Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Carrie Underwood

Since Country Universe launched eleven years ago, there have only been a handful of new country artists that I’ve truly enjoyed.  Out of all of them, there hasn’t been another artist I’ve consistently enjoyed as much as Carrie Underwood.

Full disclosure: my fandom reaches all the way back to the American Idol auditions. It’s a show I haven’t watched in years, but out of all of the seasons I did watch, Underwood was the only contender I actively rooted for from the beginning, and has been the only one who has put out music that I actually buy.

I’ve written about why I enjoy Underwood many times before, but a quick summary for those who may have missed it: she’s sincere, she’s got great pipes, and her worldview and empathy resonate deeply with me. She can do traditional country as well as anybody, but refuses to adhere to genre limitations, which is a combination present in most of my favorite country artists. I just think that she’s awesome.

So with Storyteller now in stores, it seemed like a great time to look back on my favorite moments of hers so far. There isn’t another artist who hit the scene in the past decade that I could do one of these for, and with her new album too fresh in my mind to fully assess, I’m limiting my selections to her pre-Storyteller work.  (Sorry, “Smoke Break.” You would’ve made the cut if not for that limitation.)

Carrie Underwood Carnival Ride

#25
“You Won’t Find This”
Carnival Ride, 2007

A hidden gem toward the end of Underwood’s sophomore set, “You Won’t Find This” is a gentle warning to the guy walking out the door that nothing will be as good as what he’s leaving behind.

Carrie Underwood Blown Away

#24
“Cupid’s Got a Shotgun”
Blown Away, 2012

A raucous rave-up with plenty of wit, this one was even better live than on the record.

 

Carrie Underwood Carnival Ride

#23
“All-American Girl”
Carnival Ride, 2007

Catchy and endearing, Underwood’s first celebration of womanhood is still enjoyable today.

Carrie Underwood Play On

#22
“Someday When I Stop Loving You”
Play On, 2009

I only have one of the four singles from Play On listed, as the gap between what I consider the best songs and what was sent to radio is widest on her third album. This tender, acoustic ballad showcases Underwood’s powerful voice at its most subtle and nuanced.

Carrie Underwood Blown Away

#21
“Good Girl”
Blown Away, 2012

An entertaining production with twists and turns, “Good Girl” took Underwood’s signature sound and jumbled it up, effectively playing against the listener’s expectations.

Carrie Underwood Carnival Ride

#20
“I Told You So”
Carnival Ride, 2007

When it was sent to radio, vocals from Randy Travis were added to make it a duet, but I prefer the solo version that appears on the album.

 

Carrie Underwood Blown Away

#19
“Nobody Ever Told You”
Blown Away, 2012

An indictment of impossible beauty standards, Underwood’s gentle encouragement of young girls to reject the media pressure of physical perfection is her strongest feminist statement to date.

90 Carrie Stand By

#18
“I’ll Stand By You”
Idol Gives Back, 2007

Her innocent cover of the Pretenders classic was also her first purely acoustic release. While she lacks Chrissie Hynde’s grit, she compensates by bringing the song’s beautiful melody to the surface. I’d love to hear her revisit this song, now that she’s matured as vocalist.

Carrie Underwood Blown Away

#17
“Two Black Cadillacs”
Blown Away, 2012

Who knew you could still get away with a country song that kills off a man just for having an affair?

Carrie Underwood Carnival Ride

#16
“Just a Dream”
Carnival Ride, 2007

One of her first truly dramatic story songs, she captures the piercing pain and cloudy confusion of grief with her heartbreaking vocal performance.

Carrie Underwood Blown Away

#15
“Good in Goodbye”
Blown Away, 2012

A quiet piano ballad from her last album, “Good in Goodbye” finds her running into the man she thought she’d spend her life with. As she watches him with his little girl on his shoulders, she realizes that the pain of their breakup was worth it, because he’s where he’s supposed to be, as is she.

Carrie Underwood Some Hearts

#14
“Jesus, Take the Wheel”
Some Hearts, 2005

Underwood put her faith front and center in her first country single, and it established one of the most crucial underlying themes in her work: the power of God’s mercy and unconditional love.

Carrie Underwood Play On

#13
“Undo It”
Play On, 2009

It’s an absolutely ridiculous song, but it’s still a total earworm that I never get tired of listening to.

Carrie Underwood Some Hearts

#12
“Wasted”
Some Hearts, 2005

The opening track of her debut album follows the pattern of many of her most successful songs: telling the stories of different people in the verses and unifying their experiences through the chorus.  Here, it’s a man overcoming his alcohol dependency and a woman leaving a destructive relationship, both realizing that time is running out and they don’t want their time on earth to have been wasted.

