The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [July 2011]


This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from July 18th, 2011.

  1. Jason Aldean – “Dirt Road Anthem” -5 [Worst Song]
  2. Chris Young – “Tomorrow” +2
  3. Blake Shelton – “Honey Bee” 0
  4. Zac Brown Band & Jimmy Buffett – “Knee Deep” +1
  5. Justin Moore – “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” +3
  6. Lady Antebellum – “Just A Kiss” -1
  7. Dierks Bentley – “Am I The Only One” -1
  8. Luke Bryan – “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” -5
  9. Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood – “Remind Me” -1
  10. Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter – “You & Tequila” +4
  11. Jake Owen – “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” +1 (I’ll explain why later on)
  12. Trace Adkins – “Just Fishin'” +2
  13. Eric Church – “Homeboy” +3
  14. George Strait – “Here For A Good Time” +2
  15. Billy Currington – “Love Done Gone” +2
  16. Toby Keith – “Made In America” 0
  17. Rodney Atkins – “Take A Back Road” -1
  18. Scotty McCreery – “I Love You This Big” -2
  19. Eli Young Band – “Crazy Girl” -1
  20. Keith Urban – “Long Hot Summer” -1 (I actually think this is a good pop song. But if we’re going by country standards…)
  21. Thompson Square – “I Got You” 0
  22. Brantley Gilbert – “Country Must Be Country Wide” -2
  23. Jerrod Niemann – “One More Drinkin’ Song” 0
  24. Steve Holy – “Love Don’t Run” 0
  25. Darius Rucker – “I Got Nothin'” +2
  26. Ronnie Dunn – “Cost Of Livin'” +5 [Best Song]
  27. Frankie Ballard – “A Buncha Girls” -2
  28. David Nail – “Let It Rain” +2
  29. Craig Campbell – “Fish” -3 (Yes Craig, we get it…)
  30. Joe Nichols – “Take It Off” -2

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +2

Even with two outright atrocious songs we managed to net a positive score! Out of 150, a positive two isn’t really that impressive but hey, it’s better than the charts in 2016.

As for our best songs, Ronnie Dunn’s “Cost Of Livin'” takes it running away with what I consider to be one of the best songs mainstream or otherwise of the past couple years. Even though radio was a little different back then, I’m shocked a song like this cracked the top twenty. Today I doubt it would chart. And while Kenny Chesney has been the butt of many jokes throughout the years, I’ve always liked the guy, and “You and Tequila” may be his best song ever. Other than that, there were a couple other good ones like “Homeboy” (although, I’m curious to hear what you guys think of this one), and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”.

Now, you might be wondering why I gave Jake Owen a positive score. If there has ever been anyone who could pull off a “bro” sound and actually make it somewhat enjoyable, I think it’s Jake Owen. He’s just got a natural charisma that often at least adds some life to his songs. I don’t think “Barefoot…” is a great song, but I never quite understand the hate for it.

As for the bad songs, they’re pretty easy to spot. Jason Aldean takes the “worst song” award easily with the horrendous country-rap song that was “Dirt Road Anthem.” “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” was ironically the first time we had to really come down hard on Luke Bryan for cutting a bad song. Other than that, Craig Campbell’s “Fish” always annoyed the heck out of me, and there are some other stinkers here too. Overall though, not a horrendous chart.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

25 thoughts on “The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [July 2011]

  1. FeedThemHogs July 22, 2016 / 11:35 am

    Brad & Carrie a -1? That shocked me. Your thoughts on that song? I’d probably give it a +3.

    You asked for thoughts on Homeboy. I like it. +3 seems right on. To my ears, Church sells the plea of that song with his vocals.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theknightswhosayni4 July 24, 2016 / 12:21 am

      I agree. Remind me is for sure a +3.

      I really like Craig Campbell’s Fish too. Probably my favorite song from him.

      Homeboy is actually one of my least favorite Eric songs but it’s still pretty damn good.


  2. Will July 22, 2016 / 11:51 am

    I always found ‘Cost of Livin’ to be a bit boring and lacking a compelling chorus. In my opinion, ‘You and Tequila’ was the best song, but ‘If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away’ is definently a contender. I also liked ‘Homeboy’ but I could see why some wouldn’t feel the same way. I agree with you on ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night.’ To me, it’s like ‘All My Friends Say.’ If you can make a party song sound great and have great delivery, a song can be great. The one I would change is I would drop ‘Honey Bee’ to a -2 because listening to that song now, i just find it so stupid.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Raymond July 22, 2016 / 12:02 pm

    Ok, here’s my score.
    1. Dirt Road Anthem -5
    2. Tomorrow +3
    3. Honey Bee -2 (I never liked it as it felt very cheaply written)
    4. Knee Deep 0
    5. If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away +4 (really shows Justin Moore’s strength really well)
    6. Just A Kiss 0 (more bland than deserving of a -1)
    7. Am I The Only One -3
    8. Country Girl Shake It For Me -4 (it’s catchy)
    9. Remind Me +4 (such a powerful ballad and Carrie and Brad both commit vocally as well, also very well written)
    10. You & Tequila +5 (best song)
    11. Barefoot Blue Jean Night 0
    12. Just Fishin +1
    13. Homeboy +4
    14. Here For A Good Time +2
    15. Love Done Gone +5 (yeah I have always been really fond of this song, the horns and the upbeat take on a breakup makes it a keeper)
    16. Made In America -4 (raw raw America)
    17. Take A Back Road 0
    18. I Love You This Big -2
    19. Crazy Girl +1
    20. Long Hot Summer +3 (perfect summer song)
    21. I Got You +2 (there’s always a natural chemistry that makes Thompson Square more believable)
    22. Country Must Be Country Wide 0
    23. One More Drinking Song +2
    24. Love Don’t Run +1
    25. I Got Nothing -3 (let’s just say this song is so boring I hate it)
    26. Cost Of Living +3 (I like the songs message but I’ve never been particularly wild with Ronnie as a solo vocalist
    27. A Buncha Girls -3
    28. Let It Rain +4 (David pulls the ache and pain really well with this song)
    29. Fish -2
    30. Take It Off -3
    A positive 13 is my final score. Not great but not bad.


