The 20 Worst Country Songs of All-Time
Now I'm somebody who complains a lot about how bad country music has gotten and, for that matter, how much crap one had to wade through even in the genre's mid-90s heyday to find the sparkling gems, but most of what I define overarchingly as "bad" is merely bland and soulless. It's a relatively small lineup of songs I will categorize as viscerally awful. When Rick Trevino's horrendous 1995 song "Save This One for Me" fails to make the list by one position, you know you have a horrible list. But below are 20 songs that meet the criteria, for a variety of different reasons....
#20. Okie from Muskogee--Merle Haggard (1969)...............It's hard not to put a black mark on Merle Haggard's impressive and distinguished multi-decade career in country music when looking back at the way he stoked societal divisions during the Vietnam War, and never more than with the flag-waving, hippie-baiting anthem "Okie from Muskogee". Haggard redeemed himself in the final couple decades of his life, when he became a pretty liberal cat, vocally opposing the war in Iraq and then endorsing and repeatedly standing up for President Obama amongst incessant criticism. Nonetheless, it feels like he's rewriting an embarrassing prior chapter of his life when he said the narrator of "Muskogee" and other songs like it didn't reflect his own view, but were merely giving voice to a point of view of the silent majority. I'm not really buying that, but it makes it even worse if he did, lending cover to closed-minded assholes. The ultimately irony is what became of both the city and the singer who lionized it in this song 40-some years after its release. Haggard, the guy who proclaimed that "we don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee", recorded a duet with Willie Nelson a couple of years ago called "It's All Going to Pot", where the video shows Merle and Willie passing the joint around in the studio. Meanwhile, the mythically puritanical Muskogee, Oklahoma, is so ravaged by drugs that the city of 38,000 has nine drug treatment facilities and one of the highest rates of single-parent homes in the nation.
#19. She's My Kind of Rain--Tim McGraw (2003).....I've always admired Tim McGraw's instinct for experimentation. He's never been one to play it safe, and that's part of what's kept him relevant for nearly 25 years now. But as is always the case with singers who are more experimental, they semiregularly find themselves releasing some real crap. McGraw is certainly not immune to that and has at least a half dozen cringeworthy trainwrecks to his name going back to his mid-90s origins. In terms of sheer unintentional comedy though, it's hard to top the manure pile that was 2003's "She's My Kind of Rain", which nearly manages to gloss over its herculean levels of sappiness and gloppiness with its lyrical pretentiousness and high-pitched falsetto vocals. I know of few people who didn't fall out of their chair laughing at how silly this song was, but McGraw nonetheless got it up to #2 on the charts!
#18. One, Two, I Love You--Clay Walker (1997)..........I've cited before that country music hit a wall in the mid-1990s, very rapidly getting fat and lazy after the spectacular creative spurt it enjoyed in the first half of the 1990s. The "sensitive guy" takeover was one of the worst offending trendlines, and specific to that trend were love songs with lyrics commingled with nursery rhymes. One came blame 20-year-old "sensitive guy" pioneer Bryan White for this trend with his 1995 #1 hit "Rebecca Lynn", but for as off-puttingly gooey of a song as "Rebecca Lynn" was, it seemed sincere to who White was as a barely-out-of-high-school artist. But it was another story altogether when Clay Walker continued this pattern a year later with a far worse song. Walker was an artist who came out of the starting gate with a fantastic debut album in 1993, showcasing a stylistic and narrative range capable of belting out above-average contemporary uptempo fare while skillfully selling a sad country ballad like "Where Do I Fit in the Picture" and "My Heart Will Never Know" as good as anyone of his era. Unfortunately, as his career proceeded, Walker mostly steered in the safe lane of commercial country music and occasionally stumbled into the worst gimmicks of the era, such as this smarmy and infantile love song referencing the impact of Mother Goose on a couple's trajectory.
#17. Comin' to Your City--Big and Rich (2005)........The oddball pairing of liberal hippie Big Kenny Alford and archconservative West Texas cowboy John Rich was just crazy and provocative enough to work when they came out in 2003. As clunky as the songs on their debut album were, nobody could accuse them of being generic. Unfortunately, right out of the starting gate on their sophomore album a year and a half later, they managed to combine their annoying genre-bending sound with the hollow, self-indulgent lyrics of a song that was pretty much an ode to their own awesomeness. The outcome was not good, and it killed the modest momentum the duo had on the charts based on their first album. At least at the time, it looked like the Big and Rich story was already nearing its end, but they got the last laugh, latching on to a few more mainstream songs and scoring bigger hits, breaking up as a duo based on personal grievances, and then reuniting a few years back and are STILL on the charts. If anybody had told me 10 years ago that Big and Rich would still be on the charts come 2017 I'd have thought they were nuts....yet somehow they still are.
