Our look back at the year’s best singles comes to a close, with unprecedented CU consensus at the top of the list. The top two singles of the year were ranked in that order by three of our four writers, and both appeared in the top ten of the fourth writer.
Here’s our ten best of 2010:
The Best Singles of 2010, Part 4: #10-#1
Draw Me a Map
Bentley is getting a lot of deserved attention for sonically diverging from the mainstream to create a bluegrass-inspired album. It’s an excellent album, but to his credit, “Draw Me A Map” isn’t so far removed from some of the unreleased songs on his first two mainstream projects; It’s just that he gets to shine a finer focus on it for this album, and therefore, this seemingly subversive song for radio gets to be released. The inspired blend of Bentley’s ragged voice with Alison Krauss’ angelic one takes the song to an even sweeter level. – Leeann Ward
Robert Louis Stevenson once remarked that “Hope lives on ignorance; open-eyed Faith is built upon a knowledge of our life, of the tyranny of circumstance and the frailty of human resolution.” He was talking, in context, about marriage. The truth is that no one enters a relationship completely free of burden, and only by submitting to the complications of that truth can we avoid being ruled by them. Wright, for her part, manages the task with simple, earnest grace, probably strengthening her relationship through mere acknowledgment of its weaknesses. – Dan Milliken
Drop On By
Laura Bell Bundy
Unlike the year’s other booze-induced lover’s call, “Drop On By” isn’t rooted in emotional dependency; it’s fueled by Bundy’s earthy physical longing – and what a longing that is. Proving her masterful interpretative skills, Bundy churns out a slow-burning performance that’s both deftly controlled and achingly sensual, with just a tinge of playful warmth woven through. The song’s kicker, though, is the smoky throwback arrangement – a delicious mix of blues, jazz and country – that not only fits Bundy like a glove, but pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a great country record. – Tara Seetharam
Giddy On Up
Laura Bell Bundy
The most interesting and surprising debut single that I can remember. So many creative and unexpected choices are made, but it is Bundy’s forceful personality that pulls it all together into something cohesive. In an era of country music that is little more than dull shades of gray, “Giddy On Up” is a Technicolor marvel. – Kevin Coyne
As She’s Walking Away
Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
A young man just about chickens out of approaching the radiant girl across the bar, panicking that “my heart won’t tell my mind to tell my mouth what it should say.” Luckily, Wise Older Man At Bar can see exactly what’s going on and nudges Junior into action. A bit silly, but the single radiates such warmth that you gobble it up. And if there was a more motivational moment in 2010 than Alan Jackson’s spoken “Go on, son,” well, I didn’t hear it. – DM
Smoke a Little Smoke
Church finally puts his music where his mouth is, delivering an unapologetic, roguish (for country radio, anyway) ode to escapism by intoxication. The erratic musical flow evokes the very physical sensations the song celebrates, and Church’s swagger makes bumming sound almost appealing. Turns out that if you stop talking about being a badass for long enough, you may just manage to kinda be one. – DM
If I Die Young
The Band Perry
“If I Die Young” arrives like a gift from an alternate universe, one where the public’s embrace of Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, and O Brother was treated as a road map for the genre’s future, not just a passing interest that needn’t be cultivated. – KC
Stuck Like Glue
Every once and awhile, a piece of ear candy comes along that defies the term “ear candy.” That’s what “Stuck Like Glue” is, to be sure: an infectious acoustic-pop morsel, invigorated by Nettles’ insanely joyful performance and a genre-busting breakdown. But there’s something about the song that puts it on another plane. Maybe it’s the organic energy, or maybe it’s the lack of artistic inhibition. Or maybe it’s the simple fact that “Stuck Like Glue” doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not. It just is. And as a result, it’s that rare breed of song that taps into your spirit – that demands you to stop thinking, start feeling and have a damn good time. – TS
Little White Church
Little Big Town
It probably owes some theme to “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” but Little Big Town’s swampy sleeper hit is the coolest-sounding country single of the year all on its own. From handclaps to snarling electric licks, creepy whispers to gospel-esque call-and-response choruses, “Little White Church” is a potent reminder of all the creativity still bubbling under in Music City. – DM
The House That Built Me
Miranda Lambert’s career defining song is also our song of the year. Not much can be said about this gorgeous ode to childhood memories that hasn’t already been said better by countless writers before me, including our very own Dan Milliken, which helps make the case for what’s inevitably the song of the year on many 2010 countdowns.
