Ah, the naughties. The decade began and ended with pop crossover queens, with Shania Twain and Faith Hill at the top of their game in 2000 much like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood reign supreme today. In between, we had the roots music boom, best exemplified by O Brother and the platinum-selling Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss & Union Station; the post-9/11 patriotic explosion, which brought Toby Keith and Darryl Worley to the top of the charts; the near-total banishment of women from the country radio dial for a good part of the decade, which started to fade as redneck pride ascended, thanks to a certain woman trying to make Pocahontas proud; and far too many tributes to country living and island-flavored beach bum songs to count.
All of this made for a fascinating decade to be a country fan. As radio worked its way through all of the above (with the notable exception of roots music), the internet made it far easier for acts to be discovered without ever getting a single spin of traditional radio play. With MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and the explosion of country music blogs, the barriers have been torn down between artist and audience in a way that was never possible before.
The motley crew of Country Universe has a diversity of tastes that fit within the widest boundaries of country music, as reflected our collaborative list of the 100 best albums of the decade. Five of our writers contributed to the list, with all writer’s selections being weighed equally. We’ll reveal ten entries a day until the list is complete. A look back at the greatest singles of the decade will then follow.
The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1
Abigail Washburn, Song of the Traveling Daughter
Song of the Traveling Daughter is the debut album from Uncle Earl claw hammer banjo player Abigail Washburn. Produced by Béla Fleck and featuring Ben Sollee, it is a subdued album filled with intriguing instrumentation and influences. Standout songs include “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” with its interesting Civil War period influence; the upbeat “Coffee’s Cold,” originally performed by Uncle Earl; and “Song of the Traveling Daughter,” based on the classical Chinese poem “Song of the Traveling Son.” – William Ward
Recommended Tracks: “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, “Coffee’s Cold”
Kim Richey, Rise
Her ambitious swan song for Mercury Records was perhaps her least accessible record, with an emphasis on eclectic arrangements instead of hook-laden melodies. It’s also her most deeply rewarding record, one that is remarkably introspective and fully delves into themes of faith and mortality that her earlier work had only hinted at before. – Kevin Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “A Place Called Home”, “No Judges”
Little Big Town, The Road to Here
The quartet’s second album catapulted them to the forefront thanks to the swampy anthem, “Boondocks,” and was a breath of fresh, earthy air to mainstream country music. Packed with tight harmonies and songs ranging in style from bluegrass-leaning to Fleetwood Mac-inspired, the album served as a window into the raw talent and potential of one of the best groups to hit country music in quite some time. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “Boondocks”, “Live With Lonesome”
Dolly Parton, Halos & Horns
A gorgeous, gospel-heavy album, with tasteful bluegrass elements. Parton is effervescent as usual, and rid of any self-consciousness, which makes “Hello God” overwhelmingly stirring. A response to the September 11 tragedies, the song has Parton pleading and philosophically wrestling with God, in the sincerest of ways. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “Hello God”, “John Daniel”
Brad Paisley, Part II
Sometime back before the Future, before the smirking social commentary and the endless odes to his wife, Brad Paisley was just a silly little neotraditionalist writing silly little neotraditional songs about the twists of everyday life and love. Part II captures him at his most unassuming and tuneful, waxing breezily about courtships and feeling out his new place as a neotrad spokesperson with a few classic roots songs, plus a cute Bill Anderson/Chuck Cannon co-write (“Too Country”). – Dan Milliken
Recommended Tracks: “Wrapped Around”, “Come On Over Tonight”
Patty Loveless, Strong Heart
More so than any Loveless album since leaving MCA, Strong Heart draws on her pop and rock influences, with a healthy dose of Ronstadt thrown in for good measure. The contrast between her hillbilly wail and the pop-leaning arrangements of several songs manages to make her sound even more rural than she normally does. Arguably her last mainstream project, she proved that she can sound just as good chasing radio as she does ignoring it. – KC