#16. Live Forever--The Band Perry (2015)......From the outset of their 2010 debut, there was just something really weird about the two-brothers-and-a-sister trio The Band Perry. They had a few above-average songs during their half decade of country hitmaking, but by and large it was an unsettling ride of oddball tunes that were more annoying than endearing and usually didn't sound like country. There was always a pop crossover undercurrent with The Band Perry, but rarely has a mainstream act been so bold in attempting to sell a Katy Perry-style histrionic pop anthem as a "country" song the way The Band Perry did in 2015 with the first single from their fourth album, a shrill, self-indulgent, and overproduced assault on the ears that predictably flopped on the country charts and laid the ground work for their formal transition to the pop charts in 2017. Nothing personal guys, but after trying to get away with this hot mess as a country song, good riddance!
#15. Little Miss Honkytonk--Brooks and Dunn (1995)......This can probably be said about any act that had a two-decade career, but the legacy of country's most successful duo of all-time, Brooks and Dunn, is a decidedly uneven one. Lead vocalist Ronnie Dunn has a soulful voice with a considerable range, and that range served the act well on a long list of songs with a variety of different styles over the years. But Dunn's voice also often had the ability to make a crummy, gimmicky song all the more unbearable...the equivalent of putting sauerkraut on top of spinach. This criticism applies to at least a half dozen of Brooks and Dunn's hits, but none were as embarrassingly intolerable as "Little Miss Honkytonk", a steaming pile of shit that emerged during the height of country's music line dance era. As a general rule in the 90s, if a song had the word "honkytonk" in the title it was almost certainly going to suck (the one exception to that rule is Sammy Kershaw's eloquent 1998 ode to the small-town watering hole "Honkytonk America"). But at no other time did it suck worse in the 90s than when Ronnie Dunn was wasting his vocal talents bellowing out "I'm her big cat daddy...she's my little miss honkytonk".
#14. Bob That Head--Rascal Flatts (2008)......The legacy of country-pop boy band Rascal Flatts is very similar to that of Brooks and Dunn for me, for many of the same reasons. They've found some good songs over the years and the range of lead singer Gary LeVox has lent some additional emotional resonance to songs like "Here", "Skin (Sarabeth)", "Stand", and the Natasha Bedingfield duet "Easy". With the help of a fierce closing electric guitar riff, Levox's vocals even came close to salvaging the lyrically empty unsung hero anthem "Every Day". The flip side is that Levox's range and general vocal style have a tendency to make bad songs that much more shrill. The annoying "Mayberry", and the even more insufferable "Summer Nights" and "Payback" were all viable contenders for this worst-song list, but nothing Rascal Flatts ever recorded (at least that I've heard) can compare to the combination of stupidity and aural punishment as "Bob That Head", a song that's just as empty as its title suggests, about partiers bopping to the music. Ironically, the song's generic musical arrangement will have nobody "bobbing their head" to the sound even as they twist facial muscles cringing at the awful lyrics. Most insulting of all is that in a music scene where literally hundreds of thousands of struggling singer-songwriters can't catch a break, Rascal Flatts can release a piece of garbage called "Bob That Head" in their peak hitmaking years and get to #15 on the charts with it.
#13. Hey! Baby!--Anne Murray (1982)......Somewhat lost among the female country singer legends of yore is Anne Murray, who combined satin-smooth vocals with a number of great songs for a very successful career spanning 20 years in the 70s and 80s, frequently crossing over into the pop charts. Working against Murray's legacy is her fondness for dated and overly sentimental ballads like "You Needed Me" and "I Just Fall in Love Again" that were popular at the time but don't hold up that well now because of their gooieness, although we may still enjoy listening to those songs behind closed doors with our curtains drawn and headphones on! But even if those syrupy 70s ballads of Murray's remain a guilty pleasure, one of her hits most certainly does not. The childish exclamation points in the title of "Hey! Baby!" pretty much tell you all you need to know about the immaturity of this song, and in this case you can judge a song by its title. It's not saved by a bouncy beat or sophisticated musical arrangement either as the sound is as generic as the sentiment. Even a teenage Taylor Swift wouldn't have written or recorded a "girl wants boy" ditty this banal, but the fact that Anne Murray was 36 when she recorded it makes it that much more of an embarrassment looking back.