Its all-acoustic, understated arrangement underscores the story of a woman who tries to find solace in the memories buried in a structure that was more than a house. Its descriptive lyrics move us as they detail memories from turning blueprints into the family dream home to the heartbreak of losing the family dog.
As it is always is with the best songs, “The House that Built Me” does not hit us over the head with its emotional resonance. It’s strong, it’s palpable, but it’s all done with gentleness, which is the most effective way to tug at the heartstrings. – LW
Check out the rest of the list:
Great list! “THTBM” is easily number one. Good to see “Smoke a Little Smoke” at number 5. Love that song immensely.
No arguments on the top few. I might not have put them there, but I understand why they are there. “If I Die Young,” on the other hand, continues to baffle me. It’s been around for months, and I still don’t get the appeal. So glad to see “Broken” representing, although I think Chely is just about to the point where she needs her folks to start working her to AAA and Adult Top 40 instead of Country.
Now for an omission…maybe I’m in the minority on this, but I thought Zac Brown Band’s “Free” would be high up here. There’s a reason this song jumped toward the pop mainstream, and it wasn’t the usual gimmicks associated with country crossover.
Don’t even know if Chely was worked to Country this time out – we just included her because, y’know, why not. She ain’t any less traditional than most of what’s out there anymore. :/
I like “Free” a lot up until that “We don’t have a lot of money / All we need is love” buildup. I don’t expect a lot of lyrical subtlety from Zac Brown Band, but Jeez Louise.
Regarding Chely Wright: If the problem is that her aesthetic isn’t “country” enough for the format, then I call hypocrisy on account of all the watered down arena rock and bubblegum pop masquerading as country that’s regularly embraced.
If the problem is that her songs are actually intelligent and explore important themes in an adult way, then all I can say is that it’s a sorry reflection of what the country format means and an even sadder commentary on the taste and interests of the modern country listener.
In any event, I’m down with “Draw Me a Map,” “Broken” and “The House That Built Me.” “Stuck Like Glue” I can understand making the list, but it seems ranked awfully high for what it is. It strikes me that in a stronger year, this would be lucky to make the top 20. But then, maybe I’m just cranky.
Turns out that if you stop talking about being a badass for long enough, you may just manage to kinda be one.
It strikes me that in a stronger year, this would be lucky to make the top 20.
Speaking personally, I don’t think that would be the case for me.
I think between the two Wright problems Travis poses, the second would be more the case. But the main reason she wouldn’t be played on the radio right now is simply that she’s not a label that could get her there. More modest labels just can’t seem to manage the same promotional push or whatever B.S. it takes in the radio system.
It was a pretty weak year for singles but I don’t have much issue with your rankings EXCEPT your #2 & 3 selections are pretty weak – I doubt that either belongs in the top twenty
Normally, my more contemporary poppy taste in country music (and often bad taste, I will admit) often conflict a bit with the year end lists. But I have to agree with a lot of these this year.
I have to completely agree with Stuck Like Glue. Sure, maybe it’s lyrics don’t break any new ground. But there is something about the song that transcends the song itself, and just plain makes me crack a smile every time a hear it.
I haven’t found anything I’ve much liked about the Zac Brown Band until now, and I can’t say I’m a fan of Alan Jackson for the most part either. But there’s something about As She’s Walking Away that makes me really like it. I guess the whole “not giving up” thing is kind of universal.
Giddy On Up was another cool song this year. Before I had even figured out that I liked it, I was amused by it
I was even happy to find my fav. song of the year, “Undo It”, in the top 20. I’m impressed!
