Outside of the USA and Blake Shelton fandom in The Voice, the country genre goes unnoticed. But if the material is right, regardless of where critics and programmers classify the sound, will break borders and get mainstream success. Here are 15 country tracks that proved genres are nothing but arbitrary distinctions.
If I Die Young by The Band Perry
The beauty of country music is that little is left to the imagination. Songwriting is generally explicit and detailed that any room for misinterpretation disappears. Talking about dying can come off as morbid but not in this ballad by The Band Perry.
Jesus Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood
If Carrie Underwood never competed in American Idol, would this single have taken off? She’s definitely left a legacy with this track. Even today, the title has been a common phrase for people who just let fate take its course and hope the odds are in their favor.
Not Ready to Make Nice by The Dixie Chicks
If the Dixie Chicks didn’t oppose the Bush administration publicly while the Iraq invasion was ongoing, the song would not have generated so much attention. Despite death threats and country radio boycotting their music, the trio soldiered on. The Recording Academy generously rewarded them with Grammys as they took all the general field awards they were eligible for.
There You’ll Be by Faith Hill
For a time, it seemed like Faith Hill would follow in Shania’s footsteps and have her loyalty to the country sound questioned. After all, she helmed one of the most epic soundtrack singles for Pearl Harbor. In my view, this was the female version of Armageddon’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”.
Cruise (Remix) by Florida Georgia Line Featuring Nelly
Nelly is no stranger to country sound blending with hip-hop. His single Over and Over with Tim McGraw remains one of his masterpieces. Cruise has done much for both artists – Florida Georgia Line getting introduced to audiences outside of country and a resurgence in interest for Nelly.
Wanted by Hunter Hayes
While I was making the list, I noticed that ballads tend to crossover the easiest. I guess at our core, we are just shitty hopeless romantics. “Wanted” was simple and made me feel desired and longed for. It helps that Hunter Hayes is smooth and charming.
Don’t You Wanna Stay by Jason Aldean Featuring Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson has numerous ties to country music. But her duet with Jason Aldean gave her prominence in this genre. Even outside of country, this stands as one of the best romantic ballads by a duo to date.
Picture by Kid Rock Featuring Sheryl Crow
Even though Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow didn’t start out in country music, they hardly faced resistance when their single dominated the airwaves. They were even nominated for Vocal Event of the Year at the 2003 Country Music Association Awards. It’s less angry and not bashed unlike Nickelback’s “Picture”.
Need You Now by Lady Antebellum
If I ever needed a drunk call song, “Need You Now” would be my choice. I’m sure many people saw their situations, past or present, in Lady Antebellum’s breakout track. It certainly is one of the best music ever written and released, no doubt about it.
How Do I Live by LeAnn Rimes
LeAnn Rimes was deemed too young to have gone through the experiences written in the song. Hence, Trisha Yearwood was asked to release a version of this track. In the end, LeAnn’s age hardly mattered as her rendition was the one embraced by the public, evidenced by its unprecedented longevity in the charts, a record that would only be broken around two decades later.
Girl Crush by Little Big Town
Country artists have been known to be traditional and conservative. The subject matter of a girl crush got people talking. It raised eyebrows and drew attention. Not to say the sound wasn’t spectacular. But it needed a trigger to be consumed by the rest of the mainstream public.
Amazed by Lonestar
Although a remixed version, “Amazed” is one of the only few country songs to ever top the US Hot 100. After doing some research, I found out it was initially offered to Boyz II Men. Now it makes sense why it fared so well. After all, Boyz II Men were the resident crooners of the 90s decade.
What Hurts the Most by Rascal Flatts
Ironically, the single about falling short is the track that introduced Rascal Flatts to a wider fanbase. “What Hurts the Most” puts into song the pain many of the heartbroken experience. Unfortunately, coming close doesn’t take away any of the pain and even aggravates it.
You’re Still the One by Shania Twain
If any artist first tested the waters of crossing over, it had to be Shania Twain. No artist can match the impact she has made to country and pop music at the same time during her prime. And it’s also fun to note the narration at the beginning of the track. It’s a classic feature 90s songs will be remembered for.
You Belong with Me by Taylor Swift
Before Taylor Swift fully embraced pop, she was a country darling that blurred the lines. “You Belong with Me” has the storytelling country music is known for. However, the beat was clearly pop music. This and “Love Story” began her tug-of-war with her identity.