  4. lorenzofloris96 July 22, 2016 / 12:14 pm

    I mostly agree, but I frankly don’t see how Brad & Carrie got a -1 while Jake Owen got a +1. I mean, I happen to like Jake’s song but it’s a -1 or -2 in my book because it’s another bro country song.
    Remind Me is a beautiful song, maybe a little too adult contemporary oriented but still colored by pedal steel and fiddle, with honest lyrics and powerful vocals. Definitely a +3 to me.


  5. Trailer July 22, 2016 / 1:12 pm

    Love this feature! This chart pretty much marks the point when things really started going south. I’ll do some ratings too because I’m bored.
    1. Dirt Road Anthem -5
    2. Tomorrow +3
    3. Honey Bee -1
    4. Knee Deep +1
    5. If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away +3
    6. Just A Kiss 0
    7. Am I The Only One -1
    8. Country Girl Shake It For Me -5 (my worst on this chart)
    9. Remind Me +1
    10. You & Tequila +4
    11. Barefoot Blue Jean Night +1 (Jake’s delivery makes this a guilty pleasure)
    12. Just Fishin +2
    13. Homeboy +3
    14. Here For A Good Time +2
    15. Love Done Gone 0 (I honestly don’t remember this song at all so I’ll give it a middling score)
    16. Made In America -2
    17. Take A Back Road 0
    18. I Love You This Big -2
    19. Crazy Girl +1
    20. Long Hot Summer 0
    21. I Got You 0
    22. Country Must Be Country Wide -3
    23. One More Drinking Song 0
    24. Love Don’t Run -1
    25. I Got Nothing -1
    26. Cost Of Living +4 (my top song)
    27. A Buncha Girls -3
    28. Let It Rain +2
    29. Fish -1
    30. Take It Off -3

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott July 22, 2016 / 4:40 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in, Trailer!


    • southtexaspistolero July 24, 2016 / 6:14 pm

      Love this feature! This chart pretty much marks the point when things really started going south.

      This was my thought as well, mostly because of the appearance here of George Strait’s next-to-last Top-10 hit.

      (I don’t really consider “Give It All We Got Tonight” as counting towards that tally because of the whole “60 for 60” thing. With what was going on in country music in 2013 there’s no way that song would have seen even top 30 on its own merits. Which I mean as much more of a commentary on country radio than on George Strait.)


  6. OlaR July 22, 2016 / 1:38 pm

    Let it rain…
    -5: Aldean, Bryan
    -4: Nichols, Gilbert
    -3: McCreery, Niemann, Rucker
    -2: Lady A, Ballard
    -1: Owen, Keith, Currington
    0: Young, Bentley, Adkins, Campbell
    +1: Shelton, Church
    +2: EYB, Thompson Square, Paisley/Underwood
    +3: Dunn, Atkins, ZBB/Buffett, Strait, Chesney/Potter
    +4: Urban, Holy, Moore
    +5: Nail

    Not many female artists (Underwood, Potter, Lady A & Thompson Square).
    Aldean & Bryan on the dark side.
    McCreery, Nichols, Adkins, Young wasting voices & talents.
    Ballard the “radio star”. Urban with a good “country-pop” song. Steve Holy…what a strange career.
    David Nail (feat. Sarah Buxton) wins the week with one of his best songs.


  7. Nadia Lockheart July 22, 2016 / 1:50 pm

    Here’s my first ten:


    1: Jason Aldean – “Dirt Road Anthem” -3 (Yeah, yeah, I know………………..sacrilege, right? Sacrilege that I spare this from the bottom somehow? Well, here’s the thing. First of all, when you get past the horrific verses and cliches………………..the production is actually decent. It sounds bright and blue-skied and goes down easily as opposed to hitting you over the head. Seriously: if I pretend the rapping doesn’t exist, the musical wallpaper of this is actually passable and sets the mood right. It may not save this song by any stretch, but it does illustrate why it’s better than the absolute worst that can’t even get the production right.)

    2: Chris Young – “Tomorrow” +2 (Chris Young’s stock has plunged sharply since “Neon” with me due to becoming essentially the Daughtry of radio country/”country”: having an incredible voice that is nonetheless wasted constantly on the most banal, vanilla and unimaginative material conceivable. So looking back, “Tomorrow” admittedly feels less impressive since, after all, he has Xeroxed the exact same frickin’ subject matter with “I’m Comin’ Over”. But what makes this better than “I’m Comin’ Over” is that 1) the production is much more intimate and thus 2) Young doesn’t sound like he’s hurrying to get the song over with, or like it’s almost a chore singing. It’s what makes this an effective vocal showcase in a way “I’m Comin’ Over” failed to be.)

    3: Blake Shelton – “Honey Bee” +1 (The lyricism is rather stupid and pointless. Still, this is the sort of song that you can easily understand why many others love it. To his credit, Shelton has rarely sounded as energized and charismatic on a “Voice”-era single as he does here, and the production sounds nice and sunny too. And it isn’t like the lyricism insults your intelligence either in that it is meant to be a silly love song. This is the epitome of radio fluff, but it’s exactly the sort of radio fluff done right.)

