Favorite Hit Country Songs of 2005

Previous: Favorite Hit Songs of 2006

Our first edition of this series for the new year continues things off on an odd note, in more ways than one. For one, we last looked at 2008 in our countdown, and as for why we’re now jumping ahead to 2005, it’s because I examined both 2007 and 2006 on my own (before Andy joined) and still feel the lists hold up decently well. So Andy and I decided it’d just be best to charge ahead. The weird part, then, comes in trying to summarize 2005, even just based off the hits. I’d describe it most as a transitional year for the genre. Predicted superstars like Gretchen Wilson didn’t quite bolster their momentum like expected, and we were a year away from the arrival of several future ones – many of whom, like Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift (albeit in a different format) are still relevant today.

What this means, ultimately, is that there were more dark horse considerations to choose from for our favorites of this year, be they one-shot comeback hits, songs that came from unexpected events, last glimpses of the spotlight, or songs from veterans coming into their own. Diverse, but all the better for it. If you’re new to this feature, we compile these lists according to what peaked within the top 20 during the year examined for each feature. And it’s all in good fun and nothing more, so be sure to let us know your favorites from this year, as well. Anyway, onward!

No. 10 – Brad Paisley, “Alcohol” (written by Brad Paisley)

In which Brad Paisley rips away the veneer from country music’s most popular song topic by having him sing from the perspective of the titular item; I don’t even drink, and I’ve always found this hilarious. I love how it highlights the consequences of indulging in too much consumption without ever once condemning its audience or coming anywhere close to judgmental or preachy, and I love that it’s all just meant to be just overblown in the best way possible. But if there’s an element to adore most – one that’s far simpler and doesn’t require much analysis, sober or otherwise – it’s that huge chorus and hook. It’s a modern classic by way of a sing-a-long, and to date, one of Paisley’s best. – Zackary Kephart

No. 10 – Darryl Worley, “If Something Should Happen” (written by Jim Brown, Dan Demay, and Dave Turnbull)

The song with which Darryl Worley is most associated is “Have You Forgotten,” but while that song has aged like milk and could not be more tied to its time period, if you look past the surface, his discography is replete with mostly-forgotten singles that were usually quite solid. “If Something Should Happen” is chief among them. The song is a sparse, haunting ballad that describes a man faced with a potentially life-threatening illness asking his best friend to help look after his wife and kids should the worst come to pass. It’s all done extremely tastefully and realistically, and has the potential to move me greatly. Substantive story songs that pertain to important aspects of real life are what made me fall in love with country music in the first place, and rediscovering it while performing research for this list was an absolute pleasure. – Andy

No. 9 – Alan Jackson, “Monday Morning Church” (written by Brent Baxer and Erin Enderlin)

For as much as I adore Alan Jackson as both a performer and writer, I’m glad he took a chance on this excellent co-penned Erin Enderlin song – another singer/songwriter to mine gold out of misery, come to think of it. If you’re familiar with either act, you know they pull no punches in any capacity. The significant other leaves our character on Earth to sift through what’s left for him, which includes a devastating blow to his faith that can provide some complex questions for a country song – and with no easy answers, at that. Even with that said, against the gorgeously warm production, it’s a song Jackson slides into so naturally. And that it ranks among his absolute best … that says it all. – ZK

No. 9 – Trisha Yeawood, “Georgia Rain” (written by Ed Hill and Karyn Rochelle)

Come on, we all know Trisha Yearwood could get away with singing the phonebook, and if she did, she’s such a wonderful singer and strong lyrical interpreter that it would probably still make this list. But lucky for us, she sings something a whole lot better. “Georgia Rain” is a terrific piano-driven ballad that describes a couple of teenage lovers in the throes of a passionate romance. The song switches from the past tense to the present in the final verse to reveal that not only did the relationship not survive, the narrator still carries a torch for her ex-lover and wishes things could have turned out differently – a real gutpunch. Everything about this song excels, and if 2005 wasn’t an unusually strong year, it would be a lock for the top five. – A