Any chance our fantastic writers will provide their personal lists as well?
@Dan Milliken – I understand the issue of not being able to compete with major labels for radio’s attention, but I was responding to John, who said: “So glad to see ‘Broken’ representing, although I think Chely is just about to the point where she needs her folks to start working her to AAA and Adult Top 40 instead of Country.” That suggested to me that he, as a listener, felt that Wright was no longer an appropriate fit for country radio. That’s a different issue than how big the advertising budget of her label is.
@Travis McClain Ahh, sorry for misunderstanding.
Travis, it’s actually quite the opposite. My taste in music is much broader than what the typical country radio PD gives their listeners credit for. She’s on a Vanguard label now, and Adult formats are more where there strength is in promotion. I’m only thinking in terms of focusing efforts where they will provide the strongest results.
@John – Then it seems to me that you are, in fact, suggesting that Chely Wright’s material isn’t a good fit for the country format. I get your point, and I largely agree. What I’m saying is that country should hang its head that it would reject her material, while embracing far weaker material that’s no more aesthetically country than hers.
Consider that in the 70s country had room for Haggard and Jones, Waylon and Willie, Conway and Loretta, Kenny and Dolly…today we only seem to have room for pop stars whose sole country credibility comes from name-checking Johnny Cash.
In any event, back on track, I’m stunned looking over this cumulative top 40 list at how little 2010 did for me. I was aware throughout the year that very little resonated with me, but now I’m wondering what business I have bothering to keep up with country music in 2011.
Travis, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, because I think it’s a great fit. I absolutely could hear “Broken” following up a Sugarland or Zac Brown Band song on the radio. Then again, both of those artists have songs getting airplay at Adult Top 40 radio, so maybe that’s where I’m hearing it. The only country radio station I listen to anymore is the Highway on Sirius, which fortunately has a more open-minded programming approach while still remaining firmly mainstream.
Funny you should mention Johnny Cash, because I was thinking the same thing the other day. I hate that he’s become a reference point like John Deere tractors and sweet tea.
Love this portion of the list. I found it pretty exciting that the top four of the top five singles appeared on my Best of list for my blog! Nice to see we agreed on that many songs…I feel that my list has been somewhat validated by yours and that isn’t a total joke haha
Love that THTBM is number one…as it should be!
Personal Top 5:
1. “Little White Church”
2. “The House That Built Me”
3. “What Do You Want”
4. “If I Die Young”
5. “Stuck Like Glue”
@John – I’m not sure you understand my point so let me try again.
You suggested that Chely have her material directed to the Adult Contemporary format instead of Country. I read that to mean that you felt her material was out of place on a country station. We’re in agreement about liking the song and wishing to hear it on country radio. All I’m arguing is that if country radio thinks she’s a bad fit–and clearly it does–then I find that shameful.
A great finish to this countdown! Couldn’t agree more with your number one choice.
I had almost forgotten about Chely’s “Broken,” but that was a great single, and it definitely deserves to be on this list.
My jaw dropped when I saw “Giddy On Up” in the Top 10 (though I more or less expected “Drop On By”). I thought all the critics hated that song. I like it myself, but I regarded it as something of a guilty pleasure. But I’m glad to see it on the list, since the massive amount of personality thrown into it made it one of the most unforgettable singles of the year. (“Oh, I ain’t finished yet. Sit back down!” Love it!)
I don’t really like “Smoke a Little Smoke,” but I can respect the artistic ingenuity behind it. Also, I believe that “Stuck Like Glue” and “Little White Church” deserve to be right where they are on this list! I mean, come on, we are ALWAYS going to remember those two songs. Wuh-oh, wuh-oh…
Absolutely love the paragraph about THTBM, and I agree with its #1 position.
I’m shocked–almost disheartened–by the inclusion of “Giddy On Up.” I’m going to need further explaining on this one.
I think Colder Weather should have been a top-tier song. The Zac Brown Band has a good hit if it continues to chart and is allowed to be pursued instead of being pushed off for another single.
