Any list of ours would have a better sense of country music history than this one has demonstrated, especially in this section. On the other hand, we’re closer to being done than ever, so…
Sam Hunt, “Leave the Night On”
#1 | 2014
KJC: Even the CMA Awards was reluctant to embrace Sam Hunt, despite his commercial success, so I take some comfort in there being some bridges that shouldn’t be crossed. He’s reasonably talented, I guess, in a C-list Shawn Mendes kind of way. But the story of country music can be told without this song, if not without Sam Hunt entirely. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: Sam Hunt appropriates music made infinitely better by black and Latino/Latina artists in the pop and hip-hop spheres and makes it safe for a genre that continues, even in this exact moment, to refuse to address its problems with race. He’s an utter hack– an utter hack who has been, bizarrely, embraced and overpraised by members of the general music press– and represents the modern country music industry at its most insidious. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
ZK: Sam Hunt is the worst artist to ever, shall we say, enter the country music genre.
Now, I admit that the person I was in high school ran with the “oh, it’s because he’s not country” excuse, but I’ve grown past that and still have never cared for Hunt. He’s got personality, but it’s often creepy and unlikable – Anyone remember him airing out his ex-significant other’s troubles in “Drinkin’ too Much” and trying to frame it as an apology? – he blends multiple genres together, only, as Jonathan notes, not nearly as well as artists in their respective lanes. And even when he does, it doesn’t help that his mixes often sound like, well, ass. Good on you for incorporating Webb Pierce into your stupid breakup song, Hunt. What purpose does it actually serve, though? It certainly does nothing for the song. And his actual writing, oh my, his actual writing. He’s whiny, self-obsessed, and reliant on supposed mind-melting charisma to bolster his romantic sentiments. And, just, noooooooo.
So, yeah, it all started here and I blame this song. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Porter Wagoner, “Green, Green Grass of Home”
#4 | 1965
JK: Another stone classic, ranked ignorantly. Too Low
ZK: Yes, a top 20 all-timer is just a little bit better than a Sam Hunt song. Makes complete sense. Too Low and Once Again Blowing A Gasket
KJC: Wagoner’s penchant for melodrama always worked best when it had a story worthy of such delivery. This one is quintessential Porter Wagoner, and in turn, quintessential country music. I’d have it in the top 100. Too Low
Shania Twain, “Any Man of Mine”
#1 | 1995
ZK: For my own personal reasons, I’ve been researching country music history from around 1989-now. So, naturally, I’ve fostered a new appreciation from Shania Twain from it, and while many cite 1995 as around the time the ’90s boom ended, Twain was just getting started with a new sound that would make her the female equivalent of Garth Brooks, arguably really starting with this single. Actually, it’s women who kept the momentum going, and on that pure merit alone – along with this being an absolute riot: Too Low
KJC: One of two singles included in this section that permanently altered the course of country music, and the best evidence yet that this list has completely failed in accurately telling the story of country music. For decades, country music labels had insisted that their largely female audience wanted to hear men singing to them, and in turn, wanted their women to be non-threatening and humble. There were many female artists successfully laboring against that perception during the nineties boom, but Twain blew the doors wide open.
Disregarding antiquated ideas of what women wanted to hear, she bared her belly button and owned her sexuality, which provided the perfect cover for what she was really doing: ignoring men completely and speaking directly to her audience, while the suits were too busy drooling over her to properly notice.
This led to the explosion of album sales for female country artists, and it’s worth noting that in the years since Twain broke through and in spite of a twenty year long backlash that exiled women from country radio, it’s been only female country artists that have sold 5 million copies or more of a studio album, some burning out quickly (Deana Carter, Gretchen Wilson), but others enduring (The Chicks, Faith Hill, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood.) Too Low
JK: So, I’ve already stated that “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” and “No One Needs to Know” are her best singles, and Kevin’s already written a correct treatise on “You’re Still the One” and the blatant disrespect this list shows to women, especially to Twain. In terms of Twain’s overall impact, I actually think the placement for this, her breakthrough hit at radio, is the most egregious ranking among her singles. It’s been described as a bomb going off in country music, and that’s fundamentally accurate both in terms of its actual production and the force it exerted on the industry. It showcases Twain’s wit and singular point-of-view, and, compared to what’s on radio right now? It sure sounds a lot more like an actual country single than a lot of people said at the time. Too Low
Joe Nichols, “Gimmie That Girl”
#1 | 2009
KJC: Gimmie that girl singer, and that girl singer, and that girl singer, over “Gimmie That Girl” and Nichols’ two other singles in the top 300. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: I actually like this single: It has a solid rhythm section and cadence to its language, and Nichols sings it well. I’d never have it anywhere near my t1000. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
ZK: Gimmie one reason why it’s here. Not here, here. Like, here at all. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Waylon Jennings, “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way”