No. 8 – George Strait, “You’ll Be There” (written by Cory Mayo)

Another song from a veteran artist to tackle complex issues of faith and religion, this time told from the perspective of an ambiguous character who ponders the end and wonders what waits afterward. Now, just stopping the description there … I could see where this could possibly stray off course by becoming too preachy. But the beautiful part of “You’ll Be There” is its childlike innocence and beauty in the pure wonder of the unknown great beyond, showcased best in Strait’s delivery but also in its constant questions asked, as well as the beautiful swell of strings and backing vocalists that only build to greater heights as the song progresses. It’s always been on par for me with Brad Paisley’s “When I Get Where I Going” for the best songs in this vein in a way that could include everyone – sinners, saints, and fools alike. It’s a late-career highlight that tends to get overlooked, but a marvel to behold, all the same. – ZK

No. 8 – Lee Ann Womack, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” (written by Odie Blackmon)

“I may hate myself in the morning, but I’m going to love you tonight” is as strong of a hook as I’ve heard in a country song. This is a fantastically written song describing two lovers who can’t seem to make it work but can’t let each other go either – a complex relationship dynamic if there ever was one. Womack once again proves why she’s among the best to ever pick up a microphone, and the contemporary-meets-traditional production is an utter delight. There’s not a whole lot for me to say about this one except that it is an exemplary country song. – A

No. 7 – Sara Evans, “A Real Fine Place to Start” (written by George Ducas and Radney Foster)

This was Sara Evans’ last No. 1 hit until “A Little Bit Stronger” came along, and even just typing that makes me pretty sad, because this should have ruled the year. The passion is the real selling point of this, especially in the sheer intensity Evans delivers here on a song that’s yearning and hungry to find out what love really means. Sure, jumping in and taking a chance might only ignite a spark that could flicker all too quickly, but it could be the start of something more. Hey, you never know. It’s just so infectious and joyous in its execution, coupled with a great melody and one of her best-ever hooks, to boot. It’s a shot of euphoria for the ages. – ZK

No. 7 – Andy Griggs, “If Heaven” (written by Gretchen Peters)

Andy Griggs possessed an extraordinarily powerful and soulful voice, but rarely had material interesting enough to match it – with one major exception, and that is his take on Gretchen Peters’ “If Heaven.” A sparsely produced piano ballad peppered effectively by some well-placed steel guitar, the narrator of this song contemplates what an afterlife, if it exists, might be like. If Heaven’s like many of us imagine it to be and resembles how life was in our childhoods when everything seemed perfect and “everyone we know is still alive” (a darn powerful line), who can be afraid of death? Of course, since none of us know what’s coming (if anything) when that inevitable day comes, the song leaves things open, but is overall hopeful in tone. Extremely moving stuff. – A

No. 6 – Sugarland, “Baby Girl” (written by Jennifer Nettles, Kristin Hall, Kristian Bush, Lisa Kay Simonton, Robert Bret Hartley, and Troy Bieser)

Separating my thoughts on this group’s move from a trio to a duo that directly affects how one takes this song or their debut album in general … well, it’s definitely still among their best, but Kristin Hall’s ugly removal – or rather, erasure – from this group is a mark that stains the country music history books, especially when this is one of this group’s few songs where I feel compelled to highlight the harmonies. As for the song itself, even though songs told from the perspectives of the starry-eyed dreamers trying to make it in Nashville provide us with several classics to reference – and, consequently, a high bar to clear –  I think what I’ve always appreciated here most is the framing. Our character is already well-aware of what she’ll endure to make her dreams happen, and the distinctly female perspective helps in sketching out the reality of that uphill battle – especially in Nashville. But she’s going to try anyway, and if only for hopeful optimism, I believe her. – ZK

No. 6 – Jamie O’Neal, “Somebody’s Hero” (written by Jamie O’Neal, Shaye Smith, and Ed Hill)

