The Year That Was: Roughstock's Favorite 60 Singles From 2012
By: Matt Bjorke
When making such lists as "The Top 60 Singles" of any given year, it's probably best to remind folks of the process that comes with making such a list. Some publications will do 'lists' of 'songs' which allows them to pull from their favorite albums to complete a list that isn't 'stuck' in 'radio single' land. This usually allows for such publications to use less 'singles'. Since we try to cover more than just Classic Country, Indie Country, Texas Country or Mainstream Country Music, you're likely to find a nice mixture of singles on this list, a list that could very well be mainstream but will hold a few surprises for those expecting it to mirror Billboard or Mediabase's Top 40 Country Singles. Shoot, it won't even mirror the Fan's Choice Top 40 Singles list of songs posted last week.
The rules for inclusion on this rundown are simple. The song must have either peaked on radio station charts in 2012 or been released in the calendar year 2012. That means that there could be one or two singles that were on the 2012 list of Best Singles re-appearing on this rundown. As with any exercise like this, the list is subjective to our Editorial staff's tastes and we hope this will encourage you to leave some comments with your thoughts about the list. Now, on with the list!
60. Craig Morrison - "Fences" (GMV Nashville)
This Aussie delivered a single that was criminally underrated in 2012. A motivational song about learning to overcome obstacles, this one's a song that would have hit really big had it been released by an artist with even marginal major label support. It's just one of those songs.
59. Love and Theft - "Runnin' Out Of Air" (RCA Nashville)
This year featured a lot of great singles and songs so a very good one like this is relegated to this position because of how good other singles and songs were this year. I also have a feeling that this soon to be mega hit will land on our 2013 list as it will be peaking on the charts this year.
58. Rascal Flatts - "Come Wake Me Up" (Big Machine)
I've aways preferred Gary Levox when he sings in his lower register for most of the song and thankfully that's what he does on this well-written, tuneful ballad.
57. Luke Bryan - "Drunk On You" (Capitol Nashville)
Here's a song which is perhaps the epitome of an ear worm and while some might object to the lyrics that list rural activities and vibes and lines "you make my speakers go boom boom" and "drip of honey on the money maker gotta be" but it kinda fits with the theme of 'drunk on you' and 'high on summertime.' A summer-y song to the core.
56. Casey James - "Cryin' On A Suitcase" (19/Columbia)
Much like Love and Theft, here's a case of a very good song getting the 'squeeze' on this rundown of the best singles of 2012. In fact, it's part of the reason the list was expanded to 60 this year. There were too many very good, well-written tunes like "Cryin' On A Suitcase" that needed to be represented here.
55. Craig Campbell - "Outta My Head" (Bigger Picture)
One of the best up and coming Neo-Traditionalists, Craig Campbell decided to record some 'outside' material and it was certainly a wise decision as he brings a slightly more 'modern' edge to his sound without losing anything that made him such a promising artist in the first place. This one may very well end up on 2013's list too.
54. Sarah Darling - "Home To Me" (Black River Entertainment)
Signed to the label when it was founded over four years ago, Sara Darling's been one of Country Music's most underrated artists for a while. A Nashville treasure, she worked with Dann Huff for the making of her upcoming 3rd record and this single was a brilliant choice for the lead single. It's worth any and all attention it gets.
53. Thomas Rhett - "Beer With Jesus" (The Valory Music Company)
The 'controversy' or 'nontroversy' about the song's lyrical content about having a beer with Jesus has caused an otherwise great song to fail to become a huge breakthrough for Thomas Rhett and it's a shame because Rhett Akins' son has the chops to be a big star in Country Music and this song is truly the best song he's written to date. It's about a conversation with Jesus, not about the alcohol. People are too literal sometimes.
52. Edens Edge - "Too Good To Be True" (Big Machine Records)
One of the most talented bands still looking for a massive hit (unusual for anything outta Team Borchetta), "Too Good To Be True" is one of those songs that just is downright good to listen to on repeat. It probably should be higher on this list, but it's not because I actually do like the positioning of the tunes here.
51. The Farm - "Be Grateful" (All In/Elektra Nashville)
Another promising and talented band, The Farm's sophomore single has been my favorite song from them from the very first time I heard the tune on their EP over a year ago. A song for our times and perhaps the trio's breakout hit. It could end up on next year's list too.
50. Keith Urban - "For You" (Relativity/Capitol Nashville)
The end credits 'theme' for the Act of Valor film, "For You" worked out quite well for Keith Urban as a single too as it allowed him to give a song that wasn't quite like anything else on Get Closer. It's a dynamic and one of KU's best, passionate performances.
