For years folks have complained that all of Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year nominees are too sappy, too slow, and too sentimental. That’s just a symptom of the tireless pursuit for the most emotionally-roiling songs possible. Still, songs that are simply enjoyable to listen to also deserve recognition: the heaters and bangers that help lift your spirits.
So new for 2021 are the Single of the Year nominees, which are songs whose primary litmus test is simply the enjoyment they convey. A Single of the Year nominee can also be a Song of the Year nominee, and vice versa. But instead of focusing solely on the poetic creativity of a songs, the Single of the Year are more well-rounded offerings that have proven infectiousness.
PLEASE NOTE: Just because a song isn’t listed here doesn’t mean it’s being snubbed or forgotten. Picking the best songs of a given year is always even more personal and subjective than with the best albums. We’re not looking to pit songs and songwriters against each other, we’re looking to combine our collective perspectives and opinions into a pool of musical knowledge for the benefit of everyone.
So by all means, if you have a song or a list of songs you think are the best of 2021 and want to share them, please do so in the comments section below. Feedback will factor into the final tabulations for the winner, but this is not an up and down vote. It’s your job to try to convince the rest of us who you think should win, and why.
Spotify playlist of both Single and Song of the Year nominees at bottom, or CLICK HERE.
Dallas Moore- “Every Night I Burn Another Honky Tonk Down”
Yeah sure, there are a lot of young pups out there in country music these days trying to entertain in honky tonks far and wide. But when Dallas Moore walks out on the stage, he immediately becomes the alpha dog. This song should come with a warning that it may cause you to bury your boot heel clean through the floor. And one of the reasons this song so fun is because when it comes to Dallas Moore, it’s a true story.
Dallas Moore’s 2021 album The Rain has a bunch of good ones on it, and the final track on the album “In My Last Days” takes on new meaning after the passing of his guitarist and right hand man Chuck Morpurgo. But “Every Night I Burn Another Honky Tonk Down” feels like the song Dallas will be forced to play for the rest of his life.
Mike and the Moonpies – “Hour on the Hour”
Mike and the Moonpies are master craftsmen of navigating country music’s mine field of inherent cliché’s both in music and writing by embracing them and understanding how to use them to their advantage. That’s how they make songs that sounds like all of your old favorites, yet resonate as entirely original all at the same time.
Who doesn’t have that song or songs that jar the memory and put you back in the place you first heard them, whether it’s a warm memory, or a recurring nightmare? “Hour on the Hour” is an ode to that experience, and an illustration of how the same things keep coming up in country music because those same themes commonly come up in life.
Kaitlin Butts – “How Lucky Am I”
Whenever Kaitlin Butts releases a song, you best look alive and listen, because it’s bound to be something special, just like “How Lucky Am I” with its bold and confident vocal performance from Kaitlin out front in the mix, and superb steel guitar.
Composed as a Valentine to husband Cleto Cordero—who reportedly was blocked from Kaitlin’s social media channels as she served hints to her fans about the song—it’s a sweet, well-written and super country track that works as an answer to the Flatland Cavalry song “Honeywine,” which was released in 2018, and was about Kaitlin and Cleto falling in love at the Larry Joe Taylor Festival in Stephenville, TX while polishing off a bottle of the adult beverage. (read more)
Jesse Daniel – “Think I’ll Stay”
Boy, sometimes it’s the simplest of songs that spurn something deep in your bones and send the limbs to twitching. That’s the experience while in the audience of the boot scooter “Think I’ll Stay” off of Jesse Daniel’s album Beyond These Walls.
Having moved to Texas a while back, Jesse Daniel has been Baptized in the honky-tonk edict that if you can’t make the crowd spin, twirl, and two-step, you might as well not take the stage at all. “Think I’ll Stay” puts you right in a Texas honky-tonk where you can hear the band, smell the alcohol, feel you feet moving across the floor, and a pretty girl (or handsome guy) in your arms. Country music in its purest form.
Mac Leaphart- “That Train”
Mac Leaphart’s Music City Joke is full of excellently-written songs, and “That Train” is certainly one of them. But this song might be the best example of the difference between a Single of the Year nominee, and a Song of the Year nominee. It’s a well-written track, but moreover, you also can’t help but get lost in the melody and the extended free form tail of this song. It’s the perfect listening song.
Mac Leaphart’s Music City Joke was one of the best albums released in country in 2021, but maybe some can’t appreciate a song written from the perspective of a Yamaha guitar, or a bird stuck in a house. Everyone can take a ride on “That Train.”
Bobby Dove – “Chance in Hell”
Canadian country singer/songwriter Bobby Dove charmed us all with the album Hopeless Romantic, but it’s this song specifically with Jim Cuddy that really sinks its teeth into you, and evokes all the feels of classic era Patsy Cline with the style, the steel guitar, the writing, and the little tinkling piano part reminding you of Floyd Cramer, melting your country-loving heart.
Many attempt to tap into the nostalgic magic of Golden Era 60’s country in their music, but few songs and artists accomplish this as well as Bobby Dove and “Chance in Hell.”
John R. Miller – “Old Dance Floor” and/or “Faustina”
“Old Dance Floor” was the song originally singled out of the choir of selections from John R. Miller’s excellent Rounder Records debut Faustina as probably the most enjoyable track from the record. But something veering towards an outright insurrection has been brewing here at Saving Country Music, incited by the idea that the song “Faustina” isn’t being shown enough love.
So along with making you aware of the write-in campaign for “Faustina” over on the Song of the Year ballot, let’s add both songs to the discussion here as well. And with the brilliant, fingerpicked melody of “Faustina” (Miller is an underrated guitar player too), the song really does find that excellent balance between poetic mastery and infectious melody. And whatever song you get behind, let’s all universally agree that no matter anything else, John R. Miller is one of the best songwriters out there at the moment. Tyler Childers sure agrees.
Rob Leines – “Drinking Problem” or “All I Need”
Boy, if you want to quickly lose all sense of self-control and decorum, pipe up Blood Sweat and Beers from Rob Leines, and you’ll be convinced to fall off the wagon, leave your wife or girlfriend, and embrace the life of a rough and rowdy booze hound stumbling around in a stupor. That may not sound like much fun until you hear “Drinking Problem” and “All I Need.”
Single of the Year? Rob Leines is a single writing machine, and a host of tracks could have been selected here. Whether you use “Drinking Problem” and “All I Need” as a relatable soundtrack to your average Saturday night or an enjoyable moment of escapism, it’s hard not to find favor with them.
Flatland Cavalry w/ Hailey Whitters – “…Meantime”
“…Meantime” has all of the greatest elements of a great country song: Cutting fiddle, moaning steel guitar, modulating chords, all captured in the duet style between Flatland Cavalry frontman Cleto Cordero, and Hailey Whitters, with a little bit of reconstituted audio at the beginning to get you into a nostalgic mood.
Cordero and wife Kaitlin Butts have surely sown some duet magic over the years, and so has Hailey Whitters, including with numerous tracks from her deluxe edition of her recent album The Dream. But this was the pairing nobody saw coming, but everyone is glad to have.
Margo Cilker – “Tehachapi”
Crushing your poor little soul in one song after another, emulating the sounds of a distressed heart, Margo Cilker still somehow also makes it all sound so sweet on her album Pohorylle. She also has penned a signature song, which is necessary for any songwriter to find some traction. Her Little Feat-inspired “Tehachapi” about the interior California waypost helps put what’s unique and delightful about Margo Cilker’s musical perspective in context.
Similar to Little Feet’s “Willin'”, you feel like this is a song other songwriters could be singing for years to come.