In this image released on August 28, Kane Brown performs for the 2022 MTV VMAs broadcast./ Maren Morris/ Lainey Wilson performs at 2022 CMT Awards
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for MTV/Paramount Global/ Harper Smith/ Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

The 25 Best Country Songs of the Year

What defined country music in 2022? The year saw several artists turning to their '90s country heroes for nostalgia-fueled bangers ("Like I Love Country Music," "She Had Me at Heads Carolina"). But it was also marked by the resurgence of the story song, with Hardy and Lainey Wilson sharing one of the most harrowing tales in recent memory. Miranda Lambert and Kelsea Ballerini headed west to heal their hearts, while Miko Marks and Luke Combs each shared songs that marked a turning point in their lives. Along the way, there were breakups, bonfires, goodbyes and new beginnings. It's all here in Wide Open Country's roundup of the 25 best country songs of the year.

25. "Jack," Hardy (The Mockingbird & The Crow)

Single artwork for Hardy's "Jack"

A preview of Jan. 2023 release The Mockingbird & The Crow, Hardy's "Jack" is heavy in two senses: it addresses alcohol addiction head on and borrows as much from late '90s and early aughts alternative radio as it does from that same stretch's country chartbusters. Musically, it paints an accurate picture of a time when quite a few older millennials had Puddle of Mudd in the same CD wallet as Tim McGraw. Listen here. — Bobby Moore

24. "Fall in Love," Bailey Zimmerman (Leave the Light On EP)

Single artwork for Bailey Zimmerman's "Fall in Love"

In less than two years, TikTok has transformed Bailey Zimmerman from a blue-collar worker to a major-label recording artist with two of the hottest songs of 2022. Crossover Top 25 hit "Rock and a Hard Place" was preceded early this year by "Fall in Love," the fastest-rising No. 1 Country Airplay hit since 2015. Despite its title, the latter's a modern country breakup song with the added punch of guitar heroics. Listen here. — BM

23. "Bye Mom," Chris Janson (All In)

Single artwork for Chris Janson's "Bye Mom"

In the spirit of George Strait's "A Love Without End, Amen," Chris Janson's gorgeous heart song "Bye Mom" covers tender moments from a parent-son relationship. The simple phrase "bye mom" changes meaning from the first day of Kindergarten to moving day for college and, ultimately, at the mother's funeral. It's the sort of meaningful storytelling that's supposedly missing from the genre. Listen here. — BM

22. "Whiskey Sour," Kane Brown (Different Man)

Single artwork for Kane Brown's "Whiskey Sour"

Kane Brown has long been a vocal fan —and personal friend— of Randy Travis. Yet Brown's music has never really mirrored that of his fellow baritone singer. Of course, country music must constantly evolve, so it made sense for Brown to find ways to shine without ever trying to dial in on Travis-style sentimentality. Thank goodness, Brown went there anyway, cutting a captivating heartbreak song worthy of his hero. Listen here. — BM

21. "She Had Me at Heads Carolina," Cole Swindell (Stereotype)

Single artwork for Cole Swindell's "She Had Me at Heads Carolina"

Like its comparably carefree source material, Cole Swindell's musical nod to Jo Dee Messina gets the entire bar singing along to its soaring chorus. Fittingly, it's the type of song that's ideal for the setting in which Swindell's narrator finds a like-minded potential flame. Best of all, the Country Airplay No. 1 has introduced Messina to a wider audience and turned her into a TikTok star. Listen here. — BM

20. "Used to Wish I Was," Luke Combs (Growin' Up)

Luke Combs 'Grownin Up' album art

Luke Combs

Becoming a father for the first time certainly helped Luke Combs evolve into more of a grown-up storyteller in the best way possible. He's been one of the most popular modern artists in country music for years, but his latest album, Growin' Up, was something special. Full of solid new songs, "Used to Wish I Was" is a touching tribute to finding yourself and learning to appreciate who you are. As he always does, Combs manages to make this catchy and easy to sing along to while having deep and emotional lyrics that stick with you long after the song ends. He's quickly becoming one of the greats. Listen here. — Courtney Fox

19. "Love is a Cowboy," Kelsea Ballerini (Subject to Change)

Kelsea Ballerini 'Subject to Change' album art

Kelsea Ballerini

To say Kelsea Ballerini has had a transformative year is an understatement. She's gone through a major public break-up from fellow country artist Morgan Evans while managing to release some of the best music of her career. Her latest album, Subject to Change, is full of everything from 90s-inspired country pop to emotional ballads, with "Love Is a Cowboy" being an easy standout. The romantic ballad returns the country-pop star back to her traditional roots as she sings about love, comparing it to the intoxicating allure of a rugged cowboy. The lyrics she co-wrote follow Ballerini as she fears the pain of potential heartbreak. Listen here— CF

