Written By: AJ Smith, @adotjdotwoots
As a lad, you could say I was quite impressionable. Being an only child, I was eager to play off the lead of my buddies on the playground. I quickly learned what was cool; what I wanted to identify with, and perhaps most importantly, what had cooties and had to be avoided at all costs. Country had cooties. There, I said it. To make matters worse, my mom (who I now endearingly refer to as my best friend), was sipping on the country Kool-Aid and loving the flavor… talk about a poison pill for the coolness of anything in the 5th grade.
Alas, for the remainder of my adolescence I balked at repeated attempts to join my friends to country shows… refused to admit that I got friends in loooow places, and as evidenced by my previous article, found my place as an early 2000s pop-punk aficionado.
Fast-forward to the year 2010… With two-plus decades of country-hatin’ on my résumé, it was going to take a Herculean, legendary, Will-Smith-in-Independence-Day, (insert your favorite superlative) turn of events for my viewpoint to change. And then it happened. My token country friend, Timmy, invited me for what seemed to be a harmless ride to Subway (to eat a little fresh) in his massive lifted truck.
I know what you’re wondering – tell me more about this, “Timmy.” What makes him so country? I’m glad you asked. Timmy (a leader amongst my wolfpack of best friends) is your classic “I got drawn for Elk!” “I just want a gift certificate to Bass Pro Shop” “I think I’m moving to Nashville for the acres” “Let’s go camping without an RV” and “I’d rather be fishing” buddy. Not to mention, he has the coolest golden retriever, he’s a lifelong fan of country music, plays acoustic guitar, and has a dreamy voice. Ladies, leave comments with your contact info if you’re interested…
Okay, I digress. Back to our Subway trip… The windows started to roll down… the bass started to bump… the familiar (and previously disdained) twang of a country beat slithered its way into my eardrums. And behold, it had begun.
Chillin’ on a dirt road, laid back swervin’ like I’m George Jones. Smoke rollin’ out the window, an ice cold beer sittin’ in the console… (You just need to experience it for yourself. It’s a private moment.)
”WHAT IS THIS?” I was taken aback. In fact, this basically became a religious experience. The country heavens opened up and Jason Aldean, in all his glory, floated down from the clouds riding a wild horse from the countryside, just killin’ it in a bedazzled black T, strategically patchy jeans, and dusty two-steppin’ boots. After taking a moment to overcome the obvious identity crisis this experience sparked, I realized a transition had begun. And then it hit me: Every genre of music has a gateway jam and Dirt Road Anthem was it for me. Sure, it starts out harmlessly, just a one-night-jam in your buddy’s pickup truck… but before I knew it, some other jams joined the mix, and the floodgates opened.
I soon discovered the perfect combination of songs to create the ultimate gateway guide to help anyone get into and ultimately EMBRACE country music.
Okay, here’s some clarification:
- The floodgates opened: After listening to the collection of songs included in the gateway guide, I went on a country binge. Did every single country song require singing at the top of my lungs? Did the SAME songs I used to loathe (featuring unbearably simple lyrics and a honky-tonk vibe) suddenly begin to sound appealing? Did I actually add 102.5 KNIX and 107.9 KMLE to my featured radio stations in my car? Did I circulate country into my workout playlists? You. Tell. Me.
- How should I use this guide? If you (or someone you care about) are still fighting the right to country – you’re in good hands. You now have the tool you need. For those defensively asking, what’s in it for me (WIIFM) to give up parts of my soul and embrace country if I’ve made it this far? Here are five indisputable (albeit slightly reckless) reasons:
- Country girls do it better. Have you been to a country show? Boots – cutoffs – tan flanges everywhere. Delightful.
- Beer tastes more refreshing. For real. Try not to enjoy your crisp, delightful brew just a little bit more while having a BBQ with your best buds and jamming out to some country jams.
- Singing along to country is more fun than other genres. Say what? Yeah, it’s been said. Master the chorus to some of the staples of our generation and try not to hug a stranger at Toby Keith’s or Dierks Bentley’s bars this weekend. These jams are hopelessly catchy and they DEMAND to be belted in cars, showers, bars, and beyond.
- It makes you more ‘well rounded.’ You instantly open the door to be more marketable on Tinder AND more deeply appreciated by your mom in one fell-swoop. Uncanny.
- MURICA! Country music is simple – it’s about freedom, that long legged country dime, beer, or a golden retriever. It’s for America. EMBRACE IT.
As per the usual, a few ground rules to keep you rascals in line:
- Rule 1: Only one song can be featured per artist. Don’t worry; there will be plenty of shameless honorable mentions around the 20 ACTUAL jams on the playlist. Consider them free bonuses J
- Rule 2: Song selections are primarily based on their ability to help a non-country fan see the light and get suckered into the genre. As such, I apologize in advance to any diehard, lifelong country fans expecting to find the all-time-greats (so I’ve read), such as Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, etc. (Yes, there are a MYRIAD of all-time-greats I’ve failed to include and I wholeheartedly apologize!) In my humble opinion, many of the jams featured by these legends carry the old-school country vibe that’s too heavy for a casual country listener. For these purposes, you will find more modernized, poppier, country jams that could lure a hater like me.
- Remember, the objective is to use the gateway guide to entice new country fans to the dark-side and then, they’ll be emotionally prepared to enjoy some of the classics!
- Editor’s note: T-Swift might have been considered a country artist at one point, when Miley Cyrus was leading parties across the USA – but now, she is a pop-artist. As such, there will be no T-Swift sightings on the gateway guide.
- Rule 3: This is just one man’s list: by reading you informally accept the challenge to create a better playlist by posting a comment on this article!
Without further ado, let’s get after it:
- Jason Aldean – Dirt Road Anthem
- Thomas Rhett – (Toss up!) Get Me Some of That or It Goes Like This
- Editor’s note: Broke my own rule on this one and included two songs from Thomas Rhett. While Dirt Road Anthem was my gateway song – these two jams acted as complementary pieces in firmly cementing my appreciation for the genre. Sooner than later I was purchasing the Country Mega Ticket… fighting the masses for a campground at Country Thunder… and poorly two stepping at country bars. The humanity.
- Honorable mentions: Take You Home, Make Me Wanna
- Randy Houser – How Country Feels
- Honorable mention: Runnin’ Out of Moonlight
- Jake Owen – Barefoot Blue Jean Night
- Luke Bryan – Drunk on You
- Brooks and Dunn – Red Dirt Road
- Dustin Lynch – Where It’s At
- Eli Young Band – Even if it Breaks Your Heart
- Eric Paslay – Friday Night
- Sam Hunt – Leave the Night On
- Billy Currington – We Are Tonight
- Florida Georgia Line – Cruise
- Travis Tritt – Great Day to be Alive
- Joe Nichols – Yeah
- Honorable mention: Sunny & 75
- Josh Kelley – Georgia Clay
- Eric Church – Springsteen
- Kenny Chesney – Beer in Mexico
- Blake Shelton – Sangria
- Darius Rucker – This
- Honorable mention: Alright
- Cole Swindell – Lemme See Ya Girl
- Honorable mention: Chillin’ It
With great power, comes great responsibility. Use this gateway guide for good, not evil. Don’t forget to comment on this post with your favorite songs for the casual (or resisting, but soon-to-be) country fan!
– AJ Smith & Wheelhouse Factory, @wh_factory