- Markus Meyer and Zackary Kephart
From both of us here at This Is Country Music, we would like to wish all of you a very merry Christmas and happy New Year! It's been a massive year of growth for TICM, thanks to you readers. We hope that you've enjoyed everything that we've had to offer in 2015, and we hope you stick with us for what we believe will be a wonderful 2016! Happy Holidays everybody!
- Markus Meyer and Zackary Kephart
Hello everybody, and welcome to fourth annual This Is Country Music Top 20 Singles of 2015 list! In the past three years, we have awarded the top spot to Jason Aldean's "Fly Over States" (2012), Kacey Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow" (2013) and Maddie & Tae's "Girl In a Country Song" (2014). Who took it home this year? Better read on to find out!
Chris Janson, "Buy Me A Boat"
Chris Janson finally got a break and hit his lottery... quite literally. He was signed to a major label and awarded iHeartRadio's On The Verge selection in one fail swoop. "But Me A Boat" tells the tale of what many of us think; what would we buy if we won the lottery? For Chris, it was buying a boat with some truck to pull it and some beer in a cooler. Considering how Chris stumbled upon his major label deal with Warner Music Nashville, I can't think of a more appropriate song to score your first big hit with. - sabre14
Carrie Underwood, "Little Toy Guns"
I've admitted before that I'm not a particularly big fan of Carrie Underwood, but there is no doubt that "Little Toy Guns" is one of the year's most compelling singles. With a dark yet relatable lyric about a child caught in the middle of a domestic dispute, along with an intense production and killer vocal, it is one of Underwood's finest pieces of work to-date. - Markus Meyer
Mo Pitney, "Country"
This song was our first introduction to Mo Pitney -- a straight up traditional country artist with a killer voice. This song is the essence of what's great about country and country music fans. Country isn't what you own. It isn't where you live. It isn't how you talk. It's what you feel inside, and that love for "country" helps connect all of us country music fans. - sabre14
Rainey Qualley, "Me and Johnny Cash"
This honest to God sounds like a song that was released in 2005, not 2015. What really impressed me was the great uniqueness of Rainey's vocals -- which were more noticeable in this song. Perfect production and witty songwriting made this song an absolute winner for me and it's a shame that Rainey was on a start-up label as this should have had hit written all over it. - sabre14
Chris Stapleton, "Nobody To Blame"
TICM was way into Chris long before he was cool, and you'd know why after hearing his debut album. This song in particular was a highlight for me. Sure, on paper it's not a knockout, revolving around a tired theme of a woman leaving her man, but the details put into it elevate it to a top-notch song. It's refreshing to hear a guy admit that HE'S the one responsible for everything going wrong and not blaming on something else. Plus the song is Country as heck - Zackary Kephart
Florida Georgia Line, "Confession"
Taking a break from their usual brand of bro-country, Florida Georgia Line are back with what is absolutely their best single yet. An atmospheric production surrounds a serious, reflective lyric, a major shift for the duo, while still retaining signature elements such as Tyler Hubbard's confident performance and the hooky melody. This is what we should expect of our duo of the year. - MM
Maddie and Tae, "Shut Up and Fish"
Is that fiddle and steel guitar that I hear? Be still my beating heart! "Shut Up and Fish" is the perfect definition of the evolution of Country. We have a hilarious storyline involving a woman who stands up for herself, and the twist at the end never gets old. The TICM Single Of The Year alumni have returned with another strong Country song - ZK
Chris Stapleton, "Traveller"
Before Chris Stapleton was cool, he released the title-track to his award winning album, Traveller. Despite not even scratching the top-60, "Traveller" is a slice of pure country gold, with an organic arrangement, a soulful performance and a simple yet elegant lyric. Absolute gem from arguably the best voice and hottest act in country music. - MM
Brothers Osborne, "Stay A Little Longer"
"Stay A Little Longer" proved to be 'third time's the charm' as it became John and T.J.'s first top 10 single at country radio. This single was a prime example of everything these two do well; utilize T.J.'s deep, strong vocals; great melody and instrumentation which showed their songwriting chops, and was an opportunity for John to give us that awesome guitar solo - sabre14
Eric Church, "Mr. Misunderstood"