18. "I Burned LA Down," Noah Cyrus (The Hardest Part)

Noah Cyrus "I Burned L.A. Down" single art

Noah Cyrus drew on her Tennessee roots to create her debut album The Hardest Part, a collection of stirring confessionals that chronicle an era of healing for the 22-year-old singer-songwriter. "I Burned LA Down," a searing indictment of an ex and an exploration of heartbreak in the City of Angels, finds Cyrus, like her famous father and sister, making her own way in the country genre as she mourns a relationship over soaring fiddles with a powerful parting statement that's more for her peace of mind than anything else: "you can't make a god out of somebody who's not even half of a half decent man." Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

17. "Jersey Giant," Elle King (Single)

Elle King album art for "Jersey Giant"

Elle King

"I wish I wrote that" is maybe the greatest compliment between songwriters and Elle King has said it was her immediate thought when she heard Tyler Childers' unreleased "Jersey Giant." King dusted off the southern-fried love song for her country album Come Get Your Wife, and, in the process, delivered one of the best songs of the year. King's tender vocals tell the story of a relationship that was destined to fail, but the memories of those "nights of reckless glory" are enough to pull you right back in. Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

16. "Big Time," Angel Olsen feat. Sturgill Simpson (Single)

Angel Olsen photo

Angela Ricciardi

The mutual admiration between Angel Olsen and Sturgill Simpson led to the two collaborating on "Big Time," a new version of the title track to Olsen's 2022 album. The torchy song becomes a conversation between two lovesick souls looking forward to a lifetime of good mornin' kisses, lazy mornings in the tall grass and staying up all night singing songs by the fire.  Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

15. "Russell County Line," 49 Winchester (Fortune Favors the Bold)

press photo of 49 Winchester by Joshua Black Wilkins

Joshua Black Wilkins

There's a reason why there are so many country songs about home towns. It's a near-universal experience to have complex feelings about where we're raised and the faces and places we leave behind. In many cases, it's troubadours singing about missing home; nights spent in a passenger van or tour bus hundreds of miles from loved ones only further the notion to write about what you miss. On "Russell County Line," from 49 Winchester's breakthrough album Fortune Favors the Bold,  frontman Isaac Gibson shares a love letter to both his partner and the place where his heart resides.  "If you wonder where my heart is when I'm out on the road, it's right at home/ I left it, honey, just for you to hold," Gibson sings. "And if you wonder how I'm doing, know that I am doing fine/ But I wish I was in Virginia, on the Russell County Line." Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

14. "Fisherman's Daughter," Violet Bell (Shapeshifter)

Violet Bell pose for press photo by Chris Frisina

Chris Frisina

Though it's an original tune, Americana duo Violet Bell's  "Fisherman's Daughter" has the distinction of sounding like a song that's been around for decades — centuries even. Its timeless sound only adds to the song's subject: the ancient Celtic tale of the selkie, a mythical creature who is part seal, part woman. The theme of staying true to one's self when society begs us to conform became the central theme to Violet Bell's 2022 album Shapeshifter. We've been asking ourselves the same questions for centuries, but "Fisherman's Daughter" gives the listener hope that maybe one day we can all break free. Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

13. "Crooked Tree," Molly Tuttle (Crooked Tree)

Molly Tuttle press photo

Samantha Muljat

Like John Hartford, another multi-instrumental bluegrass virtuoso before her, Molly Tuttle has a gift for delivering a lifetime of wisdom in a three minute folk song. In many ways, Tuttle's "Crooked Tree," from her 2022 album of the same name, can be viewed as an heir to Hartford's "In Tall Buildings," a call to enjoy the sunshine and flowers while you can instead of working your life away. Tuttle's fable offers equally important advice: reject whatever meaningless societal expectations that were placed upon you and live out loud, wild and free, like an "imperfect" tree growing in the forest. "Oh, can't you see? A crooked tree won't fit into the mill machine," Tuttle sings. "They're left to grow wild and free/ I'd rather be a crooked tree." Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

12. "Boys Back Home," Hailey Whitters (RAISED)

