25 best country songs of the 21st Century (2023)

25 best country songs of the 21st Century (1)

Tim McGraw, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift performing at McGraw's Summer Nights showcase. (Al Powers)

Troy L. Smith, Northeast Ohio Media Group

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- There's a good chance you may be still hunger over from this past weekend's country concert.

There's no shame in that. Over the past two decades, country has become the go-to genre for summer partying and fun-loving anthems. It's also created several stars, most notably Taylor Swift.

We poured through the big songs from 2000 on to come up with our list of the 25 best country tunes of the 21st Century.

Don't Edit

25. Florida Georgia Line - "Cruise"

This might be a controversial choice. But Florida Georgia Line's bro-anthem swept the nation as one of the biggest songs of all time. Country music had never seen anything like it.

Don't Edit

24. Kenny Chesney - "American Kids"

Few country artists can compare to Chesney's success both in touring and on the charts since 2000. And he's still been going strong over the past few years. In 2014, he delivered this nostalgic anthem that would make his idols proud.

Don't Edit

23. Thomas Rhett - "Die a Happy Man"

Rhett's slow burner about his wife is the kind of timeless country love song that's not going anywhere anytime soon. Not surprisingly, the song spent several weeks at No.1 on the charts.

Don't Edit

22. Kacey Musgraves - "Merry Go 'Round"

Musgraves' touching first single earned her a Grammy Award for Best Country song in 2014, beating out Taylor Swift, among others.

Don't Edit

Don't Edit

21. Dierks Bentley - "What Was I Thinkin'"

Dierks debut single remains his signature tune and for good reason. It's the catchiest and most moving thing he's ever written.

Don't Edit

20. Jamey Johnson - "In Color"

Johnson first made a name for himself when he co-wrote George Strait's 2006 hit "Give It Away" (which almost made this list). Two years later, Johnson would pen his own instant classic in the form of "In Color," which earned him Song of the Year honors at the 2009 Academy of Country Music Awards.

Don't Edit

19. Toby Keith - "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)"

Keith's patriotic anthem was such a personal song that it was initially only played at concerts. Once Keith decided to record it, it became his biggest crossover hit.

Don't Edit

18. Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss - 'Whiskey Lullaby'

This duet truly put Paisley on the map if anyone was already paying attention to his country sound. "Whiskey Lullaby" hit the top 5 on the country charts and went double-platinum.

Don't Edit

17. Zac Brown Band - "Chicken Fried"

Zac Brown wrote "Chicken Fried" in 2003, but his band didn't release its version until 2008. The timing proved to be perfect. "Chicken Fried" worked its way to a top-20 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Don't Edit

Don't Edit

16. Darius Rucker - "Wagon Wheel"

The origins of "Wagon Wheel" trace all the way back to 1973, when Bob Dylan wrote the chorus. He put the finishing touches on the song with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show for the band's 2004 single. But Darius Rucker maybe rode it best, as he landed at the top spot on the country charts with his 2013 version of the song.

Don't Edit

15. Keith Urban - "You'll Think of Me"

"You'll Think of Me" proved Urban's worth as a fantastic songwriter. The vivid imagery created by the lyrics is what makes "You'll Think of Me" one of the greatest breakup songs in country music history.

Don't Edit

14. Lady Antebellum - "Need You Now"

Lady A's 2010 breakup song was an absolute juggernaut on the charts. The song earned the group the rare feat of winning both Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the Grammys.

Don't Edit

13. Eric Church - "Springsteen"

The best song from country music's biggest rebel is perhaps his simplest. Church's 2011 song named for a certain, legendary New Jersey singer-songwriter is the kind of perfect songwriting Springsteen himself would be proud of.

Don't Edit

12. Miranda Lambert - "The House That Built Me"

The powerhouse ballad "The House That Built Me" became Lambert's first No 1 hit and catapulted her to the forefront of the country music landscape.