For me, we’re in an era of country music that is reminiscent of the early 80’s. You get a classic here and there that can stand with the greats – “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, “Always on My Mind”, etc. – but most of the memorable stuff has a novelty sheen to it. (“Islands in the Stream,” “Elvira”, “Swingin'”, etc.)
The vast majority of what’s out there is falling so short of the genre’s historical standards that most of what’s actually connecting with me is aiming fairly low in the first place. But at least it’s scoring.
My Top 10 would have been…
#1 The House That Built Me: Miranda Lambert
#2 If I Die Young: Band Perry
#3 Draw Me A Map: Dierks Bentley
#4 From A Table Away” Sunny Sweeney
#5 Playing the Part: Jamey Johnson
#6 Free: Zac Brown Band
#7 Drop On By: Laura Bell Bundy
#8 Swingin’: LeAnn Rimes
#9 Mama’s Song: Carrie Underwood
#10 As She’s Walking Away: Zac Brown Band
Great list and I agree with all the choices. I haven’t heard “Broken” but every other song is well deserved. I was surprised by “Gitty On Up” and “Smoke A Little Smoke” but after thinking about it, both belong here.
My personal list is located here:
“Stuck Like Glue” is horrible. If it were any artist but Sugarland that recorded that it would have never made the list. Sugarland gets a pass in many ways because they are always trying things. It’s the example of failing while being different instead of being good at doing the same thing. That doesn’t make the song good though. The song is almost unlistenable and it relies on the earworm mentality because it has nothing interesting to say.
@Stephanie – “Giddy On Up” has more personality, color and confidence than almost any other single this year; more importantly, it actually sounds entirely authentic, which is rare for a novelty song.
@Brian – you’re right that “Stuck Like Glue” likely wouldn’t have made our list if Sugarland hadn’t recorded it. But that’s because there are very few artists out there who could’ve pulled it off. Nettles owns it. It’s hardly a fail in my eyes, but to each his own.
Thanks for the efforts – write-ups are all well done. I always enjoy reading best of music lists – such as your top 400 singles of the 90’s as well as this top 40 – even though I don’t often agree with your selections. It’s hard to argue against Miranda as #1 even though I don’t play it very often. Other songs I like here are by Zac, BP & CW although they would not have made my top 10. Obviously tastes differ but I like the tone at CU. The top ten list that most reflects my taste is by JR Journey at MKOC. I liked 7 of his 10 selections.
Not a bad list. I wholeheartedly agree with your #3-#1 picks, those were the best of the year, IMO.
I LOVE Tara’s write up of “Stuck Like Glue,” it described the song and why I like it to a T.
Interestingly, I think this is the first year since “Before He Cheats” made it onto the list, that Carrie Underwood didn’t make the top ten… Am I wrong? Though, there were better single releases than her’s in the last year or so.
The folks at MKoC are awesome and they have great lists for sure. Our lists here are limited by not including unreleased songs.
Tara: I think “Stuck Like Glue” raises two different issues. The first one is that- as I said earlier- if anyone else sang it we would never mention it among one of the year’s best.
If you follow that logic though that “Nettles owns it,” (a sentiment I don’t necessarily disagree with) then the second question is- does that make it a poor song in the hands of a good vocalist?
That’s what I think the song is. A bad song sung by a good singer. To me, that doesn’t make it a good song. It means that someone good at what they do elevated the material they performed. That can work in reverse too when a good singer sings bad material (see George Strait’s “The Breath You Take)
Nevermind, Underwood only made the top ten here at CU in 2009 (“I Told You So”) and 2006 (“Before He Cheats). But I do believe she has been present on every list since 2006.
OOPS, *since 2005. [on every best singles of a year list]
George Strait didn’t save “The Breath You Take”, but Nettles elevates a silly song. It’s meant to be silly though, while “Breath” is meant to be poignant but comes off as trite. If you look at past reviews of Sugarland songs, you’ll certainly see that they don’t get free passes here. I can’t even call myself a fan of theirs; I just like a few songs.
