Brad’s being funny, Alan’s being snarky, and the two Kenny’s are singing about the islands and…well, read on.
Garth Brooks, “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
#1 | 1993
ZK: Garth carries the sort of charisma needed to sell this, and is a testament to the sort of attitude and energy that made him one of the all-time biggest acts within the genre. With that said, is this an essential cut? Not in the slightest. Too High
KJC: I can’t hear this song without hearing in my head Garth talking about how he wore a sweatsuit into the studio to record it, because apparently singing really fast is a workout? Anyway, good fun. Cute storyline. Not worthy of this high of a ranking. Too High
JK: Swap the placement of this with “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” which it feels like we covered a lifetime ago, and call it a day. Too High
Merle Haggard and the Strangers, “Today I Started Loving You Again”
B-Side | 1968
KJC: If you’re wondering why Merle Haggard topped my list of 100 Greatest Men, listen to this and realize that material of this quality was relegated to the B-side. About Right
JK: I legitimately did not know this stunner was a B-side and not an actual chart hit, and Good Lord, that’s how you know an artist has an all-time deep catalogue. About Right
ZK: When I was in high school and looking to get “in” to Merle Haggard, this was the very first song I played. It certainly wasn’t the last, either; I was hooked by that very first listen. About Right
Chris Young, “Voices”
#1 | 2010
JK: Glad to see Young’s career represented by a hit from before he completely derailed. Would have made a lot more sense to see this about 500 entries ago. Too High
ZK: Do you hear a voice telling you to quit recording vanilla filler, Chris? Because the current you sure could use that message. Too High
KJC: There’s such a refreshing innocence to this. It’s a good record. Why on earth is it at #368? Too High
Alan Jackson, “Gone Country”
#1 | 1994
ZK: Going to have to disagree with Jonathan’s response below, if only to establish context – because just about anything is better than Brett Young or Blake Shelton. With the ’90s boom finally cementing the genre’s rightful place as the commercial behemoth it was, all thanks to Soundscan, it seems, I’ve always viewed this as a simple jab at people finally accepting a genre that had always been cool. Now, as for where we’d take the conversation beyond that in asking the tougher questions of country music’s identity, I’m sure we’d find common ground. But as far as this particular song is concerned … About Right
KJC: The NYC radio station did a listener survey in the mid-90’s of our favorite country songs. This came in at #1. I share that story because the song is a not particularly subtle slap in the face to city folk claiming country music as their own. In that sense, this is Alan Jackson’s very own “Born in the U.S.A.” – a song intended as an indictment that was instead embraced as an anthem. Oh, well. About Right
JK: A single I loved for a long time that I now think represents the genre’s authenticity fetishes and gatekeeping at its most loathsome. The song makes no attempt to hide its contempt for the three characters here; it’s only Jackson’s affable performance that keeps this from sounding outright hateful. I’d sure as shit be more interested to hear a country song from the folkie described here than listen to whatever the committee of hired guns cobbled together for Brett Young to wheeze out, and I’m willing to bet a professional lounge singer desperate to take her last shot can sing a hell of a lot better than the latest tone-deaf child Blake Shelton coddled through to the semi-finals on whatever season of The Voice we’re currently on. But I’m also not going to pretend that the gatekeeping tendency isn’t a massive historical problem in the genre or that it isn’t alive and well in 2020. On overall impact and as a museum piece of some of country music’s worst tendencies, I can’t say this is anything but About Right.
Steve Wariner, “Lynda”
#1 | 1987
KJC: I’ll concede that Steve Wariner’s lengthy career is difficult to represent with signature songs. I’ll even concede that it made sense to include the award-winning “Holes in the Floor of Heaven.” But if you’re only going to include one other song from Wariner, you’ve got to do better than this. And you could have done so by checking out his work for Arista, which was the strongest of his career. Swap this out for “Leave Him Out of This,” “The Tips of My Fingers,” or “A Woman Loves,” the three big hits from I Am Ready. So Wrong (This Song)
JK: “Leave Him Out of This” or “If I Didn’t Love You” would be better picks to represent Wariner, someone whose actual talent was only fitfully captured by his studio output. So Wrong (This Song)
ZK: I don’t have much else to add. Wariner is a phenomenal talent, but you wouldn’t know it from the bulk of his singles. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
#4 | 2005
JK: Paisley at his absolute best: The humor hits, the performance is fully in on every joke, and the guitar-work is simply first class. Too Low
ZK: I grew up with Paisley’s music, so even some of his corny material worked for me. This, however, is objectively Paisley at his most witty and clever. It may seem like a stretch for a country singer to personify one of the genre’s most overused themes, but this works. About Right
KJC: This is brilliantly clever. One of Paisley’s finest moments. I’m still sore over “Whiskey Lullaby” being 298 places lower. But I won’t hold that against “Alcohol.” About Right
Alabama, “Love in the First Degree”
#1 | 1981
ZK: Emblematic of pretty much everything I dislike about that early ’80s country sound, but chalk it up to being another entry where the impact outweighs the quality, or the personal opinions of it. Too High
KJC: I think they nailed their top five Alabama entries on this list, both in selection and relative placement, even if I find their overall assessment of the band too generous in ranking. This one belongs here. About Right
JK: I forget what the other four entries Kevin alluded to are, but I’m in agreement that, yes, this one is correct. About Right
Carrie Underwood, “Wasted”
#1 | 2006
KJC: I think that Underwood produced three classic singles from her debut album, which is no small feat. So I won’t argue with “Wasted” being on this list. I’m just baffled that it’s higher than “Before He Cheats” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” as well as being so much higher than the Blown Away singles. Too High
JK: An entry that is utterly wasted, given that it could have gone to, say, Suzy Bogguss, who isn’t on this list at all. Hell, if they were going to over-represent Underwood just for the sake of doing so, they should have gone with some of her album cuts; give me “Choctaw County Affair,” the best thing she’s ever committed to record, a thousand times over this. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
ZK: It’s the most “tempered” of the selections off her debut, but those early singles truly represented a talent who didn’t know what the hell to do with her material. And since it doesn’t carry the lasting impact of either single that Kevin mentioned, well … So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Kenny Rogers, “Coward of the County”
#1 | 1979
JK: So, Kevin actually wrote his entry for this one before Zack and I wrote ours, and I’m just sitting here, slack-jawed after reading his note below. Um. Wow. About Right? But now I feel gross about that?