Don't Edit

Don't Edit

11. Dixie Chicks - "Not Ready To Make Nice"

After Natalie Maines' comments about President George W. Bush in 2003, the Dixie Chicks could have taken the easy route and won fans back with a typical "Wide Open Spaces" style record. Yet, Natalie Maines doesn't do easy. Instead, the girl group fired back with this defiant anthem and quieted cynics with the three Grammys it brought in.

Don't Edit

10. Carrie Underwood - "Before He Cheats"

Prior to "Before He Cheats," Underwood was the "American Idol" winner with the soft, cookie-cutter image. After "Before He Cheats," a fiery warning to all cheating men, she could do whatever she wanted, which pretty much meant No. 1 hit after No. 1 hit.

Don't Edit

9. Gretchen Wilson - "Redneck Woman"

Wilson's first single, "Redneck Woman," became a crossover success and debuted at No. 1. She never equaled its success, which probably would have been an impossible feat for anyone.

Don't Edit

8. Chris Stapleton - "Traveller"

Stapleton seemingly came out of nowhere for some country fans when he started piling up awards over the past few years. But here he is as one of country's greatest songwriters, mixing in some blues for some of the finest songs in any genre in recent memory.

Don't Edit

7. Taylor Swift - "Love Story"

"Love Story" made it into the top-5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and spawned a separate pop version that took over Top-40 radio. After "You Belong with Me" came around, Swift became the one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Still, "Love Story" showcases the gentle country songwriter at the core of Swift.

Don't Edit

Don't Edit

6. Rascal Flatts - "Bless The Broken Road"

The Flatts have more upbeat tracks and ones with heavier sentiment, but the opening piano melodies of "Bless The Broken Road" still generate the biggest ovation at live shows and at weddings.

Don't Edit

5. Sugarland - "Stay"

Many country songs are about pain and heartache, but few actually make you feel it in your bones. "Stay," a gut-wrenching ballad about infidelity, was the first Sugarland song written solely by Jennifer Nettle.9.

Don't Edit

4. Lee Ann Womack - "I Hope You Dance"

If it seems like "I Hope You Dance" has been around forever, it's because Lee Ann Womack's biggest hit is timeless. The bond between parents and children was nothing new to country music, but Womack's 2000 song brought it all home with flawless vocals and a metaphor that tugged at the heartstrings. The track joined songs like "Over the Rainbow" and "American Pie" on the Recording Industry of America's "Songs of the Century" list.

Don't Edit

3. Johnny Cash - "Hurt"

Trent Reznor's original version of "Hurt" is like a tragic car-wreck that plays out in slow motion and you just can't turn away. In the hands of Cash, the song took on a different meaning. The key lies in the song's stripped down and worn sentiment, sung by a man near the end who had lived a fuller life than 99 percent of us could ever imagine.

Don't Edit

2. Tim McGraw - "Live Like You Were Dying"

You could spend years trying to build the perfect country song and it probably wouldn't come close to "Live Like You Were Dying." The song, which is associated with the death of McGraw's father, perfects every element an amazing country song has, from the inspirational title to the sweeping chorus by McGraw, one of country music's best male vocalists, ever.

Don't Edit

Don't Edit

1. Alan Jackson - "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)"

"Where Were You" began with Jackson wanting to write a song that captured the country's feeling after the September 11 attacks, but he didn't want it to be a typical patriotic song. Mission accomplished. "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" asks a question we all have an answer to. It also encapsulates the emotions we were all feeling. At a time of tragedy and heartache Jackson was able to help a nation mourn. That's truly remarkable.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Virgilio Hermann JD

Last Updated: 11/16/2022

Views: 6171

Rating: 4 / 5 (61 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Virgilio Hermann JD

Birthday: 1997-12-21

Address: 6946 Schoen Cove, Sipesshire, MO 55944

Phone: +3763365785260

Job: Accounting Engineer

Hobby: Web surfing, Rafting, Dowsing, Stand-up comedy, Ghost hunting, Swimming, Amateur radio

Introduction: My name is Virgilio Hermann JD, I am a fine, gifted, beautiful, encouraging, kind, talented, zealous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.