Photo of Hailey Whitters

Harper Smith

There have been so many bro-country songs in recent years featuring nameless women in cut-off jeans riding shotgun in some dude's pickup truck that we needed someone like Iowa-raised Hailey Whitters, one of Music City's best lyricists, to bring wonder and romance back to songs about rural date nights. For small town kids, a driver's license and dirt road means freedom and Whitters' descriptions of being young, free and in love sparkles with charm. "Their dreams are Carhartt and chrome" and "they won't be caught dead in no electric car," she sings about the Hawkey State boys who drove her around on Friday nights, teaching her to kiss and to cry. In a nod to another country singer who shaped stories of youthful indiscretion into a tale about growing up and finding yourself, Alan Jackson, Whitters notes that, over the course of those nights under an Iowa sky, she "learned a little 'bout love and a lot about life." Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

11. "Bonfire at Tina's," Ashley McBryde Feat. Caylee Hammack, Brandy Clark and Pillbox Patti (Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville)

Bottom Row L to R: Aaron Raitiere, Brandy Clark, Ashley McBryde, John Osborne and Benjy Davis. Top Row L to R: Connie Harrington, Pillbox Patti (Nicolette Hayford), Caylee Hammack and TJ Osborne.

Katie Kauss

Though Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville should be consumed as a 13-song stroll through a small town with a tour guide who's up to speed on every neighbor's dirty laundry, we'd be remiss to skip over this honest portrayal of small-town women co-written and co-sung by two of the best world-building minds in any creative field: McBryde and Brandy Clark. Beyond fitting a larger story like a glove, it's a soaring, rocking ballad on par with some of Wynonna Judd's rowdiest material. Listen here. — BM

10. "Heart Like a Truck," Lainey Wilson (Bell Bottom Country)

Lainey Wilson

Alysse Gafkjen

Lainey Wilson has had a hell of a year. Though her breakthrough song "Things a Man Oughta Know" was released in 2020 and won Song of the Year at the 2021 ACM awards, the past 12 months have seen the Louisiana-born singer-songwriter continue on a steady rise, from the release of her album Bell Bottom Country to scoring a role on Yellowstone. But it hasn't come without challenges. Fittingly, that's what "Heart Like a Truck" is all about, riding out life's ups and downs and inevitably earning some dents and scratches along the way. It's the latest in a string of hits that proves Wilson is in it for the long haul. Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

9. "If I Was a Cowboy," Miranda Lambert (Palomino)

Miranda Lambert "If I Was a Cowboy" Single art

Miranda Lambert

Leave it to Miranda Lambert to perfectly nail this Wild West gender bender. The country queen made this one of the most memorable new releases off this year's Palomino, singing about the idea of growing up to be the cowboy that country fans recall from Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings' "Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys." Lambert takes that notion from the '70s hit and argues that it might not be such a bad thing. "I'd be a legend at loving and leaving, nipping on a whiskey, and numbing off my feelings," she sings. "You thought the west was wild, but you ain't saddled up with me/ if I was a cowboy, I'd be the queen."  Listen here. — CF

8. "Death Row," Thomas Rhett, Tyler Hubbard, Russell Dickerson (Where We Started)

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 20: Thomas Rhett performs onstage during NSAI 2022 Nashville Songwriter Awards at Ryman Auditorium on September 20, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

When it comes to meaningful story-songs from mainstream Nashville stars, no one did it better in 2022 than this power trio. Thomas Rhett, Tyler Hubbard and Russell Dickerson trade verses about a shared real-life experience during which they learned what all they had in common with death row prisoners. Though it failed to chart as a single, it's among the tracks that set apart Rhett's most recent album, Where We Started. Listen here. — BM

7. "The Good I'll Do," Zach Bryan (American Heartbreak)

Zach Bryan

Warner Bros.

In the past year, Zach Bryan has seen his career skyrocket from a devoted following of fans who eagerly awaited for him to share clips of his music online to a Grammy nomination and an album that debuted in the top 5 of the Billboard 200. But it's clear that the Navy vet isn't interested in chasing fame or accolades; it's his songwriting and devotion to sharing his truth with the world that drives him. ("Songwriting is such a massive part of this," Bryan told the New York Times. "If you're missing out on it, what the hell are you doing? You're just performing. You're an actor.") "The Good I'll Do," a quiet stunner from Bryan's epic 34-track album American Heartbreak, is proof that Bryan is as real as it gets.  Listen here.  — Bobbie Jean Sawyer

6. "Feel Like Going Home," Miko Marks (Feel Like Going Home)

Miko Marks

Khristopher "Squint" Sandifer

In the early aughts, Miko Marks was chasing country stardom in Nashville, where she faced plenty of music industry suits with a limited view of country music. Refusing to fit into a box crafted by narrow-minded Music City execs, she set out for the West Coast, building a dedicated following in the Bay Area, only to return with 2021's stellar Our Country, her first album in over 10 years. Now, with the release of her fourth album, Feel Like Going Home, and a long overdue Grand Ole Opry debut, Marks is taking a well deserved victory lap. She reflects on how far she's come — and where she's headed — on the anthemic title track: "Now the time is coming to reap what I have sown," she sings. "Lord, I feel/ I feel like going home." Listen here— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