ZK: Ah, the power and freedom of the narrative voice. Sandwiched in between Jonathan and Kevin’s comments, that’s all I’m going to say. About Right
KJC: I read recently that the use of the Gatlin name might have been a very deliberate dig at Larry Gatlin after all, who had apparently been less than kind to the songwriter. Still seems a bit much to cast him alongside his brothers as gang rapists. But a classic single is a classic single. About Right
Kenny Chesney, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems”
#2 | 2003
ZK: A decent first start for a trend he’d milk into the ground very quickly. Even just off the top of my head, the Zac Brown Band performed this type of song better even with their most lightweight material, and Sturgill Simpson nailed it even better with just one song – “Sea Stories.” But this, based solely on impact, has to be here, I suppose. Too High
KJC: For better or for worse, this ethos is as much Kenny Chesney as “Man in Black” was Johnny Cash. He didn’t need to do another fifty island celebrations after this. Too High
JK: No sense of pitch, either, which has never seemed to be a problem for anyone but me when it comes to Chesney. Whatever. I get why this should be on here, but I’m not going to pretend it’s good. Too High
Previous: #380-#371 | Next: #360-#351
All of Alabama’s ballads make me want to vomit. All 3 of you like this? : shudder:
I don’t like it, but there’s times where – as I literally say above – the cultural impact outweighs the personal opinion, as far as the “grade” goes, that is.
Oh, I don’t really *like* the Alabama cut. I just think it’s placed correctly on the list in terms of overall impact.
I genuinely like the Alabama track. One of my all time favorites by them.
As fracking made the extraction of trapped oil more feasible in upstate Pennsylvania, energy companies swarmed the area and landowners signed mineral leases that flooded bank accounts and put new SUVs in driveways all over the Northern Tier.
“Gone Country” is musical commentary about something similar to fracking. It’s not gatekeeping. It’s observing. And it’s not bothering to be sentimental about it.
“Look at them boots”
Re. “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem”: I suppose the island ethoc would be Mr. Chesney’s ethos alone…if Jimmy Buffett hadn’t cornered that same market for himself all the way back in 1977, that is.
Re. “Coward Of The County”: This fits Kenny Rogers’ style as much as “Lucille” and “The Gambler” did–arguably even more so, since it was such a huge crossover hit in the winter of 1980 (it spent four weeks at #3 on the overall Hot 100).
Re. “Wasted”: Perhaps it’s a combination of her American Idol connections, her tendency to sometimes over-sing (in the tradition of many a female Idol contestant), and somewhat dubious, I guess you could say, “message” songs that has kind of left me a bit ambivalent about Carrie Underwood from the start. “Wasted” was one of her better “early” hits, however (IMHO).
Favorites here include “Coward of the County” (Never heard the Gatlin story before) and “Love in the First Degree”. “Today I Started Loving You Again” I have by Suzy Bogguss on her Lucky album.
I’ve never been a big AJ fan but I do like “Gone Country”. It’s not because the lyrics mention growing up on Long Island. (The writer of the song, Bob McDill, was born in Texas.) I just like the song and it fits perfectly in my playlist of songs that include the word “Gone” in the song title like “Long Time Gone”, “All the Good Ones Are Gone”, How Long Gone”, “She Can’t Be Really Gone”, etc.
I purchased the single of “Legend of Bonnie & Clyde” b/w “Today I Started Loving you Again” in early April 1968 – within a few weeks WCMS was giving the flip side quite a bit of airplay, as apparently were a lot of DJs as “Today I Started Loving You Again” reached #22 on Cashbox and #25 on Record World, charting for seven weeks on each chart.
Another Haggard classic, “Silver Wings” was also a B side, being the flip of “Working Man Blues”. The albums Capital released on Haggard are just overflowing with great songs.
