30. Millie Jackson, “Black Bitch Crazy”
Tyler Farr may have cranked up a little Hank and gotten his pissed-off on in his 2013 hit “Redneck Crazy,” but it took soul/rap pioneer and Merle Haggard fan Millie Jackson to mine the song’s emotional depths in this slightly reworded version. Flashing headlights into bedroom windows, chucking beer cans at silhouettes — creaking from Farr’s clenched jaw, it was just another stalker ode yoked to regional pride. Swapping Farr’s pickup for an El Dorado and dropping smooth horns over the top, Jackson once again just has to say it: “You’ve gone and broke the wrong heart, baby.” Unsettling, you bet. Scorned love transcends genre again. J.G.
29. Zac Brown Band, “All Alright”
Dave Grohl produced and Eric Church co-authored this slow burner, steeped in the Allmans and Marshall Tucker — and the conviction that relations between the sexes haven’t changed since 1972. Zac Brown’s gonna keep on cheating, so if it bothers her, that’s her problem (if J.D. Souther or Glenn Frey had appeared in the credits, it wouldn’t have been a surprise). If she keeps it up, he’ll “wash” her “away” “like Sodom and Gomorrah.” So the assholism might present an unsurmountable obstacle if not for the excellent musicianship, particularly A. J. Ghent’s slide and Brown’s strategically deployed voice crack. A.S.
28. The Band Perry, “Chainsaw”
Don’t tell Greenpeace: Kimberly Perry needs hers and her ex’s initials off that tree now, and she’ll make every “bury the hatchet” pun she can until the whole damn thing’s cut down to mulch. Good thing they didn’t get tattoos, or “Bone Saw” would be a much more horrifying song. D.W.
27. Kenny Chesney, “American Kids”
The blandness of the title promises treacle, like lifting a lighter in the direction of apple-cheeked farmhands or shaking heads at today’s loafabout youth. Yet this typically inside/outside take from songwriters Shane McAnally and Luke Laird has the good grace to stay vague. Sure, it skirts around cultural signifiers, reminiscing on MTV and Dr. Hook rather than the Instagram accounts captivating actual contemporary American kids. No matter. In an era of hyperpartisan divides both political and generational, Chesney embraces the long view: “A little messed up / But we’re all alright.” J.G.
26. Wussy, “Acetylene”
Over Chuck Cleaver’s mournful Carter Family scratch, it’s atypical cello and oceanic fuzz that frame the scene: cluttered apartment, Watchtower tracts at the door, and the slow realization that none of this is going away. With characteristic restraint, the Cincinnati neorealists only need eight words to encapsulate life’s endless wanting: “This is not a dream / This is disappointment.” Few other cuts in this band’s repertoire plumb such bleak depths. But with Lisa Walker’s harmony rising to meet Cleaver, hope is briefly stirred. “We could burn so free,” they yearn, with just a little acetylene. Candlesticks are for romantics. Wussy’s ready to cauterize. J.G.
25. Miranda Lambert feat. Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad”
Far be it from Miranda Lambert to lie, but she said earlier this year she’s only just discovering most classic rock, despite embodying its intensity and wattage ever since 2007’s breakthrough “Gunpower and Lead” — if not her Stones-grooved ’05 single, “Kerosene.” Nevertheless, she’s the thinking woman’s Aerosmith fan, and Underwood is more than happy to play the mic-sharing Joe Perry to her sass-lipped Steven Tyler on this perfect homage to Boston’s original MTV-sweeping dinosaurs, which rocks like a Flintstone. D.W.
24. Jake Owen, “Beachin'”
“Beachin'” doesn’t win any points for originality or progressiveness; songs featuring a reggae band “full of dread-heads” playing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” rarely do. Still, there was no country song this summer as satisfyingly escapist, from the gleaming serenity of the production to the surf-rock sunniness of the guitar hook to the postcard-utopian lyrics (“It’s 103 between her and me / And only 92 in Daytona”). Sure, it’s nearly a Corona Light commercial. But even the most city-hardened northerners need to find their beach every now and then. A.U.
23. The Road Hammers, “Mud”
Allow the Eli Young Band and Florida Georgia Line their portraits in gentility, tipping a weary glass towards “Dust” and “Dirt.” Canadian CB revivalists the Road Hammers splatter the bourgeoisie with a metal-crunching, dieselbilly ode to working-class muck. Within a line-dance mosh pit that bites from David Bowie’s “Fame,” the Tonka toys and turtle pools of youth give way to jacked-up 4×4’s and the pure bliss of springtime rain. And don’t think these dudes fail to recognize the erotic possibilities of good clean fun: “Girl of my dreams / Buried rim deep.” J.G.
22. Hurray for the Riff Raff, “The Body Electric”
“The Body Electric” is a murder ballad in a crushingly non-specific sense, inspired by the fatal 2012 rape and assault of a young woman in New Dehli, but just as much a response to country songs that still treat violence against women as an inevitability. “Said you’re gonna shoot me down / Put my body in the river,” sighs frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra with disarming sweetness, seemingly resigned to her fate, though by song’s end she turns avenging angel: “Delia’s gone, but I’m settling the score.” If she doesn’t, who will? A.U.
21. Jon Langford & Skull Orchard, “What Did You Do in the War?”
The Welsh-born Chicagoan and Mekons emissary has decried man’s profit-fueled inhumanity to man many times over, including the deathless post-9/11 couplet “Every day is a battle / How we still love the war.” But on this mangy country waltz, he takes on the military-industrial complex and its deep-pocketed backers with a simple query. It’s the wartime economy, stupid: “An easy abundance / Slides right back to scarcity.” With big boys and their toys spreading global darkness and doubt, Langford spits the question back into General Patton’s face. Shoveling shit never sounded more virtuous. J.G.