5. "Hurricane," Plains (I Walked With You A Ways)

Music duo Plains

Molly Matalon

Plains, the super duo made up of Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield and Texas-born singer-songwriter Jess Williamson, was born out of friendship and a love for one another's music. It was also inspired by the music the duo grew up listening to — fellow artists drawn to make music together through the bonds of friendship or family: The Judds, The Chicks, Waylon and Willie and Dolly, Linda and Emmylou. The result is I Walked With You A Ways, a 10-track country masterpiece. Right in the middle of an aching track about leaving the past behind ("Abilene") and a stirring Texas waltz ("Bellafatima") is "Hurricane," an open-hearted letter to a partner thanking them for weathering the storm.  "I come in like a cannonball, I've been that way my whole life," the duo sings. "Sweet as honeysuckle when you want a pocket knife." Listen here. — Bobbie Jean Sawyer

4. "Already Crazy," Carter Faith (Single)

Carter Faith

Mason Goodson

Rising country singer-songwriter Carter Faith penned a contender for the best country breakup song of the year with "Already Crazy." Alongside co-writers Tofer Brown and Lauren Hungate, Faith set out to write an upbeat party song. Instead, they found themselves writing a deeply introspective song that captures the stages of grief after a breakup. "I hate you, I love you, I hate you but I love you," she sings. Who can't relate? You get the sense that Faith's initial dismissal of her ex ("Ain't the first time I got high off of summertime green eyes") could be masking a deeper hurt, and she doesn't shy away from acknowledging the self-destructive behavior so many of us experience after a heartbreak. By the time she reaches the bridge ("I was already crazy, out of my mind/ But you're the first 'If I don't have him, damn it, I'll die'") she's ready to acknowledge just how much this one wrecked her. But it's also hopeful, a reminder that we have strong hearts able to withstand more than we can imagine. Listen here.  — Bobbie Jean Sawyer

3. "Wait in the Truck," Hardy feat. Lainey Wilson (The Mockingbird & The Crow)

Lainey Wilson and Hardy in "Wait in the Truck" album art


There really isn't anything better than a gritty country story song and Hardy knocked it out of the park with "Wait in the Truck." And getting Lainey Wilson onboard was the perfect way to take this song to the next level. Though the music video really brings the song to life, the song itself is just so good. It's all about a man who, while out driving in a thunderstorm, finds a woman "bruised and broke from head to toe." She leads the driver to her abuser, and the song's narrator ends up going to prison for the man's murder. In the song's final verse, we find out that the woman the driver picked up that night still visits him in prison. ("I knew right then I'd never get hit again, When he said to me/ Wait in the truck/ Just wait in the truck," Wilson sings.) As in the song, Hardy and Wilson play their respective roles in the music video. It's a song you really can't listen to without being fully engrossed all the way through so it's no wonder this duo's performance at the 2022 CMA Awards was one of the standouts of the entire night. Listen here. — CF

2. "Like I Love Country Music," Kane Brown (Different Man)

Single artwork for Kane Brown's "Like I Love Country Music"

The upbeat, line-danceable side of the '90s country coin influenced everything in 2022 from a career-defining single by Cole Swindell to Blake Shelton's purposefully absurd "No Body" music video. Yet no one dialed in on the rocking edge of Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson better than Kane Brown, whose Country Airplay No. 1 "Like I Love Country Music" added a fiery stadium-country fiddle tune to his ever-expanding musical palette. Listen here. — BM

1. "Circles Around This Town," Maren Morris (Humble Quest)

press photo of Maren Morris

Harper Smith

From Dolly Parton's "Down on Music Row" to Christ Stapleton's "Nashville, TN," songs about "making it" in Music City are a staple in country music. Morris adds to that cherished tradition with "Circles Around This Town," from her 2022 album Humble Quest.  Though undoubtedly relatable to the countless young dreamers who head to Nashville each day, it's a song that only Morris could write because it tells her story specifically — right down to her breakthrough hits. "A couple hundred songs and the ones that finally worked was the one about a car and the one about a church," Morris sings. But the Texas-born singer adds an important addendum to her tale — even once you've seen so many dreams realized,  that hunger, the one that drives Morris to "try to say something with meaning, something worth singing about," never leaves you. Listen here.— Bobbie Jean Sawyer


Listen to our Spotify playlist featuring our top 25 country songs of 2022.