Eric Church desired to be bold and rebellious in 2014, and he was, he just went a tad overboard with it. "Mr. Misunderstood" finds Eric Church back to being well, Eric Church. He's a guy who deviates from the mainstream path. I find myself relating to this song a lot, and I'm glad someone else in the mainstream understands that it's time to put the music first. Hopefully Eric continues down this path - ZK
Jon Pardi, "Head Over Boots"
Every time I hear a Jon Pardi song, I get thrown back into the late 90's to early 2000's. This song felt right at home for Jon and featured a melody that was similar to Dwight Yoakam in his prime. Jon just might have outdone his stellar 2014 single, "What I Can't Put Down" - sabre14
Mickey Guyton, "Better Than You Left Me"
Capitol recording artist, Mickey Guyton's long awaited debut single did not disappoint. The eloquent production and throwback country instrumentation was soothing to the ears of listeners and was coupled by one of the best vocalist in the genre. Great introduction into Mickey's talents - sabre14
Kip Moore, "Running For You"
My personal favorite single of 2015 comes courtesy of Kip Moore. The second single of his excellent sophomore project Wild Ones, "Running For You" is a masterpiece on all fronts. From his impassioned rasp, to the enticing melody, to the superb songwriting, "Running For You" is what modern country music should sound like. Absolutely brilliant single. - MM
Love and Theft, "Whiskey On My Breath"
Who thought we'd see the day Love and Theft placed in a top-10 singles list. From a duo whose entire career has relied on pleasant-but-fluffy pop-country records, "Whiskey On My Breath" comes as a massive shock. With the heart wrenching lyric and the subdued production, it packs a punch rarely seen from any mainstream act. Hopefully a sign of things to come for Love and Theft. - MM
Ashley Campbell, "Remembering"
The best kinds of Country songs are the ones that are the most personal, as they add a value that cannot be replicated. That is what "Remembering" is, a touching ode to Ashley's father, Glen Campbell. Words cannot do a song such as this one justice, as this is truly something you need to hear for yourself - ZK
Lee Ann Womack, "Send It On Down"
Perhaps the most forgotten song on the list, mainly because it was released very early this year and didn't make a dent on the charts. But if there's one thing you can learn from Country music in 2015, it's that chart success doesn't equate to quality, as Lee Ann Womack delivers a knockout of a song about a woman who is down on her luck...to say the least. The somber tone of this song really punches you in the gut, and proves that Lee Ann Womack is still making some damn fine Country music - ZK
Kacey Musgraves, "Dime Store Cowgirl"
While Pageant Material was a step down from her debut project, Kacey Musgraves still proves why she is so highly regarded among critics with many tracks on the album, most notably, "Dime Store Cowgirl". A wonderfully-written piece of accessible country music, Musgraves absolutely blows many of her peers out of the water with this brilliant and poignant track. - MM
Cam, "Burning House"
Hey country radio! Play some more females! No, no, no... not Kelsea Ballerini! Play some Cam! Humor aside, "Burning House" is a masterpiece with its haunting, acousticy production and even more haunting and alluring storyline of holding onto a lost love. This song is probably the deepest lyrical song you'll hear this year in mainstream Country music and it goes to show that females are still making some of the best Country music out there - ZK
Dierks Bentley, "Riser"
A criminally underrated song, "Riser" by Dierks Bentley shows a man who actually cares about the music. The anthemic lyrics combined with the passion and emotion behind Bentley's vocals mold together to form one of the best singles in the mainstream this year. "Riser" has everything you could want in a Country song and more, and it's a shame that there seemed to be only a few who didn't like it (*cough cough country radio cough*) - ZK
Tim McGraw feat. Catherine Dunn, "Diamond Rings and Old Barstools"
Tim McGraw is back ladies and gentlemen. "Diamond Rings and Old Barstools", one of the finest tracks off his masterful Sundown Heaven Town album, is a pure-country, beautifully written, poignant, well performed record that absolutely blows many of his mainstream peers into oblivion. With it's excellent metaphorical hook and raw vocal, this is one to remember and is certainly worthy of being TICM's #1 single of 2015. - MM
Before we check out what dominated our playlists in 2015 with our best-of list, we must first look back on what disgusted us over the course of the year. In years past, the award for worst single of 2015 has gone to Chase Rice's "Ready Set Roll" (2013) and Jerrod Niemann's "Donkey" (2014). Please enjoy our third annual Worst-of the year list, featuring once again, sabre14!
