Best Country Singles of 2009, Part 2: #20-#1

We proceed.


Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me”

Teen-pop perfection, bursting with personality and unshakable hooks. – Dan Milliken


Keith Urban, “‘Til Summer Comes Around”

There’s nothing quite as lonely as a carnival that has shut down, except for being alone at a carnival, surrounded by everyone but the love who has left you behind. – Kevin Coyne


Lady Antebellum, “I Run to You”

Sheer passion and pulsing energy from start to finish. – Tara Seetharam


The Civil Wars, “Poison & Wine”

How perfect a song for this duo, whose harmonies make the most venomous of lyrics go down as sweet as cherry wine. – KC


Oh, Alexis!, “Strugglin'”

The perfect jukebox number for the early morning hours, with a voice that makes you long for the whiskey and beer that has settled on its breath. – KC


Ryan Bingham, “Country Roads”

I say if our country tent is big enough for The Civil Wars and Taylor Swift, we can certainly make a little room in it for Bingham’s wide-open stomp ‘n’ roll. This is one of his best, too, an ode to elected homelessness that sounds tailor-made for its singer’s chimney-stack vocals. – DM


Dolly Parton, “Backwoods Barbie”

A fascinating self-portrait of sorts that Parton tackles with honesty, heart and that ever so rare quality of effervescent, unabashed self-confidence. – TS


Heidi Newfield, “What Am I Waiting For?”

No maudlin whining or cheesy mood-uppers here – just a long, honest look in the mirror by a woman struggling for the courage to get out of her own way. – DM


Zac Brown Band, “Highway 20 Ride”

“Highway 20 Ride” is a sweet, but sad, message from a father to his son who is separated from him as a result of divorce. – Leeann Ward


Reba McEntire, “Consider Me Gone”

Her most irresistible single since “The Fear of Being Alone”, with the same clear-eyed confidence that fueled that classic hit. This is country music by adults and for adults. More, please. – KC


Lee Ann Womack, “Solitary Thinkin'”

A shining example of the kind of song that makes me go genre-blind – because who honestly cares if a song is pop or blues or country when it’s so masterfully on-the-money? Womack wrings this smooth, slow-churning lounge tune of every last drop of boozy resignation and shameless self-pity. – TS


Carrie Underwood with Randy Travis, “I Told You So”

Nearly twenty years later and a classic country hit is reborn, thanks to a perfectly imperfect pair of voices and personas. The rough-and-pure quality of the duet is captivating enough, but it’s the deeper entanglement of  Travis’ understated, almost doubtful monologue and Underwood’s poised, heart-on-her-sleeve confession that turns this song into a memorable – and perhaps historical – moment in country music. – TS


Chris Young, “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)”

Much like Billy Currington does with contemporary country music, Young infuses this refreshingly traditional hit – about a stuffy night out that just ain’t going to last – with just enough sexual tension to make it feel flirtatiously rousing, without resorting to sleaze. His rich, charismatic vocal performance is second to none among the male country singles of the year. – TS


Sugarland, “It Happens”

Starting with an unshakably catchy guitar riff, “It Happens” is a joyous celebration of life and its ups and downs. – LW


Taylor Swift, “Fifteen”

What starts out sounding like a big-sister advice session slowly reveals itself as the narrator’s attempt to understand and accept her own past self. She was young and foolish, too starry-eyed to protect herself and a dear friend from the cruel disillusionments of life, and it’s only because time has passed that she’s found any relief from the shame of those failures. Like Swift in general, the song isn’t for everyone, but don’t let the high school setting fool you: “Fifteen” is anything but kid’s stuff. – DM


Patty Loveless, “Busted”

I didn’t think that anyone could ever rival the John Conlee version, but Loveless can channel the voice of the Appalachian poor just as effectively as Conlee can channel the voice of the blue-collar worker. – KC


Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, “Hesitation Blues”

“Hesitation Blues” is a blues standard that was revived by Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel and adapted into a cool Western Swing gem. As is the case with the entire album from which this song comes, the production is both refreshing and organic. While the sound is crisp, it also finds a way to sound properly dated. A difficult balance to successfully strike, to be sure. – LW


Brad Paisley, “Welcome to the Future”

In a genre that so often falls over itself idealizing the past, it’s refreshing to hear a major artist stick up for progress. The first two verses flirt with Boring thanks to Paisley’s typical reliance on quotidian details (“I was on a video chat this morning”), but the soaring arena-rock arrangement hooks you in long enough to get to the game-changing third verse, a moment of sincere, hard-earned joy for humanity that ties all the previous little details together and cements “Welcome to the Future” as one of the most significant singles of the year. – DM


Jamey Johnson, “High Cost of Living”

There’s nothing pretty about Jamey Johnson’s appearance, his voice or this song. That’s one of the fascinating aspects of Johnson’s appeal. “High Cost of Living” doesn’t boast a pretty ending; it’s just blunt, raw and a dang fine piece of country music as a result. – LW