49. David Nail - "Let It Rain" (MCA Nashville)
Perhaps the best male vocalist in all of Nashville, David Nail finally scored a #1 hit with "Let It Rain" (in early 2012) and that was a lovely sight to see. Another song that could've really been higher on this list (another one of David's singles from 2012 is), this one's lower placement is not an inditement on the song's quality in anyway.
48. Chris Young - "You" (RCA Nashville)
A silky-smooth melody and charming emotive vocals helped this one become one of the 36 #1 hits in 2012 - wow that's a lot of hits - and for good reason. It's just that good.
47. Green River Ordinance - "Dancing Shoes" (Good Time Records)
This texas-based roots/rock band scored a Texas Radio Chart hit with this sweet song this year and it's not a surprise given that the band's lead singer Josh Jenkins is the brother of singer/songwriter Matt Jenkins (Love and Theft's "Runnin' Out Of Air", Jake Owen's "Heaven"). It's a twangy soul-filled country/rock.
46. JB and the Moonshine Band - "The Only Drug" (Average Joes Entertainment)
Now here's a song that really deserved to be more than 'just' a hit in Texas. JB Patterson is one of the best 'unknown' songwriters and with his band he also showcases how strong and tight of a band they are and this tune, the lead single from Beer For Breakfast showcases everything that's great about the band.
45. Jerrod Niemann - "Only God Could Love You More" (Sea Gayle/Arista)
From the strong Free The Music, here's a single that's still climbing the charts at the beginning of 2013 and thus an early contender for the best of 2013 list. A passionate vocal and interesting musical track made it worthy of inclusion on this list for 2012 as well.
44. Gwen Sebastian - "Met Him In A Motel Room" (Flying Island)
Co-written by Rory Feek of Joey+Rory, "Met Him In A Motel Room" is a perfect modern country ballad. It's a song about finding faith in one of the strangest of places (or perhaps not). It's about redemption and second chances. What a whopper of a song and a heck of a performance from Gwen as well.
43. Lady Antebellum - "Dancing Away With My Heart" (Capitol Nashville)
A sweet ballad that about first love and how that love never grows old, even as a couple ages. It's Lady A doing what they've been known for doing recently.
42. LiveWire - "Lies" (Way Out West Records)
American Idol has used the term 'bar band' to describe average bands who play across America as a 'derogatory' term throughout their 11 Seasons. But the truth is that when a band like LiveWire comes along it just takes the right opportunities to showcase that they're more than 'just' that type of band and they clearly are if you take one listen to this tune written by the band's lead vocalist. Great harmonies, great melodies and strong production make this lyrical song about a breakup a standout track of 2012.
41. Joanna Smith - "We Can't Be Friends" (Columbia)
It's pretty criminal to have a vocalist as talented as Joanna Smith struggle to get the attention of the top market radio stations with this tender emotive ballad. It's a strong song and one that should've at least been as big a hit on the big market stations as it was on smaller sized city station markets where it hit the Top 20.
40. Aaron Lewis - "Forever" (Blaster)
One of 10 strong tracks from his album The Road, "Forever" is one of those songs that gets better with each successive listens. An emotive vocal showcase for Lewis, this single is his current single at the beginning of 2013 and that could help it become a contender on this list when we're here making another one of these lists a year from now.
39. Kip Moore - "Beer Money" (MCA Nashville)
The follow-up to the risky "Somethin' 'Bout A Truck," "Beer Money" showcases a more 'standard' verse/chorus structure to songwriting but is as catchy and as memorable as Moore's breakthrough hit was. It's a mood-setting song that is perfect for a road trip playlist. It's also one heckuva 'headphones song' too.
38. Lee Brice - "A Woman Like You" (Curb)
The first #1 single of Brice's career, this is a song that not everyone has liked due to the lyrics. While I find them charming and conversational, there are others who find them almost too simple or whimsical. Thankfully, this is my list and I quite like the song as evidenced on its placement on this list.
37. Carrie Underwood - "Two Black Cadillacs" (19/Arista)
Here's a song that's placement is like a few others on this list, lower because it's still a radio single on the rise at the end of the 2012 calendar year. That means it's gonna be eligible for next year's list and likely to be higher on said list as, well, it's a damn good single worthy of paying attention to. It's the kind of song that showcases just how good a singer Carrie Underwood is and how her songwriting continues to improve.
