Because country music is a radio-driven format, it has usually allowed for a large number of artists to have success at any given time. The nature of the other CMA Awards categories leave them dominated by the genre’s biggest stars, so it is the Single of the Year category that best tells the story of country music over the past fifty years. Here’s a look back at CMA Single of the Year, starting with this year’s nominees.
“Better Man,” Little Big Town
“Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Keith Urban
“Body Like a Back Road,” Sam Hunt
“Dirt on My Boots,” Jon Pardi
“Tin Man,” Miranda Lambert
On his third try, perennial favorite Keith Urban won his first Single of the Year award for his massive hit, “Blue Ain’t Your Color.”
“Die a Happy Man,” Thomas Rhett
“Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw
“My Church,” Maren Morris
“Nobody to Blame,” Chris Stapleton
“Record Year,” Eric Church
Thomas Rhett was nominated against four artists who scored more nominations than him across the ballot, but he triumphed with his love song written for his wife.
“American Kids, “Kenny Chesney
“Girl Crush,” Little Big Town
“I Don’t Dance,” Lee Brice
“Take Your Time,” Sam Hunt
“Talladega,” Eric Church
Little Big Town became the second band to repeat in this category with their sleeper hit, “Girl Crush.”
“Automatic,” Miranda Lambert
“Drunk on a Plane,” Dierks Bentley
“Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church
“Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” Tim McGraw with Faith Hill
“Mine Would Be You,” Blake Shelton
Miranda Lambert finally won this category with her fifth nomination, taking home the trophy for the lead single off of her Album of the Year winner, Platinum.
“Cruise,” Florida Georgia Line
“Highway Don’t Care,” Tim McGraw featuring Taylor Swift and Keith Urban
“Mama’s Broken Heart,” Miranda Lambert
“Merry Go ‘Round,” Kacey Musgraves
“Wagon Wheel,” Darius Rucker
Florida Georgia Line broke the record for the most weeks at #1 on the Billboard country singles chart, thanks largely to new rules that allowed for pop airplay to count toward the chart. It helped power them to a Single of the Year win.
“Dirt Road Anthem,” Jason Aldean
“God Gave Me You,” Blake Shelton
“Home,” Dierks Bentley
“Pontoon,” Little Big Town
“Springsteen,” Eric Church
Little Big Town’s remarkable run at the country music award shows began in 2012 at the CMA Awards, and they won in this category for the song that launched them to a new level of success.
“Colder Weather,” Zac Brown Band
“Don’t You Wanna Stay,” Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson
“Honey Bee,” Blake Shelton
“If I Die Young,” The Band Perry
“A Little Bit Stronger,” Sara Evans
The Band Perry took home the Single of the Year award for “If I Die Young,” which also earned a Song of the Year trophy for their lead singer.
“Hillbilly Bone,” Blake Shelton with Trace Adkins
“The House That Built Me,” Miranda Lambert
“A Little More Country Than That,” Easton Corbin
“Need You Now,” Lady Antebellum
“White Liar,” Miranda Lambert
Lady Antebellum made history in 2010, becoming the first group to win in this category twice and the first artist to ever win the award two years in a row.
“Chicken Fried,” Zac Brown Band
“I Run to You,” Lady Antebellum
“In Color,” Jamey Johnson
“People are Crazy,” Billy Currington
“Then,” Brad Paisley
Lady Antebellum was the surprise winner, beating out critical darling Jamey Johnson with their mid-tempo ode to love and devotion.
“Don’t Blink,” Kenny Chesney
“Gunpowder & Lead,” Miranda Lambert
“I Saw God Today,” George Strait
“You’re Gonna Miss This,” Trace Adkins
George Strait managed to win both Single and Album in 2008. “I Saw God Today” was his second single to win in this category, following 1996’s “Check Yes or No.”
“Anyway,” Martina McBride
“Before He Cheats,” Carrie Underwood
“Lost in This Moment,” Big & Rich
“Ticks,” Brad Paisley
“Wrapped,” George Strait
Not only was “Before He Cheats” the biggest country single of the year, it added a new dimension to Carrie Underwood’s musical personality. The crossover success was an added bonus.
“Believe,” Brooks & Dunn
“Better Life,” Keith Urban
“Jesus, Take the Wheel,” Carrie Underwood
“Summertime,” Kenny Chesney
“When I Get Where I’m Going,” Brad Paisley featuring Dolly Parton
Two up-tempo radio records competed against three spiritual hits, and the least compelling of those spiritual songs won. “Believe” was a surprise winner, also garnering Song and Music Video trophies for the duo. They again won Vocal Duo, bringing their total to four for the night.
“Alcohol,” Brad Paisley
“As Good As I Once Was,” Toby Keith
“Baby Girl,” Sugarland
“Bless the Broken Road,” Rascal Flatts
“I May Hate Myself In The Morning,” Lee Ann Womack
Womack won for her retro comeback hit. over four top five hits that also powered their parent albums past platinum.