Florida Georgia Line, "Anything Goes"
Ever wondered what bro-country going through the motions sounds like? Listen to "Anything Goes." This song covered no new ground for this duo and was a very boring song that just extended their album's life-cycle further - sabre14
Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild, "Home Alone Tonight"
MacCauly Culkin should sue you for not crediting him on this song Luke! Imagine the most childish things that two adults can do and you pretty much have "Home Alone Tonight". The production is horrible, making Karen Fairchild sound drowned out, and hell, even that annoying charisma that Luke can usually brings to a song is missing here. This is what the Entertainer Of The Year is pumping out? - Zackary Kephart
Tyler Farr, "Better In Boots"
Suffer In Peace was a rock-solid album, featuring many superb tracks. This is not one of them. "Better In Boots" finds Tyler Farr at his most phoned-in, delivering an unoriginal song backed by a grating arrangement. You're better than this Tyler. - Markus Meyer
Dallas Smith, "Kids With Cars"
Dallas Smith has an excellent voice, and has proven on multiple occasions that he can make great music (see: "Somebody Somewhere"), but "Kids With Cars" is a waste of that talent. Lyrically... It's fine. It doesn't really go anywhere, but it's relatively unoffensive. Where it loses it's credibility is in the production, where Joey Moi absolutely obliterates any sort of redeeming quality to the record. This one hurt to listen to. - MM
Miranda Lambert, "Little Red Wagon"
Miranda Lambert is usually a solid ambassador for substantial country music, which is what makes the release of "Little Red Wagon" even more dissapointing. With a surprisingly grating performance, an obnoxious production and a tasteless melody, "Little Red Wagon" easily ranks as one of, if not Lambert's worst track to-date. - MM
Chris Lane, "Fix"
After trying to break out with the horrible bro-country "Broken Windshield View", Chris Lane is back to trend chasing with "Fix". Not only is this song cliche, it's horrible as all hell too. Stop comparing love to drugs! It's overdone in two genres for crying out loud! And what the hell is that production? Hell, Sam Hunt is looking sideways at this thing! Also, Chris, you're definitely not cool enough to reference Walter White. This song is a joke that proves pretty boys and Pop sounds are all it takes to make it in mainstream Country music these days - ZK
Zac Brown Band, "Beautiful Drug"
This single isn't by Zac Brown, it's by Benedict Arnold. Even though Zac Brown Band have never been my exact cup of tea, you could at least always count on them to deliver different material from what the mainstream offered. With "Beautiful Drug", we find Zac selling out hard, adopting the same Pop sound that radio loves right now along with the Kesha, "Your Love Is My Drug" theme that has worn out its welcome in Country AND Pop. Enjoy the money boys, it only cost all of mine, and many others' respect for you guys - ZK
Michael Ray, "Real Men Love Jesus"
"Real Men Love Jesus" may not be the hardest single to listen to on this list, but it might just be the most distastefully written. The lyrics are nothing more than an obnoxious list of male stereotypes that portray "real men" as those who love fishing and fast cars. Absolutely awful record, no matter how pleasant the production and melody may be. - MM
Thomas Rhett, "Crash and Burn"
Make no mistake, Thomas Rhett is trying to become a pop artist. The problem is that country radio doesn't seem to mind. "Crash And Burn" was the least country hit, sonically, of the entire year outside of "Break Up In A Small Town." I also believe Thomas' vocals in the verses were some of the worst of the year. I'm sure there's a decent song within the lyrics but the production tactic taken, ruined it - sabre14
Luke Bryan, "Kick The Dust Up"
Maturity. That's what we were promised with Luke Bryan's new material earlier this year. And you know what? We got it. "Kick The Dust Up" is an excellent tale about the woes that Luke's grandparents faced during the Dust Bowl. The only way they got through it was to shout "kick the dust up!", which helped increase their spirits. Just kidding! It's a song about a hot girl, alcohol and a spot nobody knows! YEEEEEHHHAAAAWW!!!!!! - ZK
Waterloo Revival, "Bad For You"
Another example of trend chasing. Waterloo Revival and their label, Big Machine Records, decided to try and capitalize on the pop/R&B trend at radio in the summer of 2015 and release this Maroon 5-esque song as this new group's second career single. The production and instrumentation are nothing country except for that lonely mandolin, that is totally out of place. This duo will soon be without a label with more misfires like this and a lack of artist identity - sabre14
The Band Perry, "Live Forever"