36. Justin Moore - "Til My Last Day" (The Valory Music Company)
The latest #1 hit in Justin Moore's career, this single basically took all of 2012 to rise to the top taking over 40 weeks to reach the pole position. The first love song released as a single from any of Moore's albums, "Til My Last Day" is the kind of song every woman wants to hear their guy say to them. It's also one of Justin Moore's best vocals yet. Here's hoping there are more tunes like this on his upcoming third album.
35. Sweetwater Rain - "Starshine" (Curb)
Lee Brice has proven that Curb Records can break a new artist and perhaps this new band featuring members from former Curb act Rio Grand and Curb solo artist Ruth Collins can find success. This is a well-written song with an intoxicating melody and could help Curb have their first true band success in ages.
34. Kenny Chesney - "Come Over" (Blue Chair/Columbia)
Kenny Chesney's long had a gifted set of ears when it comes to choosing songs to record - as evidenced by his two decade-long career - and "Come Over" continues his winning trend with melodic slice of ear candy that features interesting production and instrumentals that helps provide a nice musical bed for Chesney to sing over. Delicious Country/Pop from one of the genre's masters.
33. Jake Owen - "Alone With You." (RCA Nashville)
Another hook-filled song co-written by Shane McAnally (also a co-writer of "Come Over", he's on quite a roll lately), "Alone With You" is also one of Jake Owen's most emotionally stirring songs and speaks of an emotion we've all felt for someone at one point or anther.
32. Eric Church - "Drink In My Hand" (EMI Records Nashville)
This is the song that broke Eric Church into the stratosphere after a slow build over the course of his first two albums. He's since followed it up with some whopping' singles which are ranked higher on this countdown of the best singles of 2012. A great party tune with a strong melodic backbone and interesting lyrical couplets throughout the song.
31. Kellie Pickler - "100 Proof" (BNA Records)
The final single of her career with Sony Music Nashville, Kellie left on a high note with this title track to her third album. It's a shame that this minor-key ballad couldn't have found some success on the charts as it finds Pickler giving one of her best vocal performances of the year and a song that really reminds me of the best of Pam Tillis' work without ever feeling like it's 'old' or a 'carbon copy.'
30. Tim Culpepper - "Pourin' Whiskey On Pain" (HonkyTone Records)
Comin' from the school of Frizzell, Whitley, Chesnutt and Jones, Tim Culpepper is perhaps the best pure Traditional Country single working today. This title tune to his debut album for Honky Tone Records showcases this with great effect. 10 to 20 years ago, this would've been a #1 hit and hopefully this kind of country will at least be allowed the chance on the charts in the near future too.
29. Jason Aldean - "Fly Over States" (Broken Bow)
For every loud rocker on his albums there are a handful of great songs like "Fly Over States" to remind us that Aldean and his producer Michael Knox are able to find fantastic songs that suit Aldean to a T.
28. JT Hodges - "Sleepy Little Town" (Show Dog-Universal)
The third great single from JT Hodges, "Sleepy Little Town" is a lyrically strong story song about the fact that small towns have more than a few skeletons in their closets and that's OK because every city has 'em. The vocal is charming and the melody is infectious so here's hoping that radio catches onto this still rising chart single.
27. Luke Bryan - "I Don't Want This Night To End" (Captiol)
The melody had me from the first few bars and then low-key vocal delivery from Luke in the chorus followed by a cheerful chorus delivery clearly made "I Don't Want This Night To End" a part of many party playlists in 2012, it certainly has become part of my select songs for such a playlist.
26. Randy Houser - "How Country Feels" (Stoney Creek Records)
One of 2012's best developments was seeing Randy Houser get a second chance at stardom with a new record deal. This song is better than the title might suggest and Houser's vocal delivery picks up right where B&D left off and with the steady Pop/Rock leaning production from Derek George is just enough to make this another feel-good hit in my book.
25. Hunter Hayes - "Somebody's Heartbreak" (Atlantic Records)
The groove goes on for days, the lyrics are clever and certainly make for stronger pick-up lines than perhaps many other country songs of recent years. The melody peels some sounds from Pop/rock acts while remaining in modern Country Music's wheelhouse with acoustics and steel guitars and slides playfully placed in the mix behind a passionate vocal from Hunter.
24. Maggie Rose - "I Ain't Your Mama" (RPM Entertainment)
Talented enough to get country radio excited about a new female artist (something still surprisingly hard to do), Maggie Rose shows off a world of personality and spirt on "I Ain't Your Mama." placed inside the Top 30 at the beginning of 2012, here's hoping radio continues to play this single from one of the most exciting newcomers to arrive the past few years.
