Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Four: #10-#1

The countdown concludes. Scroll down to the bottom to hear samples of each song and to share your comments.

Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Four: #10-#1

Love Done Gone
Billy Currington

Individual Rankings: #1 – Leeann; #1 – Jonathan; #13 – Tara

While many might get caught up in Billy Currington’s smoldering love songs, he’s really the most charming when he loosens up and has a little fun. While “Love Done Gone” is technically about lost love, Currington’s breezy performance along with the festive horns makes it seem more freeing than heartbreaking. As a result, the song turns out to be his most compelling since “Good Directions.” – Leeann Ward

Edens Edge

Individual Rankings: #4 – Tara; #6 – Dan; #9 – Ben; #12 – Kevin

A 90’s-throwback gem, “Amen” shimmers in a different way than most of the songs on this list. There’s no striking life lesson or clever turn of phrase – just a fresh hook and an earnest, slightly unconventional love story between a preacher’s son and a farmer’s daughter. But there’s magic in its recipe: from the charmingly organic arrangement to the endearingly spirited performance to the adorably written story line – “whooped and hollered” tops my favorite phrases of 2011 – “Amen” is the sweetest package sent to country radio in years. – Tara Seetharam

Sparks Fly
Taylor Swift

Individual Rankings: #2 – Jonathan; #5 – Dan; #5 – Tara; #19 – Ben

Of all of the many, many things “Sparks Fly” proves that Taylor Swift understands, perhaps the most important is this: If you’re going to order someone to, “Drop everything now,” you’d better make sure they have reasons to want to. – Jonathan Keefe

Threaten Me With Heaven
Vince Gill

Individual Rankings: #3 – Kevin; #7 – Leeann; #9 – Tara; #13 – Dan; #13 – Jonathan

Can anyone be this strong when facing down their rapidly approaching death? Perhaps only in song. For those who can pull this off in real life, their faith blows away those who can merely move mountains. – Kevin John Coyne

Barton Hollow
The Civil Wars

Individual Rankings: #3 – Jonathan; #4 – Sam; #7 – Tara; #8 – Leeann; #8 – Dan

“Barton Hollow” may be a song about a dead man walking, but, with its stomping percussion line and force-of-nature vocal performances, it plays more like a determined march right to the front-line of a war zone. If the Devil’s going to follow the Civil Wars wherever they go, they sound more than ready to throw down. – Jonathan Keefe

Colder Weather
Zac Brown Band

Individual Rankings: #1 – Tara; #6 – Jonathan; #7 – Sam; #9 – Leeann; #11 – Ben; #15 – Kevin

A piano, a wanderer’s tale and killer vocals are the bones of this song– none of which are unique to country music. And yet, “Colder Weather” pleads like the best country songs, hurts like the loneliest of country stories. It serves as an elegant reminder that while country music is sometimes marked by a fiddly sparkle, it can also turn up in the form of pure emotion – and how Brown emotes. His performance is both soulful and skillful, embodying the rambler’s spectrum of emotions with chilling accuracy – longing, regret, defeat, hunger – right down to the final line that rings hauntingly hollow: “It’s a shame about the weather / But I know soon we’ll be together / And I can’t wait til then.” – Tara Seetharam

You and Tequila
Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter

Individual Rankings: #2 – Ben; #3 – Leeann; #3 – Dan; #9 – Kevin; #10 – Tara; #17 – Sam

“You and Tequila” is a great reminder of just how good Kenny Chesney can be when he’s not releasing the same song over and over again. In classic Matraca Berg fashion, “You and Tequila” is a deftly constructed lyric that displays intelligence and self-awareness, while the beautiful acoustic arrangement makes “Tequila” easily one of the year’s finest and most memorable singles. Grace Potter’s sweet harmony adds a delicious icing to the cake.- Ben Foster

Hell on Heels
Pistol Annies

Individual Rankings: #2 – Leeann; #2 – Tara;  #4 – Jonathan; #8 – Kevin; #11 – Dan; #13 – Ben

For those of us who think that Miranda Lambert is one of the bright spots in an otherwise bleak mainstream country landscape these days, could there have been much more exciting news than that she would be hooking up with Ashley Monroe, somebody that we at Country Universe have previously lamented going under the radar, to form a trio with songwriter Angaleena Presley? Happily, the prospect of such an exciting trio did not disappoint, as the Pistol Annies turned out to be the most refreshing act of the year with any chance of mainstream success.