Recommended Tracks: “The Last Thing On My Mind”, “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again”
Sara Evans, Real Fine Place
One of the finer female vocalists in the genre, Evans is a fantastic interpreter on her fifth album, carefully treading both traditional and pop country waters. The warmth and purity to her tone is prominent on this album, and this is particularly true of the songs with more traditional arrangements, on which she shines the brightest. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “Cheatin’”, “These Four Walls”
Sarah Jarosz, Song Up in Her Head
Sarah Jarosz’ much hyped debut with Sugar Hill Records features Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Aofie O’Donavan, and Abigail Washburn. Notable tracks include “Shankill Butchers,” a Decemberists cover that outperforms the original; the progressive acoustic “Song up in Her Head,” reminiscent of Nickel Creek; and “Come on Up to the House,” an impressive Tom Waits cover. – WW
Recommended Tracks: “Shankill Butchers”, “Come On Up to the House”
Terri Clark, Pain to Kill
This album made Clark a serious contender for Female Vocalist, the only time in her career that she reached that level of success. It’s as radio-friendly as her first two albums, but the material is substantive. This is the best collection of songs that she ever assembled, and by a healthy margin. When Trisha Yearwood finds something to cover from a record, you’ve done a great job picking songs. – KC
Recommended Tracks: “I Just Called to Say Goodbye”, “Not a Bad Thing”
Dwight Yoakam, Population: Me
Genre superhero Yoakam stretched his habit of excellence into a third decade, beginning with the quirky South of Heaven, West of Hell soundtrack and continuing with this solid set. The album is notable for distilling a wide assortment of Yoakam’s mastered sounds into about half an hour, from the Eaglesy (“The Late Great Golden State”) to the Owensy (“No Such Thing”) to the Elvisy (“I’d Avoid Me Too”), all united by the singer’s uniquely buoyant brand of fatalism. – DM
Recommended Tracks: “I’d Avoid Me Too”, “The Back Of Your Hand”
Pop on those thinking caps; we’ve encountered a dilemma that Wikipedia alone cannot remedy!
See, like any warm-blooded entertainment blog, CU totally gets off on ranking stuff. So naturally, we’ve been hard at work piecing together our opinions on the decade’s finest albums and singles. The former category has proven easy enough to probe; the latter, however, presents a significant challenge, since singles that aren’t mainstream hits are often swept under the public carpet as the years go by.
I think it would be a shame to overlook some of the Aughts’ best work just because of our limited recall and research abilities, though, and I know our readers are diverse and knowledgeable enough to help us fill in the gaps. So I’m inviting everyone to name a bunch of their lesser-known favorites to help us broaden our selection pool (and have a little fun while we’re at it).
For example, my personal list would include:
Nickel Creek, “When You Come Back Down”
Dolly Parton, “Shine”
Alison Krauss & Union Station, “Restless”
Alison Krauss & James Taylor, “How’s The World Treating You”
Loretta Lynn with Jack White, “Portland, Oregon”
Old Crow Medicine Show, “Wagon Wheel”
Ryan Adams, “Let It Ride”
Pinmonkey, “That Train Don’t Run”
Randy Rogers Band, “Somebody Take Me Home”
Ashley Monroe, “Satisfied”
Bruce Robison, “All Over But the Cryin’”
Randy Travis, “Dig Two Graves”
And those are just some of the easy ones. But I’ll let y’all take over: What are some of your favorite non-hit singles from the past decade? Feel free to include anything from any classification of country – mainstream, Alt-Country/Americana, bluegrass, Texas, independent – and definitely include as many as you like, especially if you have a few that haven’t been mentioned yet. If it didn’t go Top 20 and was shipped to radio, it’s fair game!
Wasn’t there anyone who could tell him that this wasn’t going to work? It’s a terribly awkward effort to force a classic concept into a current framework. (See also: Lorrie Morgan, “1-800-Used-To-Be”)
Reba McEntire & Kelly Clarkson, “Because of You”
This could’ve been great. Two great singers, one great song. The fatal flaw is that it just doesn’t work as a duet. The lyrics don’t make sense when it’s two people singing to each other.
Lonestar, “Mr. Mom”
Mr.Mom was the first movie that I saw in theaters. Back then, the concept of a stay-at-home Dad was novel. By the time this song rolled around, it was hard to even take the conceit of the song seriously. This guy’s not struggling because he’s a guy. He’s struggling because he’s a bumbling fool.
Kenny Chesney, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”
The song that made Chesney a superstar doesn’t involve him lounging around on a tropical island, but it sure does make me thankful that he stopped singing about country living.
