Author: Leon Blair
So I was browsing around the ol’ Internet as I’m known to do, and I came across this thread on Pulse Music Board titled “Top 20 Songs That Never Went Top 20”. The whole idea surroudning the thread was to list your twenty favorite songs that never went top twenty on either the Mediabase or Billboard Country Airplay charts. Well, that’s what this post will be about. Yes, I did post in that particular thread, but after thinking about this a little bit more I decided to revise my list somewhat. So here you are, my twenty favorite songs that never saw the justice they desevred at country radio. Keep in mind, these are all solely my picks and I invite you to make your own list down below! Also keep in mind that I am only including songs that came from the 2000’s or 2010’s. I might do another one of these in the future with 90’s country songs or even before that era, but I want to do some more research into that before I proceed.
Also, some more inspiration from this list came from Farce The Music’s “The Kiss Of Commercial Death”.
20. Jon Pardi – “What I Can’t Put Down”
I remember back when I first decided to take a listen to Jon Pardi’s debut album, Write You A Song back in 2014. I didn’t have a lot of hopes going in considering the song “Up All Night” was boring as could be, but I decided to keep an open mind. Well, when I heard “What I Can’t Put Down” I immediately was hooked on the guy. The guitars have a lot of crunch on this track, and the blend of rock with neo-traditional country made it an easy song to bring both the traditionalists and mainstream fans together. I wasn’t quite as sold on his last album, California Sunrise, but this was a kickass track from a kickass album.
19. Locash Cowboys – “Best Seat In The House”
Yeah I know, I’m surprised as anyone that this group could pull off something like this, but damn it, it earns its place. Told from the point of view of a deceased father who’s watching his son from heaven, this is the type of song that I wish these guys would record more of. Hell, they’ve got it in them to write a killer song lyrically with a really good hook, and while they haven’t exactly placed ANY emphasis on that former trait lately, they’ve at least got this as the shining moment in their discography thus far.
18. Sunny Sweeney – “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving”
Man, I know that Texas-Country artists never see THAT much success in the mainstream when they cross over, but couldn’t we give Sunny Sweeney more than one top ten hit that barely even got there?!? Anyway, I really enjoy the framing of this track – the narrator is singing from the aftermath of her failed marriage and how even though they both loved each other at one point, sometimes that doesn’t last. It’s not as if they didn’t try, it’s just that eventually being together and fighting for that spark to rekindle wasn’t worth it in the end. It’s a powerful sentiment that reminds me once again – Sunny was too good for the radio.
17. Chris Stapleton – What Are You Listening To?
Oh look, I’m talking about Chris Stapleton after November 2015. I’m definitely hopping on the ol’ bandwagon. Anyway, why the hell didn’t this make it onto Traveller? I mean, I know it could have used a little more variety in tempo but damn it, this would have been one of the highlights! Oh well, it’s still a damn great song that really proves Stapleton is a powerhouse vocalist, not that you needed me to tell you that.
16. Wade Bowen – “Saturday Night”
Speaking of Texas-Country artists who fared poorly in the mainstream….man, Wade is the type of guy that mainstream country needs – someone who can write smart, accessible, catchy, and again, smart songs. Oh well, he’s moved on from this, after all, he’s got “Standards”.
15. David Nail – “The Sound Of A Million Dreams”
It’s really no surprise that some of my favorite songs from David Nail such as this “Old Man’s Symphony” and this song are about making dreams come true. David is definitely one of the most emotive vocalists in country today, and as someone who’s passionate about music as well, I can totally understand where he’s coming from here. All of these songs are underrated obviously, but this song in particular just never felt like it got the spotlight it deserved.
14. Kacey Musgraves – “Blowin’ Smoke”
It’s definitely very bleak lyrically, but it’s a ton of fun everywhere else. Normally that kind of thing bothers me, but here it actually kind of helps it. I mean hell, this might even contrast with David Nail’s “The Sound Of A Million Dreams”, showing a reality of how sometimes we don’t follow our dreams and how not all of us are going to be what we want to be. Again, rough message, but the reality to this is stunning.
13. Josh Turner – “Lay Low”
Released at the tail end of the whole “bro-country” craze, this song just got lost in the shuffle in the worst way possible. Honestly, for as “modern” as this song as well as Josh’s new single, “Hometown Girl” have been, I still quite enjoy the more liquid textures and airy production that he’s bringing to the table here. I can certainly relate to the sentiment of the need to get away from everything for awhile as well. Damn Josh, between you and Jamey Johnson, I don’t know who’s new album I need more.
12. James Wesley – “Jackson Hole”
I know that it’s unfair to complain about artists who couldn’t have been more considering all of the music out there, but man, I’m saying it about James Wesley. There is some fantastic songwriting on this track (along with a twist ending), and as a vocalist, James definitely has a ton of power in him. You probably know him more for songs such as “Real” or “Didn’t I”, but this is the crown jewel of it all if you ask me.
