2018 was a really fun year in country music.  Artists like Luke Combs and Kane Brown signaled a brewing change of the guard.  They have quickly established themselves as two of country's powerhouse talents.  As a matter of fact, this year gave as a ton of new music from artists we had never heard of.  Some of those artists and their songs have made this list.  Some established superstars are here too . . . either reminding us of who they are and what makes them great or for completely reinventing their vibe and sound.  So, here it is!  My annual list of the Top Ten Country Songs of the Year.

#10- Miss Me More- Kelsea Ballerini

Well, goodbye Hello, Kitty!  Country music's reigning sweetheart has just completely redefined her image and I am here for it.  I think a lot of folks were worried that Kelsea Ballerini was destined to become the new Taylor Swift.  The young artist who dipped her toes into country music, had some success, then sold us out for a bigger, more lucrative career in pop.  But, I think Ballerini may be here to stay if "Miss Me More" is any indication.  This new in-your-face, take-my-life-back anthem allows her to do something in front of country fans that Taylor didn't really do. We're getting to watch Kelsea take hold of her womanhood. By the time Taylor Swift did that for her fans, she was completely gone from the format.  With "Miss Me More", Kelsea may be signaling to her country base that we aren't going to have to miss her at all.  This new song of hers is freaking awesome.  Let's be honest.  Country music fans love a female bad ass (Miranda Lambert, anyone?).  It looks and sounds like Kelsea Ballerini may be ready to step up to the plate.  To that, I say, "Play ball!"

#9- I Was Jack (You Were Diane)- Jake Owen

Random note.  This is the second consecutive year that the name "Diane" has appeared on my Top Ten list.  Last year, Cam landed in the #2 slot with "Diane", her amazing follow-up to Dolly Parton's "Jolene".  This year, Jake Owen grabs the #9 spot with "I Was Jack (You Were Diane)" - his amazing second chapter to John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane" from the early 80's.  How much fun was this?  And, really!  Who knew we needed a sequel to the kids sucking on chili dogs outside the Tastee Freeze?  But I absolutely love this throwback to one of the biggest hits of the 1980's- the nostalgia, the modern-day take on the lyrics and John Mellencamp's instantly recognizable riff.  While this is the kind of song whose novelty burns quickly, it was really fun while it lasted.

 

#8- Desperate Man- Eric Church

Country's reigning rebel with a cause!  And that cause is a near constant redesign of his sound.  For me, Eric Church is the most innovative star in country music.  Most artists (and I won't name names, but could) sound the same every . . . single . . . time.  Eric Church rarely does.  His music, even the singles he releases to radio, consistently sound different and push the boundaries of what we expect from radio-friendly fare.  "Desperate Man" definitely accomplished that.  In many ways, it's like a country music interpretation of the theme from Shaft. It's funky and infectious and has this "grown ass man" grooving to it.

 

#7 She Got The Best of Me-  Luke Combs

Get ready for back-to-back Lukes on my list.  The first is the newly appointed next-in-line-to-the-country-music-throne Luke Combs.  Don't believe me?  This guy sold out The Ford Center in Evansville in about a day.  Blake Shelton's upcoming show there has hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of seats still available.  A change of the guard is happening in country music right now and Luke Combs is leading the charge like Braveheart.  And, think about it.  This guy reportedly didn't pick up a guitar until he was 21-years-old.  He's just 28 and his first four singles have landed at #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart!  His formula for success?  I happen to think it's due to the fact that he looks like the guy next door.  Seriously!  He's the guy that would come over and change your oil for you.  The guy that would grill up burgers and brats for the 4th of July.  And the guy who would pull a guitar out of the backseat of his truck and sing for everyone at the bonfire.  And singing songs like this . . . he's definitely got the best of us.  We're all ears.

