Several signature, award-winning hits show up here, along with a couple of loud clunkers from artists not nearly in the same league as the ones that the share this section with.
Waylon Jennings, “Bob Wills is Still the King”
B-Side | 1975
KJC: It’s cool to hear Waylon Jennings sings about Bob Wills, mostly because his music doesn’t have quite the same connection to Wills as the work of Merle Haggard and George Strait. It would be like hearing Trisha Yearwood wax on record about Loretta Lynn.
Among the folks making this list, there must have been at least one person passionately advocating for Jennings, Haggard, and Strait. The list would be stronger if there was an advocate for Yearwood or Lynn in the room with them.
It’s a B-side at #360, and not a particularly notable one. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: Another entry, like the last one we saw from Merle Haggard, that I genuinely did not realize was a B-side. Unlike the Haggard cut, though, this one I think is placed oddly: I’ve always appreciated the sentiment behind this record more than the actual recording itself. I’m glad it’s here, but this is Too High
ZK: Songs like this, in a pre-YouTube/streaming world, were important for bridging those generational gaps and helping introduce older acts to new fans. It’s part of the “outlaw” formula of the ’70s, and while I, like Jonathan, respect the intent more than the recording, on cultural importance alone, it’s placed About Right.
Wynonna, “No One Else On Earth”
#1 | 1992
JK: It’s her biggest solo hit and, at least around these parts, scored a massive amount of crossover airplay on Hot AC and even mainstream pop stations. Is it her best solo single? Eh. I’d still go to bat for “I Saw the Light” and “She is His Only Need” ahead of this one, but I’m thrilled to see her solo work represented this high on the list. There’s truly never been another artist like Wynonna, and I miss the fire and grit she brought into the genre’s mainstream. About Right
ZK: I think all of that firepower Jonathan mentions above was rooted in those early Judds hits, but truly exploded when Wynonna went solo. When combining quality and impact, this, to me, feels just About Right.
KJC: The best thing about this single is the radio remix that elevated an already solid track into a catchy, hook-laden classic. It’s not my favorite single of hers, either. Give me “Is it Over Yet” or “Come Some Rainy Day.” But it’s still a fantastic record from a woefully under-represented artist. About Right
Luke Bryan, “Someone Else Calling You Baby”
#1 | 2010
ZK: In which whining sounds mildly catchy. Another way of saying – It’s one of Luke Bryan’s better singles, but hardly worth a spot here. Really, give me “We Rode in Trucks” or give me nothing at all, at this point. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
KJC: Like the Jason Aldean record below, it’s just too damn loud. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: One of his least egregious hits, sure, but it’s been fewer than 20 entries since we last had to write about Crest Whitestrips, and I just do not have it in me today. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Alan Jackson, “Mercury Blues”
#2 | 1993
KJC: Any points that he’d get for ingenuity with this countrified arrangement of the blues classic are immediately rescinded when you realize he just cribbed off the Canned Heat cover. Faith Hill’s cover of “Piece of My Heart” is more innovative than this and there’s already more than enough Alan Jackson on this list. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: A fun cover, but this placement is just absurd. Too High
ZK: Huge Alan Jackson fan, as evidenced by my spotlight on him from last year; but this isn’t even his best fast-paced delivery in song. And though they’re welcome, at this point, any covers have to be Earth-shattering and of an excellent song. This is fine, but, like … So Wrong (This Song)
Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
#9 | 2008
JK: A brilliant songwriter and marginal singer who was the end-all / be-all for a very specific subgroup of country fans in the late aughts: Johnson was Taylor Swift for authenticity fetishists. I like him just fine, wish we’d get new music from him, and think this placement is About Right.
ZK: Clichéd as it sounds, this is one of those songs that sparked my early obsession with country music. Even more cliché is what I love: The attention to detail in the storytelling, the pure emotive presence that’s always marked Johnson’s best releases, and the subdued – but not lacking – backdrop that strengthens the narrative. There aren’t many songs of the 2000s I’d designate as classics so far, but this is one of them. How’d we screw up so bad in the 2010s? About Right
KJC: There’s an entire doctoral thesis waiting to be written that explores why grungy dudes with guitars are called authentic and women with stylized hair in pretty dresses are inauthentic. This is a good song that’s performed reasonably well, but it isn’t much more than that. Too High
Hal Ketchum, “Small Town Saturday Night”
#2 | 1991
ZK: It stings to write this about this after his passing, especially when it’s a sneakily jubilant track. That was the appeal of Ketchum, though – a writer able to pen commercially successful songs without dumbing them down, because country music has always benefitted more when it doesn’t underestimate its audience. Yet another selection today that just feels About Right.
KJC: My favorite record of his is “Past the Point of Rescue,” but this is a close second. Another example of the momentary era of meritocracy that allowed an act like Hal Ketchum to break through. About Right
JK: When I ranked my personal picks for the best singles of the 90s a few years ago, I had this at #10. Ergo, this ranking is far Too Low, and does it ever sting to think about Ketchum right now.
Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”
#1 | 2014
KJC: A stunning performance heightened by its simple arrangement. It’s one of the best pop-flavored country records in recent years. That being said, it’s still a little Too High
JK: A terrific if not recognizably country record that, despite its virtues, has still been wildly overpraised, especially within LBT’s catalogue. No way would I have this ahead of “Boondocks” or “Little White Church.” Too High
ZK: I believe I’m one of very few writers who thinks Little Big Town is making its best music now, single choices aside. This is one of their better 2010s cuts, but I’m with Jonathan on it being wildly overpraised. One of the few times their record label actually got it right with the single choice, though … Too High
John Conlee, “Rose Colored Glasses”
#5 | 1978
JK: The placement here surprises me, in the sense that it’s actually About Right.
ZK: I believe we’ve already gone to bat for how wildly underrated John Conlee is, but I don’t mind another piece of evidence for that claim. About Right
KJC: A right-out-of-the-gate masterpiece, “Rose Colored Glasses” is beautifully written and performed by Conlee, who can rival Clint Black for the title, “Who peaked the highest and fastest with their debut album?”
Jason Aldean, “She’s Country”
#1 | 2008
ZK: She’s country! Now here’s an arena-rock song to prove it! So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
KJC: Like the Luke Bryan record above, it’s just too damn loud. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: Just heinous, pandering trash that represents the last decade in country music at its worst. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Freddy Fender, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”
#1 | 1975
KJC: This belongs in the top 100. Too Low
JK: A spectacular record that deserves its status as a genre classic. This ranking is another insult among many on this list. Too Low
ZK: You know, given that conversations of cultural representation surrounded country music last year, let’s not forget this underrated classic, or Freddy Fender, for that matter. It’s the delivery and phrasing that sells this, and it’s worth noting that this song had been covered around 30 times before Fender recorded the definitive version. Too Low