23. Zac Brown Band - "The Wind" (Southern Ground Artists/Atlantic Nashville)
A very hard sell to Radio given its fast-paced, Bluegrass, two-steppin' melody and delivery, "The Wind" served as the lead single to the band's third album Uncaged. As tasty a song as one's likely to hear in any year, "The Wind" may have only managed a Top 11 slot in any given week while worked to radio but it's one of my favorite songs of 2012.
22. Dustin Lynch - "Cowboys And Angels" (Broken Bow)
The debut single showcased that there might possibly be a new Neo-Traditionalist to pay attention to as he delivered one of the year's most memorable debut tracks. The song made it to the Top 3 on the Airplay charts and is now well on its way to Platinum sales status. The lyrics aren't the most original but with a strong baritone vocal and understated production from Luke Wooten and Brett Beavers, Dustin proved to be an immediate winner.
21. Lee Brice - "Hard To Love" (Curb)
The sophomore single from Brice's Hard 2 Love album, this is a song that gets in a groove and doesn't let go. The melody and thumping kick drum drive home a message of a rough-around-the-edges sort of guy who feels damn lucky to have anyone stay with and love him. This was Lee's second #1 single of 2012 and also a Platinum-selling single.
20. Kip Moore - "Somethin' 'Bout A Truck" (MCA Nashville)
It was very brave to release a single which takes about 90 seconds to get to the chorus to radio, the home of "Don't bore us get to the chorus" but once the song builds to the crescendo of that chorus, it's all over as it cleverly marries each 'somethin' 'bout' detail from the three verses to the chorus and re-enforces the coolness of a song that might otherwise have been so pedestrian.
19. Tim McGraw - "Better Than I Used To Be" (Curb)
The final Top 10 hit for Tim McGraw's Curb Records tenure, it ranks up with the best tunes of his career as it's a masterful mix of traditional country (Sammy Kershaw once released the same song as a single) and modern vocal delivery. "I ain't as good as I'm gonna get, but I'm better than I used to be" is the hook in the chorus and damn it if it isn't one of the better lyrics of this year's singles.
18. The Band Perry - "Better Dig Two" (Republic Nashville)
With hand claps, epic strings and haunting banjos and bass drums providing atmosphere in the verses, Kimberly Perry showcases that her family band's not about to be known as a one album wonder and they deliver a song that could very well become a crossover hit now that similar sounding songs from Mumford & Sons have hit the top of the charts. As a country single the song is freshly modern while retaining a strong fiddle solo and soaring mandolins in the powerful chorus.
17. Toby Keith - "Hope On The Rocks" (Show Dog-Universal)
About as well-written a song as any other song on this list, "Hope On The Rocks" is the kind of song that reenforces why Country music is the music of life, the music of the everyday person as it tells the story of a blue-collar soothsayer, the guy delivering hope on the rocks of whiskey and more. Simply delightful.
16. Eric Church - "Creepin'" (EMI Nashville)
The fourth single from Church's Chief album, "Creepin'" is one of the best lyrics of Church's career full of strong couplets and when paired with Jay Joyce's inventive productions, the song has an overall feel of being the musical equivalent of Kudzou in the sense that it embodies the way a virus creeps into a body and can be hard to get rid of, that's the type of memory Eric Church sings about here.
15. Alan Jackson - "So You Don't Have To Love Me Anymore" (ACR/EMI Nashville)
Here's a simple tear in your beer country ballad about a man who wants nothing more than to follow on the metaphorical sword at an end of a relationship so that he can keep the good memories of the relationship without having to have to think of the bad ones. In fact, he wants her to have all the bad memories so he can keep their good times to himself.
14. Gary Allan - "Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain)" (MCA Nashville)
It'd have been very easy for Gary Allan to rest on his laurels or to just be satisfied with his radio career the way it was but he wasn't content with either thing and released this very strong, very unique-sounding track to lead off his Set You Free album. The song is sung from the position of a man who has been through the wringer to get out the other side of the 'storm' and he's offering hope and perspective to another man going through the wringer. This is a song with a well-delivered message of hope and is packaged in an invigorating wall of sound that probably only would've been too much in the hands of a less-capable artist.
13. Carrie Underwood - "Blown Away" (19/Arista)
The best revenge ballad of Carrie's career thus far, "Blown Away" feels like a modern day "Independence Day" in that it tackles a tough topic of spousal abuse. The melodies may be more on the Coldplay side of pop/rock than most of her songs but the melody only suits to help guide the strong lyrics and vocal performance from Underwood, one of her best vocals to date.