Their debut single, “Hell on Heels,” signaled that the group were a force to be reckoned with, both in attitude and artistry. From the beginning swampy guitar riffs, it’s obvious that the characters in this song are going to live up to the fiery title. Furthermore, the Annies turn in a performance that is so eerily calm that it effectively creates the intended aggression of the story. As a result, “Hell on Heels” is one of the most unique and refreshing singles to get anywhere near a radio playlist in 2011. – Leeann Ward

Cost of Livin’
Ronnie Dunn

Individual Rankings: #1 – Dan; #3 – Ben; #6 – Tara; #7 – Kevin; #7 – Jonathan; #9 – Sam; #12 – Leeann

The toll of a corrupt, abusive economy, encapsulated in one man’s fractured personal account. If that sounds a bit like an “I am the 99%” speech, it’s a testament to how well “Cost of Livin'” – begun in 2008, long before mass havoc finally led to mass protest – found the pulse of present-day America. The brilliant choice to frame the song as a job interview allows it to explore both why Dunn’s character deserves the work he and his family needs, and why he likely won’t get it.

In short, the most frighteningly real song of 2011. – Dan Milliken

Taylor Swift

Individual Rankings: #1 – Kevin; #1 – Ben; #3 – Tara; #4 – Dan; #8 – Sam; #10 – Leeann; #17 – Jonathan

You know what I love about Taylor Swift? She has a real knack for tapping into emotions and experiences that are personal to her, but conveying them in such a way that any listener can see it as his or her own story set to music. The deeper and more personal she gets, the more we feel it as listeners.

Some might write off “Mean” as a cheap comeback to the oft-heard criticism that “Taylor Swift can’t sing,” but to do so is to miss the full scope of feelings that the song addresses. It speaks to anyone who’s been insulted or disrespected by those who cross the line between constructive criticism and plain cruelty, doing so with some of Swift’s most raw and honest lyrics to date.

It all makes for a most delicious slice of musical catharsis. In addition to being one of the flat-out best lyrics Swift has written, the song features a Shania Twain-esque singalong melody, not to mention one of the coolest and countriest productions of any mainstream release this year. In multiple aspects, “Mean” is clearly the work of an artist who was willing to step outside the box, making it a standout achievement for Swift, and a definite standout moment on radio playlists.

I can see a few jaws dropping at this somewhat divisive selection, but we make no apologies for it. A case could be made for a number of other worthy songs taking this top spot, but for me there’s just no getting round the fact that “Mean” is the one 2011 single release that I will be replaying the most in years to come. Thus, it’s a great pleasure to name “Mean” our top single of 2011. – Ben Foster

Previous: Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Three: #20-#11


  1. Wow, that was a bit of a surprise. I knew you guys liked Taylor Swift, but not that much! But it’s a pleasant surprise.

    I’m also very much in agreement on more or less everything on this list – it’s been a good year for country singles, especially at the top end.

  2. Certain artists I just can’t listen to no matter how good the song is. That eliminates 3 of the top 10 songs for me. My #1 would be Cost of Living.

    One of my favorite songs of the year is David Bradley’s “Hard Time Movin’ On”. JR Journey at MKOC reviewed it in March and gave it an A. I was looking forward to JR’s top 10 singles for 2011 but he has not posted at MKOC since the end of November. Roughstock had Hard Time at #11 for the year. It was written by Rivers Rutherford and Gordie Sampson and featured a harmony vocal by Rodney Crowell. It would have made my top 10.

    Overall, I have really enjoyed CU’s top 40 efforts, the write-ups and ability to hear part of each song since quite a few were unfamiliar to me. Thanks.

  3. Thanks fo reading, all! This has been so much fun.

    The Civil Wars’ album was a clear shoo-in for my albums list, but I somehow entirely overlooked their “Barton Hollow” single, which was one of my favorite tracks of the album. Glad to see the rest of the crew picked up my slack though ;) #6 is about where I would have put it.