In my view, this is one of the most unjustly forgotten singles of the aughts. Country music is often at its best when it’s celebrating the lives of ordinary people in ordinary situations, and “Somebody’s Hero” is a fine example of that. It’s a tastefully produced pop-country anthem that describes a working-class mother (heavily implied to be single) and all of the sacrifices she makes to give her daughter the best life possible. I find the way the first verse rattles off the kinds of accomplishments we typically associate with heroism that the woman in question hasn’t done before describing all of the ways she is a hero to her daughter to be extremely effective and memorable, as it turns the oft-criticized “laundry list” trope plaguing numerous modern country singles on its head.

One of the weirdest aspects of growing up is the realization that your parents aren’t the infallible superheroes you once perceived them as, but flawed, ordinary people like everyone else – and odds are as you both age, they’re going to turn to you for help just as often as you to them. That brilliant final verse illustrates that perfectly.

George Jones’ “She Loved a Lot in Her Time” is my all-time favorite song about motherhood, but “Somebody’s Hero” is right next to it. – A

No. 5 – LeAnn Rimes, “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way” (written by John Kennedy and Tammi Kidd)

This may be LeAnn Rimes’ best song, one where listeners are made to believe her character is going through the motions of a typical break-up … until, like in Alan Jackson’s “Monday Morning Church,” it’s revealed that her significant other passed away and she’s faced an uphill battle in trying to find closure. What elevates it for me further is a sense of lived-in detail, namely in how she looks to friends and family for support but doesn’t find it. It’s not really their loss like it is hers, and with the subtext suggesting that it’s possibly been years and years since the tragedy occurred, it makes a small step like going out with someone new seem so significant, even if she’s still nowhere near ready to move on. Heartbreaking and tragic in writing and its minor tones, it’s another comeback hit that sparked only a small rebound instead of a larger fire. And that may just be another tragedy. – ZK

No. 5 – Kenny Chesney, “Anything But Mine” (written by Scooter Carusoe)

There’s a reason why this song is just about everyone’s favorite Kenny Chesney track – it’s downright magical. “Anything But Mine” takes the bog standard “lost summer love” premise and subverts and enhances it in all sorts of interesting ways to create something that feels wholly unique. The characters exhibit a clear-eyed, grounded maturity in recognizing the reality of their situation, and consequently express some sentiments that seem unusually frank and realistic. To this day I’m still shocked that that final line of the second verse exists in a mainstream country single, but let’s be honest: it’s exactly something a young man in this situation is probably thinking. And then there’s the rich amount of detail that create an unforgettable sonic portrait – we all can picture that carnival, beach, and seaside pavilion. Don’t forget about that wistful, vaguely melancholy production that is unlike just about anything else.

Modern country radio is frequently criticized for promoting songs that all too often feel, well, fake in that they don’t reflect real life in any believable way. “Anything But Mine” is anything but that. – A

No. 4 – Lee Ann Womack, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”

That this song didn’t even crack my honorable mentions portion of favorite Lee Ann Womack songs is kind of nuts in hindsight, but also a testament to the strength of both Womack’s discography and this particular single’s parent album. After all, this was the era in which Womack stuck true to her promise to record the kind of country music she had always wanted to make, and the evidence here suggests her label should have relented earlier, even if, perhaps predictably so, country radio didn’t really budge, outside of this single. “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” just has that classic bite in its maturity and complicated framing, especially in its way of making “sinful” indulgence in a one-night stand sound so joyously sweet and needed backed against that rich blend of strings and pedal steel (and a well-timed fiddle solo). “The devil’s in the fine details” might be a cliché to end off that statement … but yeah, it works. – ZK

No. 4 – Alan Jackson, “Monday Morning Church”