What separates "Live Forever" from some of the other entries on this list is that, on it's own merits, it's actually a pretty decent record. That said, it in now way, shape or form represents anything resembling country music. It is a pop song, nothing more, nothing less. A good one, sure, but a pop record nonetheless. - MM
David Fanning, "Doin' Country Right"
No idea what the folks at Red Bow Records and Broken Bow Music Group were thinking when they decided that this would be a good idea to release as David's second single in February of 2015. The song sounds like some parody of a bro-country song with the utterly annoying repetitiveness of the song's atrocious lyrics. It also might be the most ironic title for a song I've ever come across - sabre14
Old Dominion, "Break Up With Him"
"Break Up With Him" is without question the douchiest song of 2015. With the narrator spending the duration of the song telling the girl in the question to ditch her boyfriend to go mess around with him instead. It's disturbing as much as it is creepy, and is one of the most disgusting records of the past few years. - MM
Bret Michaels, "Girls On Bars"
As Alan Jackson once said, "everybody's gone country!". That's what Bret Michaels did, not with passion or love in his eyes, but with dollar signs. This bro-country schlock sucked in 2012, and it most certainly still sucks today. This limited character space isn't enough to tear this thing to shreds, so I'll leave it with this: screw this shit. (Also Bret, I see you described this as "Americana". Jason Isbell should personally come to your door and kick your ass) - ZK
Uncle Ezra Ray, "BYHB"
"BYHB" is that annoying kid you knew in high school who always disrupted the class and never matured past "69" jokes. You always wanted to kick the shit out of him, but in the end, you knew he wouldn't matter someday, given that he was a nobody who wouldn't make anything out of himself. "BYHB" recycles some awful bro-country lyrics and actually makes Florida Georgian Line sound like Mozart in comparison. But this group of washed rockers will do nothing, and contine to look pathetic in the eyes of consumers everywhere. Fun fact: I could easily copy and paste what I said about Ezra Ray here and swap their name out for Bret's and you'd still get an accurate description of this flaming pile of dog shit! - ZK
Jake Owen, "Real Life"
To be honest, I actually like the premise of "Real Life". Many people live this song's lyrics in their ordinary lives...but the way that this song goes about getting that message across is where it flies off the tracks. Jake's great vocals are masked by quick talking lyrics that are extremely grating and the Smashmouth like production is anything but country - sabre14
Danielle Bradbery, "Friend Zone"
This was, in my opinion, the single worst piece of music all year. "Friend Zone" wasn't officially released to radio -- just iTunes and Sirius/XM satellite radio but I wish it wasn't released to any music platform. This song's horrific vocal arrangement with Danielle attempting her version of talk/rap-like lyrics and odd sports analogies would be bad enough to warrant getting included on this list but the song's subject is completely and utterly inaccurate. Somebody being relegated to the "Friend Zone" is not the inability of calling a girl...it's when that certain guy, who cares enough for that special girl, feels more like a "brother" to her than her actual boyfriend. This song should never have been written let alone recorded and released - sabre14
Sam Hunt, "Break Up In A Small Town"
Does this song feature a small town? Yes. Is it Country? Hell no. This song is 100% EDM with some horrible Drake-esque rapping from Sam himself. In all honesty, the idea for the song is good, but the way Sam gets to his destination decimates any chance of this being a well-written song. She would "get down"? Come again? Also, alluding to violence in the bridge? Yeah, I can see why you lost her buddy. The success of this song proves how far the genre has slipped in these past few years - ZK
Hayley Georgia, "Ridiculous"
Wow. Just, wow. How can any one song convey so much badness all at once? I'm almost at a loss for words. The fact that it's not country in any way is the least of it's problems. The melody is grating, the vocal is obnoxious, and the lyrics... The lyrics, and more specifically, the hook of "you're ri-dic, you're ri-dic" hook", are unmatched in absolutely terribleness. It's hilariously bad, and if you haven't heard it, consider yourself lucky. It is without doubt worthy of the #1 spot on TICM's worst of 2015 countdown. - MM
When someone mentions the name "Florida Georgia Line", the natural instinct for many is to cringe. Despite the fact that I've been much, much lighter on the than many critics, it's hard to deny that they're an unquestionably polarizing duo, and that much of their material is sub-par. However, they may be on the right track to winning some people with their latest effort, "Confession".
