Can we call up our 2019 selves and tell them that this feature will not go by faster than we think?
Kenny Chesney, “Don’t Blink”
#1 | 2007
ZK: Of all the “old man gives young person life advice” tracks of the 2000s, this is my pick for one of the better ones and proof that Chesney was more than a one-trick pony living on the sand. Ain’t no way I’d have it this high, though. Too High
KJC: When I initially reviewed this song, I was still processing my father’s death, so I fully understand how this can resonate with listeners. But it never made it into heavy rotation with me over the years, and listening to it again now, I can understand why. It’s a retread of the superior “The Good Stuff,” right down to the bedside goodbye to the partner of many years, and it lacks the intimacy of that record. Talking directly to a bartender after a fight feels more immediate than listening to a television interview of a centenarian. Too High
JK: I know it’s one of Chesney’s more well-regarded hits, but it honestly never really landed with me the way that it seems to have landed with a lot of people. Had this been his highest-ranked entry and it had been back in the 300s– or, as I’ve said so many times, had “Anything But Mine” been correctly ranked as his best single– I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye. But this is way Too High for Chesney, however popular he may be.
Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”
#1 | 1969
KJC: A classic, for sure, and I still get a kick out of my favorite childhood poet having also been a legendary songwriter. In the Cash canon, and the country canon overall, this is Too High, but hearing it again still made me smile.
JK: God, this list has made me so frustrated with Johnny Cash and his catalogue. This ranking is deranged. Too High
ZK: I wish we still sent live versions of singles to radio. I’m not old enough to remember artists doing that, but I miss it anyway. Anyway, the approach to this definitely wouldn’t fly today, but as a fun, not-the-least-bit-serious look at bullying and survival, this has always been a riot. But a fun novelty record in the top 40 just ain’t gonna fly. Too High
Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
#1 | 2003
JK: If an Alan Jackson duet we’re going to be ranked this highly, it should’ve been “As She’s Walking Away” with ZBB. This is a fun single, but one of the 40 best in the genre’s history? Absolutely fucking not. Too High
ZK: A testament to Alan Jackson’s hot streak in the early 2000s. I love it. I’d have it pretty high, but No. 38 is a little much. Too High – Don’t blame me for redundant comments; blame Sirius.
KJC: I’ll co-sign Jonathan’s suggestion above, and add that if this had been swapped with the other Greatest Hits II single “Remember When,” which was ranked at #310, I’d have been satisfied with both placements. Too High
Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”
#1 | 1978
ZK: For as much as there’s room for debate for several of Kenny Rogers’ top songs, this is the consensus pick for his crowning moment, and I’m inclined to agree with it. Hell, I’d argue for its placement within the top 10. Too Low
KJC: This song was such a part of my childhood that I didn’t even know it was about something more than gambling until I was a teenager, and I didn’t realize that the gambler died in the second verse until I was in college. I’d put “Lucille” here personally, but either one of them at #37 would be About Right
JK: The expected pick for Rogers’ highest-ranked entry, and of course it’s a classic. Personally, I’d have it as his fifth or sixth highest. But compared to some of the other nonsense that they’ve pulled, this isn’t an egregious offense. About Right
Jason Aldean, “Big Green Tractor”
#1 | 2009
KJC: Nashville’s been gaslighting me for twenty years about this guy, insisting that I can’t trust my own ears. I still think that he stinks. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
ZK: You see, when I think of the top 40 songs in country music, I think of storytelling wit, emotionally honest performances, and a generally tasteful presentation of it all. This never goes beyond the tractor ride, and Aldean’s delivery ain’t helping matters any. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Brooks & Dunn, “Neon Moon”
#1 | 1992
JK: The only country single of the 90s that I’d rank ahead of this one is “Maybe It Was Memphis.” So, even though we’re in the top 40, I’m going to say that this stunning honky-tonk ballad is Too Low.
ZK: Brooks and Dunn made some damn good working-class, beer-drinking anthems. But Ronnie Dunn’s spectacular voice was always best suited for the slow-burns, including this lonely yet hopeful masterpiece that’s among the best of the decade, and in the history of country music. I might have it in the 50s or so, but I really can’t argue with it. About Right
KJC: It really is a perfect record. I might put it a little higher or a little lower, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s About Right. I could stack the top fifty with nothing but perfect records.
Tim McGraw, “Don’t Take the Girl”
#1 | 1994
ZK: I’m not sure which song started the “multiple meanings of the hook at the end of each chorus” structure that seemed to dominate the ‘90s (Kathy Mattea’s “Where’ve You Been,” maybe?), but there’s plenty of singles that did it both right and wrong. This is one I’ve always been in the middle on: it’s cute, it’s heart-wrenching, but also kind of sappy and predictable with that ending. I kind of get why it’s one of McGraw’s biggest hits, but … So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
KJC: Tim McGraw doesn’t even sing this song regularly in his set list, but it’s #34 of all time? Come on now. “Indian Outlaw” and “Don’t Take the Girl” broke him big, but he used that breakthrough to get access to top drawer material. He has too many great songs for him to be represented by this one. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: Hate the maudlin, preposterous songwriting. Hate McGraw’s mawkish performance of it that plays up an accent he’d very quickly try to mask. That it made him a massive star will never not be baffling to me. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”
#1 | 1969
KJC: It isn’t even his most interesting social commentary, let alone his best record overall. It belongs, but it’s Too High
JK: Tell me Sirius doesn’t understand Haggard’s artistry without telling me Sirius doesn’t understand Haggard’s artistry: This is his highest ranked entry, and his highest ranked entry is outside the top 30. Where. Even. To. Begin. Too High
ZK: Sorry, but Haggard’s material always resonated louder when he was speaking from the heart, rather than a platform. It’s a song with a complicated legacy that always shows up high on these lists, but I’d rather be talking about “Silver Wings” or “Sing Me Back Home” here. Too High
Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”
#1 | 1987
JK: A marvel of construction, especially from a melodic standpoint and that just perfect “Oh, darlin’” hook, and a song that beautifully captures the banalities of aging with grace, wit, and connection. A deserved classic, and I’d say this is a bit Too Low.
ZK: I don’t remember if this ripped off “Love Without End, Amen” or if it was the other way around, but this has always been the superior version to me. Randy Travis’ delivery is always just so warm and inviting, enough to where otherwise tasteful fluff comes across as innocently sincere. It’s not the Travis song I’d have this high, but it belongs somewhere around here. Too High
KJC: As big a record as the genre had seen at the time, especially for a pure country song that got no crossover airplay. Back to the wall, I’d probably have his top ranking be “On the Other Hand,” but I can’t argue with this placement at all. About Right
Johnny Paycheck, “Take This Job and Shove it”
#1 | 1977
ZK: Yes, obvious Paycheck song to include is obvious and all, but if you want to really talk about all-time greats, give me “Old Violin.” Then again, with that stellar hook that everyone wants to likely scream regularly, there’s a reason why it’s become his most well-known song. About Right
KJC: Speaking of not realizing things about a song, I was well into adulthood when I realized that he doesn’t actually quit and it’s all a fantasy in his mind. A pure classic that is just a little Too High.
JK: As with Rogers above, the obvious pick for Paycheck’s highest entry wouldn’t be my personal choice. I do love the raucous energy of this record, which few other artists could have delivered as convincingly, and it’s certainly a version of the working man’s blues that resonates. Still, I’d say this is Too High.