#12. Get Over Yourself--SheDaisy (2002)......The sister act trio SheDaisy had a more impressive run than one may have expected when they first popped up on the country music scene in 1999, their relentless gimmickry being just clever enough and sprinkled in with just enough above-average songs to keep country listeners interested up until 2006 when they faded away. It also didn't hurt that all three women were incredibly hot and marketable. But they almost blew their early momentum with the first single from their second album, "Get Over Yourself", an ironically fitting title for the auteurs of this headache-inducing three minutes of noise, representative of country-pop at its most stereotypically bubblegummy. The first two versus and choruses are bad enough but the song saves its worst moments for the bridge portion. Anybody who can make it through that bridge to the song's closing notes is a stronger person than I.
#11. Wrapped Up in You--Garth Brooks (2001)......There are no other examples I can think of where a successful artist had two phases to their career as diametrically opposed in terms of quality. For Garth Brooks, the pivot point came after the release of his 1994 "The Hits" anthology. Pretty much everything he put out before that was inspired, provocative, and memorable, on the front lines of taking country music to a different place than it had been before. Pretty much everything Brooks put out after "The Hits" was shallow, unmemorable, and lacking soul, not just failing to live up to his prior hits, but well below average even compared to what the new generation of pretty boy crooners of the late 90s and early 2000s were putting out. Brooks hit bottom with the release of his eighth studio record, "Scarecrow", in 2001, where the first single "Wrapped Up in You" was just a mealy-mouthed mess all-around, lacking anything even remotely attractive in either its sound or lyrics. How was it possible that the man who had such a great ear for so many memorable songs in his early 90s heyday was now reduced to repeatedly chanting "ba-ba-bababa-ba-ba, ba-babababa-ba" as the LEAD SINGLE from a new album? Needless to say, his days of consistent hitmaking were nearly at their end.
#10. Bobbie Sue--Oak Ridge Boys (1982)......Another country act that had two pretty distinct "chapters" was the Oak Ridge Boys, who had a mainstream late 70s country sound in their first few years and had their fair share of quality material. Their career record, "Elvira", came in 1981, and although it was silly, I'd have been happy to let them get away with it if they returned to more mature material afterwards. Instead, they doubled-down, releasing a significantly dumber and more annoying ripoff of "Elvira" called "Bobbie Sue" a year later, and were regretfully rewarded with another #1 hit. The Oak Ridge Boys just got weird from there, releasing a litany of "can't-we-all-just-love-each-other"-style anthems of varying degrees of dorkiness throughout the rest of the 80s, but never did they match the level of insipidness of "Bobbie Sue", which is effectively an avatar of what a terrible country song sounds like in the minds of the genre's critics.
#9. Vacation--Thomas Rhett (2016)......When I was in high school, there was no other country singer I connected to more than Rhett Akins, a young guy with a debut album that seemed to directly cater to guys my age both lyrically and musically, with the most convincing hybrid I've come across of mainstream 90s country and late 80s hair band rock. Rhett Akins had only modest success with the few albums he released in the mid-90s and nothing else he recorded matched the stunning accomplishments of that 1995 debut album. However, Rhett Akins went on to be a prolific Nashville songwriter with dozens of hits for other artists on his resume....and his son has gone on to have the career that his father didn't. After a shaky start a few years back, Thomas Rhett has gone on to become one of the biggest things going in country music today. He shares his father's diverse musical tastes and inclination to experiment and push the country music boundaries, but for the most part he doesn't share his father's song quality. Never was that more clear than last year when Rhett attempted to get away with a mindless pile of shit called "Vacation" that makes The Go-Gos 1982 namesake seem downright cerebral by comparison. Even though Thomas Rhett has been unable to do anything wrong of late, country radio drew the line and kept "Vacation" from becoming a hit. It takes a lot for country radio these days to say "that ain't country" to a song from one of its biggest hitmakers, but three and a half of minutes of incessantly repeating "hey...let's party like we're on vacation" with a decidedly non-country backbeat was apparently a bridge too far even for them.
