As we near the end of 2016, it’s only fitting that One Country shares a few of those classic, end of the year lists. Like you, we are kind of bored with the typical end of the year lists, so we’re putting our own spin on a few!
This year for One Country’s Best Country Songs of the Year list, we asked three of our biggest country music buffs to all pick a few songs. Surprisingly, there were only a few crossovers. For the most part, these songs were all released as singles this year. Songs released as a single in 2016 or an album cut from 2016 were eligible. Songs are listed in no particular order.
20 Best Country Music Songs of 2016:
1. “Forever Country” // Various Artists (LC)
There’s just something about these three songs and these 30 or so artists singing on one track. Shane McAnally’s production and arrangement (with help from Josh Osborne) is almost magical.
2. “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” // Brandy Clark (JS)
As one of today’s finest songwriters, Clark packs more than a few tear-jerking punches in just four minutes and 30 seconds. 2016 has been the year of unimaginable loss, not only for the country music community but also the world, at large. No other song encompasses exactly what we are all feeling quite like this one. “Since you’ve gone to heaven, the whole world’s gone to hell…,” she laments.
3. “Better Man” // Little Big Town (LC)
In a surprising turn of events, Taylor Swift pitched this power ballad to the only country act she could imagine performing it. Led by the incomparable Karen Fairchild, the song is spun with Little Big Town’s heartwarming harmonies, bringing the group back to their roots.
4. “You Should Be Here” (ED)
I love when artists share something that is so completely intimate. Cole Swindell presented us with a song that many people could relate to, but at the same time it was an intimate look at his life. That, and it makes me cry.
5. “This Town Gets Around” // Margo Price (JS)
2016’s honky-tonk darling doesn’t mince her words on this standout cut on her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. “As the saying goes, it’s not who you know, but it’s who you blow that’ll get you in the show,” she hisses.
6. “Use My Heart” // Miranda Lambert (LC)
There’s something so raw about this cut from The Weight of These Wings. To be so sure of something until your heart gets involved is something almost every person in the world can relate to. And when Lambert sings it, you can feel it.
7. “Kill A Word” // Eric Church (LC)
It’s rare for a country music song to take such a stand. Church released this just before the election– a time when everyone in America needed to be reminded that words matter.
8. “Setting the World on Fire” // Kenny Chesney featuring Pink (ED)
The first time I saw P!nk perform, she opened for NSYNC. It was the ’90s, so that was cool. I’ve been a fan ever since and I think Kenny Chesney’s choice to include her on this song was one of the best he’s made in a long time. I love rolling down the windows and singing along to this one.
9. “21 Summer” // Brothers Osborne (JS)
The brother duo usurped Florida Georgia Line’s throne as CMA Vocal Duo of the Year, much to the surprise of the entire music community. And rightfully so. Brothers Osborne’s debut album Pawn Shop is one of the most compelling of the year, and this blustering nostalgic number is swallowed up heartache and a sense of freedom. As they look back at a former flame, they realize how much that relationship changed them forever. “You made a man of me,” they sing.
10. “Makin’ Me Look Good Again” // Drake White (JS)
Recently named one of the New Faces of Country by the Country Radio Seminar, White brims with heart and soul. His scruffy vocal drips over this piano ballad with sincerity and grit. There’s no way you can walk away without truly feeling something after this.
11.”The Bird & The Rifle” // Lori McKenna (LC)
Every song on McKenna The Bird & The Rifle exude a brilliant sadness, but the title track, ironically, borrowed a metaphor from the always funny “Modern Family,” making it stand out even more.
12. “Peter Pan” // Kelsea Ballerini (LC)
On the heels of two fun and flirty singles, Ballerini released the insightful “Peter Pan,” which speaks to a generation of women faced with the prospect of dating and marrying boys that shave.
13. “Different for Girls” // Dierks Bentley with Elle King (ED)
I’ve been on the Dierks Bentley train since day one. As soon as I heard Elle King, I jumped onboard an open boxcar. The two of these together was gorgeous. But the real achievement here was the message. It’s different for girls and to hear a man sing that to the world is so refreshing.
14. “Record Year” // Eric Church (ED)
I love vinyl. I will always remember the day I finally convinced my father to give me his record collection. I’d coveted that finely crafted library for my entire life and finally won by pointing out that I had a turntable and he did not. There is nothing better than putting an album on and experiencing that music. Eric captured that emotion in this song.
15. “Tin Man” // Miranda Lambert (JS)
If we could, we’d list every single song of Lambert’s double album on this list. But it is this airy ballad, which utilizes the classic imagery of the Tin Man to detail the hurt and pain in Lambert’s own chest, that stands the tallest of them all. “You shouldn’t spend your whole life wishing for something bound to fall apart,” she pleads.
16. “This Town is Killing Me” // Caitlyn Smith (JS)
In another ode to the struggles of a Nashville musician, Smith chronicles her journey; she aims for big dreams but all she finds is sorrow. “I wanted it so bad and now, I just want to go home…” she cries. More importantly, she recounts instances when she missed pivotal life moments, such as the death of her grandfather. It’s a simple, elegant song (backed with wailing strings), and that is often the most effective, powerful kind.
17. “80s Mercedes” // Maren Morris (ED)
I was not born in the ’90s, but every time this song comes on I sing along and fantasize about an older model vehicle. Maren Morris’ voice is unique and refreshing. She mixes that Texas attitude, with a bit of soul, to create one of my favorite albums of the year.
18. “Keep It Between The Lines” // Sturgill Simpson (LC)
I love the weird, random rules parents come up with for their children. They stick with them for a long time. (My dad always told me, “never risk your life to save an animal’s” and “never quit a job before you have another.”) Simpson’s list of 19 or so rules to his son are outstanding. The full horn section drives home the point, too– just keep it between the lines.
19. “Love Triangle” // RaeLynn (LC)
RaeLynn’s take on being the child of divorce is honest and refreshing. Her vocal delivery on the track is compelling and both of her parents should be proud.
20. “Rich” // Maren Morris (LC)
Maybe the sassiest country music song ever recorded or maybe the most clever– either way– it’s one of the best songs of the year.
Other Favorites: “Leaving Nashville,” (Charles Kelley) “Vice,” (Miranda Lambert) “Daughter,” (Brandy Clark) “Rock On,” (Tucker Beathard) “Church Bells” (Carrie Underwood)