Low-key one of Alan Jackson’s best singles, “Monday Morning Church” is a neotraditional tearjerker of the highest caliber. The narrator of this song is a recently windowed man who’s overcome with grief. He’s angry at God and has no idea how he’ll go on without his wife. Co-written by Musical Divide favorite Erin Enderlin, it’s full of one great line after another: “You left my heart as empty as a Monday morning church, it used to be so full of faith, now it only hurts.” Patty Loveless on harmony vocals is icing on the cake. This song is as bleak as it gets and makes your average George Jones weeper seem blissful and cheery. As a result, it’s not always a song I’m in the mood for, but when I’m looking for a song that tackles one of life’s dimmer aspects in an unflinching way, I can’t think of many better than this. – A

No. 3 – Gary Allan, “Best I Ever Had” (written by Matt Scannell)

And thus, Gary Allan made a song his own. A take on a Vertical Horizon song that acted as his first piece of new music following his wife’s suicide, “Best I Ever Had” is a particularly brutal piece to hear in that context. And then there’s the subtle line change before the last chorus to add a layer of complexity of the situation, only further amplified by the Tough All Over album itself, showing how Allan is doing his best to just … understand, and can’t seem to break that barrier no matter how hard he tries. A fitting first step to overcoming grief, though, really. It should be obvious by now how much weight Allan’s delivery adds to a deceptively simple sentiment, and while it should never been among his best … damn it, it’s truly one of the best he ever had. – ZK

No. 3 – LeAnn Rimes, ” Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way”

After years of chasing pop stardom, 2005’s This Woman marked Lee Ann Rimes’ return to country music. “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way” is not only the best song on that album, it’s quite possibly Rimes’ greatest artistic achievement thus far. Thematically, it’s broadly similar to “Monday Morning Church” in that it deals with a person grappling with the death of a significant other, but is enhanced by an impressive amount of detail that make it seem wholly distinct. It’s implied that some time has passed since the loss for the narrator of “Probably Shouldn’t Be This Way.” She’s expected to have begun to move on by now, but she simply can’t. Not only is she still dealing with grief over the loss, she has to endure subtle criticism from those around her who are beginning to question her inability to get back to normal, compounding her struggles. The melody of the chorus is strong enough to make this song a winner by itself. Should have led to a career renaissance, but didn’t. – A

No. 2 – Trisha Yearwood, “Georgia Rain”

This is the 2000s version of “Strawberry Wine,” and I mean that as a huge compliment (as if the placement on this list didn’t speak for itself anyway). But if I’m going to make another comparison, it’s to a song on this list specifically – “A Real Fine Place to Start,” namely in its fiery passion and intensity throughout that only Yearwood could have handled this effectively. This is a regretful yet sensual slow burn where the imagery is vivid enough on its own but made whole by its mature perspective looking at it all in hindsight. Again, it’s a familiar tale to revisit, but when said revisit includes magic like this, it’s always worth one more dance in the rain. – ZK

No. 2 – Blaine Larsen, “How Do You Get That Lonely” (written by Rory Feek and Jamie Teachenor)

A neotraditional stunner, this song is an examination of a suicide, the possible reasons for it, and its aftermath. Co-written by Rory Lee Feek in his pre-Joey+Rory days, every line absolutely hits. As the song smartly recognizes, a suicide always results from a perfect storm of circumstances, is never anyone’s fault, and the reason why it happens can never be fully understood by those left behind. Larsen’s performance, recorded when he was still a teenager, displays a level of depth and maturity that is astounding for someone so young. That chorus with that riding steel guitar is one of the all-time greats. With mental health issues seemingly on the rise, this song has sadly only become more relevant in the years since its release.

