The countdown concludes with our top twenty singles of 2014. Check out the first twenty entries here, and look for our countdown of the year’s twenty best albums tomorrow.
“The Devil is All Around”
Shovels & Rope
LW #5 | JK #13
The soulful husband-wife duo that comprises Shovels and Rope delivers a no holes barred analysis of trials and temptations, which boils down to the idea that the devil is all around, which means that one must do what he can to push against such a devastating force. – Leeann Ward
“Gentle on My Mind”
The Band Perry
TS #11 | LW #12 | JK #17
The trio harnesses its punchy energy for a respectful cover that shimmers and shuffles in all the right places. – Tara Seetharam
“Say You Do”
JK #6 | TS #8
It’s all about the chord progression in that unexpected second chorus, when the low smolder Bentley has been stoking finally catches fire. “Say You Do,” with its heady mix of regret and longing, finds Bentley doing a spot-on impression of Gary Allan. – Jonathan Keefe
KJC #2 | LW #17
The single best argument for the necessity of Garth Brooks to continue recording music. Sentimental without being cloying, “Mom” manages to salute motherhood, childhood, and God’s master plan all in one fell swoop. – Kevin John Coyne
“Give Me Back My Hometown”
SG #3 | LW #11
With a slow build into a soaring, anthem, Church gives a standout vocal performance while singing about the downside of small-town life. – Sam Gazdziak
LW #2 | KJC #11
Nickel Creek’s infectious comeback single is both accessible and intricate. Along with Sara Watkins’ vibrant lead vocals, the playful harmonies and addicting guitar and mandolin riffs make “Destination” one of the most sonically satisfying singles of the year. – LW
SG #4 | LW #6
This groovy, funky little number is geared toward the children of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it probably sums up everyone’s childhood with the line, “A little messed up, but we’re all alright.” Chesney is one of the few singers left who can convincingly sing about an older generation that is getting marginalized by country radio. – SG
“Walk (Back to Your Arms)”
JK #2 | TS #10
From the first note of its jaw-dropping a capella opening, “Walk (Back To Your Arms)” announces New Zealand’s Tami Neilson as an extraordinary talent worthy of a global audience. Neilson’s performance combines Wanda Jackson’s phrasing with Patsy Cline’s control and Connie Smith’s power, and I honestly can’t imagine an easier sell than that. – JK
LW #7 | KJC #13 | SG #13
It sounds bright and bouncy with some delicious dobro riffs, but the heart of the song explores the circumstance of a woman who copes with the mundane and mind numbing parts of life by getting high. She remembers the days when she looked down on moms and wives who did such things, but she’s grateful to be one of them now. As Brandy Clark has proven on the album from which this single comes, she is a skillful storyteller who masterfully delves into all of the corners of every day people’s lives. – LW
TS #3 | JK #7
A cheeky, boot-stomping spin on working class addiction that’s elevated by its ferocious background vocals. – TS
TS #4 | SG #12 | KJC #14
Church’s musicianship is on fire in this swampy kiss-off, punctuated by the nearly 60-seconds of part garage band, part rockabilly instrumental solo. – TS
“Something in the Water”
KJC #4 | TS #7 | LW #18
Serving as the perfect coda to her first decade as a country superstar, Underwood returns to the spiritual themes of her first country hit, “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” By looking backward, she also demonstrates just how much she’s grown as an artist, co-writing a powerful tale of rebirth through baptism that she sings the fire out of. – KJC
“Keep it to Yourself”
LW #3 | KJC #8 | TS #20
“Keep It to Yourself” is emotionally vulnerable, yet ultimately victorious, and both facets are palpable in the lyrics and Kacey Musgraves’ performance. She’s strong enough to know that she does not want to re-enter the relationship or play the games that come with entertaining the idea, but vulnerable enough to know that even hearing of the possibility that he might have regrets is only asking for unwanted trouble. – LW
KJC #7 | LW #8 | JK #9
Along with the Old 97s and Old Crow Medicine Show singles already highlighted in this countdown, Nickel Creek’s “Hayloft” made 2014 a great year for catchy, tongue-in-cheek songs about illicit sex. Their comeback album found the reunited trio more mature and more accomplished, but “Hayloft” also found Nickel Creek having more fun than ever. – JK
“Blue Blue Day”
Mandy Barnett featuring Alison Krauss
JK #1 | TS #14 | KJC #16
The most exquisitely sung single of 2014, “Blue Blue Day” serves as the centerpiece of Mandy Barnett’s album of Don Gibson covers. With little more than a haunting harmony vocal from Alison Krauss and a lonesome harmonica break, Barnett reinvents one of the deceptively jaunty tunes that were Gibson’s trademark as a melancholy ballad that makes heartbreak sound like heaven. – JK
“Girl in a Country Song”
Maddie & Tae