"Confession" is a major change of pace for Florida Georgia Line. With a moody, atmospheric production that, while still a tad overbearing, demonstrates some restraint, as well as a general tone that feels much more serious than their past work, "Confession" feels like a nice change of pace even from a technical standpoint. But where they make up major points is, obviously, in the lyrical content. While their past hits, with a couple exceptions, have largely followed the thematic makeup of bro-country, this record is a song of self-reflection and regret that can all be encapsulated by the closing line of "hope he's moving in the right direction". Even with the overhaul however, they do maintain some positive elements of their discography, namely the hooky melody and Tyler Hubbard's confident delivery.
They may still have some work to do in terms of winning over the critic community, but should they continue in the footsteps of "Confession", they'll be well on their way to doing so.
By Markus Meyer
With the current state of Country music, it always warms my heart to hear of an act who wants to create actual Country music instead of “experiment” and “create genre-bending music”. This issue comes up a lot in the mainstream. Sure, you have acts like Dierks Bentley, Josh Turner, Jon Pardi, and Mo Pitney who care about the integrity of the genre, but then you have others who are saying we need to “evolve” and in turn make music that is incohesive and often feels either ingenuine or commercial instead of artistic (looking at you Thomas Rhett and The Band Perry). However this isn’t really an issue we think of when we think of Texas or Americana artists.
In a recent interview with the Boot, Texas Country band, Randy Rogers Band claimed that they wanted their new album, Nothing Shines Like Neon to build on the traditions of country music that influenced them when they were young. To quote Randy, “It’s country”. As you can tell by the bold, that sentence makes this critic very happy. While there are some Texas Country acts who have decided the underdog status isn’t good enough (cough Granger Smith cough), the Randy Rogers Band are setting out to make a stone cold Country record. I can certainly believe it, as the last time we heard from Randy Rogers was when the solo man teamed up with Wade Bowen for their Hold My Beer. Vol. 1 album, which while we never got to actually review, was highlighted in our midyear list. Anyway, I can certainly believe the country argument, as Hold My Beer was undeniably Country sounding. Anyway, in addition to a Country sound, this album also promises duets with critically acclaimed artists such as Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, and Jerry Jeff Walker. With all of this in mind, the lead single from the album, the (sort of) title track, “Neon Blues” is currently sitting at #19 on the Texas Country Music Chart, and you better believe it’s damn good Country music y’all.
The song’s subject matter is definitely familiar, meaning that it breaks no new ground. But guess what? The familiar theme is the beauty of the song, and something that bolsters Roger’s claim that he wanted this album to reflect what he grew up, as this is the type of stuff country music was built upon. The song tells of a woman in a bar. She’s there all alone and doesn’t want to be bothered by any interested male as she just recently got over a (presumably) cheating ex-boyfriend. To quote the chorus:
She’s got the neon blues, she ain’t in the mood for anymore lies or pick-up lines
The narrator of the song warns any man who tries to hit on her that it’s no use. In a way, the song reminds me a lot of Gary Allan’s “What Kind Of Fool”. I will say that I wish I knew what the narrator’s part in the story is. Is he just someone who notices the woman in the bar night after the night? Is he the one who hurt her? We don’t know, but it’s something I would have liked to find out. This is merely a minor gripe however.
As for the sound, it sounds just like a true country song should, with fiddles and a smokey atmosphere. Even if the subject matter is a little too dry for you, the sound is a huge plus and something that makes this critic smile.
Overall, the Randy Rogers Band are off to a great start with their new music. Not only does it deliver in terms of quality, but it also serves as a great appetizer for their album in January. If you’re looking for some true country music, I highly recommend checking out “Neon Blues."
Listen: “Neon Blues”
Author: Zackary Kephart
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