“I Love This Bar,” Toby Keith
“Live Like You Were Dying,” Tim McGraw
“Redneck Woman,” Gretchen Wilson
“Remember When,” Alan Jackson
“Whiskey Lullaby,” Brad Paisley & Alison Krauss
Tim McGraw is among the artists most nominated in this category, but “Live Like You Were Dying” remains his only victory to date.
“Beer For My Horses,” Toby Keith & Willie Nelson
“Celebrity,” Brad Paisley
“Have You Forgotten?” Darryl Worley
“Hurt,” Johnny Cash
“Three Wooden Crosses” – Randy Travis
Cash died only a month before the 2003 CMAs, and while he’d already been nominated before his death, voters were filling out their ballots after he died and he ended up sweeping the show. This was the second posthumous victory in this category, following Keith Whitley in 1989.
“Blessed,” Martina McBride
“Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American),” Toby Keith
“Drive (For Daddy Gene),” Alan Jackson
“I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song),” Brad Paisley
“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” Alan Jackson
Alan Jackson dominated the 2002 CMA Awards, winning Single and Song of the Year for the 9/11 ballad that he debuted on the show one year earlier.
“Ain’t Nothin’ Bout You,” Brooks & Dunn
“Born to Fly,” Sara Evans
“I am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” Soggy Bottom Boys
“I’m Already There,” Lonestar
“One More Day,” Diamond Rio
Radio didn’t play it much, but record buyers still pushed the album past seven million in sales, helping the Soggy Bottom Boys win over four #1 airplay hits.
“Breathe,” Faith Hill
“Buy Me a Rose,” Kenny Rogers
“He Didn’t Have to Be,” Brad Paisley
“How Do You Like Me Now?!” Toby Keith
“I Hope You Dance,” Lee Ann Womack featuring Sons of the Desert
Womack’s first win in this category remains her signature song, an inspirational country hit that also found great success on adult contemporary radio.
“Choices,” George Jones
“Don’t Laugh at Me,” Mark Wills
“Please Remember Me,” Tim McGraw
“Wide Open Spaces,” Dixie Chicks
“Wide Open Spaces” was the single that moved the Dixie Chicks from rising stars to superstars, and its win was accompanied by their second consecutive Vocal Group trophy.
“A Broken Wing,” Martina McBride
“Holes in the Floor of Heaven,” Steve Wariner
“I Just Want to Dance With You,” George Strait
“This Kiss,” Faith Hill
“You Don’t Seem to Miss Me,” Patty Loveless with George Jones
Steve Wariner was a country star for fifteen years when he finally won his first major industry awards, taking home Single and Song honors at the 1998 CMA show for his tearjerker ballad.
“All the Good Ones are Gone,” Pam Tillis
“Carried Away,” George Strait
“It’s Your Love,” Tim McGraw with Faith Hill
“One Night at a Time,” George Strait
“Strawberry Wine,” Deana Carter
Deana Carter’s debut single won over a category full of established stars, and it also picked up Song honors for co-writers Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison.
“Blue,” LeAnn Rimes
“Check Yes or No,” George Strait
“Go Rest High on That Mountain,” Vince Gill
“My Maria,” Brooks & Dunn
“Time Marches On,” Tracy Lawrence
“It’s been a long time since I climbed up those stairs,” a surprised George Strait exclaimed upon winning this award. He went home with Male Vocalist and Album honors the same night.
“Any Man of Mine,” Shania Twain
“Baby Likes to Rock It,” The Tractors
“Gone Country,” Alan Jackson
“The Keeper of the Stars,” Tracy Byrd
“When You Say Nothing at All,” Alison Krauss & Union Station
Alison Krauss swept the CMA Awards in 1995, thanks to her hit cover of Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing at All.”
“Does He Love You,” Reba McEntire & Linda Davis
“Don’t Take the Girl,” Tim McGraw
“He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” Mary Chapin Carpenter
“How Can I Help You Say Goodbye,” Patty Loveless
“I Swear,” John Michael Montgomery
“I Swear” was an instant wedding standard upon its release, and helped cement John Michael Montgomery’s reputation as country music’s love song balladeer.
“Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” Dwight Yoakam
“Chattahoochee,” Alan Jackson
“Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,” Vince Gill
“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” George Jones & Friends
“Two Sparrows in a Hurricane,” Tanya Tucker
Alan Jackson’s Single of the Year win in 1993 was accompanied by a Song trophy for “Chattachoochee,” but he had to wait until 1994 to collect it, thanks to an oddity in the latter category that allowed songs to be nominated two years in a row.