    4: Zac Brown Band & Jimmy Buffett – “Knee Deep” +1 (Pretty much the exact same story as #3. The lyrics amount to nothing more than a blend of Parrothead and pseudo-inspirational cliches. But what makes this effective as radio fluff is that it sets the tone of a summery song just right with the carefree whistling, jiving mandolin and acoustic rhythms, and swelling vocal harmonies. “Toes” is better in that it tells a story as well, but this works well in its own right.)

    5: Justin Moore – “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” +2 (This is one of those frustrating cases of a song that you feel is good but irritates you to no end because you’re convinced it easily could have been great. I’ve long had issues with Justin Moore as a vocalist, and it’s no exception here: his twang feels absolutely forced here and often it sounds more like he’s halfway between singing and doing a dramatic reading while chewing. Still, aside from “Grandpa”, this is the best set of lyrics Justin Moore has interpreted to date and it’s not even close. The imagery in the verses is actually as descriptive as something out of a biography including that fruit stand on Sawmill Road and hunting in the autumnal woods, coupled with sepia-toned photographs. The production wisely comes secondary and allows the lyrics to be front and center. It’s just a shame Moore is the vocalist instead of, say, David Nail. Or Scotty McCreery. Or Josh Turner.)

    6: Lady Antebellum – “Just A Kiss” -3 (What really bothers me about this song is that it sounds more like an infomercial from the National Abstinence Education Association than an actual song. And even though I’m sex-positive, I don’t have any issue with anyone deciding abstinence is best for them. But just like many (sometimes myself, depending on the context) are constantly lamenting the oversaturation of sex in music and that it’s being shoved down our collective throats, I think other agendas are just as capable of such too, and that’s what “Just A Kiss” is: the flip-side of aggressively selling something to listeners without there being any real distinctive quality to the song itself. Vocally both Kelley and Lindsay sound fine here and the production is serviceable, but in a way that’s arguably what makes this type of song more insufferable if being played for the wrong reasons.)

    7: Dierks Bentley – “Am I The Only One” -1 (This is simply Dierks Bentley on Auto-Pilot. You can tell Dierks doesn’t even sound like he cares in how half-assed his delivery is much like with “Sideways” (like the way he says “cold beer” with a “Been there, done that!” faint smirk). The production is actually fairly enjoyable in that it evokes a genuine country bar type of atmosphere, but this is like a milk bath compared to his other songs that are supposed to be rave-ups.)

    8: Luke Bryan – “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” -5 (No, the fact this song has fiddle and banjo doesn’t spare it from nearly the bottom of the dumpster. This atrocity has not grown on me one bit even if interpreting it slowly as a dance hall song, and here’s why. Firstly, even I were to acknowledge the rapid-fire declaration of laundry list descriptors and imagery concerning the country lifestyle as nothing out of the ordinary for a dance song………………some of it still comes across as obnoxiously puerile. I mean, shake it for the catfish swimming down deep in the creek? Really? Secondly, Luke Bryan himself. Bryan sounds way too serious in his delivery to the point that, whenever he hits the high notes, he comes across a lot more unsettling than he does fun. He doesn’t sound like he’s enjoying himself. In fairness, the lyricism doesn’t strike me as blatantly misogynistic so much as sounding possessive. The subtitle of the song, after all, is (Shake It FOR ME). No, the subject isn’t entitled to shake it so he can watch you do your thing. That just comes across as needy, leering douchebaggery; especially once you get to the bridge and it is plainly clear he has something more on the brain. So no: this is the kind of song that makes me feel unclean listening to even in a dance setting. F*** this song!)

    9: Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood – “Remind Me” 0 (This just screams “playing it safe”, with one notable exception. I think the main issue I have with this song is that, vocally, Underwood and Paisley are a mismatch. And look: I think Brad Paisley has a great voice that is most effective for its conversational flavor. He can more than hold his own in most instances. But here, when Carrie Underwood is blowing off the roof with a much more solid performance than is really necessary, Brad Paisley sounds completely upstaged here. And the lack of vocal chemistry weakens this considerably. Still, the production is serviceable and the lyricism is certainly accessible and relatable as well.)

    10: Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter – “You & Tequila” +4 (This is another beautiful example of how, even when challenged with a limited vocal range and monotone, you can seize it to your advantage given the right setting and material. And Kenny Chesney just hits this one right out of the park. You can tell Chesney has emotionally worn the lyric painfully well (he reportedly listened to the song a lot as therapy while coping with his much-publicized breakup with Renee Zellweger). And it is made even better by gorgeous, fragile backing vocals from Grace Potter that carry out like sirens haunting the narrator, and some breathtaking, picturesque imagery of southern California and nearby canyons that further illustrate the haziness of the heartbreak. But the bridge, of course, serves as the defining gut-punching moment: where both sing “It’s always your favorite sins that do you in…” Wow, what a painfully thought-provoking line to end on! With a more compelling lead vocalist, this would have been a +5. But give Kenny Chesney a much-deserved abundance of credit for showing how he’s not merely capable of more than just rehashed Parrothead and schmaltzy nostalgia ballads, but he can go above and beyond and inspire something absolutely gut-punching and compelling.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scotty J July 22, 2016 / 6:33 pm

      I actually heard ‘Dirt Road Anthem’ earlier today for the first time in awhile and the thing that struck me was that it wasn’t nearly as bad as many make it out to be. Is it good? No, but I would say that compared to the current landscape of mainstream country it would probably be above average.

      Where the real problem with it comes along is in the impact it had and the doors it opened for loads of other horrible stuff from the likes of FGL.


      • Nadia Lockheart July 23, 2016 / 6:39 am

        Yeah, you definitely have a point about how terribly influential it has been on other entertainers! =P

        Still, I chose to evaluate these on their own merit. And when I close my eyes and try and tune out the rapping/talking………………..the melodic line and overall production sounds agreeable and impossible to hate. It by no means saves the song altogether, but given the choice between that and something like Brantley Gilbert’s “Bottoms Up” or Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” which can’t even get the production right……………..there is a clear, discernable difference in overall quality (or lack thereof).