#8. Bumper of My SUV--Chely Wright (2004).......There were quite a few eye-rollingly dumb patriotic anthems to arise at the outset of the war in Iraq, some of them directly endorsing military action, but most of them I was able to dismiss as the ignorant musings of a jingoistic entertainer who was simply offering his own opinion, however worthless that might be. But it was the cases where the chickenhawks started belittling those who don't share their opinion where I cried foul. In the case of Chely Wright, she was inspired to write this song based on a lady in traffic giving her the finger, her assumption being that it was based on her U.S. Marines bumper sticker in honor of her brother. Through the course of the song, the narrator demagogued the motives of the story's antagonist with lame strawmen and ad hominem attacks that reduced the narrator to the level of the woman flipping the bird. And as other critics of the song have pointed out, it's ironic that the driver cluelessly pointed to the bumper sticker on her "SUV" in reference to a war that was fought over oil. As was the case with so many of the country crooners responsible for the most egregious one-dimensional pro-war songs, Chely Wright was quite three-dimensional herself. Sean Hannity embarrassed himself when he invited her on his show during the peak of the 2004 election campaign, assuming he had an ally but discovering that Wright was actually a liberal and did not support George W. Bush. A few years later, she was the first major country artist to come out of the closet as gay. Nonetheless, she definitely shamed her legacy by aligning herself with supporters of an indefensible war and using the most mindless arguments to attempt to discredit its critics.
#7. Honkytonk Badonkadonk--Trace Adkins (2006)........One of the best examples of a guilty pleasure in country music history is Mel McDaniel's 1985 hit "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On". Despite its almost cartoonish chauvinism ogling over a woman's body, it was an undeniably catchy song that's hard not to crank up when it came on the radio. But McDaniel's song seemed comparatively feminist next to its counterpart 20 years later, which begins and ends with a bunch of guys in a dance club ogling over the female form with the crudest and most comically infantile lyrical language. As a straight heterosexual male, it was hard not to watch the even more offensive video of a bunch of faceless women shaking their "moneymakers" in front of the singer and other generic guys. I don't consider myself a prude on these matters, but in the pantheon of objectifying women, this song and its accompanying video managed to insult my intelligence more than it was able to pacify my male instincts. When country music starts going to strip clubs for its narrative inspiration, we have a problem.
#6. I'm in Love With a Capital U--Joe Diffie (1995)......One prolific country singer of the 1990s I was never a huge fan of was Joe Diffie. I just didn't like his voice that well. His vocals took some of the power away from great songs like "Ships That Don't Come In", put an asterisk of diluted potential next to good songs like "John Deere Green" and "A Night to Remember", and made otherwise merely lackluster songs like "Pickup Man" and "Bigger than the Beatles" sound like grating dreck. Diffie managed to find some genuinely God-awful songs like "Honkytonk Attitude", "C-O-U-N-T-R-Y", and "Poor Me" that further stains his legacy for me, and any one of them would have fit right in on this list of the worst songs ever....at least if he had never released "I'm in Love With a Capital U", a song from Diffie's catalog that stands in a league of its own on the spectrum of aural assault and lyrical larceny. The song's celebration of an illiterate suitor's misspelled and grammatically challenged love letter to his girlfriend would be painful enough in the hands of a smooth-toned crooner, but Diffie's vocals make it absolutely wretched.
#5. Kiss This--Aaron Tippin (2000).......If there was one country singer of the 90s whose vocals annoyed me more than Joe Diffie, it was Aaron Tippin, the gruff and nasally toned South Carolina redneck who nonetheless dragged his hitmaking career out for more than 10 years. Unlike Diffie though, Tippin's raw sound lent an air of blue-collar authenticity to some of his better songs like "I Got It Honest" and the bluesy "Without Your Love". But few crooners in Nashville were capable of making an already terrible song sound more grating than Tippin, which he proved on numerous occasions, but never more so than "Kiss This". Tippin seriously turned a story about a couple getting into a fight and the wife telling the husband to kiss her ass into a three-minute song. And it was a #1 hit! It becomes easier to understand why Donald Trump was elected President when you look at some of the public's questionable choices that led up to that moment!
#4. 1994--Jason Aldean (2013)......This song starts with a great premise....an ode to 1994, the best year in country music history. How can one possibly go wrong with a song that pays tribute to that great year? It's easy to tell in the first five seconds that this is a painfully bad redneck rap song disguised as country, immediately betraying the legacy of the year the song waxes nostalgic towards with a sound not at all reflective of the music of the time. And then the song proceeds to pay tribute primarily to one of the mid-90s least impressive artists....Joe Diffie....going so far as to not-so-subtly include the titles of a dozen or so of Diffie's songs in the lyrics and then rap out Diffie's name specifically as what qualifies as a "chorus" for the song. It has to be heard to be believed.....for anyone with a high enough threshold for pain to endure four minutes of this monstrosity. In general, Jason Alden is not my kind of country music, but most of his music is at least listenable. With "1994", he managed to find a song so bad that country radio couldn't catapult it into the top-10 the way it has every other song he's released since 2008.
