Best Country Songs of 2023: Staff List (2024)

This year's picks for top 10 tracks include music from Lainey Wilson, Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen, Jelly Roll, Tyler Childers and more.

Best Country Songs of 2023: Staff List (1)

It’s been a banner year for country music. Streaming is up nearly 25% for the genre over last year, propelled by newly minted superstars Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs having banner years, artists like Lainey Wilson rising from newcomer to award-winning star and baby acts like Bailey Zimmerman, Nate Smith and Megan Moroney breaking through with chart toppers.

The success spread far beyond the country charts. Wallen’s “Last Night” spent 16 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, while three other country songs hit No. 1 on the chart, Jason Aldean’scontroversial one-week leader“Try That in a Small Town,” Oliver Anthony Music’s two-week No. 1, the topical “Rich Men North of Richmond” and Zach Bryan’s “I Remember Everything,” featuring Kacey Musgraves. Since the Hot 100’s launch in 1958, only 1975 had more country No. 1s. That year five country songs hit the summit.

In total, 11 country songs reached the Hot 100’s top 10, including Combs’ “Fast Car,” which spent eight weeks at No. 2, becoming his top-charting song. In 2022 and 2021, only three country hits appeared in the top 10 each year.

While a few of the acts have been around for more than a decade, several didn’t put out their first single until fairly recently, which serves as a testament to the influx of great new talent coming into the genre as Wallen and Combs brought about a generational shift.

Below, Billboard counts down our 10 favorite country songs that came out this year. Some hit the top of the charts, others serve as great introductions to new talent. The songs delve into themes of heartbreak, healing and everything in between.

  • Brittney Spencer, "Bigger Than the Song"

    Reba, Aretha, Queen Latifah, Dolly, Maren, Johnny & June. They (and many more) are all namechecked by Spencer here in a languid song that reminds us of the bigger-than-life feels that listening to great music always brings. As Spencer and her glorious voice express, for most major moments in our lives, there’s a song that whenever we hear it — no matter how many years have passed– instantly takes us back to that time and exactly how we felt. — MELINDA NEWMAN

  • Morgan Wallen, "Last Night"

    His love may have driven away in a huff after a night of angry words and drunken passion, but Wallen is quite sure that last night wasn’t their final night together in this cleverly constructed, slyly catchy song that spent a record-setting 16 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, snagging top Hot 100 song of the year and also Billboard’s Country Airplay song of the year. Wallen’s laidback, yet confident delivery complements the swaying, finger-snapping track perfectly. — M.N.

  • Stephen Wilson, Jr., "Father's Son"

    Wilson Jr. showcases a life arc of trying to escape from — and then recommitting to and finding pride in –his family name. “Father’s Son” is one of a trio of songs on Wilson Jr.’s sterling album Søn of Dad that focus on maturing perspectives on fatherhood. “I used to hate being called Jr./ I don’t mind any longer,” Wilson Jr. sings, his gruff vocal pulling out all the anguish and honor of being connected to his namesake on the lush, string-driven track. — JESSICA NICHOLSON

  • Dan+Shay, "Save Me the Trouble"

    It’s a given that Dan + Shay do happy love songs really well, but duo also really excels at heartbreak songs, especially the kind where they are dreading the pain that’s coming before it even happens. Here, Shay Mooney works up a good head of steam over a woman he knows is going to be trouble before they’ve even kissed. Dan & Shay’s harmonies are among the best in all of music and Dan Smyers’ production with Scott Hendricks shines. Who knew Angry Shay would be so compelling? — M.N.

  • Tyler Childers, "In Your Love"

    Though Childers has been releasing music for over a decade, he made his Hot 100 debut in 2023 with this tender love story, from hisRustin’ in the Rainalbum. Childers wrote “In Your Love” with Geno Seale, with Childers’ textured, rootsy vocal lending gravitas to the song’s lyrics such as “We were never made to run forever/ We were just meant to go long enough to find what we were chasing after.” Ultimately, the song’s lyrics of finding love and appreciating time together, however long or brief that may be, are arched to an elevated state by the song’s video, which features a story arc centering on the endless love story between two male coal miners in 1950s Kentucky. — J.N.

  • Cole Swindell, "3 Feet Tall"

    Though this song arrived late in the year, it’s a massive follow-up to Swindell’s award-winning “She Had Me at Heads Carolina” and his recent release “Drinkaby.” Written by Trannie Anderson, Trey Lewis and Jordan Walker, with production by Zach Crowell, this tender ballad views parents’ divorce through a young child’s purview — adjusting to the jarring change of two parents living apart, navigating new living arrangements, being caught in the middle of a fractured relationship, and the weight of guilt that washes over it all. Though not a writer on the song, Swindell’s vocal conveys an earnest believability. — J.N.

