Priorities have changed in 2020. Who knew Clorox wipes were worth their weight in gold? But one life essential remains the same: A stack of quality music for good times and bad.
Whether it lifted our spirits or looked back to better days, reminded us what’s important or just gave voice to the anguish, there was no shortage of country music worth turning to in 2020. As always, country captured it all through lens of everyday America, documenting each uncertain moment on a personal level — and helping make sense of things we’d never seen before. If this year has taught us anything, it’s to never take life for granted again … but we can always count on country to tell the story.
In alphabetical order, here are our picks for the 20 singles that defined 2020.
“After a Few” – Travis Denning
Guitar slinger Travis Denning made his breakthrough with the sleek and sexy “After a Few” this year, setting a new Billboard record in the process. It took forever to hit the top spot at country radio, but that just means a whole lot of fans heard it. Chalk this one up as a smash relic of the before-times.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, a resurgence of all-in-this-together spirit followed, and few singles captured that sentiment better than “Be a Light.” It found an all-star cast encouraging us all to embody the goodness we want to see.
“Bluebird” – Miranda Lambert
With its breezy, windblown sonics and riding-into-the-sunset vibe, “Bluebird” flew up to Number One at country radio, marking Lambert’s highest chart perch since 2012. But the message made it a keeper. Its optimistic resilience was perfect for the summer of 2020, a reminder to keep hope for better days alive.
“The Bones” – Maren Morris
Maren Morris released “The Bones” back in 2019, but it hit Number One in February, just a few precious weeks before the world shut down – and it hinted at what was coming. With an unshakeable hook and serene vocals, Morris sang with wisdom of strong foundations that can weather any storm.
When Luke Combs enlisted Eric Church for a duet, Combs figured it was just a good opportunity to work with his hero. But their hit collab now feels like a bittersweet anthem to some of the little things we’ve lost. It’s a good reminder that what seems small to one person, may be huge to another.
“Gaslighter” – The Chicks
The bold idea behind “Gaslighter” was to put a massive problem on blast – society’s tolerance for male chauvinism. But it was a victim of bad timing. Released just a few days before the pandemic began, it never made the impact it could have, but did mark the return of an iconic country group.
“Hard to Forget” – Sam Hunt
The world needed a distraction in late March, and Sam Hunt delivered with a characteristic dose of envelope-pushing style on “Hard to Forget.” Mixing an old-school sample from a 1950s Webb Pierce hit with new-school beats and an infectious groove, it was the feel-good jam fans craved.
“How They Remember You” – Rascal Flatts
2020 was shaping up to be sad long before COVID, and that’s because Rascal Flatts was saying goodbye. Their final single may not be burning up the charts, but it’s filled with the emotional power they once used to rule the genre. It marks the end of an era, and proves this trio will be remembered in a positive light.
“I Called Mama” – Tim McGraw
Everybody needs someone to lean on, and that’s never been more obvious than it is now. Tim McGraw says this tender-hearted track was never intended to be a single, but its message spoke volumes as the spring wore on. Nobody knew what to expect – and we still don’t – but we did know who we wanted to talk it out with.
“I Hope” – Gabby Barrett
Few artists made bigger strides in 2020 than Gabby Barrett, and much of her success stemmed from “I Hope.” A modern revenge anthem with a powerhouse vocal, it became a crossover hit with help from pop star Charlie Puth. But you can’t deny the country credentials of an old-fashioned cheating story.
Breakup anthems are nothing new in country music. But a breakup anthem that sincerely wishes your ex the best? That’s something to talk about. The ACM award winning-song peaked in radio’s top spot as summer started for Carly Pearce and Lee Brice, proving once and for all you can teach an old dog new tricks.
“More Hearts Than Mine” – Ingrid Andress
There’s something special about a lyric that paints a picture, and Ingrid Andress’ breakout hit was as vivid as they come. Full of lived-in detail and relatable touches, it imagined the way families embrace their younger members’ relationships, and correctly reveals that a breakup is hard on everyone.
“More Than My Hometown” – Morgan Wallen
Some choices are harder than others, but picking between your heart and home is no laughing matter. Morgan Wallen described the dilemma with the effortless flair of a hopeless romantic on “More Than My Hometown,” a last-ditch effort to avoid losing “the one” for good. But some things aren’t meant to be.
Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani’s relationship was the backdrop for this chart topper in early 2020, an us-against-the-world manifesto that soon spoke to the challenge of a weeks-long lockdown. Just like the song says, they made it through together, and now they’re soon to be husband and wife.
“One Margarita” – Luke Bryan
Luke Bryan offered fans double shot of the good ol’ days with “One Margarita,” a playful party anthem with a distinctive, low-slung vocal hook. It wasn’t out to fix the whole world – just a strong drink – and that was the refreshing break from the doom and gloom fans needed.
“Pretty Heart” – Parker McCollum
Mainstream country sometimes has a tendency to chase its own tail, with one hit sounding remarkably similar to another. But that was not the case with Parker McCollum’s “Pretty Heart.” The newcomer’s self-examining breakout asked some hard questions, and blazed its own path into the Top 10.
“Six Feet Away” – Luke Combs
With COVID-19 was forcing massive changes in daily life, it was all but certain country stars would write about it. Luke Combs’ “Six Feet Apart” was one of the better on-the-ground examples. Speaking into the pandemic’s everyday nuisances, it wasn’t heavy, but still grasped the weight of the situation.
“Starting Over” – Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton’s skill with a timeless lyric was on full display with the single “Starting Over,” which arrived in the fall after months of pandemic fatigue. Keeping his grizzly vocal to a dull roar, he expressed a burning desire to make a clean break – a theme that we all can relate to.
“When Life Is Good Again” – Dolly Parton
Leave it to one of country’s patron saints to call for renewed faith in humanity. Writing and recording “When Life Is Good Again” as the pandemic deepened, she used this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to inspire reflection, asking us all to reexamine who we want to be.
“Worldwide Beautiful” – Kane Brown
COVID-19 wasn’t the only thing kept Americans apart in 2020, and with “Worldwide Beautiful,” Kane Brown delivered a passionate plea to come back together. The uplifting anthem celebrated diversity and called for understand as racial injustice protests raged, and felt like it came from the heart.
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