We count down the Top 30 singles of 2015, the songs that stuck with us throughout the year. and while some may move up and down the playlist of our hearts in the coming months and maybe years, this is as solid a list of 30 mainstream country singles can be for 2015. Without further bluster, here is our choices for the best mainstream country singles of 2015.
30. Luke Bryan - “Strip It Down” (Capitol)
The second single from the superstar’s latest album Kill The Lights, the slow burning song is among his better ballads of late and showcases Luke’s solid vocal delivery, a voice that often gets lost in the stories of Luke dancing on (and sometimes falling off) stages while out on tour. It’s a moody, minor-key ballad and one that really recalls Conway Twitty in lyrical tone and content.
29. Zac Brown Band - “Loving You Easy” (Republic/Varvatos/Southern Ground/BMLG)
The second single from Jekyll+Hyde proves, once-again, how unclassifiable Zac Brown Band really is. (their follow-up single, the EDM-ish “Beautiful Drug” cements that statement). It’s as cool and breezy as a sunday morning latte in San Diego and a sonic throwback to AOR singer/songwriter rock of the 1970s (think Jonathan Edwards).
28. Mo Pitney - “Country” (Curb)
Mo Pitney is one of country music’s best vocalists already and he’s only one single in. Blending a voice that recalls a mix between Ronnie Dunn and Ricky Skaggs. Mo Pitney is pure country music and this song, though simple, showcased just exactly why. There’s more where this came from and here’s hoping Mo releases a full album in 2016.
27. Aaron Watson“Getaway Truck”
26. Pete Scobell Band - “Wild” (FrogBonz Entertainment)
If anyone has suddenly lost a close friend, they’ll relate to “Wild.” The lead single from Scobell’s fantastic debut album Walkin’ A Wire, “Wild” is the only song that ties his Navy SEAL past to his present as an up and coming artist. The song, written by John Dee Edwards, Alex Kline and Michael Sprinkle, blends rock and country and storytelling into a unique, emotive package. (It also ends with a note that says we never ‘get over’ losing someone close to us).
25. William Michael Morgan - “I Met A Girl” (Warner Bros. Records)
Working with producer Jimmy Ritchey, Morgan showcases a neotradtiional sound on his debut single, a song written by Sam Hunt and Shane McAnally. The sharp songwriting about how a girl influences a guy’s life is only bested by the vocal turn provided by the 22 year old cowboy hat wearing singer. It’s not yet a hit but it deserves to be one in 2015.
24. Lee Brice - “That Don’t Sound Like You” (Curb)
One of country music’s best stylists and songwriter/artists showcases why he’s also one of the best producers with this interesting blast of quiet and loud, a song that showcases a story about a girl who has changed everything he loved about her to fit with her new life in a new city with a new job and new guy. In the song, Lee implores her to come back home and a carefree life that he fondly remembers. It may be a song about a guy who wants ‘the girl he knew’ but it’s a well-written one.
23. Brett Eldridge - Lose My Mind (Atlantic Records)
Hook-filled sing-a-long that’s just too much fun to leave off this list.
22. Reba - “Going Out Like That” (Starstruck/Nash ICON Records)
The comeback hit single from her well-received Love Somebody album showcases that Reba still has one of the best talents in all of country music and it served as an allegory for her own career with radio as Reba got tired of being told she’s too old to have hits.
21. Tim McGraw/Catherine Dunn - “Diamond Rings and Old Bar Stools” (McGraw Music/Big Machine)
The light, lush production serves as the basis for McGraw to showcase the traditional, steel guitar-laced ballad’s story about incompatible objects in reference to a broken relationship and the reason it doesn’t work.
20. LOCASH - “I Love This Life” (Reviver Records)
One of 2015’s coolest stories is the “overnight” success of LOCASH, a pair of hard working singer/songwriters who seemed to be perpetually “on the verge” until this single broke big. The production from Lindsay Rimes breathes life into the melody and gives Preston Brust and Chris Lucas the ability to showcase their harmony blend, a blend that’s like family, and allows the band to have a good time as they describe living life to its fullest and all of the things they have to love about life. It doesn’t say a ton new or different things but songs shouldn’t have to always do that.
19. Chris Janson - “Buy Me A Boat” (Warner Bros Records)
Chris Janson, much like LOCASH above, was patiently awaiting his career starting when stuff seemed to always go wrong (with labels and other factors) but finally, thanks to a shot in the arm from Bobby Bones, “Buy Me A Boat” took off and for good reason, it’s a damn good song about a guy who dreams about what he would do if he had pile of cash to get out of the working man blues.
18. Kelsea Ballerini - “Love Me Like You Mean It” (Black River)
Released in late 2014, this one hit #1 in 2015 and proved that there’s a new female star worthy of paying attention to. There’s a youthful spark to this kiss-off anthem that also tells a man to treat her as the woman she is, a woman who demands a man’s attention so much that he doesn’t have to just half-ass his way through the relationship. In other words, be present.
17. Kenny Chesney - “Save It For A Rainy Day” (Blue Chair/Columbia)
This one melds Kenny Chesney’s well-known lifestyle with a straight-up country rocker that is still relatable to us all as we know we need to time to get away in our lives and just live, especially when you’re getting over a tough breakup or relationship.
16. Blake Shelton & Ashley Monroe - “Lonely Tonight” (Warner Bros Records)
They sound great together and it’s one of Blake Shelton’s more passionate (and rang-y) vocals in the past couple of years. The lyrics tell a familiar story but when it’s told this way, with this kind of professional quality, well it gets our attention.