Carrie Underwood Blown Away

#11
“Do You Think About Me”
Blown Away, 2012

A tender tale of first love, in the tradition of “Strawberry Wine,” but without any of that tale’s lingering sadness. I love the detail of how she sings the same songs with her new man, but he’s “always just a little out of key. So much different than you and me.”

carrie underwood greatest hits decade 1

#10
“Something in the Water”
Greatest Hits: Decade #1, 2014

Something Underwood’s been more successful at as she’s progressed is finding stories that match the size and scope of her overwhelmingly powerful voice. This tale of being born again through baptism fits the bill perfectly.

How Great Thou Art

#9
“How Great Thou Art”
How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites from the Grand Ole Opry, 2011

As does her take on what might be the most beautiful gospel standard ever written. I’ve never heard it done better than Underwood does it here.

 

Carrie Underwood Praying for Time

#8
“Praying for Time”
Idol Gives Back, 2008

Then again, Underwood’s able to convert even a cynical number like George Michael’s “Praying for Time” into something of a gospel standard, simply by infusing it with enough faith in humankind that we can overcome our materialism and isolation from each other. In her version, God and man are still separated, but they haven’t given up on each other yet.

Carrie Underwood Some Hearts

#7
“Before He Cheats”
Some Hearts, 2005

This was such a surprise when it first came out, but even after a decade of heavy rotation, it still packs a punch. I wonder how many cars have paid the price for their owner’s philandering since this became a hit?

Carrie Underwood Play On

#6
“Change”
Play On, 2009

As I wrote in the introduction, part of Underwood’s resonance with me is I can connect deeply with her worldview. This call to reject defeatism and cyncism in favor of serving others is like an angel whispering in my ear every time I listen to it.

Carrie Underwood Carnival Ride

#5
“I Know You Won’t”
Carnival Ride, 2007

Just a straight-up power ballad that pushes her vocal abilities to the limit. I love the way the quiet verses build to an explosive chorus.

Carrie Underwood Blown Away

#4
“Blown Away”
Blown Away, 2012

Stunningly theatrical, “Blown Away” effectively harnesses storm imagery to tell the tale of horrific child abuse and poetic, karmic revenge.

Carrie Underwood Play On

#3
“Play On”
Play On, 2009

Much like “Change,” I always come back to “Play On” because the message is motivating and inspiring. Mistakes are part of life, and you have to make the choice whether the damage in your rearview is going to make you pull to the side of the road or just keep going.

I’m with Carrie on this one.  Keep going.

carrie underwood greatest hits decade 1

#2
“Little Toy Guns”
Greatest Hits: Decade #1, 2014

Putting aside the brilliant production and flawless attention to detail in the songwriting, “Little Toy Guns” derives just as much of its success from accurately capturing the pain that emotional abuse inflicts on those who are exposed to it, even if they aren’t the intended target.  Watch what you say and how you say it. The kids are listening.

Carrie Underwood Blown Away

#1
“See You Again”
Blown Away, 2012

I always come up a little short when I’m trying to explain why “See You Again” means so much to me, but since it’s at the top of this list, I’ll try again.

There are many songs about grief which find a silver lining in the fact that we’ll be reunited again in the next life. It’s been a recurring theme in country music since the Carter Family asked if the circle can be unbroken.

“See You Again” is one of the few songs I’ve heard that truly believes it, without an ounce of doubt. It’s a song about loss that is completely joyful. Yes, it acknowledges the pain of separation, but never for a second does it consider that the separation is anything but temporary.

It follows faith to its logical conclusion, and fully embraces its promise as unquestionable, unshakable truth.

 

13 Comments

  1. I too, have been a fan since her Idol days. Listening to Carrie introduced me to country music, and for that I’ll forever be grateful.

    I think Play On is her weakest album. ‘Someday When I Stop Loving You’ is the only cut I ever listen to from that record.

    A lot of my favorites have already been covered in this list, but I’ll still contribute my rankings:

    Favorite (by album)

    Wasted – ‘The Night Before (Life Goes On)’
    Carnival Ride – 3-way tie between I Told You So, You Won’t Find This, and Just a Dream. Carnival is my favorite Underwood album.
    Play On – ‘Someday When I Stop Loving You’
    Blown Away – ‘Good in Goodbye’
    Storyteller – ‘Dirty Laundry’

  2. Kevin:

    Even though Carrie isn’t quite one of my favorite present-day artists yet (though her performance of “Different Drum” at the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute for Linda Ronstadt did a lot to elevate my opinion of her), this list is a really good one. To come up with twenty-five for any artist is a huge undertaking for anybody (as my list for Linda proved in 2009); and you’ve given me a much better grasp of Carrie’s career than I think country radio has done so far (and maybe ever will).

  3. I’m not a huge fan of “See You Again,” but I will say I saw the video the other day was moved to tears. In the right moment, it can have an impact. I always love reading what others think, since we all bring our own experience and context to things.

