The return of the Olympics also brings with it a resurgence of American patriotism. Amidst the flag-waving and “U-S-A” chants, now is as good a time as any to revisit a genre of music that is thoroughly American – country. Unfortunately, country music is a style that many people have unfairly sworn off; often casting the genre aside as twangy tunes fit only for hicks, hillbillies and cowboys.
However, country naysayers ignore the extreme diversity of a genre that not only has a rich history, but also has seen its popularity boom in recent years. Pop crossover artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood have helped to fuel country music’s growth. Last year, a country radio station even returned to the concrete jungle of New York City. Here are 10 country songs that will hopefully convince doubters to give the genre a second look.
1) “I’m Alive (Feat. Dave Matthews)” by Kenny Chesney
An artist with 15 albums under his belt and countless sold-out tours, Chesney is one of the modern kings of country music. Like many other country artists, his music has varied widely in both style and content over the years. Here he partners with another long-standing artist, Dave Matthews, for a mellow tune about the joys of being alive. How versatile is Chesney? He also had a chart-topping single called “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”
2) “Pontoon” by Little Big Town
Little Big Town may be a relatively newcomer to the country scene, but they have made a big splash. Their funky hit “Pontoon” touches upon a common theme among country music songs: you should always make time to relax, party and simply enjoy time with your friends.
3) “Seven Spanish Angels” by Willie Nelson and Ray Charles
Besides featuring two musical legends, this 1984 record is a fine example of storytelling in country music – a big part of many hit songs. Additionally, it illustrates the common Southwest/Tex-Mex motif found in some country hits about life near the border.
4) “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean
Jason Aldean is a poster boy for the growing trend of male country singers acting more like rock stars with his heavy use of electric guitars and bad-boy image. Interestingly, Aldean also shows the influence of another genre in this song – rap. At several points he goes into a kind of spoken-word delivery of nostalgic lyrics that falls somewhere between Johnny Cash’s “talking songs” and the modern hip-hop verses we know today.
5) “Somewhere Else” by Toby Keith
A sometimes controversial figure among the country music industry for his often politicized music, many of Toby Keith’s records are hard-hitting and in your face. However, Keith can also tone it down for slower, sadder songs. This one falls somewhere in-between with lyrics about getting over a break-up hidden under an up-tempo melody.
6) “Knee Deep (Feat. Jimmy Buffett)” by Zac Brown Band
The Zac Brown Band has been one of my personal favorite country music groups for the past few years. While they normally lean more towards the folk end of country music with lots of fiddle work and classical guitar, here they partner with a key figure from a style that could best be described as island country. The “Margaritaville” man himself is featured on this track that pines for the pleasures of beaches and palm tree paradises.
7) “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” by Dierks Bentley
A fine example of an exuberant country jam complete with banjo and steel guitar.
8) “Postcard from Paris” by The Band Perry
A sibling act out of Tennessee, The Band Perry has only two albums under their belt but plenty of successful tracks and award nominations. For those who think country singers only talk about drinking, tough farm life and relationships, give the band’s smart lyrics a listen.
9) “Highway Don’t Care” by Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban
Come on, you didn’t really think a country music playlist for non-country fans would not have some kind of Taylor Swift song on it, did you?
10) “Hillbilly Bone (Feat. Trace Adkins)” by Blake Shelton
This song sums up the purpose of this playlist. While there are more country songs not featured here that are certainly more “redneck” and proud of it, country music is just one more genre that should be appreciated “no matter where you’re from” or your regional ties.