This has been a long time coming – in which I go back to the earliest editions of this series and … wince at how bad they were. We’ve already examined 2007 for this feature, but there’s two reasons I’m taking a second look: One, I wrote those old lists based off of Billboard’s year-end charts, and while they provided a decent selection of songs, over time I found Wikipedia’s lists to be more convenient to use. Second, as I just said, those older editions are not my best writes, and are the only posts left from the “old” days of The Musical Divide (not counting any republished posts and/or posts brought over from other outlets of mine, that is). I won’t re-examine them all right away, but I do plan to revisit 2005, 2010, 1972, 1992, 2013 and 1975 for this feature as well for the same reasons.
First, though, I’m redoing my 2007 list – the first year I looked at for this feature, and one that’s taken more time to compile than I would have otherwise imagined, mostly because my list then looks nothing like my list today. As always, this feature is meant to examine the best “hit” songs of a particular year (top 20 or close to it), and the only one I operate where Wikipedia is a reliable source. Let’s get started with some honorable mentions.
- Sara Evans, “As If” (Easily her most hook-laden song)
- Craig Morgan, “Tough” (I wish he wasn’t primarily known for his redneck anthems and his tendency for belting his material, because he can nail a good ballad)
- Carrie Underwood, “Wasted” (A track where the tension is evidenced by the vocal performance)
- Jake Owen, “Startin’ With Me” (This was my No. 1 pick on the old list, just to show you how much different I consider myself from the writer and thinker I was just two years ago)
- The Wreckers, “My Oh My” (A fun ditty and nothing more, though it is another reason why I wish this duo lasted longer)
On with the (revamped) list!
No. 10 – Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache & The Power Of Love”
To be honest, there’s very few new songs eligible for this list that weren’t eligible for the first one; I’m the one who changed, basically. But I am glad I can include this now, an over-the-top gospel-inspired number that goes so overboard in its presentation that it might actually manage to be a ton of fun because of it. I’m mostly at a loss for words for why this works. Maybe it’s because Yearwood, who typically excels at ballads, is completely throwing herself into her performance and showing off her pure firepower. At any rate, given how power is the dominant theme here, I definitely feel it.
No. 9 – Emerson Drive, “Moments”
If there’s one thing I forgot about this year (and this time period in general, really), it’s that country artists really loved their overwrought inspirational messages – some of which even made my original list. And while I wasn’t sure this would make the cut again … damn if the twist in that final verse didn’t get me. That’s what makes “Moments” great – the complexity of the situation: A homeless person stops another from committing suicide, prompting a hard, uncomfortable conversation between the two unlikely souls, in which the empathy from both sides pours out in a way that feels natural rather than forced. For Emerson Drive, it was one perfect “moment,” indeed.
No. 8 – Joe Nichols, “Another Side Of You”
This is a tricky one to discuss, if only because it’s one of those songs where a male character looks condescendingly at his significant other and tries to make it look cute … you know, like “Honey” or “The World.” But I’ve always been of the opinion that framing matters within a song, and here, Nichols exhibits more respect for his lover than outright surprise, especially knowing he couldn’t handle the same busy schedule she does. And for as much as the concept itself sounds corny – because it usually was in the “soccer mom country” era – Nichols effectively underplays the track to sell it with conviction. Subtlety is a great asset for a song to have, and this one’s got it.
No. 7 – Tim McGraw, “Last Dollar (Fly Away)”
This song checks every requirement for why I’ve kept certain songs off this list … yet I love it anyway. I’ll admit there’s a strong personal connection in here for me, but there’s a certain self-awareness to this song that’s always made it click regardless. Granted, it’s trying to go for the “King Of The Road” style of independence in the lyrical framing, and this isn’t anywhere close to being as good as that song. But Tim McGraw knows how corny this is, so he’s going to sell it the with the sort of upbeat jubilance that, while polarizing, is ridiculously catchy. I’ve never had more fun with a stupid song.
No. 6 – Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
I’m not sure how many ways I can still say, “this is sappy and corny but still pretty good.” Granted, “Long Trip Alone” is one of those songs just destined for wedding playlists … and yet avoids all of the saccharine pitfalls of those kinds of songs. For one, Bentley sells this with the sort of rough, hangdog charisma that suggests he really is tried of that long trip alone, and with the way the song picks up legitimate momentum as it goes, it feels like a literal journey to find himself; it’s easily one of his finest cuts to date. Again, subtlety is the key to many tracks here, and Bentley is one of few performers from this era who could sell this with legitimate sincerity.
No. 5 – Miranda Lambert, “Famous In A Small Town”
Hey, speaking of artists who can pull off sincerity with subtlety …
And look, given that I grew up with this era, there’s a part of me that has to distance from my critical side. But, yeah, it’s refreshing to hear a single lean into its honest portrayal of a small town with a rare sort of self-deprecating humor and a ragged arrangement of a meatier electric guitar and harmonica to bolster it; there’s no odes to the simple life here, that’s for sure. Granted, there is some sort of glorification to the entire affair, but it’s also a subtle way for Lambert to poke fun at it too.
No. 4 – Keith Urban, “I Told You So”
This is the Keith Urban I miss – the artist who could deliver an insanely catchy hook out of even the most mundane melody and manage to make it sound innovative for this brand of pop-country. “I Told You So” is a song where the arrangement bolsters the content itself, sporting a few Celtic flourishes in the fiddle lines and a pounding set of drums that gain thunderous momentum as the track progresses. And it’s all used to show Urban’s general frustration with his situation – how he’s initially understanding of his significant other’s reasons for leaving before letting loose his anger when she comes back just expecting things to return to the way they were. For 2007 standards, this was a pretty cool-sounding song for mainstream country music.
No. 3 – Kellie Pickler, “I Wonder”
This is the only song to maintain its position from the other list, mostly because, while I, like most critics, won’t go to bat for either of Kellie Pickler’s first two albums, I will for this song. It rips away the veneer and is just a brutal listen from beginning to end, detailing Pickler’s estranged relationship with her mother and the hurt her abandonment left her with growing up. Yet for as much as Pickler is making it obvious her mother failed in her role, what’s a little more vague are her true feelings toward it all. On the outside, she’s angry and hurt and has moved on to make a name for herself; on the inside, there’s a part of her that can’t help but want some answers and have some connection with this woman she never knew, even despite the hurt caused. Devastatingly brutal all around.
No. 2 – Billy Currington, “Good Directions”
This song’s plotline very well could have been an episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Which is to say it’s kind of corny, but also endearingly sweet in its actual setup and plot progression. It’s the sort of easy-going story song where the ending is pretty obvious and there’s a slow, easy rollick to the fiddle and dobro interplay. And I’ve always considered Billy Currington to carry the same sort of naturally warm, hangdog charisma as, say, Dierks Bentley.
No. 1 – Trent Tomlinson, “One Wing In The Fire”
For as much as this list has shifted from before, my favorite pick of the bunch comes from a song that wasn’t eligible the first time around. I get it; Trent Tomlinson is one of those underrated artists who should have been so much bigger in the mainstream. And his highest-charting hit remains his best – a plea from a child to the Lord up above to save his father from a downward spiral that’s gravely serious in its execution. It eschews the typical “forgive him, he’s just a man” excuse in favor of painting the picture of someone truly at his worst who still has a bit of good left in him, all from a kid’s perspective, at that. It doesn’t shy away from a complex framing, either, where the kid in question wonders if his father’s transgressions will affect him or his mother, and there’s no ham-fisted moralizing, either. Of course, the intent is to reward a song for what it does do; not what it doesn’t. On that note, it’s one of the finest country singles of the 2000s.