KJC #5 | TS #5 | SG #8
Country music’s gender bias can’t be overemphasized: it’s staggering, it’s frustrating and a coy rebuttal to bro-country isn’t going to crack it. But two girls with talent, a viewpoint and an ear for the kind of song that fits neatly next to the ones they’re dismissing did something clever and honest this year, and it’s a small win for all of us. – TS
“Meanwhile Back at Mama’s”
Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
KJC #3 | LW #4 | SG #15
After five years and three albums of music clutter, Tim McGraw finally returned to form by releasing the reflective “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s”, which is stripped down and devoid of all of the noise that had pervaded the previous five years. Similarly, the single depicts a man who longs for a quieter, less complicated way of life. As a result, McGraw released one of the stand out singles of his career. – LW
“The Way I’m Livin'”
Lee Ann Womack
JK #3 | LW #13 | TS #13 | KJC #18
Refusing to apologize for her life of vice and acknowledging both its earthy and eternal ramifications, Lee Ann Womack plays against type to rapturous, career-best effect on “The Way I’m Livin’.” In doing so, she draws into sharp relief how one-dimensional some of the genre’s biggest stars can be when playing bad-girl dress-up. Because she knows what she’s already done and doesn’t regret any of it, she’s making good on the empty threats that somethin’ bad’s about to happen. – JK
“Drunk on a Plane”
SG #1 | KJC #9 | LW #9
The “yay, drinking!” party song has to be considered the low-hanging fruit of country music. Bentley, however, puts some depth into “Drunk on a Plane,” and the simple addition of a reason for drinking elevates this goofy number to one of the year’s biggest and most fun hits. – SG
“What We Ain’t Got”
LW #1 | TS #1 | SG #2
The best thing that the reflective, regret filled “What We Ain’t Got” accomplishes is that it reminds us that Jake Owen actually has one of the best voices on country radio. There have been glimmers of this fact throughout his career, but it’s been easy to forget with all of the overproduced, unsubstantive music that has pervaded his career, even by his own admission.
So, to hear Owens’s wistful, tender performance supported by an engaging, yet simple, production was a big surprise and a refreshing reprieve from all of the noise of 2014. – LW
Was Kacy Musgraves Follow Your Arrow in 2013 or 2014? If it was the latter, I’m surprised it wasn’t on this list.
I’m glad Maddie and Tae made the list. I just recently bought the EP and they have better stuff from Girl in a Country Song. Sierra is a great song, and a song you can see on Youtube called Smoke is I think their best song so far. It’s a shame they didn’t put that on the EP, but I’m anxiously waiting for their album hopefully coming out this year.
It’s interesting, last year my two favorite acts were The Band Perry and Little Big Town but suffice it to say I was disappionted in both this year. I also bought LBT’s record and I wish they would go back to their “Road to Here” and “A Place to Land” sound. I get they wanted to experiment on Tornado, but their recent Album sounds more pop than country.
I’m not sure what my favorite single was in 2014. This was a very good list but there was such diversity in the genre this year. People say that the whole Bro Country thing is ruining Country Music, but I get this sense that Country Music needs to be broken into sub-genres now because it is so diverse. When people ask “What is Country Music”, I think the right response is “It’s what you want to make of it, and if you don’t like one aspect, there are others to try”. I guess if I were to pick a favorite single, it would be “Girl in a Country Song” but “Something in the Water” is up there too.
Excellent list. Of this second part, “Say You Do”, “Keep It to Yourself”, “Drunk on a Plane”, “What We Ain’t Got” and “Cold One” all made my list, while “Girl In a Country Song”, “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “Mom” would have all made my top 25 had I extended it that far.
My full list:
01. “One Hell of an Amen” by Brantley Gilbert
02. “She Don’t Drink Whiskey Anymore” by Tim Hicks
03. “Dust” by Eli Young Band
04. “Say You Do” by Dierks Bentley
05. “Lonely Eyes” by Chris Young
06. “Cop Car” by Keith Urban
07. “Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line
08. “Talladega” by Eric Church
09. “Drunk on a Plane” by Dierks Bentley
10. “We’ll Come Back Around” by Craig Morgan
11. “Keep It to Yourself” by Kacey Musgraves
12. “She Don’t Love You” by Eric Paslay
13. “Cold One” by Eric Church
14. “Somewhere In My Car” by Keith Urban
15. “Roller Coaster” by Luke Bryan
16. “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” by Tim McGraw feat. Faith Hill
17. “I Don’t Dance” by Lee Brice
18. “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” by Tyler Farr
19. “What We Ain’t Got” by Jake Owen
20. “Riot” by Rascal Flatts
“Follow Your Arrow” was our #1 single for 2013.
“Mom” is the only one on here I’d really disagree with. I find it very cloying.