  8. Nadia Lockheart July 22, 2016 / 4:30 pm

    11: Jake Owen – “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” -1 (While I do agree that Owen’s natural charisma and easy-breezy delivery truly serves as a saving grace to what would be a disaster in most other hands, I’m still not convinced it quite salvages it. When the songwriting is already lame and annoying beyond compare, one can make an admirable effort to make it sound enjoyable but, no matter what, it’s going to sound lame and annoying at the end of the day. All the “Whoa oh ohs!” and annoying lyrics like “We were shinin’ like lighters in the dark in the middle of a rock show!” and a bizarre fixation with antlers on a truck hood and his buddy Frankie hooking them up…………….it still jolts an undesirable reaction from me. Still, yeah: Owen’s performance is a testament to how warm and enjoyable his presence can be behind the microphone in comparison to many of his male peers. I mean, can you imagine Chase Rice singing this? =X )

    12: Trace Adkins – “Just Fishin’” +2 (It is refreshing how completely unpretentious this song is. With Trace Adkin having a polarizing reputation for his wildly inconsistent chart success and over-reliance on novelty songs and machismo, it is easy to see how some viewed this suspiciously as a gimmick. But what makes this dedication to his daughter so effective is the contrast his brawny vocals provide. There is some unmistakable masculine muscle in his delivery and, when you listen attentively, you can even pick up on some amusing nuances like the way he draws out “………kittens…” in the first verse as though he’s still flummoxed by why girls like them so much. But there’s also a warmth and vulnerability in his delivery that completes the track and makes it feel very sincere. The production is a bit too polished and boilerplate to lift this to higher praise, but in a career marked by frustrating highs and lows, this is definitely somewhere closer to the former.)

    13: Eric Church – “Homeboy” -2 (I’m sorry, there’s something about this song that REALLY rubs me off the wrong way. But before I get to that, what I can say is that I can give this song a great deal of credit for sounding different. I have to admit the use of a harp to launch into the chorus was awesome. I don’t even have a problem with the use of Auto-Tune in the first chorus in that I’ve interpreted it as ironically placed to explain his point to the subject. And, without a doubt, the production does feel larger than life and stadium-ready: right on down to the blistering guitar solo complementing the urgency for the estranged, troubled subject to return home. All that acknowledged, this song is ultimately tarnished by some utterly tasteless racism. What the flying f*** is it necessary to cite a “hip hop hat”, your “pants on the ground” and a “snowed-up hood” to make a basic point about how home is where the heart is? It’s not. It’s an irresponsibly reductive point of view that reinforces stereotypes not only about hip-hop culture and urban lifestyles, but country living and rednecks as well. A truly good song that broaches the sort of subject matter of the consequences of abandoning one’s roots would concern itself with addressing the source of the dismay within, and this song doesn’t do that but, rather, encourages the listener to fear “the other”. So yeah………….this song SOUNDS great, but F*** its message.)

    14: George Strait – “Here For A Good Time” +3 (This is about as enjoyable as lightweight radio fodder can possibly sound in this day in age. Let’s make it perfectly clear that, from a lyrical standpoint, this doesn’t hold a candle up to many of his landmark treasures. But that betrays the point anyway. Sometimes you just want to hear a song that immediately puts a smile on your face any time you hear it, and that’s what “Here For A Good Time” achieves in spades. He does inject a little bit of his inner-philosopher in the second verse when he sings “Folks are always dreaming about what they like to do, but I like to do just what I like. I’ll take the chance, dance the dance. It might be wrong, but then again it might be right…”……………..but the reason why his stab at it works whereas Martina McBride’s often doesn’t is because he doesn’t force it nor hit you over the head with a lecture. He just emphasizes that so to more convincingly point out what motivates his lust for life. And where continuing to lean on a philosophical bent would have risked losing the listener, he wisely leaves it at that and declares with wild abandon “To hell with the red wine, pour me some moonshine!”. Vocally Strait sounds as strong as ever, the production has a nice swing dance leaning to it, the instrumentation is well-timed…………………everything about this is just great. Exactly what a self-affirming anthem should be.)

    15: Billy Currington – “Love Done Gone” +2 (It’s actually very refreshing to hear a song that puts such an upbeat spin on heartache surrounding a break-up. I keep saying how sick I am of acrimonious break-up songs in that, more often than not, they make both characters look like assholes and are simply not enjoyable to listen to. So when I heard this, and still do, I actually wish we had more songs along this line. In all honesty, it’s hardly country whatsoever in its instrumentation and production, but I can forgive that to a wide degree when the brass instrumentation is so infectious. It’s kind of like Billy Currngton putting on his best Michael Buble impersonation since he broadened his sound. The lyricism is also rather nice. It acknowledges that he truly does feel heartbreak, but he also isn’t going to allow that to change the fact they had good times together and wouldn’t trade them for anything. I also really like the nature-based similes evoked in the chorus such as dogwood blossoms in a late spring rain in explaining the state of their relationship. All in all, this is just really enjoyable to listen to.)