“Achy Breaky Heart,” Billy Ray Cyrus
“I Feel Lucky,” Mary Chapin Carpenter
“Look at Us,” Vince Gill
“Love, Me,” Collin Raye
“Maybe it Was Memphis,” Pam Tillis
The Cyrus Virus was in full effect in 1992, and even CMA voters caught it, giving Billy Ray Cyrus the victory for Single of the Year over formidable competition.
“Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” Alan Jackson
“Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” Pam Tillis
“Friends in Low Places,” Garth Brooks
“Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares),” Travis Tritt
“Pocket Full of Gold,” Vince Gill
Garth Brooks won his only Single of the Year trophy from the CMA Awards for what is certainly his biggest hit.
“The Dance,” Garth Brooks
“Here in the Real World,” Alan Jackson
“Killin’ Time,” Clint Black
“When I Call Your Name,” Vince Gill
“Where’ve You Been,” Kathy Mattea
Vince Gill’s long run of CMA trophies began with his 1990 victory for Single of the Year for “When I Call Your Name.” It went on to win Song of the Year in 1991.
“After All This Time,” Rodney Crowell
“Better Man,” Clint Black
“Chiseled in Stone,” Vern Gosdin
“I’ll Leave This World Loving You,” Ricky Van Shelton
“I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” Keith Whitley
Whitley won posthumously for his haunting ballad, and his death shone an entirely new light on his performance.
“Do Ya,” K.T. Oslin
“Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” Kathy Mattea
“I Told You So,” Randy Travis
“Somebody Lied,” Ricky Van Shelton
“Tennessee Flat-Top Box,” Rosanne Cash
While it was “80’s Ladies” that won the Song of the Year trophy, that wasn’t nominated for Single of the Year. Kathy Mattea took it home for her biggest hit, which spent two weeks at #1, a chart rarity at the time.
“All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” George Strait
“Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You,” The O’Kanes
“Forever and Ever, Amen,” Randy Travis
“The Right Left Hand,” George Jones
“Walk the Way the Wind Blows,” Kathy Mattea
Randy Travis won with the record that made him a superstar, a song that became universally well known without ever crossing over to pop radio.
“Bop,” Dan Seals
“Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days),” The Judds
“Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her,” George Strait
“On the Other Hand,” Randy Travis
“Whoever’s in New England,” Reba McEntire
In a category stacked high with New Traditionalists, Dan Seals took home the trophy for his fifties-flavored dance number.
“Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” Mel McDaniel
“Country Boy,” Ricky Skaggs
“Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” George Strait
“Highwayman,” Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson & Johnny Cash
“Why Not Me,” The Judds
The Judds became the second professional duo to win this award with their victory for “Why Not Me,” and started the trend of same gender duos that dominated in the eighties and nineties.
“Holding Her and Loving You,” Earl Thomas Conley
“A Little Good News,” Anne Murray
“Islands in the Stream,” Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers
“Mama He’s Crazy,” The Judds
“To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”, Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson
“A Little Good News” was very good news for Anne Murray, who had been nominated for years without ever winning a CMA Award. It also served as the title track for her Album of the Year winner the same evening.
“Heartbroke,” Ricky Skaggs
“I Always Get Lucky With You,” George Jones
“I.O.U.,” Lee Greenwood
“Pancho and Lefty,” Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard
“Swingin’,” John Anderson
John Anderson’s biggest hit until his early nineties revival, “Swingin'” is very representative of the Urban Cowboy sound of the time, even if Anderson himself was not.
“Always On My Mind,” Willie Nelson
“Crying My Heart Out Over You,” Ricky Skaggs
“I’m Gonna Hire a Wino (To Decorate Our Home),” David Frizzell
“It Turns Me Inside Out,” Lee Greenwood
“Love in the First Degree,” Alabama
Willie Nelson had the biggest hit of his career with “Always On My Mind,” a single that sold more than two million copies and dominated multiple radio formats for the better part of a year.
“Elvira,” The Oak Ridge Boys
“I Believe in You,” Don Williams
“I Was Country (When Country Wasn’t Cool),” Barbara Mandrell
“Old Flame,” Alabama
“Somebody’s Knockin’,” Terri Gibbs
“Elvira” encapsulated the Oak Ridge Boys sound and helped them become top-sellers for most of the eighties.
“All the Gold in California,” Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers
“Coward of the County,” Kenny Rogers
“Good Ole Boys Like Me,” Don Williams
“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Jones
“In America,” Charlie Daniels Band
George Jones enjoyed new career heights with “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which is always included in the upper rankings in lists of the greatest country songs of all-time.
“Amanda,” Waylon Jennings
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Charlie Daniels Band
“The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers
“If Loving You is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right),” Barbara Mandrell
“You Needed Me,”Anne Murray
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” captured the imagination of record buyers and helped cement the popularity of Southern Rocker Charlie Daniels and his band.
