We are closing out the 2nd decade of the the 21st century. How is that even possible??
Yet, here we are and for country music, the past 10 years have been, um, interesting. From “Bro Country” to female artists being ridiculously compared to “the tomatoes” that go on top of a salad(although when you look at the amount of female artists making it onto year-end lists since 2010 there was, sadly, some truth to that statement). The genre saw a big-time influence from r&b, with click tracks, rapping and breathy vocals. It also saw a push back against contemporary influences, with a “return” to its traditional routes via artists like Luke Combs, Jon Pardi and Midland.
Analyzing all that tumult will take the skills of a much better, smarter writer than me and I’m sure there are many in the coming weeks who will be tackling country’s last ten years.
What I’m better suited to do is run through the top hits of each year starting with 2010, which, according to Billboard’s Hot Country Charts list (based on airplay), was Love Like Crazy from Lee Brice
Other notable hits that year: Chris Young, The Man I Wanna Be, Gimme That Girl from Joe Nichols, The House That Built Me, Miranda Lambert (at #11!) and Billy Currington’s Pretty Good at Drinkin Beer.
2011’s top song was by the band performing at Ace of Spades this Saturday night: The Eli Young Band’s Crazy Girl
Other songs scoring in the year-end top 40? Honey Bee, Blake Shelton, Barefoot Blue Jean Night, Jake Owen and Country Girl (Shake It For Me) from Luke Bryan.
2012 saw a few debuts that year: Dustin Lynch’s Cowboys and Angels came in at #4. Kip Moore’s Somethin’ Bout a Truck topped out at #12 and David Nail’s Let It Rain placed 50th. Also interesting to note are some big songs that weren’t even in the top ten that year: Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away was #32. Pontoon from Little Big Town was at #41. Drink In My Hand by Eric Church, #44. The number one song? Josh Turner’s Time Is Love
2013 saw a big shift in the decade’s musical paradigm, as Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelly, aka Florida Georgia Line, debut single lit up the charts for an astonishing 24 weeks-19 of them consecutively-with Cruise, which kick-started several years of the so-called “Bro-country” trend
2014 saw Florida-Georgia Line again on top of the year-end chart with a song which also featured Luke Bryan. Jason Aldean was right behind with the sexy (and, at the time, somewhat controversial) Burnin’ It Down. Luke, by himself this time, came in at the #5 spot with Play It Again. Plus, 2014 also saw the emergence of another new artist who, like Tyler and Brian, would alter the sound of country music for the next several years: Sam Hunt’s debut single Leave The Night On reached #9. But, nothing could get past This Is How We Roll
2015 was a big year for Little Big Town, who’s Girl Crush remained at #1 for 13 consecutive weeks. But it wasn’t the top song, or even top ten. It finished the year at #35, maybe because of initial reluctance on the part of some conservative country stations to play a song they thought was about lesbianism (it wasn’t). But overall, the year really didn’t belong to any one artist-Thomas Rhett was at #9 with the disco-influenced Make Me Wanna, Frankie Ballard at #7 with the Shane Mcanally-written Young and Crazy, and Billy Currington was at #2 with Don’t It. The Zac Brown Band however outdistanced them all, pinning down the top spot with Homegrown
For the third time in four years Florida-Georgia Line had the top song of the year in 2016, but for those of us from around here, the year is notable because Dixon’s own Jon Pardi made quite a splash, with the infectious Texas-shuffle-styled Head Over Boots reaching the number 5 spot. Thomas Rhett had another good year with Die a Happy Man at #2. 2016 was also a decent year, finally, for female artists: Maren Morris, who’s second single, My Church, finished at #8. Another young lady newcomer, Kelsea Ballerini, came in right behind her at #10 with the poignant Peter Pan. But, yeah, it was tough to slow down Florida-Georgia Line, who reached the top spot again with a beautiful song penned by the late writer Busbee, who passed away this year from brain cancer.
2017 was another good year for Jon Pardi, who finished the year with Dirt On My Boots being the 6th most played song in country music. Another California boy, Brett Young, made it all the way to #2 with the romantic In Case You Didn’t Know. Little Big Town managed to reach the top ten with the Taylor Swift-penned Better Man. Thomas Rhett was in the top ten for the 3rd year in a row with Craving You, his duet with Maren Morris. But the most played song that year? Sam Hunt, and a song co-writer Josh Osborne said (on my podcast Write You a Song) took nearly 9 weeks to write because Sam kept going back and changing verses. Obviously though, the OCD-like effort paid off.
While I was putting this list together I had to start wondering, even though Jason Aldean was recently named the CMA Artist of the Decade, a very strong case could’ve been made for Florida-Georgia Line, just based on overall Billboard chart success. In 2018, for the 4th time six years, they finished the year atop the most played list, which is remarkable. They also had the #7 song that year with the simply-catchy diddy, Simple. 2018 was also a big year for the debut of an artist who’s yet to have one of his singles not go number one (7 and counting): Luke Combs blew into country music and his Hit Me Like a Hurricane finished the year at #6. Kane Brown continued to impress with Heaven reaching #2 and Dan and Shay started giving us a taste of what was to come with Tequila finishing at #3. But really, unless you spent the year with your fingers in your ears, there is no way you missed the multi-format r&b influenced-smash Meant To Be, by FLG and BeBe Rexha
The year end chart for 2019 is still a few weeks away but if I were going to speculate, I’d say God’s Country (co-written by Orangevale native Devin Dawson) would be a strong contender for most played. Girl from Maren Morris was also in hot rotation for most of the year and Luke Combs will almost definitely be in the top ten with Beautiful Crazy. But, we’ll have to wait and see. Be sure to listen to the year-end version of the Country Top 40 on New Year’s day on KNCI.