    For now I can just list my top 5 recorded Carrie songs:
    5. “Wasted”
    4. “Something in the Water”
    3. “Do You Think About Me”
    2. “Leave Love Alone”
    1. “Someday When I Stop Loving You”

  4. My favorites from each album:

    Some Hearts – Jesus Take The Wheel, Before He Cheats, Don’t Forget to Remember Me, Wasted (Yes, I like and I agree with all the singles released lol)

    Carnival Ride – I Told You So, Flat on the Floor, Crazy Dreams, So Small (though I preferred the work tape demo version that was included in the Greatest Hits CD)

    Play On – Someday When I Stop Loving You (my least favorite album)

    Blown Away – Blown Away, Two Black Cadillacs, Wine After Whiskey, Leave Love Alone, Do You Think About Me. I would’ve included Cupid’s Got A Shotgun but Brad Paisley’s annoying guitar work on it ruined that song for me

    Storyteller – Dirty Laundry, Church Bells, Choctaw County Affair, Heartbeat, Like I’ll Never Love You Again, Clock Don’t Stop

  5. Wait, no Wine After Whiskey? lol
    Quite difficult to make a list like that, with not so much albums, but I liked your ranking a lot!

  6. Kevin what do you think about her version of “You’re Looking At Country” from the Loretta tribute album? I love her on that one.

  7. Kevin, please tell me we can expect a Storyteller review soon. I’m always eager to hear your thoughts in her new music!

    As for favorites from Carrie, I tend to love her most when she is rocking hard. But there’s plenty of other songs that I enjoy as long as the production isn’t too sparse.

    My biggest favourites include Undo It, Cowboy Casanova, Flat on the Floor, Good Girl, and Before He Cheats. Other notable favorites include Jesus Take the Wheel, So Small, Last Name, What Can I Say, Two Black Cadillacs, Blown Away, and Home Sweet Home.

    So from from Storyteller, I’m enjoying Mexico and Dirty Laundry most I think.

  8. Not In order just my Favorites:
    1. See You Again
    2. Do You Think About Me
    3. That’s Where It Is
    4. I Know You Won’t
    5. Little Toy Guns
    6. Just a Dream
    7. How Great Thou Art
    8. Before He Cheats
    9. Wasted
    10. So Small
    11. Blown Away
    12. Keep Us Safe
    13. Good Girl
    14. Thank God for Hometowns
    15. Mama’s Song
    16. Someday When I Stop Loving You
    17. You Won’t Find This
    18. Don’t Forget to Remember Me
    19. Wine after Whiskey
    20. Temporary Home

  9. My faves from each albums:
    Some Hearts: Wasted, Jesus Take the Wheel, Starts With Goodbye, Before He Cheats
    Carnival Ride: Flat On the Floor, Just A Dream, Last Name, I Told You So, You Won’t Find This, I Know You Won’t
    Play On: What Can I Say, Someday When I Stop Loving You, Quitter, Temporary Home
    Blown Away: Do You Think About Me, Blown Away, Wine After Whiskey, Two Black Cadillacs
    Storyteller: Choctaw County Affair, Church Bells, Dirty Laundry, Relapse, Renegade Runaway, Mexico
    Also: How Great Thou Art, Something In The Water, Little Toy Guns

    But my top songs HAVE to be: What Can I Say, Do You Think About Me, Blown Away, Someday When I Stop Loving You, Wasted, Something In The Water & Little Toy Guns

  10. Again, I mildly like Carrie Underwood and I appreciate the fact that she keeps expanding her sound through the years. These are her songs I genuinely love.

    Some Hearts
    1. Wasted
    2. Jesus, Take The Wheel
    3. Before He Cheats
    4. Don’t Forget to Remember Me
    — nothing follows

    Carnival Ride
    1. Just a Dream
    2. I Know You Won’t
    — nothing follows

    Play On
    1. Someday When I Stop Loving You
    2. Songs Like This
    — nothing follows

    Blown Away (her best album, in my opinion)
    1. Wine After Whiskey
    2. Do You Think About Me?
    3. Good in Goodbye
    4. Blown Away
    5. Two Black Cadillacs
    6. See You Again
    — nothing follows

    Non-album singles
    1. Something in the Water
    2. Little Toy Guns
    3. Praying for Time
    — Nothing follows

  11. I’m not ashamed to say that her songs from the NBC Sound of Music Soundtrack are among my favorite Underwood songs. I particularly love “the Lonely Goatherd” and “Something Good.”

  12. I love “The Lonely Goatherd,” too!

    I’m not good at rankings, but I can name a group of my 15 Carrie songs:
    “Someday When I Stop Loving You”
    “Wine After Whiskey”
    “How Great Thou Art” (live)
    “Wasted”
    “Blown Away”
    “Neon Moon” (live)
    “Quitter”
    “Before He Cheats”
    “You’re Looking At Country”
    “Patience” (live)
    “The Night Before Life Goes On”
    “I Told You So”
    “Leave Love Alone”
    “Alone” (live)
    “Something in the Water”

    “Dirty Laundry” and “Choctaw County Affair,” and “The Girl You Think I Am” from the new one will likely join that group.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Musgraves Plays the Apollo; Prayers for Joey Feek; Don Henley on Austin City Limits | Country California

Comments are closed.