She said the word “cancer” in a song…and touched a lot of lives in the process.

In no particular order…here we go.

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Martina McBride[/lastfm] – “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” (Republic Nashville)

In Country Music, you can say things that just can’t be said elsewhere.

Martina’s ode to a couple battling a wife’s breast cancer – together as a couple – is an anthem of encouragement for any couple fighting life’s battles…it doesn’t necessarily have to be cancer, the message still resonates.

That’s the power of a great Country song.

The video features Sheryl Crow, Robin Roberts, Hoda Kotb – cancer survivors all – and Katie Couric, who lost both a husband and a sister to cancer.

Kudos to songwriters Ben Hayslip, Sonya Isaacs and Jimmy Yeary, and of course to Martina.

“I’m Gonna Love You Through It” kinda fulfills the premise of another Martina message song…from 2000…

If you don’t tear up at the 3:40 mark…you gotta heart of stone.

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Toby Keith[/lastfm] – “Red Solo Cup” (Show Dog Nashville)

(NSFW content!)

Not every song on this list is serious.

Toby Keith heard this song, written by the Warren Beavers, and declared it “the stupidest song that I have ever heard in my life”… but also felt it was “freakin’ awesome”.

And that’s the whole point.

It’s SO stupid and SO simple, it’s an instant classic.

Especially with Toby’s “who cares” vocal.

Watch the video toward the end…as Roger Clemons, Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar, Joe Nichols, Craig Ferguson, Larry Bird, Carrot Top, Eric Church and others grace the screen.

I dare you not to hum it the rest of the day…

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Brantley Gilbert[/lastfm] – “Country Must Be Country Wide” (Valory)

There was a time when Country Music was the “red-headed stepchild” of Pop Culture.

Occasionally, a great Country song would cross over to the Pop/Rock Top 40…but for the most part, Nashville operated in its own vacuum, like a child with “cooties” ignored by their classmates, while Pop/Rock’s popularity went unchallenged.

Those days are long gone.

Today, Country and Pop/Rock run on parallel tracks of popularity in a back-and-forth duel…and by most measurable standards – concert attendance, radio and TV ratings, CD sales and digital downloads, – Country often leads.

That Lady Antebellum swept the GRAMMYs in a year in which Eminem (link NSFW) released his most critically acclaimed album ever…is a telling sign of the respect Country Music has earned in Pop Culture.

Many diverse factors have led to this day – enough to fill a college-level study course.

But Brantley Gilbert boiled it all down to a 3:30 anthem.

Country IS country-wide.


[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Brad Paisley[/lastfm] with [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Alabama[/lastfm] – “Old Alabama” (Arista Nashville/Sony)

Alabama’s importance to Country Music history cannot be overstated.

They were a major factor in bringing Country Music into the mainstream of Pop Culture.

That process began some 30 years ago with such gems as “Love In The First Degree“, “Take Me Down“, and “Mountain Music“.

“Mountain Music” became the foundation to Brad Paisley’s ode to the days when Randy, Teddy, Jeff and Mark innovated and dominated Country Music, winning award after award and selling records in numbers not previously known in Nashville.

Plus, “Old Alabama” exposes their music to an entirely new generation.

If you’re a car enthusiast…like me…take five minutes and watch the video for all the old Chevies…one ’68 Dodge cop car and the icons from Fort Payne tooling into the Bel-Air Drive In in a ’49 Cadillac.

And DO NOT miss the end.

You can thank me later…

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Ronnie Dunn[/lastfm] – “Cost Of Livin'” (Arista Nashville/Sony)

Songs like “Cost Of Livin'” don’t gain traction when times are good.

This one rings a little too true for far too many people.

Like Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” in 1973, Hank Jr’s “A Country Boy Can Survive” in 1982 and Pirates of the Mississippi’s “A Street Man Named Desire” in 1992, “Cost Of Livin'” – at the very least – stands as a permanent testament to the times from which it came.

Despite the video’s focus on a tire manufacturing plant whose closing has thrown 1,400 citizens of Small Town USA out of work, the message is universal.

And for those whose jobs are secure and bellies are full, it’s hopefully a reminder that but for the grace of God…
[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Sugarland[/lastfm] – “Little Miss” (Mercury Nashville/UMG)

Here you see, yet again, the power of a great Country song.

Jennifer’s and Kristian’s salute to women facing adversity took on a whole new life when Sugarland fan Erica Bjork made her own video of the song and posted it on YouTube, leading to “The Little Miss Project”.

Fans were encouraged to bring signs, like the ones depicted in Erica’s video, to concerts and wave them during the live performance of “Little Miss”…thus sending a message that You. Will. Overcome.

One such performance, at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, is captured above.

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Kenny Chesney[/lastfm] featuring [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Grace Potter[/lastfm] – “You And Tequila” (BNA/Sony)

Although “You And Tequila” is indeed a killer track from Kenny’s Hemingway’s Whiskey project, it’s what the song represents that lands it on this list.

