The Best Singles of the Decade, Part Three: #50-#26

The Best of the Decade, 2010-2019

Albums

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

Singles

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

Tanya Tucker’s stunning comeback makes its presence known, with two of her recent singles featured alongside stellar tracks from fellow legends and a handful of breakthrough singles from then-new artists.

 

#50

“Down Here”

Turnpike Troubadours

Turnpike Troubadours’ frontman, Evan Felker, has spent the last several years mired in controversy and rumormongering, which has turned him into the indie-country equivalent of a regular TMZ figure. But can he ever turn a phrase. The wordplays in “Down Here” would immediately get away from most other songwriters, but Felker is at the peak of his craft on this single: “You can have a nickel out of my last dime” is such a charming line that no one even screams at Felker for being a socialist, which sure is a nice change of pace right now. – Jonathan Keefe

 

#49

“The Wheels of Laredo”

Tanya Tucker

Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings understood that Tanya Tucker was one of the best vocalists in country music, and While I’m Livin’ was the reminder we needed.  With a voice as warm and vibrant as ever, “The Wheels of Laredo” announced Tucker’s return, featuring a captivating performance from the legendary artist.  – Leeann Ward

 

#48

“I Don’t Wanna Ride the Rails No More”

Vince Gill

This is a tender ballad from the point of view of a man who is finally ready to settle down. It’s laid back and simple, and just as sweet as any of his more popular love songs. – LW

 

#47

“You Can’t Make Old Friends”

Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton

This poignant collaboration was already drenched in melancholy when both of the legends were still with us.  The song accurately forecast Dolly Parton being alone on the stage as Kenny Rogers departs his earthly home, making it a sadly prophetic record.  They collaborated many times over the years, but it’s only “Islands in the Stream” and this that are truly essential listens.  – Kevin John Coyne

 

#46

“Little Toy Guns”

Carrie Underwood

The scars left by emotional abuse in a dysfunctional home are captured with vivid imagery on this Carrie Underwood hit.  It was largely overshadowed by the runaway success of its predecessor, “Something in the Water.”  But from my perspective, her exploration of the shadows of the human experience was more compelling than her celebration of finding the light. – KJC

 

#45

“Stuck Like Glue”

Sugarland

With “Stuck Like Glue”, Sugarland supplied a much-welcome blast of fun and personality to the increasingly dull country radio playlists of the time. Ten years later, it still makes me smile. – Ben Foster

 

#44

“Hell On Heels”

Pistol Annies

So fully-realized a mission statement that it took three full albums for a lot of people— I’m looking right at you, Grammy voters— to realize that the Pistol Annies are a legit band and not a novelty side-hustle. “Hell on Heels” slithers and struts over a minor-key guitar figure and sinister rhythm section, as each one of the Annies recalls the trail of men she’s left in her wake, without even a trace of regret or apology. The single is the antidote to misguided notions of authenticity. Sure, they’re playing dress-up, but when the songs are this note-perfect, no one should care. – JK

 

#43

“Daddy Lessons”

Beyoncé featuring Dixie Chicks

“Daddy Lessons” tells two stories: The first is about the ways families are stitched together, about how we inherit the trials and fears of those that come before us. The second is about how music stitches us all together, told through the kindred pairing of two Texas power acts. The Dixie Chicks and Beyoncé may inhabit different genres, but their styles and swagger and grievances are deliciously cohesive in “Daddy Lessons.” It’s a true delight to hear it all come together. – Tara Seetharam

 

 

#42

“Lonely”

Tami Neilson featuring Marlon Williams

A show-stopping vocal, a lush arrangement, and the visual of loneliness settling like dust over Nelson’s life: These elements transform “Lonely” into a song that stands amongst the genre’s classics. – TS

 

#41

“Beer Money”

Kip Moore

I remember first seeing this song’s title and thinking it was probably something that I wouldn’t even be able to tolerate, let alone still be listening to and enjoying years after its release. Its premise is simple, but the dynamics make it work. Moore is fully convincing as a working-class guy looking forward to the release of the weekend, while Brett James’ infectious, rock-laced arrangement immerses the listener in the story. – BF

 

#40

“Girl Goin’ Nowhere”

Ashley McBryde

Like a curtain lifting for the main act, the chorus of “Girl Going Nowhere” embodies the tingly anticipation of McBryde realizing her dream despite the doubt that surrounded her. She captures a specific sort of triumph: not spiteful or sad, but clear-eyed and underscored by gratitude. That’s not an easy balance to strike in a song whose hook is “not bad for a girl goin’ nowhere,” but McBryde does it with grace and an exceptional, restrained vocal. – TS

 

#39

“Gasoline & Matches”

Leann Rimes, Rob Thomas, and Jeff Beck

This delightful cover features firecracker performances from LeAnn Rimes and Rob Thomas, with a frenetic energy that has Rimes pushing Thomas to sound cooler than he ever has before.  – LW

 

#38

“Springsteen”

Eric Church

Name-dropping nostalgia trips were nothing new by the time Church came out with this 2012 hit, but thanks to its vividly detailed lyrics, Jay Joyce’s atmospheric production and Church’s subtly wistful performance, “Springsteen” still stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. – BF

 

#37

“Life Ain’t Fair (and the World is Mean)”

Sturgill Simpson

I’m a believer in the idea that things are only ever as bad as they’ve always been, but I sure do feel the hook of Simpson’s best single even more now than I did when I first heard it. The world is mean. That so much of the discourse around Simpson in the last two years has centered on whether or not it makes him an asshole for variously pointing that out only proves him correct. He’s not one to be pigeon-holed, and he made that clear early on: “The most outlaw thing that I ever done / Was to give a good woman a ring,” is a forceful rejection of early press that tried to reign him in as a Waylon Jennings clone. – JK