@Brian – no, I don’t think it’s a bad song sung by a good singer. I think it’s one of those polarizing songs that could be bad in the hands of the wrong artist, and great in the hands of the right artist. I’m not sure how else to put that. I’m a firm believer in the power of an emotive vocal and its ability to transform lyrically mediocre songs into great songs (though that’s not the only thing that elevates “Stuck Like Glue”). I think my writing at CU documents that well (my “Temporary Home” review, for example).
@Zack – thank you!
For me “Stuck Like Glue” hinges so much on the reggae breakdown. Without that, I find it pretty forgettable. With it, I’m a happy man.
Ditto to Dan.
No arguments for me in the Top 10.
LeeAnn: You are missing the point of my George Strait comment. I’m saying that’s a terrible song and it drags Strait down to it. Strait’s a pretty good singer but there was no one saving that mess of a song.
Tara: I think you’re splitting hairs and making a semantical distinction between what I’m saying and what you’re saying.
If I may jump unceremoniously into the discussion, hopefully not misinterpreting anyone’s comments:
I think it’s fair game to speculate that “Stuck Like Glue” might not have succeeded in someone else’s hands, and may therefore not be an “objectively good” song (though of course no such thing totally exists), but as Leeann said, it’s a false assumption that we only like the record because it has the Sugarland stamp on it.
Now, as to the question of whether it’s a “bad song” elevated by a good singer, and whether it should not be here because of that, here’s my take: it’s a sort of meh pop song (omitting the breakdown, anyway) that becomes the vehicle for a really entertaining performance. I think that performance does elevate the single into something worth hearing, much the same way, like, Jeff Bridges’ and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performances in Crazy Heart elevate that movie into something more or less worth seeing. It doesn’t mean you don’t notice the shortcomings, but the strengths are good enough to make the experience as a whole recommendable (though I think “Stuck Like Glue” is a better overall than Crazy Heart, but you know).
Although just personally, I can’t think of an artist going right now who I wouldn’t enjoy hearing do the song, maybe just because I do like artists to mix things up. Imagine the spectacle of, like, Tim McGraw doing it. It’s just that no country act but Sugarland would do it.
With respect to “Little White Church”–it’s probably the only current Hot Country radio hit that I can say would have fit in well back in the mid-1980s, being done by the Maria McKee-led Lone Justice; it has that “cowpunk” feel to it (IMHO).
Re. “The House That Built Me”–I can definitely side with the idea of it being the #1 single of 2010. Thus far, it’s really the only thing of Miranda’s that I like (I feel its follow-up, “Only Prettier”, is a clinker).
I enjoy “Stuck Like Glue” from beginning to end, but the reggae breakdown really holds it together. I didn’t really realize that until I heart the reggae-free edit on the radio. The song is just not the same without it. I think part of the reason for the song’s inclusion, in addition to Nettles’ performance, is the creativity displayed by the inclusion of the reggae rap. Yes, the lyrics are inane, but I think there are plenty of redeeming qualities that make up for that.
Brian, I think Tara and Leeann have both offered perfectly respectable expressions of their viewpoints (even though not everyone agrees), and I can’t see where Leeann is missing your point – It appears to me that she understood your Strait comment perfectly, and expanded on it with some further thoughts..
As for “Only Prettier,” I like the song itself, but the clunky arrangement keeps it off of my personal yearly favorites list.
Lambert’s song is good, but number 1??? She has better singles than that :\
Re: a weak song made appealing by the artist. Take a gander at George Jones’s discography sometime. It wasn’t all “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “She Thinks I Still Care.”
Re: “The House That Built Me” – Sometimes a really effective song is a bad single, because the single appears on radio in various contexts. For instance, if it came on the radio after “Broken” (to use an example from this list), you get a sense of a narrative of going through the muck and trying to find a way out. Following “Stuck Like Glue,” though, establishes a different context and might make “House” be a buzz kill.