11. Chris Young – “Neon”
Unlike some of the artists on this list, Chris actually recovered from his poor chart performance to….record some pretty vanilla material (although his latest singles haven’t been bad at all). Yeah, I know I sound like a stuck up purist snob preaching about how Chris was better off recording more traditionally oriented songs, but man, his vocals were just a perfect for this type of material! “Neon” is still my favorite song of Chris’ to date, and hopefully one day he can return to this style.
10. Randy Montana – “Ain’t Much Left Of Lovin’ You”
Of course, on the flip side of traditional country we have a song that actually embraced some more modern touches and pulled it off exceptionally well. Randy is known mainly for his songwriting these days, and you can tell it was evident on this biting track about heartache that has an absoltely killer hook. As a sidenote, this guy’s debut album was pretty underrated as well.
9. Gary Allan – “It Ain’t The Whiskey”
I don’t know what else to tell you other than this is the type of song Gary Allan was made for. His catalog is definitely more on the moody side, enough to where it’s turned some people off of him. However, as someone who leans more towards that type of material anyway, a song like this is absolutely in my wheelhouse. The organ and the scuzzy ending guitar solo just add so much to this lyrically compelling song.
8. Alan Jackson – “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore”
I get that legends of country music eventually have to be cast aside in order to breed a new generation, but damn it I miss Alan Jackson. I mean, you don’t need me to tell you how excellently he pulls of a somber song about heartache, but I’ll tell you anyway. Even though this was only a few years ago, it still proved that Alan could still churn out some of his best material twenty plus years into the game.
7. Jamey Johnson – “High Cost Of Living”
Alright, I know you could debate a lot of songs in Jamey’s catalog for this list, but this is my personal pick. While a lot of these songs are anything but humorous or light-hearted, this song is the anomaly. I mean yeah, it’s telling of how Jamey screwed up his life, but it’s doing it in a way that’s humorously reflective, poking fun at himself in a way that shows Jamey at a better place in his life (at least at the time). I said it before, but I’ll say it again, I really want that new album.
6. Eli Young Band – “When It Rains”
On the subject of anomalies to this list, yeah, I don’t know what to tell you here, folks. Where something like Josh Turner’s “Lay Low” or William Michael Morgan’s “Missing” tells of getting away from everything in a light-hearted manner, this song goes in a darker direction both lyrically as well as in the production, and honestly it’s something I can painfully relate to all too much, even to this day.
5. Aaron Watson – “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song)”
I’m willing to bet some of you didn’t even know this was ever a single for Aaron. As I said over at This Is Country Music, A song this deep and personal doesn’t really make me feel qualified to sum it up in a mere few sentences. I’ll say this, have a listen for yourself and just try and tell me you didn’t feel something from it. I bet you’ll lose.
4. Brett Eldredge – “Raymond”
Oh Brett how you’ve changed…. Anyway, this is a unique type of song. I mean, it feels personal in a lot of places, but as someone who’s had a family member with memory problems, I can definitely relate to the sentiment of this song. I also the love the framing – this guy isn’t actually named Raymond, but he pretends to be at this place of employment in order to cheer up this woman with Alzheimer’s and give her something to hold on to. She doesn’t remember that her son Raymond actually died, and that additional detail to the song makes it hit so much harder for me, and it did a good job of that to begin with.
3. Emily West – “Blue Sky (feat. Keith Urban)”
I don’t know what to say about other this song other than it’s just an absolutely beautifully song. Emily West is a powerful vocalist, both in terms of actual power as well as emotive delivery. Heck, even Keith Urban provides some good support here. This is the type of song that does better to speak for itself than have me talk about it.
2. Dierks Bentley – “Draw Me A Map”
Alright, no joke, these next two songs are honestly two of my all time favorites, and as such, ranking them was incredibly difficult. Dierks’ venture into Bluegrass was certainly a grand ambition in 2010, one that unfortunately didn’t pay off commercially speaking. If you want a song to land on this list, it’s got to connect on some other level for me, and the hollow, ghostly feeling to this is perfect, and the fiddle that comes through on the outro is just completely beautiful. I know we’re not going to get another bluegrass project from Dierks anytime soon (probably), but I can hope right? I have to…
1. George Strait – “Drinkin’ Man”
I know this list is celebrating failure on the charts and might contradict the whole concept of “celebratory” as is, but you know, it feels right that George Strait would top this list. Like I said with Alan Jackson, everyone in the industry eventually reaches an age where radio deems them too “old” or “outdated” to play in regular rotation anymore. It’s just a damn shame that this song in particular was the start of that decline for George, because it honestly may his best in my opinion. There are no punches pulled in the honest framing of this track, and George himself is doing one hell of a job to match the melancholic, regretful feel of this. George has often been criticized for not going deep enough with some of his singles, but this was a chance to prove that part wrong.
Again though, these are just solely my picks. Let me know if you have any top 20 favorites that didn’t make the top 20. As always, I love hearing what you all have to say!