As with the similar CMA category of Single of the Year, looking over the history of this category is the quickest way to get a snapshot of country music in a given year. There is a quite a bt of consensus among the two organizations here, and it is very rare for the winner at one show to not at least be nominated at the other. The winners list here would make a great 2-disc set of country classics, at least for those who don’t mind a little pop in their country. The ACM definitely has more of a taste for crossover than its CMA counterpart, and the organizations have only agreed on 17 singles in the past four decades and change.
As always, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back to 1968.
- Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
- Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
- Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
- Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
- David Nail, “Red Light”
There’s usually a “Huh?” nominee among the ACM list in recent years. This year, it’s David Nail. Good for him! Currington hasn’t won yet for this hit, even though he got himself a Grammy nomination for it. With Lady Antebellum reaching the upper ranks of the country and pop charts with “Need You Now”, my guess is that they’re the presumptive favorites. Then again, Miranda Lambert is a nominee for the third straight year, and she’s up for her biggest radio hit.
- Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
- Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
- Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder & Lead”
- Heidi Newfield, “Johnny and June”
- Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ On a Woman”
Adkins has been a fairly regular fixture on country radio since 1996, but this was his first major industry award. He also won the ACM for Top New Male Vocalist in 1997.
The debut country offering by Broadway star Bundy is one of those weird critical anomalies: a single that dares you to hate it, and thereby ends up being – though you’ll never admit it to anyone in person – kind of charming. It wears its campy garishness more boldly than possibly any country release since “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” which isn’t so surprising coming from the former lead of Legally Blonde: The Musical, but is certainly big news in a format as dependent on the tried-and-true as mainstream country.
That’s not to say “Giddy On Up” (commiserate with me for a sec on that title?) is a completely odd duck, since in plot terms, it’s is just another cutesy girl-power kiss-off song, the likes of which have been standard fare since the Shania boom and will probably be for some time to come. This one can stand proudly among the most vacuous of that sub-genre, too, with the only original lyric being a little knock on Bath & Body Works in the second verse.
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 7: #80-#61
“When Somebody Loves You”
A treasure of a love song. Contrasted stunningly with modest accompaniment and vocals, the song’s message is that of love’s sublime ability to transform one’s life and bring light to dark. – Tara Seetharam
“Separate Ways” is an instructive narrative of a couple who did everything together, but “the last thing they did together was go their separate ways.” Fortunately, the song’s narrator learns from his parents’ divorce and wisely applies its valuable lesson to his own relationship. – Leeann Ward
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 5: #120-#101
“Tonight I Wanna Cry”
A chillingly frank portrait of loneliness, awkward reference to “All By Myself” notwithstanding. Few mainstream vocalists today could pull off something this intense. – Dan Milliken
Loretta Lynn with Jack White
Peak: Did not chart
If you can take a healthy dose of dirty rock ‘n’ roll in your country, this is one of the coolest-sounding records of the decade, a classic one-night-stand duet. That it’s a very cross-generational pairing singing it would be creepy if not for the goofy smiles shining through Lynn’s and White’s performances. – DM
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 3: #160-#141
Lee Ann Womack
Womack’s second-best Aughts song about late-night temptations is still better than a lot of people’s first-best songs about anything. Even in avoiding her drunken ex’s advances, she sounds positively heartbroken, suggesting she’d gladly make the other decision if she didn’t know better. – Dan Milliken
“She’s Not Just a Pretty Face”
Her motivation for her music has always been escapism, but I love the personal touch she slips into this one. Her late mother is the one who she’s referring to when she sings “at night, she pumps gasoline.” – Kevin Coyne
The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 3
Martina McBride, Timeless
McBride has a voice that would have been as relevant in country music fifty years ago as it is today, and her album of cover songs exemplifies this. She doesn’t attempt to move any of the songs to a different level, but instead inhabits the artists’ original style with precision and spirit. The result is a pure, respectful homage to the country greats. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “Make The World Go Away”, “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”
Felice Brothers, Yonder is the Clock
The Felice Brothers are the least-known among the members of ‘The Big Surprise Tour’ headlined by Old Crow Medicine Show and featuring Dave Rawlings Machine with Gillian Welch, and Justin Townes Earle. Melding country-rock and folk-rock, they are roots-influenced and made their start playing in the subway. While it may take an extremely big tent to call them “country,” consistent Dylan comparisons make Yonder is the Clock hard to ignore. – William Ward
The CMA Awards are upon us again, and I must say that this is the most underwhelming lineup I’ve ever seen, and I started watching the show back in 1991. We’ll be back to live blog the festivities on Wednesday night. In the meantime, enjoy our personal picks in each category, along with who we think will actually win.
- Kenny Chesney
- Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
- George Strait
- Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan
- Keith Urban
- Kenny Chesney
- Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
- George Strait
- Taylor Swift – Dan
- Keith Urban
Leeann: I won’t be shocked (or really even disappointed) if Taylor Swift picks it up, but I really feel it’s finally Brad’s year.
Dan: Swift is the face of the genre right now, and she’s putting out better-written material than many of the veterans in this category. It looks like a race between her and Paisley, and I think she may actually get it.
Tara: It wouldn’t be inappropriate for Swift to take this award, and I would much (understatement) prefer her to win this over the vocalist award. But to me, Paisley is the all-around entertainer, and I think it’s his year to be recognized.