WOW! “Drunk on a Plane” that high? I thought everybody hated that song…
By the way, that’s not a complaint, I actually like “DOAP” (I thought I was the only one). My only real complaint would be: Where’s “She Don’t Love You”?
Not big on “Something in the Water” (yes, I know Carrie has a great voice, but she almost always picks mediocre to bad songs, and this isn’t an exception).
Also, am I the only one who finds songs like “Dirt” far more obnoxious than ones like “Sun Daze”? Sun Daze isn’t country by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t trying to be anything other than a fun, good vibes song, and it does a very good job at that. “Dirt” pretends to be about something, and fails completely.
No SRM you aren’t alone in liking DOAP. In fact I had it as my number 2 single this year.
Solid list overall the only real quibbles I would have would be that, like Thomas, I Don’t like Something in the Water at all, but i also understand that if your a fan of Carries previous work (which I definitely am not) this song will instantly be one of your favorites so I really am not surprised by its inclusion here. What I did find surprising was the Cold One ended up as the highest rated Eric Church this year. Don’t get me wrong i really like Cold One but I thought Eric’s other 2 releases this year were stronger. In fact I ranked Give Me Back My Hometown as my favorite single of the year!
Thomas, i have to disagree with you about about the FGL songs, I personally didn’t mind Dirt the first several time i heard it. Don’t get me wrong i don’t think it’s very good but at least it sounded like a country song musically and was inoffensive lyrically. To me Sun Daze is just another song about getting drunk and trying to screw some girl that the writers don’t even bother trying to develop as a character any further than the fact that she exists which is something that has been done to death during the Bro-Country Era…
Never thought I’d live to see the day Jake Owen would top the Country Universe year-end singles countdown, but his place atop this list is certainly well earned (though “Keep it to Yourself” probably would have topped my personal list). Great work, friends!
Yeah after I asked I looked it up and Follow Your Arrow came out in October last year.
I also totally forgot about Talladega, which I also liked.
Yeah, Talladega is quite good.
Vis a vis “Sun Daze,” I think they do a genuinely good job of capturing the feeling of getting high and drunk on the beach with your buddies. It’s not country, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s like a Sam Hunt song.
I don’t care all that much about genre, though. If a song is good at what it’s trying to be, whether that’s a dumb party song or Taylor Swift, or classic country, whether it’s the most violent song on the Slim Shady LP or something by the Last Poets, I’ll like it.
I can’t stand stuff like Dirt, though, that desperately acts like it’s an Important Song with Stuff to Say, and is in actuality just a kitschy recitation of genre tropes.
Eric Paslay – CU Don’t Love You
I agree with SRM’s comment, My only real complaint would be: Where’s “She Don’t Love You”?
Speaking honestly, I didn’t have a chance to hear “She Don’t Love You” until after I submitted my list. It would have been a contender and may be for next year.
After rolling through these singles, I’m afraid that the notion I held about it being a much better year for albums than for radio singles has held true. There’s only about 15 singles I like at all on this list and I’m indifferent to most of the rest although I really dislike “Girl In A Country Song”.
Nice catch on the Mandy Barnett single. It received very little airplay around here, but I did buy the album at Cracker Barrel
The lack of consensus speaks volumes about the mediocre year 2014 was for radio singles – if you randomly dropped “What We Ain’t Got” or “Drunk On A Plan” into any year of the 1980s or 1990s , neither song would show up in that year’s top forty tunes
Getting caught up on the comment threads here. Great discussion so far!
Re: Maggie Rose and Florida-Georgia Line. There’s no reason to get involved in a race to the bottom: More than one thing can be terrible at the same time. “Girl In Your Truck Song” is pandering, strident garbage that finds Rose enthusiastically adopting the voice of someone all too eager to surrender her sexual agency, and “God Made Girls” is little more than a laundry list of antiquated, sexist cliches delivered by a singer that no one in their right mind would have ever claimed could sing. “Sun Daze” caters to the absolute basest elements of the bro-country contingent and mistakes its double entendres for clever writing, and “Dirt” is perhaps the best example of the troubling trend throughout 2014 that anything that isn’t explicitly “bro” is held up as something to be celebrated simply because it doesn’t go out of its way to debase the genre, even if it offers little to nothing else on its own merits. There are no winners. They’re all different flavors of awful, but they’re all awful just the same.
I honestly haven’t been the least bit impressed by Eric Paslay or Jon Pardi. I suppose there’s some potential there, but I don’t hear any actual greatness in them now.
“Drunk On a Plane” just missed my own list– I had it at #26 when I ran out my rankings– which meant that it came pretty close to landing at #1 on this list.
Paul, none of the individual writers voted for more than 16 of the 40 singles on the list, so, statistically, you’re right on target with the rest of us.