#1 | 1975
JK: Another song whose premise I just kind of reject out-of-hand– the genre’s revisionist history of acting like it’s ever been a bastion of artistic purity– but can’t deny based on overall impact. I wouldn’t have it ranked this highly. Too High
ZK: A stomping classic from an excellent era. About Right
KJC: “Traditional country music” has historically been determined by a specific white male southern posture, and often unrelated to the actual sound of the records. Jennings incorporated contemporary rock as much as Jones drenched his hits in orchestral strings. But they were presented as stalwart guardians of the genre, anyway. Hank didn’t do it this way at all, but Waylon could claim Hank’s legacy as his own because of their common identity. Food for thought. Too High
John Anderson, “Straight Tequila Night”
#1 | 1991
ZK: I’m not sure what to make of their John Anderson inclusions. Like, they included this and “Seminole Wind,” and while I’d have this a little higher, the placement isn’t, like, egregious. But he deserves more than five slots and something else that isn’t “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal … ” A Little Too Low
KJC: And then I have to pivot to a defense of Sirius, at least as it comes to John Anderson. The temptation to put either his crossover mega-hit (“Swingin’”) or his environmental message song (“Seminole Wind”) as his highest ranking single would be understandable, but “Straight Tequila Night” really is his best single. I dare say I’d rank it quite a bit higher. Too Low
JK: I mean, I assume that “Wild And Blue” isn’t going to turn up in the top 20 like it ought to, and this is the best of Anderson’s just-awesome 90s run. Grand scheme of things, this strikes me as About Right
Jana Kramer, “I Got the Boy”
#5 | 2015
KJC: Of course they think this is a worthy representation of female artists on this list. The song is centered entirely on men, and how they grow and change and mature and isn’t that too bad for the girl that dates them when they’re younger but also aren’t men great and don’t they get even better with age? So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: The fact that they placed two singles by Jana Kramer, the twenty-teens version of Ronna Reeves in terms of actual talent, in the top 300 of this list is just infuriating. They did a piss-poor job of representing women, but they went all-in on Jana Kramer? Come the entire fuck on. The song’s fine; would’ve been nice to hear it performed by a competent vocalist. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
ZK: A fantastic song by a mediocre vocalist who squandered a good thing with that “Said No One Ever” thing. This was a bright spot at radio in 2015, but hardly worth a place anywhere near this high. And I don’t mind not including Kramer at all, especially when I prefer Lucy Hale, in terms of actresses who “went country.” Too High
Randy Travis, “On the Other Hand”
#67 | 1985
#1 | 1986
JK: Wild that this section has two debut singles that belong in the top 50, ranked alongside nothings by Joe Nichols and Jana Kramer. This is one of the finest country singles of the 80s, and Travis would have been an all-timer if he never released anything else half as good. But he did, over and over. Too Low
ZK: The start of a phenomenal career and one of the best ever debut albums. I love the story surrounding the second wind this song got at radio, and y’all, that hook. Too Low
KJC: And now we can move on to the other single in this section that permanently altered the course of country music, this time nine years earlier than Twain’s seminal smash.
The New Traditionalist movement was already underway when Travis had his first #1 hit, but the countrypolitan years wouldn’t come to a complete halt until Travis outsold all those crossover records, which were already few and far between by the mid-eighties.
As Chet Atkins famously observed, when rattling the loose change in his pocket, “This is the Nashville Sound.” The town follows the money, and Travis becoming a multi-platinum artist meant fiddles and steel were back on the radio. If not for good, then at least for a couple of decades.
So it’s a top ten record in terms of historical impact. But even beyond that, it’s so damn good. Too Low
Loretta Lynn, “She’s Got You”
#1 | 1977
ZK: Look, Lynn is a powerful writer, but if we’re left comparing pure vocal presences here, this doesn’t even come close to the Patsy Cline standard. I agree with Jonathan: Throw in “Portland, Oregon” as a fun wildcard pick. And just throw in more Lynn in general of her singing her own material. So Wrong (This Song)
KJC: Y’all, it’s not even the most egregious and random Patsy Cline cover we’ve come across yet. Gird your loins for #105. And while I co-sign my colleagues’ request for a different Loretta Lynn record, let me also note that this wasn’t even the best single from her Patsy Cline covers album, I Remember Patsy. “Why Can’t He Be You” >>> “She’s Got You.” So Wrong (This Song)
JK: Lord God. They wasted one of Loretta’s too-few spots on her version of a song far more closely associated with Patsy Cline, and rightfully so. “Rated X” or “Portland, OR” should be ranked around here, instead, and I’m just going to assume Patsy’s version is missing altogether because this list just hates women. So Wrong (This Song)
George Jones, “White Lightning”
#1 | 1959
KJC: I’m with Jonathan. Correct in a general sense, but wrong in the grander scheme of all things Jones. About Right.
JK: In an absolute sense, this ranking is About Right, though it should not be ranked ahead of “She Thinks I Still Care,” which we’ve already seen. They really fucked up their Possum.
ZK: I prefer sad Jones – miserable Jones, to be shamefully honest – but on a list that actually tries, this would have been placed about right. That is, provided that list placed its proper amount of sad Jones well above this. About Right, But Still Somehow Wrong?