I rarely listened to radio this year, so I can’t speak to how it held up over the year, coming on after countless songs of varying tone. All I know is that I bought Revolution last year and when I got to “House,” I had one of those rare moments when I just knew it would be a huge song if released. It calls for the listener’s attention and touches on a very accessible theme: looking to our roots to help us find our way. Lambert sounds like a grown-up sorting through grown-up issues on the track. It may have worn thin on radio, but I still take notice when it plays on my iPod.
My #1 would be “Need you Now”, 2 would be THTBM, 3, Little White Church 4, As She’s Walkin Away and 5, If I die Young
Ben: Where did I say LeeAnn and Tara didn’t offer respectable expressions in contrast to my opinion?
It’s pretty clear that they and I have vastly different opinions on the song. I never said anything to the contrary.
To me, it’s a bad song with a great vocalist singing it. Because of that it becomes a better song. Also, it is different from so much of the cookie-cutter nature of country music anymore. They disagree with that. That’s fine- different strokes.
No worries. I enjoy the discussion. Merry Christmas! :)
Did George Strait’s “Where’ve I Been All My Life” just get released as a single, or did I make that up?
If so, I’d put that up there with THTBM in the top 2. If not, I’m on honestly not sure what I’d sure what I’d put. Great point made earlier about 2010 being like the early 80’s, where there just weren’t that many good songs that left a lasting impression .
At the risk of stirring things up more, I actually liked “The Breath You Take.” It sure didn’t make me want to go out and buy the whole album, but when I heard it on the radio, I never changed the channel.
Travis, I think we’re closer on the topic than I thought originally. Thanks for the clarification. It just felt like you thought I was pigeonholing the song, which was not my intention. The first time I heard “Broken,” I knew Chely was still a player in the music industry game, even if country radio wouldn’t be in the mix.
If maggie creek road was released as a single, i guarantee that it wouldve been #1
“At the risk of stirring things up more, I actually liked “The Breath You Take.””
No stir here, but I do want to give you a little bonk on the head.
Thanks for keeping me in line.
Could we get a review of Colder Weather by the Zac Brown Band up? I enjoy the song and would like to know what you guys on the site think. I would put the song just outside the top ten for 2010 lyrically, telling a good story with some good detail drawing out the story; nothing that will be a hit for years to come I don’t think though. It would rate fairly high for it’s overall melody and simple instrumentation that seems typical with Zac Brown Band’s ballads. It is once again instrumentation that plays into the lyrics instead of taking anything away or drowning them out. Overall it gets a good grade, somewhere well above the average line, but not yet at great.
At this point I have not yet thoroughly scrutinized “Colder Weather.” First impression: I like the simple production, but the lines about him being “born for leavin'” and whatnot and how he’s “never gonna change” just made me go “Oh not that again.” I guess I’m just a little tired of hearing about that particular character.
I was actually expecting Emily West’s “Blue Sky” to appear on this list. anyway, it’s just my opinion.
Going off-topic here, but I was discussing the current state of country music tonight with a friend and I posited the theory that part of the reason for the blandness of so much current radio fare has to do with the televised awards shows. The ACMs, CMAs and whatever the hell it is that CMT puts on each year all draw decent viewers. That, I believe, has become the tail wagging the dog.
There was a time when these shows were meant to recognize music; now it seems that music is made to be featured on these TV broadcasts. It’s like how our politicians no longer stop campaigning after election day; they instead begin positioning for the next election, forgetting to actually govern or legislate between elections.
This translates into middle-of-the-road material, meant to appeal to–without offending–as many viewers as possible. That means no singing about anything sad unless it’s an exercise in generic narcissism, and you can name-check Merle Haggard so long as you don’t sing about being an inmate (unless, of course, it’s a novelty song).
Great list as usual! I was just wondering are we going to get the chance to see each writters individual lists?
The only song I wish was on here that wasn’t (and it could be b/c it wasn’t a single, I’m not sure) is Court Yard Hounds, “Ain’t No Son”. Not mainstream of course, but an awesome song that deserved radio play.