide' from talking to singing mid-verse that's very clearly influenced by Drake. But "House Party" is a pretty great song that would probably be a hit in any genre.
6. Zac Brown Band - "Homegrown"
#1 Country Airplay, #35 Hot 100
When you're old and married with kids like me, you hear some of these wholesome-ass country songs and actually identify with them.
7. Jana Kramer - "I Got The Boy"
#12 Country Airplay, #77 Hot 100
The first time I heard this song on the radio, I actually said out loud to myself, "Damn, that's a good chorus." Nashville can still turn out those perfect little gems where you get a whole life story unspooled in a few couplets where not a word is wasted.
8. Brett Eldredge - "Lose My Mind"
#1 Country Airplay, #48 Hot 100
"Lost My Mind" was the first single from Brett Eldredge's Illinois, one of my favorite country albums of 2015. I hope he turns out a half dozen more singles from that record, it's got a lot of potential hits.
9. Chris Janson - "Buy Me A Boat"
#3 Country Airplay, #41 Hot 100
Chris Janson has written some crap like Tim McGraw's "Truck Yeah" and LoCash's "I Love This Life," and in all honestly his first hit as an artist, "Buy Me A Boat," could probably be considered crap too. But it's really amusing, immediate crap that got stuck in my head from the first time I heard it.
10. Parmalee - "Already Callin' You Mine"
#12 Country Airplay, #96 Hot 100
Sometimes I hear a song a lot on my local country station and am just baffled that it's not in the top 10 on the national country charts. "Already Callin' You Mine" has been on Billboard for 40-something weeks now and is still kicking around just outside the top 10, don't know why enough stations haven't come around on it yet to make it a major hit.
11. Chris Stapleton - "Nobody To Blame"
#26 Country Airplay
A month ago, the CMAs marked one of the biggest awards show coronations in recent memory. Chris Stapleton, a veteran songwriter whose debut album hadn't sold much or generated any radio hits, won several major awards, performed with Justin Timberlake, and immediately shot to the top of the charts. This week, he got an Album of the Year nomination at the Grammys, but country radio is still slowly coming around to his current single (which wasn't the one that he performed on TV and sold a ton of downloads of). It's a good song and he has a strong voice but it does sound a bit different from what's on the radio, makes me wonder if he'll even get as much as a top 10 hit like Kacey Musgraves did before country radio completely shut her out and left her to crossover audiences.
12. Thomas Rhett - "Crash And Burn"
#1 Country Airplay, #36 Hot 100
Thomas Rhett's second album Tangled Up is one of those country albums that tries a little too hard to show of all its influences from outside country, and a lot of it goes off the rails and becomes irritating. But "Crash And Burn" is one song where it all works, the song where he can get away with interpolating Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" and ghost riding the whip in the video and performing the it on TV with Fall Out Boy.
13. Carrie Underwood - "Smoke Break"
#2 Country Airplay, #43 Hot 100
I have a lot of mixed feelings about Carrie Underwood, who has a long list of mostly lousy hits. But her latest record was produced by Jay Joyce and had some strong singles.
14. David Nail - "Kiss You Tonight"
#17 Country Airplay
Another song I heard on the radio a lot that I'm kind of mystified didn't chart higher.
15. Michael Ray - "Kiss You In The Morning"
#1 Country Airplay, #55 Hot 100
Nobody watched "The Next: Fame Is At Your Doorstep," the singing contest reality show that aired on The CW for one season in 2012. But country singer Michael Ray won, and he has the good fortune to be working in the only genre that actually lets reality show people be successful anymore, so this year his debut single went to #1.
16. Maddie & Tae - "Fly"
#8 Country Airplay, #61 Hot 100
Last year, Maddie & Tae tweaked the male-dominated country landscape with their debut hit "Girl In A Country Song." This year, the top 26 most played songs on country radio were all by men, and then Maddie & Tae's follow-up single sat at #27.
17. Kelsea Ballerini - "Love You Like You Mean It"
#1 Country Airplay, #45 Hot 100
One of the next biggest country songs this year by a female act was by Kelsea Ballerini, who had the distinction of going to #1 with her first single. Shame she couldn't keep that streak going, her second single "Dibs" is terrible.
18. Easton Corbin - "Baby Be My Love Song"
#3 Country Airplay, #56 Hot 100
Corbin generally makes songs I don't like and has an annoying voice, but this one just has some gorgeous chords that make the whole thing float dreamily.
19. Justin Moore - "You Look Like I Need A Drink"
#41 Country Airplay, # Hot 100
Justin Moore is a relatively minor star with a great voice who I've included in this list all 3 previous years. I hadn't heard him on the radio this year, but I checked to see if he'd released anything, and it turned out he has one new song on the charts that hasn't been big yet, but I like it, hopefully it'll catch on.
20. Eric Church - "Talladega"
#1 Country Airplay, #43 Hot 100
Eric Church released a surprise album, Mr. Misunderstood, a few weeks ago, and its Jeff Tweedy-namechecking title track is still climbing up the charts. But throughout 2015, his last album The Outsiders kept spinning off singles, including this nostalgic ode to NASCAR that features the line "here's to turnin' up." Shout out to Jay Joyce, his 4th production on the list.
The Worst Country Radio Hits of 2015:
1. Sam Hunt - "Take Your Time"
2. Sam Hunt - "Break Up In A Small Town"
3. Kelsea Ballerini - "Dibs"
4. Brantley Gilbert - "One Hell Of An Amen"
5. The Band Perry - "Live Forever"
6. LoCash - "I Love This Life"
7. Dan + Shay - "Nothin' Like You"
8. Luke Bryan - "Kick The Dust Up"
9. Brad Paisley - "Crushin' It"
10. Chase Rice - "Gonna Wanna Tonight"