    16: Toby Keith – “Made In America” -1 (Much like Jake Owen’s song, this is another example of how a vocalist can make such an admirable, valiant effort to save a song…………..but still fall a bit short mostly because the song wasn’t really worth saving to begin with. First of all, let me get out of the way that I completely understand the sentiment of this song; which is taking pride in where you were born and raised and nurturing your roots. But that pure sentiment is thwarted by other lyrics that can’t resist succumbing to American exceptionalism (“It breaks his heart seein’ foreign cars, filled with fuel that isn’t ours…”) and laundry list cliches (“He’s got the red, white and blue flyin’ high on the farm, semper fi tattooed on his left arm…”). Oh, and there’s also that bullshit line about how the subject always goes into the back of a store and purchases only things with a tag on them saying “Made in the USA”. That’s about as believable as the countless males in country music who insist there’s no place more American to shop at than Wal-Mart. Also, since we’re on the subject, were the writers of this song not aware that some (not all) of the tools manufactured for Craftsman under the name Apex Tool Group are made in China and Taiwan? Yeah, might not want to tell him that! =P Still, to his credit, Toby Keith actually sounds great on this song and makes for one of his more emotionally invested vocals in recent years. You can buy he absolutely believes what he is selling, even if you don’t want to buy the end product.)

    17: Rodney Atkins – “Take A Back Road” +1 (This is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. There admittedly isn’t any real point to this song, but it just sounds like a good late summer/early autumn drive sing-along. I mean it: every single year since this song’s release between August and late September, I think of this song. It just seems to personify the time of year hand in glove. And while Atkins does sound admittedly grumpy in the verses in expressing his dismay with interstate highways, it never crosses the line into culture war territory (i.e. “highway” being a synecdoche of “city life” or “blue states”)……………..and frankly I can relate to the malaise of ceaseless hustling-and-bustling and, thus, the need to escape from all of that. Atkins doesn’t have the vocal chops to sound particularly engaged, but this sort of song doesn’t necessarily call for that. Granted the song’s writers were clearly influenced by hip-hop as evidenced by the rhyme-heavy flow of this, and some of the lines are quite lame (“If I’m gonna hit a traffic jam, well it better be a tractor, man…”). But as a whole, this has a warm, serviceable presentation that I can’t help but like somewhat.)

    18: Scotty McCreery – “I Love You This Big” -2 (I can’t think of another male singer who has such immense vocal talent who nonetheless wastes it on the most banal to outright insufferable material imaginable quite like Scotty McCreery. I mean, make no mistake: McCreery has exceptional talent. In fact, he reminds me of a younger, less experienced Josh Turner. There are plenty of signs he can grow by leaps and bounds into a truly compelling vocalist…………………..and yet his talent has continued to be wasted on schlock like this that blatantly sounds like an American Idol victory song even if you weren’t at all aware he was a contestant. The lyrics are so unbelievably cheesy, and the production actually manages to out-cheese them with some glaringly obvious overdubs, Auto-Tune and what I have often called “We Are The World Syndrome” where the final chorus reaches for a higher key and you have the obligatory inspirational choir-like anthem effect. This song flails every bottom of the barrel dental office waiting room power ballad cliche at you, and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. It’s nothing worth hating, but this song epitomizes “painfully milquetoast”.)

    19: Eli Young Band – “Crazy Girl” -2 (This serves as a prime example of how a chorus, alone, can diminish a listening experience. The production plays it safe overall (though it has some interesting spacey texture to it that vaguely strikes of atmospheric steel) but is agreeable. And even when you get through the verses alone, they’re actually harmless and easy to nod to. It is easy to agree with the need to have some space sometimes in the context of a relationship, and that conflict is an inevitable thing that any romantic partners will have to deal with. The problem is………………..well…………….the chorus. Now look: I know that we are all individuals and, thus, depending on our personality types, some might actually not think of being addressed as “crazy girl” as a big deal: particularly if one has a colorful, self-deprecating sense of humor and picks up on nuances well. But, say, you were in a true state of distress and were clearly in need of emotional support at that given moment in time? How would you feel if one of your friends told you “Hey, stupid girl………don’t you know I love you?”. It may be a stretch to say that sounds sexist, but it definitely sounds condescending. Not necessarily manipulative, but definitely disrespectful of one’s feelings. Especially when you rewind back to the first verse, re-hear the opening lyric, and then string through the chorus again. It just screams “Oh, you crazy girl! (makes “Cuckoo!” non-verbal motions with wrist and fingers) It’s just your PMS talking! It’ll be alright!”. What the hell! But besides that, even from a technical writing standpoint, the titular pun just falls absolutely flat as a hook. Seriously: what’s with this recent trend of one-to-two word titular puns being stretched out into full-length songs? They rarely work. It was stupid with Easton Corbin’s “Yup”, it was pointless with Joe Nichols’ “Yeah”, it doesn’t stick with Trace Adkins’ “Lit” or Dylan Scott’s especially horrendous “Mmm Mmm Mmm”, and it’s no less necessary here. With a re-writing of the chorus, this could have been a much more listenable song. Instead, it’s an absolutely condescending buzzkill.)

    20: Keith Urban – “Long Hot Summer” +1 (No, this is hardly country. But in the context of the general sound surrounding the format at the time, I wouldn’t say this deviates much from the consensus. Either way, this is another prime example of radio fodder done right. It doesn’t attain the heights of George Strait’s “Here For A Good Time” (mostly due to production and instrumentation playing it safe in the mold of Adult Top 40 pop-rock) but damn if Keith Urban doesn’t effortlessly know how to exude cool in his performances. His emotionally committed vocals (even for a song that doesn’t necessarily require them) are what really makes this and “You Gonna Fly”, as well as some tight melodic composition. It’s no “Stupid Boy” or “Til Summer Comes Around”, but it’s not trying to be and, for summer soundtracks, this will make an enjoyable perennial part of mine.)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Josh Schott July 22, 2016 / 5:13 pm

    For the most part I agree with you Zack. Here are my scores on the ones I remember:

    “Dirt Road Anthem” -4 The only thing that saves this from the bottom is the non-rapping parts of the songs. Unfortunately there’s too much rapping for me to go any higher. Also I think this song suits Brantley Gilbert’s voice more. (who wrote the song)

    “Tomorrow” +2 It’s a pretty solid song. Young was still trying hard then and it’s a shame he wastes his voice now on banal, mediocre music.