15. Chris Young - “I’m Comin’ Over” (RCA Nashville)
The title track to his fifth album, “I’m Comin’ Over” certainly had its moment in the sun in 2015 and served as a “Where I’ve Been” and “Where I’m Going” song for CY and still became the biggest hit of his career to date. The melody is fierce, the lyrics are tight and the vocal dynamic. What’s not to like?
14. Thomas Rhett - “Die A Happy Man” (The Valory Music Co.)
Yes there’s a thread of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” in the melody and groove of “Die A Happy Man,” but who cares if he was inspired by that song to make this song? It’s still a well-written song with a strong, passionate performance from Thomas Rhett who has grown into his own sound with this song and sophomore album Tangled Up.
13. Sam Hunt - “Break Up In A Small Town” (MCA Nashville)
From the first time I heard this song live in May of 2014, I knew it was going to be a smash. It stayed in my brain from that time then to when Montevallo was released in the fall of that year and remained one of my favorite album cuts til it hit the radio charts this fall. The production (Shane McAnally/Zach Crowell) is fresh and innovative for mainstream country music and while the song may stretch the boundaries of country melodically, the lyrics are straight-up country with descriptive lines about the inevitable knowledge that you’re going to run into an ex when you live in a small town or county.
12. Keith Urban - “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (Hit Red/Capitol)
With funky percussive loops serving as the background for a story of nostalgia, “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” is also the quintessential Keith Urban single. That the song marries funky percussive melodies with interesting lyrics only makes it even more interesting.
11. Jana Kramer - “I Got The Boy” (Elektra Nashville)
While 2013’s “Why Ya Wanna” was her breakout hit, this one’s the song that tells us Jana Kramer’s here to stay. Written by Jamie Lynn Spears with Connie Harrington and Tim Nichols, the song is a descriptive story of a woman realizing that while she may not have gotten to marry him, she’s better off for her relationship with her playful, high school boyfriend and that age and time allows her to realize life is how it was supposed to be, she got the boy, his wife got the man.
10. Lee Ann Womack - “Send It On Down” (Sugar Hill Records)
One of the best country singers of the past 25 years delivered one of 2014’s best releases (The Way That I’m Livin’) and this one, while not a radio hit, still slays me every time I listen to it. Featuring harmony vocals from Mac McAnally, the song is as richly written (Chris Knight/David Leone), Introspective and the kind of country song many grew up loving.
9. Kristian Bush - “Light Me Up” (Architect/Streamsound)
The OTHER half of Sugarland may have quietly hit the Top 30 with “Trailer Hitch” and released the supremely-made Southern Gravity without much mainstream attention but that doesn’t mean he didn’t make one of the year’s finest record, a record made for the radio. It’s a record that showcases why he was as equally a part of Sugarland as Jennifer Nettles and “Light Me Up” is full of unique analogies about the way the woman in his life makes him feel. The fact that radio didn’t eat this one up says more about radio perhaps more than any other song on our list here.
8. Brothers Osborne - “Stay A Little Longer” (EMI Nashville)
Jay Joyce helped brothers John and TJ Osborne breathe some life into their strong song “Stay A Little Longer” and in turn helped the duo find their sound in the process. That alone is reason to love this one. The percussive, feel good melody and descriptive lyrics also add to why this slow-burning single enters 2016 poised to be the duo’s first #1 single.
7. Pat Green - “While I Was Away (Greenhorse Records)
A brilliantly-written (by Zane Williams) song about life, love and family and the strains that a man’s work can have on someone (in this case a singer). It’s highly relatable and while country radio doesn’t play songs like this anymore, Texas did and it’s one of the strongest singles of Pat Green’s career, right up there with “Wave On Wave,” if not surpassing it.
6. Old Dominion - “Break Up With Him” (RCA Nashville)
Some may think it’s too far up on this list for Old Dominion’s break-out hit but for me it remains one of my favorite songs of the past few years and this is MY list. Despite what others may think, I think the clever lyrics and melody work in today’s modern country music. Songs like this require a lot of charm to pull off without feeling like something’s missing and fortunately Matthew Ramsey is able to do it.
5. Chris Stapleton - “Traveller” (Mercury Nashville)
The title track from one of our favorite albums of 2015 may have been #PreCMA but it still deserves to be here (it also frees “Nobody To Blame” to be on the list for 2016). There’s a melancholic melodic depth to “Traveller,” a song about living life to its fullest because we’ve only got one life and a short time on earth (we’re just “travellers” on this earth”).
4. William Clark Green - “Sympathy” (Bill Grease Records)
Largely only heard in Texas and Oklahoma, this country/rocker has a lot of strong lyrical depth to it (it was co-written by WCG with Brad Tursi of Old Dominion) and a strong sing-a-long melody. The lead single from the fantastic Ringling Road (yet another album which barely missed our Top 15 album’s list) still gets me nearly a year into having the song in my life.
3. Dime Store Cowgirl” (Mercury Nashville)
While we didn’t end up placing Kacey Musgraves’ fine Pageant Material on our Top 15 Albums of 2015 list, we had to include one of the singles from that record here. This one is a fantastic story song about her own life and who Kacey Musgraves really is. That it’s relatable to anyone else is a bonus.
2. Cam - “Burning House” (Arista Nashville/RCA)
A magnificent single that may have gotten a boost from “Tomatogate” but it’s the kind of song that deserved to be the breakout hit it became for the supremely talented singer and songwriter from Canada. It’s an emotive hit and could very well cross over to pop radio in 2016.
1. Little Big Town - “Girl Crush” (Mercury Nashville)
The fact that Little Big Town couldn’t tour to promote the best-selling country single of 2015 should tell you all you need to know about the impact this tale of jealousy and envy.