Used to be when a Pop/Rock star appeared on a Country artist’s record, the Country artist was seen as the one expanding their fan base by venturing into the larger Pop Culture.

But this is 2011. And the tables have turned.

Grace Potter fronts a Waitsfield, VT – based rock band called The Nocturnals.

Her recent “hit”, “Paris” (Ooh La La), incorporates elements from three different decades of Rock history into a sexy delight…

The Nocturnals are critically acclaimed, but their fan base is small. Their music has been featured in a number of TV shows and movies, but Grace’s appearance on “You And Tequila” may well give her greater exposure than everything that’s come before.

Chalk it up…again…to the power of a great Country song.

Speaking of which…[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Natasha Bedingfield[/lastfm], who has seen a good deal of Pop success - but lately has stumbled - is currently having her greatest success in three years (an eternity in Pop), as Rascal Flatts’ duet partner on “Easy“.

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Jason Aldean[/lastfm] – “Dirt Road Anthem” (Broken Bow)

Forgive me…but I can’t believe how much dust Jason Aldean stirred up with this song.

Some longtime Country fans thought the world was coming to an end…

…because…there’s rapping in the song?

Like it’s never happened before!

Truth is, Hip-Hop and Rap have been a part of the musical landscape for three decades. It was inevitable that those styles would find their way to Nashville.

Now in all fairness to those who rent their garments when “Dirt Road Anthem” came out…the song style is more a Country/Rap hybrid than anything that came before, at least as a viable hit song.

But enough people embraced it that “Anthem” became a Number One song. Even many of its detractors have come around and are now fans.

I think “Dirt Road Anthem”‘s success reflects people’s diversity in musical tastes. People today embrace many styles of music…just look at any iPod.

And pushing the boundaries has been good for Jason Aldean. It’s made him a superstar.

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Eric Church[/lastfm] – “Homeboy” (EMI Nashville)

Although Eric Church’s and Casey Beathard’s lyrics are as Country as Country can be…it’s the song’s arrangement that lands it on this list.

“Homeboy” is at once a sonic breakthrough – and the culmination of decades of Country-Rock hybrids that came before.

Like the Gibson-Miller Band.

There’s much that can be said about the influence of Classic and Southern Rock on Country Music, but I’ll do that another day.

Suffice it to say…if you’re looking for new music made in the Classic Rock style…you come to Country Music.

Home of Jason Aldean, Justin Moore, Brantley Gilbert and Kenny Chesney.

And one Eric Church.

I think this chapter’s just beginning…

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Martina McBride[/lastfm] – “Teenage Daughters” (Republic Nashville)

FOX is debuting a new sitcom at the end of November…”I Hate My Teenage Daughter“.

The creators had to be thinking of this song when they came up with the premise.

Even if you had teenage sons – as I did – Martina’s 3:30 gripe session still resonates, carrying the lyrical imagery and vocal punch that characterizes all of Martina McBride’s best work.

And yet it comes across in the song’s delivery that Martina loves her daughters no matter how many gray hairs they give her.

Country Music’s ability to capture those moments and turn them into song has always been one if the genre’s strengths.

And I expect it always will be.

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]George Strait[/lastfm] – “Here For A Good Time” (MCA/UMG)

2011 marks George Strait’s 30th anniversary in Country Music.

His hits are always fresh…yet always consistently King George.

And after years of leaving the songwriting to the likes of Dean Dillon, Mark D. Sanders and Norro Wilson, the King has been teaming with his son Bubba – with help from Dean Dillon – in penning much of his recent music, including “Here For A Good Time”, which recently became Strait’s 58th Number One song.

The Number Ones come less frequently these days but the point is…they still come.

And he has more of them than any artist in any genre of music.

More than The Beatles. More than Sinatra. More than Michael Jackson…Madonna…Whitney Houston…Garth Brooks.

The coolest part is, he did it his way.

George Strait IS Country Music.

[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Brad Paisley[/lastfm] – “This Is Country Music” (Arista Nashville/Sony)

No one…and I mean…absolutely NO ONE ELSE could have made this song.

Anyone else would’ve sounded pretentious at best…or kill their career at worst.

But Brad Paisley is an unofficial guardian of Country Music history and tradition. It’s obvious he sees the music as something Bigger Than All Of Us.

And that’s a good thing.

It’s not that he hasn’t dabbled far to the Pop side…as in his duet with Carrie Underwood, “Remind Me“.

Or rocked out on such hits as “Camoflauge“.

Brad’s the whole package, consistently himself yet consistently fresh.

And just when you might wonder if Country Music’s turning too far to one side or another, Brad brings it all back to the center with a smile and a witty lyric.

One wonders if the opening line, “You’re not supposed to say the word “cancer” in a song” just might have been an inspiration to Martina McBride, whose “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” gives hope and comfort to those touched by cancer today…and inspires their spouses to Love Them Through It.

I believe we’ve come full circle here.

What are your special songs of 2011?

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