    “Honey Bee” -2 The words saccharine and checklist come to mind. Also kind of funny to look back at now considering many thought Blake did this song for Miranda.

    “Knee Deep” +2 I’m a sucker for this song, as ZBB does beach music better than anyone except Buffett, who sounds great on the song too. Yes I know it’s not a “substance” song, but it’s great for what it is.

    “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” +2 Probably one of Moore’s best songs.

    “Am I The Only One” -2 This is the side of Dierks I don’t like.

    “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” -5 Easily the worst song of the chart, this was just the beginning of bro country and Luke Bryan’s ascension to the top. All I have to say is screw this song and I hope I never hear it again.

    “Remind Me” +2 I personally think Paisley and Underwood show great chemistry in this song. Not to mention I think they bring out the best in each other vocally here.

    “You & Tequila” +4 If only we got THIS side of Chesney more often. Then I wouldn’t have to call him the knockoff Jimmy Buffett.

    “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” -1 I don’t like Owen’s version of this song, especially after I heard Eric Paslay perform it. He does a lot better job with it than Owen, probably because Paslay is a much better vocalist. I’d give Paslay’s version a +1.

    “Homeboy” -2 This song isn’t half-bad on the first few listens. Then it just annoys me after. Also the lyrics as Nadia pointed out above…yikes.

    “Just Fishin'” +2 One of Trace’s best. Now he puts crap out like “Lit.”

    “Here For A Good Time” +3 George Strait should have never left the radio.

    “Made In America” -1 One of Keith’s less annoying “‘Murica” songs.

    “Take A Back Road” 0 One of the more likable bro songs.

    “I Love You This Big” -3 This song is corny as hell. And yet somehow ten times better than “Southern Belle”

    “Country Must Be Country Wide” -3 More generic than it looks. Also panders.

    “One More Drinkin’ Song” +1 Probably one of Niemann’s best singles. Harmlessly fun

    “Cost of Livin'” +4 Like you Zack, surprised it got in the top 30 at all. Just a great song.

    “Let It Rain” +3 Arguably Nail’s best single. Of course I think he could top it with a few songs on his new album, but you guys will have to wait a few more days for that review…

    “Take It Off” -3 It feels like it’s been forever since Joe Nichols was good. He’s become a lost cause at this point and this song contributed to it.


  10. Raymond July 22, 2016 / 6:27 pm

    If there is one thing I noticed is that this was the week right before Taylor Swift “Sparks Fly” came into the Top 30. I am definitely curious to see what people think of that song as it was one of my favotites of 2011.


  11. Scotty J July 22, 2016 / 6:39 pm

    The one song that I strongly disagree with you on is ‘Country Must Be Country Wide’ which I absolutely despise and find offensive in many ways. That whole line about the guy with Ohio license plates has always struck me as one of the most stupid lyrics ever. Apparently these idiot writers had never been to Ohio if they think it doesn’t have any country areas and I mean all you gotta do is cross the river and your in West Virginia or Kentucky.

    This is a -5 for me.


    • Scotty J July 22, 2016 / 6:45 pm

      Plus what world are these idiots living in with the ‘in every state there’s a station playing Cash, Hank, Willie and Waylon’ garbage? Even in 2011 or whenever this wasn’t true. This was one of the early songs with the name dropping of a legend to make it seem authentic.


      • Raymond July 22, 2016 / 6:53 pm

        Eh one of the stations here in Michigan, has a 3 hour show of playing songs from the 60s to the 90s. So it’s not entirely false.


        • Scotty J July 22, 2016 / 7:00 pm

          It says ‘every state’ and of course there are oldie shows and the like but the whole point is that there are stations all over playing these guys and that is just not true.


    • Nadia Lockheart July 23, 2016 / 6:48 am

      I don’t despise the song quite like you do, but I do agree with your primary criticisms as you’ll see in my completed rundown of the Past Pulse below! 😉


  12. AndyTheDrifter July 22, 2016 / 7:16 pm

    Great job as always, Zack.

    2011 was about 2-3 years after I stopped liking most mainstream country, and I’m indifferent at best to the vast majority of this list. But there are still some legitimately good songs here: “You and Tequila”, “Here For a Good Time”, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” (guilty pleasure), “Love Done Gone”, and the utter masterpiece “Cost of Livin’.”


  13. Nadia Lockheart July 23, 2016 / 6:33 am

    21: Thompson Square – “I Got You” 0 (This is synonymous with “Innocuous” in the thesaurus. We do get some nice whiffs of Hammond organ and pedal steel blended just beneath the electric guitar, but otherwise it’s just serviceably inoffensive to a fault. Kiefer does sound quite rough in the first verse, and though Shawna fares better in the second verse you can tell both were still trying to find their voice in the process of recording their debut album. Still, the lyrics are cute and it admittedly can’t help but bring a smile in your face to see a husband and wife duo getting played on the radio. This is innocuous at best, but I’ll take it.)

    22: Brantley Gilbert – “Country Must Be Country Wide” -3 (The only thing that keeps this from faring worse is that it (kind of) shifts to more of an inclusive twist on the tired “All Country Boys & Girls Are Southern” perception that was painfully influencing many songs at its time. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s still idiotic that the song’s writers weren’t already aware there are rednecks in Ohio just like in any other state while stopping for gas, and the fact they felt the need to make that revelation integral to the first verse is just depressing. But from there, at the very least they’re not bashing city slickers and so-called “blue states” like quite a few of his peers were doing for a long while. He even gives a shout-out to foreign cars in the chorus (Toby Keith won’t like that! =P ). But outside of those gestures of goodwill to more urbanized country fans, you still have to put up with Brantley Gilbert’s painful garbled-tobacco-and-marbles singing, obnoxiously loud chicken-fried metal guitar, and the bald-faced lie that Waylon, Cash, Willie and Hank are being played on at least one station in every state. That is, of course, unless we meant online radio stations or SoundCloud playlists, which might be more feasible. Either way, pretty painful to listen to.)