“Blue Bayou,” Linda Ronstadt
“Heaven’s Just a Sin Away,” The Kendalls
“Here You Come Again,” Dolly Parton
“Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” Waylon & Willie
“Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck
The Kendalls, a father and daughter duo, found great success with their cleverly written moral dilemma.
“It Was Almost Like a Song,” Ronnie Milsap
“Luchenbach, Texas,” Waylon Jennings
“Lucille,” Kenny Rogers
“Margaritaville,” Jimmy Buffett
“Southern Nights,” Glen Campbell
“Lucille” became the big breakthrough Kenny Rogers had been waiting for, and he helped make it happen by suggesting a lyrical change in the second verse that stops the affair before it can happen.
“The Blind Man in the Bleachers,” Kenny Starr
“Convoy,” C.W. McCall
“The Door is Always Open,” Dave & Sugar
“Good Hearted Woman,” Waylon & Willie
“Teddy Bear,” Red Sovine
Waylon Jennings had recorded “Good Hearted Woman” years earlier, but it was with his live version with Willie Nelson that the song found its greatest popularity.
“Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” Freddy Fender
“(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” B.J. Thomas
“I’m Not Lisa,” Jessi Colter
“Rhinestone Cowboy,” Glen Campbell
“Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” John Denver
Freddy Fender’s beautiful bilingual hit won over a collection of remarkably popular records that dominated country and pop radio that year.
“As Soon As I Hang Up the Phone” – Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn
“Country Bumpkin” – Cal Smith
“If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” – Olivia Newton-John
“The Most Beautiful Girl” – Charlie Rich
“The Streak” – Ray Stevens
Cal Smith won for his tender tale of a young lady’s life through courtship, motherhood, and death.
“Behind Closed Doors,” Charlie Rich
“The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” Cal Smith
“Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine,” Tom T. Hall
“Satin Sheets,” Jeanne Pruett
“Why Me Lord,” Kris Kristofferson
Charlie Rich was very popular at the award shows in the mid-seventies, and it all started on the strength of his winning hit, “Behind Closed Doors.”
“Four in the Morning,” Faron Young
“The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.,” Donna Fargo
“Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” – Charley Pride
“One’s on the Way,” Loretta Lynn
“To Get to You,” Jerry Wallace
Donna Fargo’s hit is a sweet pop confection, but there’s a forward-thinking layer of gender equity underneath all of that sugary goodness.
“Amos Moses,” Jerry Reed
“Easy Loving,” Freddie Hart
“Help Me Make it Through the Night,” Sammi Smith
“Rose Garden,” Lynn Anderson
“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” Jerry Reed
This Kris Kristofferson-penned smash was recorded by several men before it was transformed by having a woman sing it, turning it into a song of empowerment that was revolutionary for country radio at the time.
“Fightin’ Side of Me,” Merle Haggard
“Hello Darlin’,” Conway Twitty
“I’m So Afraid of Losing You,” Charley Pride
“My Woman, My Woman, My Wife,” Marty Robbins
“Okie From Muskogee,” Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard’s small town answer to the era’s counterculture resonated far more deeply than even Haggard intended for it to, capturing a moment of time in America’s history from a perspective that wasn’t usually heard.
“All I Have to Offer You is Me,” Charley Pride
“A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash
“Daddy Sang Bass,” Johnny Cash
“Galveston,” Glen Campbell
“The Games People Play,” Freddy Weller
“A Boy Named Sue” is a bonafide classic, recorded live in front of San Quentin inmates. It’s a credit to Cash’s delivery that such a dark and disturbing storyline can be played so well for laughs.
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” Glen Campbell
“D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” Tammy Wynette
“Folsom Prison Blues (live),” Johnny Cash
“Harper Valley P.T.A.,” Jeannie C. Riley
“Honey,” Bobby Goldsboro
There’s a raw energy to the Riley hit that still packs a punch, long after miniskirts have raised their last eyebrow and Peyton Place left the airwaves.
“Danny Boy,” Ray Price
“The Fugitive,” Merle Haggard
“It’s Such a Pretty World Today,” Wynn Stewart
“Ode to Billy Joe,” Bobbie Gentry
“There Goes My Everything,” Jack Greene
Jack Greene’s victory at the first CMA awards established a trend that would often be repeated in this category: acknowledging the A-list hit of a B-list star.
Facts & Feats
- (2) –Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Lee Ann Womack
- (9) – George Strait
- (8) – Brad Paisley
- (7) – Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw
- (6) – George Jones, Miranda Lambert, Willie Nelson
- (5) – Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Waylon Jennings, Toby Keith, Kenny Rogers
- (4) – Glen Campbell, Eric Church, Merle Haggard, Faith Hill, Blake Shelton, Randy Travis
Most Nominations Without a Win:
- (8) – Brad Paisley
- (5) – Toby Keith
- (4) – Eric Church, Faith Hill, Blake Shelton