  • Lainey Wilson, "Watermelon Moonshine"

    The song’s lush retro feel undoubtedly brings to mind the Deana Carter classic “Strawberry Wine,” with their shared settings of alcohol-fueled teenage romance. “Too young to know what love was/ But we were learnin’ on a sweet buzz,” Wilson sings, her Louisiana drawl wrapping wistfully around these snippets of memories, constructed by Wilson along with co-writers Josh Kear and Jordan Schmidt. This song’s blend of sweet nostalgia, sepia-toned recollections and the inhabited earnestness in Wilson’s vocal delivery propelled it to the top of the Country Airplay chart for three weeks — J.N.

  • Jelly Roll, "Need a Favor"

    Jelly Roll’s desperation comes from the bottom of his broken soul in this plea to God, even as he confesses that his prayers are a last resort, so “who am I to expect a savior?” Between Jelly Roll’s gravely growl and the rawness of the musical track, thesong, which topped Billboard’s Country Airplay and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts, is an emotional journey with no resolution, just a repeated entreaty for divine intervention — in this case, to return Jelly Roll’s love to him.— M.N.

  • Chris Stapleton, "White Horse"

    Written by Stapleton with Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, this bluesy-rock anthem lays bare a freewheeling dreamchaser’s plea to his lover for patience before he fully gives his heart. Stapleton’s signature gravelly, full-throttle voice, paired with gritty instrumentation perfectly crafted for any road adventure, have helped push this song to the top 10 on the Country Airplay chart. This marks one of Stapleton’s loftiest country-rockers since 2016’s “Parachute.” — J.N.

  • Luke Combs, "Fast Car"

    Combs took Tracy Chapman’s 1988 emotional classic for a ride straight to the top of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, making it the first time a Black woman had achieved that feat as a song’s sole writer. Combs’ love for the alt-folk original, which was named song and single of the year at the 2023 CMA Awards, was evident in the respectful way he stayed true to it, even keeping the gendered language in the line about working as a “checkout girl.” Combs conveys the protagonist’s hopeless longing for a better life that never comes beautifully. — M.N.

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I'm an avid enthusiast and expert in the realm of country music, having delved deep into the genre's evolution, trends, and emerging artists. My passion for the subject is backed by an extensive knowledge of its history, key players, and the intricate dynamics that shape the country music landscape. Let's dissect the article and explore the concepts mentioned.

  1. Streaming Surge in Country Music:

    • The article highlights a significant increase of nearly 25% in streaming for country music compared to the previous year. This surge is attributed to the success of artists like Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs.
  2. Noteworthy Country Tracks of 2023:

    • The article mentions the top 10 country tracks of the year, featuring artists such as Lainey Wilson, Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen, Jelly Roll, Tyler Childers, Bailey Zimmerman, Nate Smith, and Megan Moroney.
  3. Billboard Hot 100 Success:

    • Morgan Wallen's "Last Night" spent a record-setting 16 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Additionally, other country songs like Jason Aldean’s "Try That in a Small Town," Oliver Anthony Music’s "Rich Men North of Richmond," and Zach Bryan’s "I Remember Everything" also secured No. 1 positions.
  4. Generational Shift in Country Music:

    • The article discusses a generational shift in country music, attributing it to the success of Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs, who have brought in a new wave of talent.
  5. Country Songs in Top 10:

    • A notable mention is the increase in the number of country songs in the Hot 100’s top 10, with 11 country songs achieving this feat in 2023, a significant rise from previous years.
  6. Diverse Themes in Country Songs:

    • The selected songs cover a wide range of themes, including heartbreak, healing, and various aspects of life. Each song explores different facets of the human experience.
  7. Individual Song Analyses:

    • The article provides detailed insights into specific songs, such as Morgan Wallen's "Last Night," Stephen Wilson, Jr.'s "Father's Son," Dan+Shay's "Save Me the Trouble," Tyler Childers' "In Your Love," Cole Swindell's "3 Feet Tall," Lainey Wilson's "Watermelon Moonshine," Jelly Roll's "Need a Favor," Chris Stapleton's "White Horse," and Luke Combs' "Fast Car."
  8. Recognition of Emerging Talent:

    • The article acknowledges the rise of new talent, including Lainey Wilson, Bailey Zimmerman, Nate Smith, and Megan Moroney, who have broken through with chart-topping hits.
  9. CMA Awards and Industry Recognition:

    • Luke Combs' rendition of Tracy Chapman’s "Fast Car" is highlighted for making history at the 2023 CMA Awards, marking the first time a Black woman achieved the feat of a song’s sole writer topping the Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
  10. Impact of Music on Life:

    • The article touches on the profound impact of music, as exemplified by Brittney Spencer's "Bigger Than the Song," which reflects on the timeless emotional connection people have with music and its ability to evoke memories.

In summary, the article captures the vibrancy of the country music scene in 2023, emphasizing the genre's continued growth, diversity of themes, and the emergence of new talent alongside established names.

Best Country Songs of 2023: Staff List (2024)


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