by Julian Spivey
Note: portions of this article have previously been published on this site
100. "American Dream" by Hayes Carll (2019)
"I'll find an old friend in El Dorado/Like Harry Dean Stanton on a drive-in screen/A tumbleweed blowing through Paris, Texas/He fell down into the American Dream."
“American Dream,” off singer-songwriter Hayes Carll’s 2019 release What It Is, is an incredibly written, picturesque song that mixes images of beautiful rural life with ones of more bleakness to truly capture the American image. Carll told Garden & Gun: “The American dream is different for different people, but there are some human emotions and traits that are, for better or worse, timeless. Greed is one of those, and quests for glory and love are as well. They are engines that keep most people moving, and America personifies that.”
99. "Western Stars" by Bruce Springsteen (2019)
"Hell, these days there ain't no more/Now there's just again/Tonight the western stars are shining bright again."
Bruce Springsteen had always loved the sound of Southern California pop music with a country influence like the kind Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb collaborated on to great success in the ‘60s. His 2019 album Western Stars models itself after this sound and melds nicely with Springsteen’s specific, literary songwriting as The Boss has intricate characters living in a lonely West like the aging character actor in the album’s title cut who rides a familiar face from doing credit card commercials and once being shot on film by John Wayne into free drinks wherever he goes.
98. "Loud & Heavy" by Cody Jinks (2015)
"It's a long, strange trip it's all insane/You ain't never gonna be the same."
I didn’t know who Cody Jinks was going into 2015. Then I heard “Loud & Heavy” from his album Adobe Sessions and it immediately got stuck in my head. The song allows Jinks’ strong voice to really come to the forefront with sparse instrumentation, that in itself fits this song perfectly. I’m not sure exactly what was going through Jinks’ mind or life when writing this song, but the storm imagery and a line like “thin line between joy and pain” is the kind of stuff that most have felt a time or two in their lives.
97. "Dwight Yoakam" by Sarah Shook & the Disarmers (2017)
"She said he likes to make love when he's smokin'/And he don't walk around like he's broken/And he sings just like Dwight Yoakam"
I’ll admit it’s the title of Sarah Shook & the Disarmers’ “Dwight Yoakam” that caught my attention at first. Naming your song after one of my all-time favorite performers will do that. But, the song itself with its old-fashioned cry-in-your-beer heartbreak had me coming back time and time again throughout the year. Shook might not be Carrie Underwood, but I believe it’s one of the best vocal performances of the year. I absolute love the way her voice shakes and quivers when she enunciates certain words. It really gives the song the emotional weight that’s key to it being one of the best of the decade.
96. "Songs About Trucks" by Wade Bowen (2013)
"It's all four wheel drive, and jacked up tires, and rolling out with them speakers/But for a trip down memory lane tonight, I need something a little deeper"
Around 2013 it seemed every song on mainstream country radio was some dude singing about his truck or oftentimes just the tailgate of his truck. It usually revolved around what the dude wanted to do with a woman in that truck. Texas country singer-songwriter Wade Bowen poked fun at this quickly annoying cliché in his 2013 song “Songs About Trucks,” a cleverly-written song (though not by Bowen, but Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark) about how we’re all sick over these truck songs and when times are bad we need something of a bit more substance. It’s one of the more fun and easy-going protest songs you’ll ever hear.
95. "Good Luck and True Love" by Reckless Kelly (2011)
There used to be a radio station in my neck of the woods around the turn of the decade that would mix in some Texas and Red Dirt Country – this is how I first became a fan of acts like Turnpike Troubadours, Jason Boland & the Stragglers and more. One of the songs that always played and stuck with me around that time was Reckless Kelly’s “Good Luck & True Love,” from the band’s 2011 album of the same name. It’s just an excellent example of how the best of Texas and Red Dirt Country can stand out from the tripe you’ll hear on mainstream radio. Had this song been released 10 or 20 years earlier it certainly would’ve been a hit.
"Maybe it was just my time/Maybe she was sent from up above/Maybe it was just one night of good luck and true love"
94. "Bougainvillea, I Think" by Sam Outlaw (2017)
"After all this time I can't recall her name/But if I try, I might recall the name of the flower on that wall/Shades of purple, red and pink/Bougainvillea, I think."
Sam Outlaw’s “Bougainvillea, I Think” was probably the most beautifully sounding song of 2017. The melody and lyrics enraptured my ears the very first time I heard it. It’s a rather simple song about friendship between two unlikely characters. A man is reminiscing about an older Argentinian woman he used to live next to, but can’t remember her named after all the years, but can picture the flowers she had. The phrasing of “shades of yellow, red and pink/bougainvillea, I think” flow off Outlaw’s tongue so delightfully that you can’t help but instantly fall in love with this sweet song.
93. "Still a Southern Man" by Will Hoge (2015)
"There's a flag flyin' overhead and I used to think it meant one thing/But now I've grown up and seen the world and I know what it really means"
One of the hot button topics in this country in 2015 was the Confederate flag and whether or not it was time for it to come down over government properties and what the flag really meant and represents. Singer-songwriter Will Hoge was one of a few artists who decided to put their thoughts on the subject to music and came out with the rare for country music protest song “Still a Southern Man.” The song talks about how one can be proud with their Southern heritage without clinging to archaic symbols that few seem to really understand in 2015. I’m proud that there are Southerner singer-songwriters like Hoge speaking their minds through music, even when their opinions may easily cost them listeners.
92. "Lost Without You" by Randy Newman (2017)
"Even if I knew which way the wind was blowin'/Even if I knew this road would lead me home/Even if I knew for once where I was goin'/I'm lost out here without you"
Randy Newman is without a doubt one of the greatest songwriters to ever live. He can bring a tear to your eye by making you laugh or by breaking your heart and can do so in a mere four minutes. He managed to do both on 2017’s Dark Matter with a funny tune about Russian leader Vladimir Putin simply titled “Putin” and then likely the most heartbreaking song of the year in “Lost Without You.” It’s a beautiful tale of a husband and wife with the wife dying of a disease and leaving a man she’s loved and taken care of most of their lives alone. The truly devastating part is when the dying wife gathers her children around and tells them to take care of their father. It’s truly a fantastic piece of writing where Newman tells the story from both the husband and wife’s perspectives.
91. "People Get Old" by Lori McKenna (2018)
"He shouldn't be shovelin' that first snow, but you know he won't take the help/Full of pride and love, he don't say too much, but hell, he never did/And you still think he's 45 and he still thinks that you're a kid"
Lori McKenna’s “People Get Old” is one of the biggest tearjerkers of the decade, but also a tribute to those we love dearest. It’s about the cruelty of time and how you frequently don’t even see or feel those closest to you growing old until you wake up one day and they just are. It’s a track that’s going to make anyone with aged or aging parents choke up a bit. McKenna wrote it about her now 84-year old father and said to Rolling Stone: “In so many ways I still remember him as a younger man, doing family trips and all that. I love nostalgic songs, so this one let me start picking part the parts of my childhood I remembered and wanted to put in a song, like going down memory lane a bit.”