12. Kenny Chesney - "El Cerrito Place" (Blue Chair/Columbia)
One of Chesney's biggest strengths has been his willingness to step outside of the 'mainstream' from time to time to deliver a strong, emotional performance with a song most wouldn't have associated with his canon of hits. "El Cerrito Place" is one such song and it once again gives the superstar a meaty song from which to sing.
11. Dierks Bentley - "Home" (Capitol Nashville)
The title track from his brilliant album Home (an album we forgot but should've included in our Top 40 albums list), "Home" is that rare patriotic song that doesn't get too patriotic song for its own good. The melody is as epic as Underwood's song but never loses its country roots (something Bentley's always aware of) and it just sounds and feels like a damn good song.
10. Florida Georgia Line - "Cruise" (Big Loud Mountain/Republic Nashville)
Released independently before being picked up by Republic Nashville, "Cruise" was an instant ear-worm of a song which showcased a country/rock swagger that just caught a wave that has made Florida Georgia Line 'overnight stars.' It's one of those types of songs that gets into your head and doesn't go away. It may not invent the wheel but what "Cruise" does is feel like the opening salvo of a fun little party playlist.
9. Little Big Town - "Pontoon" (Capitol Nashville)
If "Cruise" is the opening salvo of a party playlist, "Pontoon" is the center and heart of that playlist. "Pontoon" is all about good times and good vibes with good friends in the heat of summer. It is different from LBT's previous hits but that doesn't make it any less worthy of placement on this list. No wonder it was CMA's 2012 Single of the Year.
8. Kacey Musgraves - "Merry Go 'Round" (Mercury Nashville)
The second debut single in our Top 10 of Roughstock's Favorite Singles of 2012, "Merry Go 'Round" is one of those songs that just feels like it's from a singer well into their career because a newcomer couldn't' get away with such a well-rounded, strong single as their debut single could they? Well, Kacey (Who is the writer of Miranda Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart") is able to do that, lending credence to the thought of her being destined for stardom.
7. Eli Young Band - Even If It Breaks Your Heart (Republic Nashville)
EYB's "Crazy Girl" became their break-out hit, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" cemented the talented Texas quartet as a unique band which has an uncanny ability to emotionally connect with their material, even if they didn't write it. If you've ever followed your dreams and have little to show for it yet, you might just relate to this one from songwriters Eric Paslay and Will Hoge.
6. Chris Young - "Neon" (RCA Nashville)
The single may not have been his biggest hit (in fact it's his lowest-performing single since a string of #1 hits) but that's not for a lack of quality as "Neon" is perhaps the best single Chris Young has recorded since "Drinking Me Lonely," one of his earliest hits. It's hook-filled, memorable and perhaps more importantly, it's C-O-U-N-T-R-Y!
5. Hunter Hayes - "Wanted" (Atlantic Nashville)
The definition of en emotional power ballad Wanted is a song that's easy to like. So easy that the very first time I heard this song, I knew it would be a big hit. So did the folks at his record label. It went on to become Hunter's first #1 hit (it is his second ever single) and now has crossed over into the pop world, a world that's allowing more organic songs to slip in every now and again.
4. Zac Brown Band - "Goodbye In Her Eyes" (Southern Ground Artists/Atlantic)
Groovy, laid-back and just pain beautiful. This song speaks of an emotion we've all felt at one point or another (or will feel at some time in the future) and dang it if it seems if Zac and company hadn't found a new way to sing about an age old topic: Breaking up. The harmonies are stunning, the melodies are strong and well, it's the Zac Brown Band doing what they do the best.
3. Lee Brice - "I Drive Your Truck" (Curb)
The third single from Hard 2 Love, this is a song that has Song of the Year written all over it. The vocal performance is downright stunning with Lee Brice wringing every ounce of emotion out of the track while the lyrics are emotionally on point, sincere and never saccharine.
2. Eric Church - "Springsteen" (EMI Records Nashville)
This is a song about how songs are the hangers that are found in our emotional closet. They hold the memories that are brought back like a movie the instant the song begins to play. That makes this quite a meta little track and its no wonder that it's Eric Church's most successful single to date.
1. David Nail - "The Sound Of A Million Dreams"
A Phil Vassar-penned ballad that barely scraped the Top 40 of country radio, this is a song about never forgetting to chase dreams and living life and how powerful a role songs play in our life. It's fitting that this one and "Springteen" would top the list of 2012's best singles as many of these songs are now in my mental closet waiting to take me back in time to a memory from this year. And what a great year for music it has been.