I usually steer clear of music videos – generally, I’d rather conjure up my own mental picture of a song than have one provided to me, but I honestly think the one for this song is among the most effective in country music history. The way the various characters, who are people the deceased knew in life, are depicted as traveling in the funeral procession and reacting to the questions posed by the lyrics is extremely powerful to me. – A

As always, before unveiling our No. 1 picks, we’d like to run through some honorable mentions that just missed the cut for our lists, in no particular order:

Dierks Bentley, “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do” (written by Deric Ruttan, Brett Beavers, and Dierks Bentley), “How Am I Doin’” (written by Jim Beavers and Dierks Bentley), and “Come a Little Closer” (written by Brett Beavers and Dierks Bentley)

I’m always left thinking that Dierks Bentley gets screwed over by these features, and this kind of confirms that, even if I do like all of these and would cite him as one of my favorite performers of the 2000s. Oh well. These first two selections are still jams and the latter is a mature jam of another kind. – ZK

Faith Hill, “Mississippi Girl” (written by Adam Shoenfield and John Rich)

Speaking as someone who isn’t a huge Faith Hill fan, this incendiary response to her critics is well-earned and got me to care about her story in a big way, if only for a moment. Still weird that it was written by two dudes, though. – ZK

Jo Dee Messina, “My Give A Damn’s Busted” (written by Joe Diffie, Tom Shapiro, and Tony Martin)

Another great one in a tradition of incendiary kiss-off tracks. Also the last cut I made for my top ten. – ZK

Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was” (written by Scotty Emerick and Toby Keith)

Hey, say what you will. It’s a riot. – ZK

Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”

Brad Paisley in “comedian” mode has always been a bit hit-or-miss with me. I find that at times he can be too clever by half and wind up tripping over his own feet. For every gem like “Celebrity,” there’s a dud like “I’m Still a Guy.” “Alcohol” is decidedly in the former group. Every line works, and I can’t help but love those highly distinctive electric guitar licks. Genuinely hilarious the first time you listen to it, and holds up fantastically on repeat listens. One of his best. – A

Trace Adkins, “Arlington” (written by Jeremy Spillman and Dave Turnbull)

The post-9/11 era of mainstream country music is notorious for being inundated with patriotic anthems that all too often registered as cynical cash grabs. If you ask me, Trace Adkins’ “Arlington” is one of the few military-themed singles of this time period that not only worked, but worked extremely well. It’s a tastefully produced, warmly-written tribute to soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. One of the reasons why this song succeeds is because it has nothing to do with politics or then-current events, and could have been written anytime in the past one hundred years. – A

Alan Jackson, “The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues” (written by Dennis Linde)

Dennis Linde (of “Goodbye Earl,” “John Deere Green,” “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” fame, among numerous others) was a lyrical genius whose inventive and idiosyncratic style always made his songs stand out. When Alan Jackson, no slouch of a writer himself, sees fit to record one of his songs, you know it’s going to be a hoot. “Talkin’ Song” is a charming little ditty, partly sung and partly spoken, that tells of a traveling musician who’s taken advantage of by an unscrupulous mechanic, only for him to find a way to turn the tables when the mechanic reveals himself to be an aspiring songwriter. It’s a reminder of an era when mainstream country hits were allowed to at least occasionally be a little bit quirky or out of the box. The music video, which stars some of the cast of the sitcom Yes, Dear, is pure early 2000s nostalgia catnip. – A

Van Zant, “Help Somebody” (written by Kip Raines and Jeffrey Steele)

Maybe it’s because the narrator’s grandparents are the perfect amalgamation of both sets of my own grandparents, but I’ll always have an intense fondness for this song. To say that “life advice” songs like this have become tired in recent years would be an understatement, but in 2005, this song felt fresh and new, at least to me. I’m probably allowing nostalgic sentiment to get the better of me here, but hey, it’s my list. “Help somebody” is advice that you can never go wrong following. And never let a cowboy make the coffee. – A

Kenny Chesney, “Who’d You Be Today” (written by Bill Luther and Aimee Mayo)

When a young person dies, they say two deaths have occurred: the person who died, and the person they would have become. This beautiful ballad captures that sentiment splendidly, and represents Chesney at his best and most mature. I really, really wanted to have this in my top 10. – A

And now, our No. 1 picks:

No. 1 – Kenny Chesney, “Anything But Mine”