    Tara’s blurb for “Amen” sums it up perfectly. There are few other singles released this year that, for me, have held their appeal as well as it has. It just works on so many levels. I sure will be excited to hear more from Edens Edge in the future.

  4. I think a lot of these songs are great! “Mean” is good, so is “Colder Weather;” I really enjoyed “Love Done Gone” when it came out, but it eventually wore thin with me. But anyway, “Mean” is one of my favorite singles, and Taylor Swift did a great job with it. Not a huge Swift fan, but I do think she is one of the brightest spots on the radio right now and she does a great job at what she does. SWEETCheeks, out! lols.

  5. Thanks Ben!

    This was the first year I included T. Swift on my list, and I didn’t even think twice about it. Those are freakishly good singles.

  6. Mean is a lovely song, and I enjoy most of the songs on this list. I’d hate to have to rank them myself, so good job to the Universe here for putting in the effort.

    BTW have any of you writers here listened to the new Civil Wars/Swift song Safe and Sound? Too bad it wasn’t put out earlier and on country radio…I think it would make this list and be quite high. Would love to see a round-table review of that song. Hope she keeps going that direction but am afraid she will have to keep shooting for the mainstream to try to compete with Gaga/Adele etc. in media exposure.

  7. My Top 10 is something along the lines of:

    1. The Band Perry – You Lie
    I just really liked this song. It had a compelling melody, especially the breakdown.

    2. Hunter Hayes – Storm Warning
    Catchy and addictive, and grew on me gradually until I was in love.

    3. Taylor Swift – Mine
    I agree that Taylor Swift has had quite the year. This one technically counts as last year’s song, but it took me to the end of last year/beginning of this year to fully appreciate it. I found it both sonically pleasing and emotional.

    4. Taylor Swift – Mean
    I have to also agree that this song is another gem. It was another earworm, but it was unique in its own right. It was interesting to see our little pop princess make one of the best country songs of the year. I was pleasantly surprised to see it on top of the Country Universe list.

    5. Luke Bryan – Country Girl (Shake It For Me)
    Maybe it is weak on content, but it was catchy an fun, and that’s it was meant to be.

    6. Miranda Lambert – Baggage Claim
    This is another one that took me a while to warm up to, but once I did, I really started to dig it.

    7. Taylor Swift – Sparks Fly
    Interesting that of the three Taylor Swift songs on my list, the one that meant the most to me lyrically is the lowest on the list. I guess it just proves how much I value melody in a song. Sparks Fly certainly does have a great melody and emotion, but it just wasn’t as effective as Mine or Mean, even if lyrically it meant more to me.

    8. Tim McGraw & Gwyneth Paltrow – Me & Tennessee
    There’s just something sweet about this song.

    9. Rascal Flatts & Natasha Beddingfield – Easy
    I’ve always liked Rascal Flatts, so I guess I’m biased, but this was interesting too.

    10. Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood – Remind Me
    It was nice to at least have something from Carrie Underwood in between her own studio albums. The Brad Paisley production is predictably Brad Paisley, but Carrie adds to it nicely and makes it a winner.

  8. My name is Sweetcheeks and about the Luke Bryan song. Yeah its catchy but its kinda annoying that country men sing about girls asses so much. I mean you might get the idea that these men value asses more than other things in a woman. Its a shame that radio emphasizes the booty and not other qualities that are more appropriate and less neanderthalish. Sweetcheeks out.

  9. I really didn’t put together a top singles list this year since I tended to purchase albums rather than individual tracks and didn’t give country radio much of my time this year except for Willie’s Roadhouse on XM-Sirius where I got to hear some new acts that over-the-air radio won’t touch

    I did buy many of the albums from which this years singles were drawn. In many cases I thought there were better songs on the albums than were released to radio as singles

    Of the top ten on this list I liked “Threaten Me With Heaven”, “Hell on Heels”,”Colder Weather” and “You and Tequila”. The rest didn’t impress me at all

  10. I would exchange “Mean” with “Cost of Living” but it does not matter that much. “You and Tequila” is also a contender too. :)

    BTW, Taylor Swift has pulled a heck of good singles this year.

  11. I love the song Mean by Taylor Swift because I can relate to it so well. This song always makes me feel better about myself and believe that things will get better. It’s amazing how she can put this feeling in her song when I can even put it into words.

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