Some of you agreed with Rolling Stone Country's picks for the top songs of 2014, while others' colorful language in response to our choices could land them on Santa's naughty list. So, we conducted a social media poll to get your votes on the best country songs of the year, and the result was a lot of love for Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and Eric Church. Here are our readers' picks for the best of the best in 2014's new country music.
Set in Panama City Beach, Florida, this sun-kissed song about a short-lived courtship takes you through the peaks of young love and valleys of finite goodbyes. "She's like a song playing over and over/In my mind where I still hold her/I had the chance, and I should've told her," Bryan sings with pain in his voice as the lyrics take a sharp turn from romance to regret. CMA-nominated newcomer Cole Swindell co-wrote this tune back when he was a merch salesman for Bryan, teaming up with the country superstar's guitarist, Michael Carter. When Bryan first heard Swindell's demo, he predicted his employee would be getting a record deal — a forecast that proved true just two years later.
Riser, the seventh studio album from Bentley, was created in the midst of a series of life-altering circumstances for the singer-songwriter, not the least of which was his father's death. In "I Hold On," which he wrote with Brett James, Bentley explains that the things he holds onto are the things he believes in – "my faith, your love [and] our freedom" – but what he's really trying to keep hold of, it seems, are the special memories between a boy and his dad, which is why he won't give up that old pickup (a 1994 Chevy he still drives today) or guitar.
This standout from Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is a slow-burning, hard-nosed tour de force full of clever one-liners ("A means to an end but the ends don't seem to meet") and pointed religious commentary ("That old man upstairs, he wears a crooked smile"). It's also one of Simpson’s strongest vocal performances to date, with the Kentucky singer growling and shouting through the song's cathartic, Townes Van Zandt-invoking refrain: "I don't have to do a goddamn thing 'cept sit around and wait to die." If any one song sums up Simpson's outlaw credentials, it's this one.
This year, Luke Bryan continued to ride the success of 2013's blockbuster Crash My Party, and no song of his made more of an impact in 2014 than "Play It Again." The old-fashioned tale of falling in love to the perfect song on the airwaves is set to a contagious melody that made for an out-of-the-box hit at country radio, where the song spent eight weeks at Number One. With its standard scene setting (tailgates, tan legs) and classic Nashville double entendre ("Trying to pour a little sugar in her Dixie cup"), Bryan sells the ode to young love better than anyone, once again.
Church’s fourth single from The Outsiders is one of the most immediately infectious, radio friendly tracks he has released in years, evidence that, for all his renegade grandstanding, the North Carolina singer can effortlessly deliver a tailor-made country hit. "Most days in life don't stand out, but life's about those days that will," Church sings, in this yearning tale of fleeting youth. Far beyond its lauding of NASCAR road trips, this is a cleverly crafted tribute to the very notion of nostalgia.
A musical time capsule that chugs along at a speed perfectly suited to the nostalgic images it conjures up throughout, this is yet another reminder that Lambert can be counted on for material that's anything but (pardon the pun) standard. But there's certainly a comfort in knowing that if such relics as pay phones, road atlases, pocket watches and cassette tapes can all be replaced by just one smartphone, at least we can take tunes like this along for the ride.
"Give Me Back My Hometown" is as much a metaphor for the changing landscape of country music as it is a pensive ode to the constantly spreading suburban sprawl of modern America. Set to a beat practically meant for arena clap-alongs, Church might be bemoaning the loss of a woman who took his good memories along with his heart, but, thanks to tender, deeply visual lyrics, he's hitting on something bigger than just a breakup. When he proclaims, "This is my hometown," he's speaking as both a scorned lover and man whose world is quickly losing the trappings of his youth, and whose chosen genre sometimes sounds nothing like the soundtrack of a childhood in North Carolina spent falling in love with outlaw Nashville.
Young probably laments being pigeonholed as a balladeer, but his towering vocal performance on "Lonely Eyes" proves he should embrace it. Written by Johnny Bulford, Jason Matthews and Laura Veltz, the song is set in a bar where every eye is on the woman who walks in alone, drowning what's perceived to be a sea of sorrows in a glass of wine. The narrator wants to be her non-alcoholic remedy, but refrains from using any of the clichéd pickup lines that litter country radio. He's pining for her, she's pining for happiness and Young sets the scene memorably through both sets of eyes.
Just before this became Urban's fourth single from Fuse, he was being hauled off in a "Cop Car," so you can't really blame him for imagining he's engaged in a heavy (shirtless) liplock with someone special in his own vehicle this time out. Based on the screamin' guitar throughout, this must have happened sometime in the Eighties, but the image of that fogged-up glass and the regret heard in his voice are pretty timeless.
Underwood's latest single grabbed the Number One spot on this list with almost three times as many votes as Keith Urban's second-place "Somewhere in My Car." The soaring "Something in the Water" was the perfect choice for the newly recorded lead single on her Greatest Hits: Decade #1 record, because it fuses the Underwood we first met — spiritual lyrics and that dynamite belt — with the Underwood who's become one of country's biggest forces. Set to sophisticated, modern production, the track spans every note of her register and serves as a bookend to a the first leg of her career that began with "Jesus, Take the Wheel," and shows that, after all these years, she's still just as faithful as ever. It's why her fans are true believers too.