This has been the worst year for mainstream singles that I can remember. That was rubbed in for me when I started thinking about compiling not only this list but an upcoming list of the best singles of the decade. My shortlist comprised far more songs for every other year than for the current one. Not only that, but almost none of my picks for this year were actually hits. I didn’t deliberately pick obscure songs, and there have been some hits this year I have liked, but few that I have loved. It’s not just that radio seems to have moved in a direction I don’t care for, but also the labels have been picking as singles the songs I least liked from artists and albums I did like. But after a lot of thought, I’ve come up with this list of my personal favorites from 2009.
10. ‘Even Now’ – Caitlin & Will
This hardly even counts as a single, because the label pulled it before it had a chance to make an impact in favor of the over-produced ‘Address In the Stars’. That gamble didn’t pay off, and the duo was dropped by Columbia without an album release before the end of the year and have since split. However, this was a very impressive contemporary country duet with strong vocals, and it should have done much better.
9. ‘Cold Coffee And Hot Beer’ – John Anderson
The leadoff single from John Anderson’s Bigger Hands is a witty look at man so hopeless at life without his woman you can’t be really surprised she left. Sadly, it didn’t make any headway at radio.
8. ‘Stop The World (And Let Me Off)’ – Rhonda Vincent
My favorite track from bluegrass singer Rhonda Vincent’s current album, this cover of a real country classic was never going to get played on today’s country radio, but it’s a great song and recording regardless.
7. ‘Mama’ – Holly Williams
The daughter of Hank Williams Jr is more Americana than she is country, but this warm tribute to Holly’s mother following her parents’ divorce has a charm which cannot be denied – unless you’re a radio programmer.
6. ‘To Say Goodbye’ – Joey + Rory
I was disappointed that this moving song about the pain of loss and not being able to say goodbye was ignored by radio.
5. ‘She Never Got Me Over You’ – Mark Chesnutt
This lovely Keith Whitley/Dean Dillon/Hank Cochran song (never released by Whitley) was recorded by 90s star and current independent artist Mark Chesnutt on his most recent album (2008’s Rollin’ With The Flow), and it peaked on the Billboard singles chart at #49 earlier this year.
4. ‘Backwoods Barbie’ – Dolly Parton
Another non-charting single which deserved a wider audience, the title track of Dolly’s 2008 comeback attempt album is a remarkable song. Dolly’s image has often got in the way of a true appreciation of her as a singer and songwriter, and in this song she tackles that head-on.
3. ‘All I Ask For Anymore’ – Trace Adkins
Trace is a very frustrating artist for me. He has one of the best voices in country music, but too often he wastes his talent on material unworthy of it. Further, he and his label have been pioneers in the art of consistently picking his least good material as singles. So this song is a rare change – a genuine hit single from 2009 I actually like. The song is good if not great, and lifted by a beautifully judged vocal. I didn’t include the superb ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’ (nominated by Razor X last week) on my list, because I wanted to restrict it to formal singles, but if I had done, it would have challenged for the #1 spot.
2. ‘Busted‘ – Patty Loveless
Patty’s vibrant cover of the Harlan Howard-penned classic, which restored its original coal mining setting, is a true delight. It is the only single so far from her lovely Mountain Soul II. It was a top 10 hit for Johnny Cash in the 60s and for John Conlee in the 80s, and a crossover hit for Ray Charles in between, but Patty’s version, which easily rivals any of these, has failed to chart at all.
1. ‘High Cost Of Living’ – Jamey Johnson
I was disappointed by Jamey’s follow-up single, which sank without a trace, and surprised that the label didn’t try one of the other fine songs on That Lonesome Song, but this was far and away the best single of the year, with its serious, downbeat look at the cost of sin and addiction which was just too adult for the increasingly immature focus of country radio. It did manage to sneak into the top 40 earlier in the year.
Let’s hope next year is a bit better.