 

#36

“Hard Way Home”

Brandi Carlile

With just about anything that Brandi Carlile sings, one can’t help but hear the compassion in her voice. Don’t be fooled by the sing-along chorus and driving beat of “Hard Way Home.”  There’s a undeniable, underlying heart pulsating beneath the surface, as she wistfully acknowledges the difficult and sometimes lonely path that she has taken. – LW

 

#35

“Mean”

Taylor Swift

The first Taylor Swift track that I ever fell in love with.  The back porch arrangement is bewitching, but the potency of “Mean” comes with its twist toward the end, where she ruthlessly takes down her critic after appealing for kindness and decency throughout the song.  At the time, it could’ve been mistaken for a discordant note that undercut the intention of her message. In retrospect, it looks more like her first revelation that sharks swam under the surface of her girl next door image. – KJC

 

#34

“Smoke a Little Smoke”

Eric Church

A rollicking three-minute high that re-introduced Church as an artist who had the vision to match his oversized swagger. “Smoke a Little Smoke” works because it’s as inviting as it is audacious, embracing the listener like a rapturous cloud of smoke. – TS

 

#33

“Bring My Flowers Now”

Tanya Tucker

The message is simple: Appreciate the ones you love while you still have them with you. But hearing Tucker’s weathered voice sing, “We all think we got the time until we don’t” makes you take it to heart. A collection of simple yet poignant truths delivered by a woman who has lived it. – JK

 

#32

“The Older I Get”

Alan Jackson

As recently as the early 2000s, veteran acts could still score the occasional radio hit when a single was given an opportunity to connect with audiences who hadn’t been conditioned to homogeneous playlists. What a pity that Alan Jackson wasn’t given such opportunities after his commercial heyday. “The Older I Get” is perhaps the wisest and most empathetic single in a career that is remarkable for both its wisdom and empathy. While the genre was busy chasing the youth demo, Jackson embraced his age with grace. His catalog is so deep that it’s hard to pick a career-best, but “The Older I Get” certainly belongs in that discussion. – JK

 

#31

“If I Die Young”

The Band Perry

Perhaps the haircuts on those boys should’ve tipped us off that the Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” wasn’t heralding the second coming of the Carter Family.  But for one brief, glorious moment, an old time ballad reminiscent of the earliest days of country music not only found success on genre radio, but even crossed over to the pop charts.  That they signed off on the clunky remix that made the latter possible was unfortunate, perhaps because it truly indicated where they were going in the end. – KJC

 

#30

“Space Cowboy”

Kacey Musgraves

Apologists for mainstream country that has no substantive relation to the form or content of the country genre like to say that the genre must evolve to survive. That’s actually true, but that argument has to be grounded in an understanding of evolutionary science and not just defensiveness for liking a bunch of shitty Bruno Mars knock-offs performed in a barely-there Southern accent. “Space Cowboy” is one of the finest examples of how country music can evolve: The narrative is steeped in western imagery and heartbreak that ground the single within the country idiom, but the production and arrangement are crisp and modern. – JK

 

#29

“Girl in a Country Song”

Maddie & Tae

The year 2014 found country radio in the deepest depths of bro country hell. Maddie & Tae hit back brilliantly with their chart-topping debut single, which is ripe with biting, clever lines taking down the industry’s misogyny. It didn’t change country radio, but it did represent a moment in which women were allowed to be heard instead of just leered at. – BF

 

#28

“What Have I Done”

LeAnn Rimes

At the time of release, much had been said about Rimes’ personal life, and it was difficult to imagine her distilling the events into a song. But music’s finest quality is its ability to express the intangible – the smallest trace of thought or the slightest nuance of emotion. “What Have I Done” is a masterful example of this, a quiet shuffle of pain, regret and reflection that, if only for a few minutes, elevates a well-known story into a three-dimensional reality. In the end, Rimes manages to give life not only to her own pain, but to that of the man whose heart she shattered. – TS

 

#27

“Better Get it Right the First Time”

Rhiannon Giddens

While white nationalists and far right extremists carry assault rifles into state capitols and spit in the faces of police officers without fear, driving/walking/living/breathing while black can be a capital offense at any moment, whether it’s a cop with a badge or an overarmed neighbor who decides to play judge, jury, and executioner all at once.   Rhiannon Giddens captures the pain and injustice brilliantly on “Better Get it Right the First Time,” telling the tale of a young man shot down in cold blood.  The most potent punch comes in the second verse, when two choices are contrasted to illustrate that he will be blamed for whatever he does because he should’ve done the opposite:  “Did you stand your ground? Is that why they shot you down? Or did you run that day? Baby, they shot you anyway.”   – KJC

 

#26

“A Little Bit Stronger”

Sara Evans

A woman’s healing journey set to music. It begins with little victories such as finding the strength to continue with daily routines, or changing the station when a song reminds her of her ex. The intensity of Evans’ performance gradually deepens along with the narrator’s resolve. By the end, she finally sounds genuinely convinced when she sings, “I’m getting stronger without you, baby.” – BF

The Best of the Decade, 2010-2019

Albums

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

Singles

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

5 Comments

  1. Great opening comment by KJC in his review of “Better Get it Right the First Time” from Rhiannon Giddens. You speak the truth, something our racist liar in chief has failed to do over 18,000 times since he began disgracing the office of the presidency. I worry for the safety of my grandkids as they grow up.

  2. A surprising amount of entries for LeAnn Rimes on this list, and a good reminder of how overlooked “Spitfire” was.

  3. Love both of the Tanya Tucker songs on this list. “You Can’t Make Old Friends” is a great song, all the more poignant with Kenny’s recent passing.

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