Alan Jackson, “Sissy’s Song”

A great song, but an even better record. The way that Jackson essentially recites the conflicted verses that reveal his doubts about what he proclaims in the chorus with a gospel melody is brilliant. It’s not certain whether he truly believes that “she flew up to heaven on the wings of angels” and is “smiling, saying, ‘Don’t worry ’bout me.'”  But it’s what he has to tell himself he believes to make the grief manageable down here on earth. Sometimes faith comes from weakness and doubt, rather than strength and certainty. – KC


  1. Glad to see “Sissy’s Song” at #1 on your list. I was shocked that it was not nominated for song of the year at the CMA Awards!!

  2. Kind of surprised “Keep You” wasn’t on this list. Was it never officially released as a single, even though there is a video? It is one of my favorite songs on a fantastic album.

  3. I really love your choices for numbers 2 & 3 (#10 and a few others too), but for some reason, I could never get into “Sissy’s Song”. I like a lot of Alan Jackson’s stuff and this one honestly brought me to tears – from boredom. Just not my cup of tea, I guess. I couldn’t get past the lyrics to enjoy “I Run To You” either. As for “You Belong With Me”, I liked it upon it’s initial release, but it really wore thin after approximately one million listens. Country radio killed that one for me – and then Pop radio dug it back up and killed it again.

  4. Yup, “Keep You” never got released as a single. Not sure what the story is there. Sugarland hasn’t had anything going at radio since “Joey” stalled at #17, and that was a while back.

  5. I think so too, Kevin. I haven’t heard any news of a new album or about them in the recording studio, and I expected them to mine Love On The Inside for at least one more hit. There are enough to choose from, but ‘Very Last Country Song’ is the best of the bunch.

  6. I LOVE this list, with the exception of “fifteen,” i never got into that song. I am glad to see “CMG” by Reba on here, one of my favs shes ever done.

    Overall, considering the semi-crappy (but better than 2008) year, it’s a great list. Obviously, with Yearwood and Rimes still working on their albums and the Chicks on comission, its going to be hard to find a great single out in radioland.

  7. Sorry Leeann! I forgot to put Sugarland on there. Yea, I’ve been hearing “Operation: Working Vacation” on XM a lot lately. That was one of the songs they had on the deluxe edition of the Love on the Inside album. I hope they don’t pass over “Very Last Country Song” for that track choice.

  8. #20

    Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me”

    Teen-pop perfection, bursting with personality and unshakable hooks….

    … that alone ought to disqualify it as a best country single.

  9. @ Razor X

    The site’s called Country Universe, not Country Corner. I personally like a lot of pop-country that’s heavier on the pop than the country. (Can I get a Juice Newton in the house?)

    Perhaps that’s because I love pop music, though it’s a lot harder to make good pop than some producers realize. Replacing or removing the “country” elements of fiddle and steel may make a song more palatable to the pop market, but it doesn’t make for good pop music.

    Are her hits on this list country? Not any less than “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, “Rose Garden” or “Always On My Mind” were country. You don’t have to be traditional to be country. Heck, pop-flavored crossover is a long and storied tradition in country music, and there are countless classic singles and albums to show for it.

  10. Heck, pop-flavored crossover is a long and storied tradition in country music, and there are countless classic singles and albums to show for it.

    Absolutely. But Taylor’s music isn’t among those classics. But that’s all I’m going to say on the matter; I don’t want to start a controversy or hijack the thread.

  11. I agree 110% with the #1 song. I love “Sissy Song” and it really helps connect with anyone who has lost someone close.

  12. Razor,

    I agree with you about that, at least in the sense that I don’t care much for the song. I just don’t think that it is out of place on a country list. It’s a matter of taste, not genre classification.

  13. I agree with you about that, at least in the sense that I don’t care much for the song. I just don’t think that it is out of place on a country list. It’s a matter of taste, not genre classification.

    Actually, I think it’s a bit of both. I wouldn’t like Taylor’s music any better if it were only played on pop radio stations, but it wouldn’t annoy me nearly as much. She’s serving the needs of a particular demographic, which is fine, but traditionally there has been very little overlap between that demographic and the country audience.

  14. I agree. The teen/tween audience is incredibly intense in their support for an artist, but also they’re also the least likely to sustain long-term interest in that artist.

    Taylor Swift is the only country artist I can think of that has connected with that group. It will be interesting to see if they stay with her. She’ll have to outpace them in maturity by a few steps to remain relevant to them as they get older, I think.

  15. Can I be forgiven a post hijack just once? I’m kind of going crazy about this news and my extremely tenuous segue is from Razor X’s comment bemoaning the low likelihood of ever hearing the Dixie Chicks on country radio ever again. This is, for me, what euphoria feels like concurrent with a punch in the gut.

