2016 was definitely a year to remember in Nashville, as some of the best lyrics in quite some time actually gained favor with radio programmers. Whether it be Maren Morris (country’s “It” girl) or Eric Church singing so profoundly about the impact that music has in our lives, Chris Janson and Brett Eldredge turning in some of the best love songs of the past 12 months, or one of the top superstars of the past 20 years releasing some of his finest work — here’s our look at some of the best country singles of 2016.
“My Church,” Maren Morris
Morris’ breakthrough hit might be our top pick even without her jaw-dropping CMA performance of the song. But, that only put the exclamation point on the fact that she was the talent to break through this year (hence why she earned the Breakthrough Star award at this year’s Billboard’s Women in Music). A celebration of the bond that listeners feel with the musicians that tell their stories, this one topped our list.
You know how there are always those songs that make you realize, “So…all the great country song ideas haven’t been taken, after all?” This one was that moment for 2016. Sometimes, the true power of greatness is how simple the idea actually seems…but it’s not always that easy to find.
“80s Mercedes,” Maren Morris
Possibly the best roll-down the window song of 2016. Morris has bad-ass bravado all over her Hero disc, and this track was further proof. With new artists like Morris, the future of country music is in more-than-capable hands.
“Holdin’ Her,” Chris Janson
The best inspiration for a love song has always been real life, and Janson’s romantic tribute to wife Kelly gave the genre a moment to remember. If you see him do this one live in concert, you will more than understand. He’s the real deal — the industry needs to catch on to that fact.
“Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw
More than two decades into his recording career, McGraw still defines the term “risk taker.” This gem of a ballad from Lori McKenna has already taken home the CMA Song of the Year, and a Grammy could very well be in its future (the song is up for Best Country Song in 2017). The lyrics are ones that we could do very well to apply to our lives regardless of beliefs. We don’t have to agree all the time, but civility is an art that needs to be practiced.
“How I’ll Always Be,” Tim McGraw
A testament to McGraw’s song-choosing ability, he handles this traditional-based mid-tempo song with relative ease. If Merle Haggard had been recording commercial music in the last years of his life, this one would be tailor-made.
“Peter Pan,” Kelsea Ballerini
Morris wasn’t the only newcomer to make a splash in the recent Grammy nominations. The third straight chart-topper from Ballerini has a definite youth appeal — but also one of the most dramatic arrangements of the year.
“Wanna Be That Song,” Brett Eldredge
When he’s singing his soul-drenched style of country, there are few better. Eldredge just keeps getting better and better, and this song is pure evidence of that. He could be someone to watch as a possible Male Vocalist of the Year from either the CMA or ACM (if not both!) in the coming years.
“Record Year,” Eric Church
In a year that saw so many of our musical legends pass from us, Church’s song serves as the male counterpoint to Morris’ anthem that topped our list. A song that makes one ponder the rich musical legacies that those icons left behind.
Country-pop collaborations sometimes don’t work. They tend to over-reach in their attempt to appeal to a mass audience. But Chesney was wise to share the spotlight with one of this generation’s greatest female voices. Ear candy, pure and simple.
“You Look Like I Need A Drink,” Justin Moore
Moore, who has become one of country’s most dependable male artists, delivered on this toe-tapping song about a man who knows he’s in trouble with his significant other — or getting there pretty quick. One of the catchiest choruses of the year, as well.
“I Met A Girl,” William Michael Morgan
They say traditional country music is dead, or at the very least an endangered species. Morgan’s breakthrough hit is grounds for the opposite side of that argument. While having very much his own vocal style, this does conjure up an idea of something that George Strait might have cut, say about 1989.