#3. Friend Zone--Danielle Bradbery (2015)......I've only watched a few random hours of "The Voice" over the years but I do know that in the show's most highly rated season, mid-teen country cutie Danielle Bradbery was the winner. Bradbery oozed a special kind of innocence and wholesomeness that almost certainly contributed to her win and defined her brand. She released two singles from a rushed album right after her "Voice" victory that were semi-hits and stayed in her lane. But when Bradbery returned a year or so later for her sophomore effort, somebody in her orbit opted for a wholesale departure. The final product of that effort was the toxic waste dump that passed for a "country" song "Friend Zone", a soul-draining hip-hopped mess where the country cutie gets superficially sassy and brassy in describing to a male friend how he needs to step up his game. Even worse than the crime against mankind that was the song was the video. Presumably Bradbery had just turned 18 when the video was produced, and spent half the video shaking her ass into the camera at extremely close range, in the accompaniment of a bunch of skanky, tattoo-covered barely legal female friends behaving just as inappropriately. It's hard to think of another scenario where an artist and her handlers so badly misjudged their audience. It was way too early to turn Bradbery's image into a slutty sex kitten in the minds of the "Voice" viewers who voted for her yearning for a sweet, innocent girl singing virtuous songs. There was plenty of time for her to morph into a "naughty girl" in the years ahead, but after jumping the gun in doing so, they probably ruined her career.
#2. Planet Texas--Kenny Rogers (1989)......When Kenny Rogers went country in the late 70s, he came out of the starting gate with several classic songs that gave him considerable leverage to proceed the directions he wanted to creatively from there. He dominated country's early 80s "urban cowboy" era with the pop-sweetened love songs produced by Lionel Richie, and then really ventured in some strange directions in the second half of the 80s. He went full-on Bruce Springsteen rock with "The Pride is Back", a patriotic anthem co-opted in an ad campaign for Plymouth cars. But in 1989, he released the most surreal song in country music history with "Planet Texas", which plays more like a children's tale set to music describing an alien invasion of cowboy boots-wearing spacemen who descended upon a dusty West Texas town. The video was even more surreal, with 80s-era graphics depicting Kenny riding in outer space on horseback over the rings of Saturn, and later with his cowboy hat covered in ice after riding past Pluto. It's impossible to imagine who could have thought this was a good idea for a commercial country song, but clearly somebody did as it was the debut single from a new album and a pretty healthy budget appears to have been spent on that hilariously bad video. I usually give some bonus points for songs outside the box, but when they're outside the solar system, I tend to think the Nashville writers should probably have snorted a little less cocaine in the studio while musing over song ideas.
#1. Have You Forgotten?--Darryl Worley (2003)......I've cited in some of the previous write-ups how most of the singer-songwriters of country's most jingoistic anthems are more three-dimensional than you'd think in their political views. Even Toby Keith has described himself as a conservative Democrat and has been fairly active in the Oklahoma Democratic Party over the years. But one guy who is every bit as much of a cartoon character as his lyrics indicate is Darryl Worley, writer of the country song that more than any other song in American history is responsible for us getting involved in a war. Like "Bumper of My SUV", "Have You Forgotten's" poison stems from its sneering judgments, strawmen, and non-sequitirs aimed at critics of the war rather than merely stating "one man's opinion". Worley insists that the song was written about US military involvement in the war in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, and that may be true, but if so it makes matters worse because the song was hastily recorded, rapidly rushed to radio stations, and timed for an album release just as the war in Iraq began in the spring of 2003. That certainly made the interpretation of the lyrics transferable to waging war against Saddam Hussein to avenge 9/11. For the longest time, a majority of the public bought into the never-spoken-but-always-implied association between Hussein and the attacks on 9/11. Even more than the Bush administration, the chart success of "Have You Forgotten?" cemented that false narrative. "Have You Forgotten?" was a garbage song all-around, but given that it was intractably linked to the advancement of the biggest foreign policy blunder in our nation's history, it stands alone at the bottom of the sewer as country music's all-time worst song.
Oh I suppose I could have done a "bottom-25 list" here. As I was compiling the list, I just remembered Jerrod Niemann's 2014 howler "Donkey", which Niemann himself admitted may have been the worst song ever, but the very fact that it's performer concedes that the song is that bad oddly takes it out of contention. So I think I'll let the list stand by itself. Unlike my top-300 list which there aren't that many songs from the past several years, you may notice that this list is pretty heavily weighted towards the last several years. Unfortunately, the trajectory of country music today suggests that my list is likely to be obsolete in a year or two.