Kellie Coffey, “When You Lie Next To Me”
It’s rarely the prototypes that are terrible. It’s usually the copies. By the time “Where Were You” became “I Raq and Roll”, the post-9/11 song was insufferable. Here’s what “Breathe” finally devolved into: a schlocky mess that is such a lazy copy that “Just breathe” becomes “Just be.”
Toby Keith, “Stays in Mexico”
Though it’s a fairly tasteless song to begin with, production choices sink this one in the end. Silly sound effects and a backing track that makes “Hot! Hot! Hot!” seem subtle and understated push this dangerously close to novelty status.
Rascal Flatts, “Bob That Head”
A desperate attempt to come off like edgy rockers.
Taylor Swift, “Picture to Burn”
Criticizing Swift for being an irrational teenager is like criticizing water for being wet. But this really is Swift at her absolute worst. Not only is a juvenile lyric coupled with a disastrous vocal performance, both of which are bad enough in their own right. But the underlying message that most of Swift’s songs send to her teenage girl audience is on most naked display: Your happiness and self-worth are solely determined by the men and boys in your life.”
John Michael Montgomery, “The Little Girl”
The most horrific “inspirational song” that I’ve ever heard is directly ripped off from an urban legend that showed up in songwriter Harley Allen’s inbox.
Chad Brock, “Yes!”
Nothing captures how country music embraced mediocrity better than this Chad Brock single, which actually spent three weeks at #1. The storyline is completely unbelievable, the production is as generic as a Karaoke track, and Brock’s performance is so faceless that it might as well be a demo recording.
As awful as some of the other songs on this list are, they at last aspired to make a larger point. Spectacular failures can still demonstrate a noble ambition. “Yes!” aspires to be nothing more than radio filler, and it succeeded in dulling down the radio dial during its entire run. Hearing it again on satellite radio last month was the inspiration for this list. The song’s only indication of personality being the exclamation point in the title? That secured its place atop the list. It truly does represent country music being drained of all of its heart and soul until just a token fiddle is all that’s left to identify it as such.
Time’s running short. If your personal least favorite wasn’t in Part 1, Part 2 , or Part 3, perhaps it will turn up now.
The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 4: #20-#11
The Lost Trailers, “Holler Back”
If your response to hearing “Holler Back” is to brag that you’ve got a holler back in the woods, I suggest that you and your music stay there.
Trailer Choir, “Rockin’ the Beer Gut”
I appreciate the sincerity, but it can’t overcome the fact that he’s rockin’ the Autotune and singin’ the most ridiculous lyric of the year.
Bucky Covington, “A Different World”
Bucky and I are roughly the same age, and I know for a fact that we grew up with seat belts, video games, and remote controls. What’s next, Taylor Swift singing about growing up without the internet?
Toby Keith featuring Krystal, “Mockingbird”
As endearing as it is that Toby Keith wanted to help his daughter on to country radio, I have to ask the question: Why is one of country music’s greatest all-time vocalists aping James Taylor’s far less capable vocal stylings? Did we really need to hear Toby Keith sing, “Yes indeed-o?”
Billy Ray Cyrus featuring Miley Cyrus, “Ready, Set, Don’t Go”
Then again, trying to help your daughter is a heck of a lot more sympathetic than riding on her coattails. I’d give this a pass if it was the original recording, but slapping Miley on to the track when the solo version is struggling at radio is just sad.
Blake Shelton, “The Baby”
Or as he sings it, “The Bay-ay-bee.”
Neal McCoy, “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On”
Of all of the nineties stars to make a one-off comeback, did it have to be the man who brought us “The Shake?”
Gretchen Wilson, “All Jacked Up”
In which Wilson sees both her front tooth and her pickup truck damaged, and pundits are left debating which one best symbolizes what she’s done to her career.
Brad Paisley, “Ticks”
A warning to all the ladies: If a stranger starts talking to you like this at a bar, please don’t follow him into the woods. It won’t end well.
Trace Adkins, “Swing”
The strikes are called after you swing, not before them. Stupid songwriters.
After Part 1 and Part 2 , we’re wading further into the sea of mediocrity.
The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 3: #30-#21
Terri Clark, “Dirty Girl”
Double entendres are a lot more enjoyable when the naughty meaning is the real one.
Jamey Johnson, “The Dollar”
Real kids don’t talk like this.
Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Love Will Always Win”
This treacly ballad is the nadir of Trisha’s career and one “It’s Midnight Cinderella” away from being Garth’s as well.
Darryl Worley, “Have You Forgotten?”
Featuring more straw men than a Wizard of Oz audition.
Clint Black, “I Raq and Roll”
“Have You Forgotten?” without all the nuance and subtlety.
Shania Twain and Billy Currington, “Party For Two”
Proof positive that spoken dialogue can ruin a song before it even begins.
Martina McBride, “God’s Will”
He was dressed as a bag of leaves? That’s his costume? Hey, at least she didn’t kill him off in the last verse.
Brooks & Dunn, “Play Something Country”
There are so many poorly written female characters in Brooks & Dunn songs, it’s hard to pick just one to represent them all. But I’ll give the nod to this one, simply because it has her howling the title to a melodic hook that’s a blatant rip-off of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”
Jason Aldean, “Johnny Cash”
The “country star as song name” trend hasn’t yielded anything worthwhile, but at least “Tim McGraw” and “Kristofferson” have some tenuous connection to their titular song. “Johnny Cash” is just shameless name-dropping.
Gretchen Wilson, “Red Bird Fever”
In retrospect, this should’ve been a huge red flag that Wilson wasn’t built to last. My personal favorite moment of this St. Louis Cardinals shout-out comes in the chorus, when she sings “Let me get a big ‘Go Cards!’ from the Red Bird fans like me. Go Cards!” and the backup singers answer back, “Hell yeah!” because they couldn’t be bothered to change the “Redneck Woman” backing track.
As we begin our look back on the last ten years in country music, we’re starting with the bottom. Over the next few days, you’ll be reading about the worst that country music sent to radio in the 2000s, much of which they actually played.
But first, a disclaimer. This list makes no attempt to objectively list the worst singles of the decade. If that’s what I was going for here, I’d just post a collection of homemade tracks and twenty Rascal Flatts singles and call it a day. Instead, this list takes a broader view, including songs from accomplished artists that were just disappointing, copycat and fad-chasing numbers, and just plain old mediocre efforts.
This isn’t the type of thing we normally do, but I’m sure I’ll hear what I’m right about, what I’m wrong about, and what I forgot to include in the first place! Look for the best-of lists to follow as the year starts winding down.
The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 1: #50-#41
Mark Wills, “19 Somethin’”
Pick a decade, man.
Toby Keith, “Who’s Your Daddy?”
The biggest casualty of Keith’s ascent to superstardom was his quality check. When your label lets you put out anything and radio goes ahead and plays it, the blame must be spread around for such silliness as this.
Halfway to Hazard, “Daisy”
In which a girl’s sole reasons for existing are to make a boy a man, lead him to God, and give him a child. After that, you can just kill her off in the final verse. This is why people hate country music.
Martina McBride, “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden”
McBride’s bloodless cover of the Lynn Anderson classic lacks all of the layers of irony found in the original, but it secured its place on this list by the parenthetical addition to the title. “Oh, it’s that song about a rose garden!”
Rascal Flatts, “Revolution”
Then again, if Martina sounds like she doesn’t get the layers of meaning in “Rose Garden”, Rascal Flatts make clear they have no idea at all what John Lennon was singing about on the White Album. That they have the audacity to start going “Shoo-be-doo-bop” in the background as Gary LeVox sings about Chairman Mao is simply insane.
Joe Nichols, “If Nobody Believed In You”
He’s worried that God is finally giving up on mankind. He was able to keep the faith through all those epic wars and acts of genocide, but no prayers in public school pushed Him over the edge.
Miranda Lambert, “Dead Flowers”
Person #1: “Wow, this song has no melody at all.”
Person #2: “Did she just compare herself to Christmas lights?”
Person #1: “And it just goes on forever. Who’s singing this anyway?”
Person #2: “It’s by….Miranda Lambert.”
Person #1: “Miranda Lambert?…..It’s…..brilliant!”
Person #2: “Yes. Brilliant!”
Lady Antebellum, “Lookin’ For a Good Time”
She should look for an Autotuner instead.
Billy Gilman, “She’s My Girl”
“The way she moves, the way she grooves. She drives me wild with her wild-child smile.” It took Billy Gilman singing a romantic song to make all of his inspirational songs seem painless in comparison.