Steve Wariner had a number of very good, but not great, singles throughout his career. If I had to pick just one additional Wariner single I would pick “All Roads Lead to You” or “Your Memory” but they are neither better nor worse than any of a number of his singles, I just happen to like them.
Steve’s best work came with his post-chart single albums.
As far as the “Island Vibe” goes, Bertie Higgins managed to squeeze a few hits out of it in the early 1980s. I don’t think Bertie is represented in this countdown but I could make a good case for “Key Largo” being somewhere around 700 and “Just Another Day in Paradise’ being in the 900s. Bertie, like Buffett, didn’t get much country airplay from a lot of stations, but those that did play him gave him very heavy airplay indeed
Re: “Coward of the County – co-writer Billy Edd Wheeler, one of my favorite songwriters, denied that the lyric was a reference to the Gatlin Brothers, so if it was about Larry Gatlin, it must have been Roger Bowling’s grudge. I met Billy Edd twice at folk festivals in the early 1960s – a more good natured person you will never meet.
Otherwise, I largely agree with the panel’s comments
I wasn’t that keen on “Gone Country” when it first came out, but I came to regard it as brilliant and damn near timeless. Frankly, I think the lack of gatekeeping is part of why mainstream country music is in such sorry shape anymore.
In re: Steve Wariner…damn, am I the only one who remembers “Some Fools Never Learn”? That was a great, great song, my favorite of the singles he released, and in point of fact, still my favorite song of all time.
I’m also in agreement with most of the panel’s comments this time out.
For “Gone Country,” I’m more in agreement with Zackary, but Jonathan raised a good point as well, and it’s something I never thought about. For me, the song’s overall message is more relevant now that ever, but I’m also willing to bet that the characters described in the song would put out better music than the bros and nearly anyone on the radio today. Anyway, this has always been one of my favorite Jackson singles, and I still never get tired of hearing it.
I’m actually a pretty big Steve Wariner fan, and I generally enjoy most all of his singles. Always really liked his smooth, easygoing style. As fun as “Lynda” is though, I wouldn’t consider it to be one of his essential songs. You guys are right on target in mentioning that his work at Arista deserved recognition here. Love all the songs you guys mentioned, plus “Drivin’ And Cryin’.” I Am Ready is probably my favorite album of his, overall. Of his MCA singles, my favorites are “Some Fools Never Learn,” “You Can Dream Of Me,” “Small Town Girl,” “The Weekend,” “I Should Be With You,” “Where Did I Go Wrong,” “Precious Thing,” and “There For A While.” One of his earlier songs on RCA I really like is “Kansas City Lights.”
I’m with Kevin on “Love In The First Degree.” I’ve really always enjoyed it, early 80’s pop country sound and all, and think it belongs here. I’m probably one of the very few here who generally enjoys the Urban Cowboy sound, though. This and “Feels So Right” are my favorites of their “slow jams” from the 80’s.
Pretty interesting about the whole Gatlin thing with “Coward Of The County.” This is probably my favorite of Kenny’s three major classic storytelling songs. Never gets old.
“Alcohol” is one of Brad’s post Part II novelty songs that I can go to bat for. It is actually quite funny (not to mention, very true), and it holds up very well after repeated listens. I also think it’s pretty neat how Brad was able to make a good song about alcohol when the guy himself has mentioned that he doesn’t drink.
“Ain’t Goin’ Down” is fun and all, but no way should it be this high up the list. I’m in full agreement with “Callin’ Baton Rouge” belonging in this slot, instead.
Again, it’s nice the see one of Chris Young’s better pre-bro singles here, but still too high, and STILL no “Neon.” Grrrr.
I completely agree with Erik North’s comments when it comes to Carrie Underwood. I honestly always found her to be a bit overrated, especially since she hasn’t had too much competition (other than Miranda) when it comes to other female artists on mainstream country radio. I tend to like her album cuts better than most of her singles, though “Wasted” is one of her better ones.
Ahh, the one that officially kicked off Kenny’s beach bum/Jimmy Buffett wannabe phase. Compared to his other songs of this theme, it’s actually not all that bad. It’s still not really my thing, but this would be the only one I’d choose to represent this chapter of his career.
Re: Alabama and cultural impact. The bros have a huge cultural impact on Country music too. I’m not ready to green light their stuff on that basis. I know that gets into what really makes a song great and certainly there’s no definitive answer to that.
Agreed about Baton Rouge being a better choice than Ain’t Goin Down.
I agree with “baton Rouge” over “Aint Goin Down.” “Love in the First Degree” is one of Alabama’s best and a little too low IMO.
“Coward of the County” is one of the great story songs in a genre known for them. Drop the 3 from the ranking and it would be about right.
I also agree with the “Where’s Suzy?” sentiments
I still think it’s shameful how Suzy was forgotten in this list, as well. There are a ton of songs I’ve already seen on this list that you can NOT tell me are better than “Aces,” “Someday Soon,” “Outbound Plane,” “Drive South,” “Just Like The Weather,” “Hey Cinderella,” etc.