    23: Jerrod Niemann – “One More Drinkin’ Song” +1 (Okay, I’ll admit it: I have somewhat of a soft spot for this one, and I think it has something to do with enjoying (and I still do) “Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury” as a complete album. With Big & Rich having fallen out of relevancy during this time, there just wasn’t anything like that mainstream debut out there. Yeah, some of the skits fell flat and there were a couple of filler moments…………..but, as a whole, it just really stood out and had some damn enjoyable songs. And when listening to the album front to back, this just fit in rather cohesively after one of the better skits about a fan expressing concern about the glut of drinking and party songs abound, and “I Hope You Get What You Deserve”. But even on its own, I’m somewhat sold on its laid-back, acoustic-driven charm. It actually reminds me a lot of Jimmy Buffett’s “Come Monday”, especially earlier on. It’s true that, late in the song, it veers too closely to Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar” territory with the obligatory group chant effects (which are quite annoying)…………………but, as a whole, I don’t mind this at all.)

    24: Steve Holy – “Love Don’t Run” -2 (Blame it on the heavy amount of Adult Top 40 I also listened to growing up…………..but this just annoyed me in rapid time. The song I immediately thought of when I first heard this was Train’s minor hit “When I Look To The Sky”. Similar contrast between more subdued vocals on the verses to high pitches on the choruses, similar shifts in built-up instrumentation from the first to second verses, similar overearnestness to the max……………………..I just thought the pedal steel was the only thing that prevented this from feeling completely out of place in the format. It doesn’t help matters that shortly after this became a modest hit for Steve Holy, Lee Brice released “I Drive Your Truck” which, despite the vocal melody in its chorus being so painfully similar to “Love Don’t Run”, is a far better song otherwise. Needless to say, this does absolutely nothing for me even if it isn’t worth hating either.)

    25: Darius Rucker – “I Got Nothin’” +1 (Vocally, Darius Rucker sounds stronger here compared to the majority of his releases. He’s quite instinctive on when to oscillate to a different key from beginning to end to emphasize the language of heartbreak more broadly, and is most effective on the bridge: “You’re almost at the door, and you stop and turn around. Your eyes are begging me: ‘Please say something right now’…” I do kind of feel the way he utters the title in the first and final choruses comes across a bit too dry or neutral, like he’s changed his mind somewhat and is somewhat relieved this is happening when everything around it clearly indicates he is devastated. He just sort of deadpans it and could have interpreted that better. The production is mostly vanilla, but we still get plenty of fiddles swirling in the verses and some pedal steel puncturing the choruses as well. All in all, a satisfying effort, though a forgettable one.)

    26: Ronnie Dunn – “Cost Of Livin’” +5 (Now THIS is what a 10/10 song sounds like! Sung from the point of view of an unemployed man who is looking and applying for work, we’re introduced with him introducing some standard details about him as if he is in the midst of a job interview as we speak. But as the song progresses, we observe a crescendo of desperation that gets harder to stomach the further in we get: from having to take the shoes off his own children’s feet after losing another job to, finally, admitting the bank is beginning to warn his family they may be coming for his door. But as gut-punching as these lyrics are, the true genius of this song resides in its bare-boned simplicity. Or, to put it another way, the reason why “Bleed Red” never did anything for me is because it was overstuffed and overwrought. The central message of that song was admirable and impossible to argue with, but its EXECUTION misfired widely in how much it indulged in unnecessary histrionics. Here, this is living proof less is usually a hell of a lot more. And Dunn executes this in a way where you’re absolutely convinced he, himself, has lived this nightmare of a reality we all are screaming to avoid. I still get teared up and lose it every time I hear this, The most timeless of music is that which is equal parts intimate and it is universal, and “Cost of Livin'” is a timeless song that speaks indispensable truth that, hopefully, can inspire greater empathy among all who listen.)

    27: Frankie Ballard – “A Buncha Girls” -3 (The odd thing about this song is that, musically, it’s a rather honest reflection of Ballard’s decidedly rock-leaning musical influences compared to his two breakout hits that directly followed it. In that sense, he was being true to himself. But that said, the lyrics here are inexcusable. First of all, some of the couplets in the verses don’t even rhyme. Weekend and sleeping don’t rhyme no matter how much you want them to. Long and alcohol don’t frickin’ rhyme! And that’s before we get to the way some things are phrased here. What the hell is a “seven day seniorita”? A “right now romeo”? I can hazard a guess for the latter one and, look, I’m not one who frowns upon having multiple sexual partners as long as you’re not being sexually dishonest. If the majority of us are being honest with ourselves, we’ve had rendezvous with more than one person total throughout the course of our adult lives. But that’s besides the point. The issue here is how fixated Ballard and the Peach Pickers are on alcohol and the womens’ physical features. There are a total of FOUR isolated references (two per verse) to alcohol between the verses. That’s troubling in the context of a spring fling anthem. And I’m by no stretch a Prohibitionist and I can attest to enjoying a drink here and there and don’t shame anyone else for doing so as well. But what I DO have an issue with is the idea that you HAVE to indulge in alcohol in EXPECTING a positive sexual experience. Uh, no! No, no, no, no, no, NO! That is a potentially rather dangerous precedent to set, and can easily result in a lot of hurt and guilt. All in all, this is a pretty forgettable sounding song anyway, but I don’t f*** around with these kind of messages that raise some distressing questions.)