At a glance, even knowing it’s my own list, this placement of this song here surprises me. It surprises me even more knowing the artists and songs that came before that I’ve already discussed. But a little dose of due diligence made me revisit this … and then revisit it again and again. It’s a summer song that fits well within Kenny Chesney’s wheelhouse, and yet this magical masterpiece still to this day feels and sounds like nothing else in his discography. It was pretty much a lock for the spot right from the shimmering high of that introduction. But it’s also a summer romance song where the characters aren’t caught off-guard by their time running out; they aren’t even necessarily the archetypal high-school couple. This feels older – more mature, confident and sure of itself, especially when it’s detail-rich in the way that comes when you get solo writes like these. I think what I love most, though, is how playful it all feels. Our characters know already they only have so much time left, and they know they likely won’t ever see each other again when what they have is done. So they’re going to revel in the moment for as long as they can and part on good terms. It’s a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of song that easily ranks as Chesney’s best and should be recognized as his signature song (and in some online circles in the know, actually is). But hey, like with the song itself, you may never be able to go back, but you can always relive that magic in some form when you please, and sometimes that’s just enough. – ZK

Somewhere down in Texas album cover
George Strait – the king once again.

No. 1 – George Strait, “You’ll Be There”

Time for a bold take: “You’ll Be There” is the greatest song in George Strait’s discography. Dramatically more ambitious lyrically and greater in thematic scope than, well, just about any country radio single ever, it at times feels closer to, say, a Leonard Cohen song than a George Strait one. It takes quite a bit of gall to release something this challenging and unconventional to the notoriously risk-averse format that is country radio, and it’s likely something that an artist with only George Strait’s level of clout could get away with. A sprawling, big picture epic that seems to be an ode to a person who has died but also says a lot about life in general, “You’ll Be There” is a song that defies easy description, and means something different to everyone who hears it. It’s a profoundly beautiful lyric supported by a lovely production that blends mandolin, steel and strings. And, of course, George Strait’s vocal performance is impeccable, as he gets just the right amount of emotion out of every note. An exquisite record in every sense. – A

Next: Favorite Hit Songs of 2004

One thought on “Favorite Hit Country Songs of 2005

  1. Until I scanned through the Wikipedia list, I didn’t realize how many of the hit songs from 2005 were very good and I thought I had checked out on country radio by then, but evidently not. It wasn’t difficult to come up with a Top 15 list.

    I don’t think I had ever heard the Blaine Larson song before, so I’ve just given it a listen and I agree with your assessment – quite a song!

    Regarding “Anything But Mine” and “You’ll Be There” – I know I’ve heard the songs before, but unlike the songs on my list below, I couldn’t really remember them until I listened again. They are both very good, but don’t quite make by Top 15.

    15. Must be Doin’ Something Right – Billy Currington
    14. Mississippi Girl – Faith Hill
    13. Alcohol – Brad Paisley
    12. Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off – Joe Nichols – I know it’s a silly song, but I’ve always enjoyed it and Joe Nichols sounds great (as usual)
    11. USA Today – Alan Jackson
    10. It’s Getting Better All the Time – Brooks & Dunn
    9. Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do – Dierks Bentley
    8. What’s a Guy Gotta Do? – Joe Nichols
    7. I May Hate Myself in the Morning – Lee Ann Womack
    6. Mud on the Tires – Brad Paisley – one of my favourite Brad Paisley songs
    5. Best I Ever Had – Gary Allan – I remember first hearing this when it came out and, knowing the context, I agree he absolutely made this song his own
    4. Probably Wouldn’t Be That Way – LeAnn Rimes – this is a really underrated album from LeAnn Rimes – very solid throughout and I love this song
    3. Monday Morning Church – Alan Jackson
    2. Come a Little Closer – Dierks Bentley
    1. Georgia Rain – Trisha Yearwood – one of my favourite Trisha Yearwood songs

    Liked by 1 person

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