Best Songs of 2013
There was certainly no shortage of great country songs in 2013.
Country legend Kenny Rogers returned to top form this year, while some of the genre’s most reliable hit makers offered up fresh material that challenged their established audiences in new ways, including Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood.
Our list of the Best Songs of 2013 celebrates the diversity of contemporary country music.
Ashley Monroe’s ‘Like a Rose’ was one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, universally praised for its top-notch songs and understated arrangements. The title song and first single drew a lot of attention, and the third single, ‘Weed Instead of Roses,’ commanded the highest chart position, but the second single, the achingly haunting ‘You Got Me,’ was the album’s hidden gem. Featuring Little Big Town on harmony vocals, the song is a dark take on addiction that’s a dramatic step away from modern cookie-cutter country.
Blake Shelton hit a new career high with ‘Based On a True Story . . .,’ which combined his more traditional influences with a fresh new approach to production. The album’s third single, ‘Mine Would Be You,’ is a heartfelt track in which the singer runs down a list of the most memorable moments in his life, with the tag line to each saying, “Mine would be you.” The lyrics doesn’t reveal until the very end that he’s reminiscing about a love that got away.
Dierks Bentley has always staked a bold claim when it comes to pushing the envelope with his audio productions. The first single from his upcoming album ‘Riser’ is one of the most unique songs to make it to country radio in years. Lyrically a fairly rote drinking song, the track’s moody feel — featuring harmony vocals from Kacey Musgraves — make it unlike anything else at radio this year.
When you think of Carrie Underwood, words like “revenge” and “murder” aren’t the ones that come most immediately to mind. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of ‘Two Black Cadillacs,’ which became a smash hit for the superstar after she released it as the third single from her smash album ‘Blown Away.’ The song tells an unflinchingly dark tale of a wife and mistress who collude to murder their scheming husband/boyfriend, which hearkens back somewhat to the early days of country murder ballads.
Eric Church is one of country music’s modern-day bad boys, with an irreverent approach to the business and a rocking feel to much of his music. But he threw his fans a curve with ‘Like Jesus Does,’ a slow ballad that reveals a more introspective side. The narrator in the song says his partner loves him “like Jesus does,” unconditionally and in spite of all of his flaws. A love song for people who don’t like treacly ballads, ‘Like Jesus Does’ is one of the most strikingly original singles of 2013.
Kenny Rogers had an amazing year in 2013. The country legend was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the CMA Awards, and released ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends,’ which critics have hailed as one of the best albums of his career. The title song reunited Rogers with Dolly Parton in a touching rumination on friendship and impending loss that demonstrates convincingly how artists don’t have to go into decline just because they are getting older.
Talk about marching to the beat of your own drummer. Kacey Musgraves’ major label debut, ‘Same Trailer Different Park,’ is full of wryly observational songs that skewer small-town life, including ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ and ‘Blowin’ Smoke.’ But her third single, ‘Follow Your Arrow,’ is perhaps the most revolutionary song at country radio in recent memory. With a lyric that casually advocates marijuana use and same-sex relationships, as well as simply celebrating your individuality, ‘Follow Your Arrow’ just might be a game-changer at country radio.
Brad Paisley is scarcely one of the most controversial artists in country music, but he landed in the headlines all over the world for this track from his ‘Wheelhouse’ album. Featuring rapper LL Cool J, the song unfolds a fictional conversation between a southerner wearing a Confederate flag shirt and the black man who waited on him in a restaurant. Though many reviewers and fans found the song heavy-handed, amazingly, a white country artist and a black rap artist were able to reach across the divide and force a discussion about racism that normally wouldn’t have taken place.
Miranda Lambert continued to do exactly what she does best with ‘Mama’s Broken Heart.’ The singer, who’s made a career out of unleashing the day-to-day sublimated rage felt by women everywhere, was at it again with this infectious track, which Kacey Musgraves co-wrote and originally slated for her own album. Instead, Lambert took the song to No. 1, and earned multiple CMA Awards nominations in the process.
What do you get when you cross a popular alt-country group, Bob Dylan and the former singer of one of the biggest rock acts of the ’90s? One of the year’s biggest hits, apparently. Re-worked from an Old Crow Medicine Show track that derived from an old Dylan song, ‘Wagon Wheel’ took Rucker to No. 1, with a little help from Lady Antebellum, and proceeded to go double platinum on the strength of one of the most infectious grooves to grace country radio in years.