    28: David Nail – “Let It Rain” +1 (I loved “The Sound of a Million Dreams” as an album (and still do)…………….but I’ve always considered this lead single that anchored it to be one of its few weaker links. It’s just all-around an unremarkably passable song that was nonetheless clinically designed to take David Nail’s airplay to the next level. And I’m absolutely glad it worked. But the song itself is just mostly uninspired. The lyrics are probably the strongest aspect of this track in that we do get some decent descriptive quality surrounding the narrator cheating and the consequences that have befallen on him for forgetting to wear his wedding ring one fateful day………………but the chorus is comparatively bland and can be swapped with just about any other song centered around varying degrees of break-ups. The production also lacks any distinctive country flavor and reminds me very much of a song from The Script: coming across as way too loop-driven in the verses to outright Dan Huff-esque bombast in the chorus. In fact, speaking of Dan Huff, even David Nail is not at his best vocally here. During the chorus, he sounds very much like “Unstoppable”-era Gary LeVox: that is, before he began to revisit a thing called restraint. This song is of the right heart, but it’s way too processed and unfocused in relation to David Nail’s catalog as a whole.)

    29: Craig Campbell – “Fish” -4 (Hahahahahahahahahaha…………..(exhales one prolonged, exasperated, resigning sigh) Really, guys? You thought this idea was sooooooooooooo clever you just had to stretch it to a two minute and forty-seven second song? Granger Smith’s “We Do It In A Field”, eat your heart out! Hahahahahahahaha, and those pretty bobbers she had happened to be………………you guessed it…………….PINK! Hahahahaha……………Craig, you’ve done it again! Awwwwwwwwww, but wait! You’ve overlooked the greatest brilliance of that lyric! You see………………….BOBBIES AND BOOBIES SHARE ALMOST THE EXACT SAME SPELLING!!! Hahahahahahaha, bet you never would have figured that out, eh? Cue the imagined Beavis and Butthead exchange! =P Eh, at least it sounds like modern country. That’s got to count for something.)

    30: Joe Nichols – “Take It Off” -2 (Here we go again: another lame titular pun that wears out its welcome rapidly in the form of a full-length ditty. What is it with Joe Nichols almost exclusively relying on titular puns as hooks for his radio singles in all recent memory anyway? We have this, then “Yeah”, then “Hard To Be Cool”, and now “Undone”. Seriously, Joe………………cool the f*** down! We get it: you’re horny. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Just………………………oh, never mind! On its own, this is actually a harmless ode to hot weather escapism from life’s travails. But therein lies the next problem. When you have more infectious and colorful takes on this theme like Craig Morgan’s “Redneck Yacht Club” and Kenny Chesney’s “Beer in Mexico” already in existence (which I consider neither good songs but at least are more interesting in different ways)………………this gets lost in the shuffle quickly. I forgot how this song sounded until playing it again on Spotify a while ago and, already, I can’t remember the melody line again. Not a good sign for a party song.)



    (So, yep…………………I wasn’t all that impressed with the state of country radio in 2011 either. It still has an edge over the current state of country radio in mid-2016, but not by a whole lot.)


  14. Ron July 23, 2016 / 6:59 pm

    Speaking of Brantley Gilbert. Just heard a snippet of his new song the weekend
    While it’s perfect for summer it’s a pretty weak bro country song about drinking beer and letting your hair down


    • Amanda July 23, 2016 / 11:06 pm

      Ugh, that new Brantley Gilbert song is quite horrendous. To anyone who may be reading this blog: if you have not heard Brantley Gilbert’s “The Weekend”, I would avoid it at all costs. I spent the next hour and a half listening to Tim McGraw (minus the godawful Looking for That Girl and the weak-minded effort Truck Yeah, lol), Gary Allan, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Lee Ann Womack, and Maddie and Tae to get the headache (the one I got from listening to The Weekend) to go away.


    • Nadia Lockheart July 24, 2016 / 7:59 pm

      It was painfully inevitable that he was going to return to the well that produced “Bottoms Up”.

      “Bottoms Up” is (unfortunately) by far and large the biggest hit of his career, and it’s not remotely close. In fact, it’s his only single to make the Top Forty of the Billboard Hot 100 to date. The follow-up singles didn’t come anywhere close to conquering the chart like that hit did. “One Hell Of An Amen” may have ultimately reached #1 on the airplay chart, but it required 37 weeks to get there (ridiculously long for an artist that sells like an A-lister) and has barely sold enough copies to go Gold. And the other two releases from his most recent era fared worse.

      It didn’t help matters that many of his fans in “BG Nation” complained that “Just As I Am” was way too mellow-sounding band ballad-heavy as a whole. I may have appreciated that but, then again, I don’t represent BG Nation or what his average fan expects. That probably explains how front-loaded the sales for his album were: having an excellent debut week but experiencing sluggish sales not long after.


      So what do you expect is going to happen when you’re in this sort of position?

      Brantley Gilbert is essentially paying penance to his fans who were let down by him playing it too softly on “Just As I Am”. First he debuts his latest incarnation of “Kick It In The Sticks”, “Dirty”, on the opening night of his latest tour a couple of weeks ago. Now, we have this.

      I think what’s most shocking about this song is not necessarily how awful it is (and trust me: it IS awful)……………….but how obviously it’s trying to mine the appeal of “Bottoms Up” but winds up with something that isn’t catchy at all.

      It’s just an incoherent mess that can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it an arena rocker? Is it his stab at “Living Things”-era Linkin Park? Is he trying to impersonate Drake or Future? I have no idea. This is a clusterf***, but not even in a “so bad it’s good” way. It’s just lazy and colorless.


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