 

#6- Most People Are Good- Luke Bryan

Boy, we needed this song in 2018, didn't we?  Normally, "message" songs drive me nuts.  But this song hit the airwaves at just the right time . . . in the middle of one of the most politically divisive and explosive years since the Watergate era.  Luke Bryan, one of the biggest names in country, took the opportunity to remind his fan base that diversity is beautiful.  He sings, "I believe this world ain't half as bad as it looks.  I believe most people are good."  Well-written.  Well-said.  Well-sung.  And point taken.

 

#5- Singles You Up- Jordan Davis

Mark it.  Jordan Davis is going to be a HUGE country music star.  At first glance and listen, you might think he looks and sounds like the love child of Zac Brown and Sam Hunt.  He definitely has a country look and country lyrics, but there's a pop-country-pseudo-hip-hop vibe to his style.    And "Singles You Up" is just a preview of this guy's chops and songwriting skills.  Earlier this year in Nashville, I was lucky enough to get a preview of some future hits to come.  Jordan Davis is gonna radio single us up with some incredibly "new" country music.

 

#4- Drunk Me- Mitchell Tenpenny

There is a pop/rock song from the 1980's called "Into The Night."  It was released, twice, by a singer named Benny Mardones.  I realize that's a random reference, but that's exactly what I thought of when I heard Mitchell Tenpenny's amazing breakthrough song "Drunk Me."  His voice, like Benny's", is smoky and rock-tinged.  I can hear Mitchell singing the holy crap out of "Into The Night" (even despite the creepy, predatory lyrics).  And I am so glad we got to hear this in 2018.  "Drunk Me" is a cleverly-written song about the end of a relationship.  How insanely well-conceptualized and written is the line "I've been sober since you broke my heart in two because drunk me can't get over you?"  Brilliant.  And brilliantly sung by a guy whose pipes were built for the radio.

 

#3- Cry Pretty- Carrie Underwood

Remember when I mentioned earlier that some country stars spent their time on the charts this year reminding us what it is they do that makes them so great.  Carrie Underwood is the epitome of that strategy.  After a nasty fall, surgery and living off the grid for months in a camera-free cocoon, country music's reigning butterfly reemerged with a power ballad for the ages.  While "Cry Pretty" wasn't quite the hit one has come to expect from Carrie Underwood, it showcases all of the layers of her vocal prowess.  This is a master class in vocal performance and Underwood blasted the rafters at awards shows with it.  You cry glitter, Carrie Underwood.  Do what you do, Girl!  Cry Pretty!

 #2-  Mercy- Brett Young

The musical equivalent of having your heart ripped right out of your chest.  It's been said that breaking up is hard to do.  Brett Young reminds us that it's hard to deal with even after the deed is done.  It's rare that a song can bring me to tears.  But, I was a total basket case the first time I heard "Mercy".  Think Tammy Faye Bakker without the mascara, but a full beard.  But just about everyone in the world has carried these emotions at some point.  We've all been there, right?  In love, but on the edge of falling out of it? I'll own it.  I've been there.  It's such a helpless and horrible feeling that we haven't yet been able to create an emoji that truly captures it.  However, Brett Young has captured it perfectly, achingly with this song.  Have mercy!

 

 

#1-  Hooked- Dylan Scott

For me, the undisputed champ of 2018.  Great songs are truly all about the "hook."  The chorus that "hooks" you, catches hold of you and then reels you in.  Appropriately, Dylan Scott's "Hooked" has that hook.  This is the PERFECT radio song.  It's under three minutes long, up-tempo, catchy, with a beat you can drive and sing along to.  And I'll throw this in too.  We have a lot of really good voices in country music right now.  I've included some of them on this list- Brett Young, Mitchell Tenpenny, Luke Combs.  But, for me, Dylan Scott's voice is right in the mix.  Let's lay it out there.  It's gritty and sexy as hell.  It's as if his voice was genetically-engineered to blare through the speakers in the car.  I don't know about you, but I'm hooked.  Buzzin' and lovin' on it.