    Columbia’s momentum will likely get a further spike in the spring with the return of two of the three Dixie Chicks—sisters Marti McGuire and Emily Robison—who’ll release an album and go out on tour. Natalie Maines hasn’t left the band, but she’s said to be enjoying motherhood and living in Hawaii too much to go back to work just yet. The group’s last album, released in May 2006, debuted with 526k and went on to sell 2.46m…

    I am still incredibly excited to hear what Emily and Martie put together.

  16. I enjoyed #20 and #7 quite a bit this year, and I liked #18 and #3 as well. There’s a bouncy charm about “You Belong With Me” that I find irresistible, which was partly destroyed when the song was remixed for pop radio.

    As for why “You Belong With Me” deserves to be in this top 20 (in terms of genre): it was released as a single to country radio. Whether it is actually a country song or not is irrelevant, because I am assuming that one of the criteria to be eligible for “Best Country Singles of 2009” is that it is released as a single to the country music demographic. Now of course, there are plenty of songs that didn’t even come near radio, but that’s another matter entirely.

    Am I the only one that would prefer “Keep You” instead of “The Very Last Country Song” as a final single from Love on the Inside? And to make it worse, they had to tease me with a release and then rip it out of my hopeful grasp. Here’s to hoping the label changes their changed mind.

  17. Dudley,

    I feel as you do. I’m disappointed that Maines isn’t going to join Emily and Marty this year, but I’m curious and anticipate what the sisters will come up with. I just hope that they don’t become a permanant duo anytime soon.

  18. “Sissy’s Song” is just a horrifically boring spouting of monotone words. Other than that, the list is good.

  19. Originally, Martie was going to be putting out a solo instrumental album and touring to support it this year. I guess they decided to make it a collaboration instead, which will be quite a showcase of instrumental talent. “Lil’ Jack Slade” alone is proof of that.

  20. Like I basically said in the write-up, I don’t consider “You Belong with Me” a country song, except perhaps by association, like you might say for “Here You Come Again” or any number of hits like that. I think “Fifteen” could be called country-pop purely because of its storytelling style, which don’t seem as common (to my knowledge) in pop music, though the musical structure of the song is still clearly pop-based.

    This is just my weird thinking, but I feel more justified in including music like that on a country singles list than a country albums one. The singles market is mostly filled up with mainstream releases, most of which are pretty pop-sounding these days in some way or another. So it tends to be where I acknowledge the country-pop moments I really enjoyed. The albums market offers a lot more breadth and more of what I’d more willingly classify as “country,” so that tends to be where my slight traditionalist bent comes out.

  21. “I’m kind of going crazy about this news and my extremely tenuous segue is from Razor X’s comment bemoaning the low likelihood of ever hearing the Dixie Chicks on country radio ever again.”

    The Chicks are liars. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  22. “I’m kind of going crazy about this news and my extremely tenuous segue is from Razor X’s comment bemoaning the low likelihood of ever hearing the Dixie Chicks on country radio ever again.”

    The Chicks are liars. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

    Furthermore, just to set the record straight, I have never bemoaned the banishment of the Dixie Chicks from country radio.

  23. Well I’m pleasently surprised to see that “Sissy’s Song” at number one even though it won’t be number one on my own list. Not particularly fond of “You Belong With Me” but I do enjoy “Fifteen”. I would have switched a lot of songs in the top 20 for the ones in the ones in the top 40. I’m also disappointed that none of Miranda Lambert’s songs mde the list as I consider both “Dead Flowers” and “White Liar” to be amongst the best of the year. Still a list that introduces me to The Civil Wars can’t be all that bad :)

  24. Gus: “Fifteen??? You gotta be kidding!”

    It’s the best written song of 2009 and one of the best of the decade.

    Compare “Welcome to the Future”, which is the most overrated song of the year with its marveling at decades old technology (phone games, video conferencing) and crass race-baiting. You’d think Brad Paisley and his committee of co-writers would have been able to ace a teenage girl.

  25. Treacle and I are actually somewhat in agreement on this point, although I like both singles. I think “Welcome to the Future” succeeds more as a record (i.e., because of its production and overall feeling) than as a piece of songwriting. “Fifteen” was my #1 choice, although I think the production could have been a little better.

  26. KJC: “I don’t think you have an understanding of what “race-baiting” actually means.”

    Me: I think I do.

    TS: “I think the better comparison is “Fifteen” and “Letter to Me”.”

    Me: Agreed. But “Fifteen” is still a much better written song. I actually liked “Letter to Me”, but Brad Paisley captured something about what it’s like to be Brad Paisley. Taylor Swift captured something about what it’s like to be fifteen. That’s the difference for me.

  27. Treacle,
    How does “Welcome to the Future” “anger, intimidate or incite” anybody? How does it “make [people] behave in ways that are inimical, and often harmful to their personal or group interests”?

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