Eric Church songs are some of the most diverse and challenging of any contemporary country singer-songwriter.
It's easy to label Church an "outlaw" -- but it's also lazy and incomplete. Though the admittedly hard-headed and uncompromising performer doesn't back down from saying what he means -- either in person or in his songs -- his songwriting encompasses a lot more than just his "outsider" persona, taking in romantic ballads, songs that celebrate his small-town roots and much more.
Balanced with his party anthems and in-your-face attitude songs, the resulting body of work has helped Church become perhaps one of country's unlikeliest superstars, after a fairly rough start. The Boot celebrates the full depth and scope of Church's best work with our list of the Top 10 Eric Church Songs.
"Record Year"From: 'Mr. Misunderstood' (2015)
"Record Year" is an ode to music in more ways than one. Appearing on Church's fifth studio album and written by Church and Jeff Hyde, the song praises the power of music and its paradoxical ability to affect our lives. For Church (and so many of us), sometimes the saddest songs heal a broken heart, and sometimes a broken heart leads to our favorite music. "I'm countin' on a needle to save me," Church sings in the third verse -- and it's that universal sentiment that makes "Record Year" such a great song. Sometimes, all we need is a little music to change everything.
"Give Me Back My Hometown"From: 'The Outsiders' (2013)
The second single from The Outsiders couldn't have been more different from the first. Church worked with co-writer Luke Laird on this plaintive ballad, in which the protagonist laments the loss of his high school love, which has colored his perception of his hometown forever: "All the colors of my youth / The red, the green, the hope, the truth / Are beatin' me black and blue 'cause you're in every scene." The song topped Billboard's Country Airplay chart.
"Creepin'"From: 'Chief' (2011)
Church scored a Top 10 hit with the fourth single from his Chief album. "Creepin'" is one of the most unusual tracks to grace mainstream country radio in years, featuring a funky rhythm track, dropped tuning, banjos juxtaposed with electric guitars and layers of vocal effects. Written by Church with Marv Green, the track also features vivid lyrical imagery: "You shot outta hell like a bullet from a gun / A flip of a switch, a thief on the run."
"Carolina"From: 'Carolina' (2009)
Though it was not released as a radio single, the title song from Church's second studio album still ranks as one of the Top 10 Eric Church Songs on the strength of its poignant lyrics: "There's a cabin in a valley my grandpa built on your land / Your mountains are a canvas for the Maker's hand." Church drops his tough-guy persona in favor of a world-weary traveler looking to make his way home for this essential track.
"Kill a Word"From: 'Mr. Misunderstood' (2015)
Upon the release of "Kill a Word," Church said that he'd that he's "never had a song that felt more meaningful and relevant," and given the song's immediate critical and commericial success, many listeners agreed. Co-written with Jeff Hyde and Luke Dick and featuring Rhiannon Giddens on the album version, "Kill a Word" turns words like "hate" and "regret" into murder victims. "I'd pound fear to a pile of sand / Choke lonely out with my bare hands / I'd hang hate so that it can't be heard," sings Church in the first verse, bringing visceral imagery to words we'd all like to kill. Using the power of words to show the power of words, "Kill a Word" has continued to be a timely anthem for all who need a little hope and will likely prove to be one of Church's most enduring singles.
"The Outsiders"From: 'The Outsiders' (2013)
After the breakthrough success of Chief, Church took his career to a whole new level with the release of The Outsiders. The title song and first single is one of the most unique and challenging pieces of music to see mainstream country release in years, combining elements of rock, rap and even progressive metal in an anthem for all the underdogs: "They're the in crowd, we're the other ones / It's a different kind of cloth that we're cut from." Country radio even embraced the song, which rose to No. 6 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.
"Drink in My Hand"From: 'Chief' (2011)
Church scored a major career breakthrough with the second single from Chief. A classic country rock anthem about drinking away your problems, "Drink in My Hand" became Church's first No. 1 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and has become a highlight of his live shows.
"Desperate Man"From: 'Desperate Man' (2018)
If there's one thing to be said about Church's music, it's that it's ever-evolving and ever-changing. While themes of restlessness, nostalgia and rebellion always pepper his lyrics, Church manages to reinvent and refresh his sound with every record. His 2018 release Desperate Man and its lead single of the same name are a perfect case in point: Co-written by Texas outlaw singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Desperate Man" combines Church's gravelly vocals with gospel-like background singers, swirling pianos and resolute drum beats to create a swampy ode to Southern rock that only Church and his swagger can pull off. Here's to whatever new (and likely amazing) thing he dreams up next!
"How 'Bout You"From: 'Sinners Like Me' (2006)
As his debut single, "How 'Bout You" was the perfect introduction for Church to a mainstream audience, with its straight-talking, hard-rocking sound giving a foretaste of what was to come from the "outlaw" singer. Written by Church, his brother Brandon and Brett Beavers, "How 'Bout You" is an ode to the working man and the small town, two themes Church has continued to highlight in his music over the years, proving that a man who knows where he came from also knows how to get to where he wants to go.
"Springsteen"From: 'Chief' (2011)
While Church had already scored numerous chart hits, "Springsteen" was an undeniable breakthrough single and may well stand as the song of his career. Written by Church with Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell, the song tells the bittersweet story of a teenage romance, incorporating references to the music of Bruce Springsteen: "Somewhere between that setting sun, "I'm on Fire" and "Born to Run" / You looked at me and I was done, we were just getting started." The song reached No. 1, was certified double platinum and earned Church two Grammy nominations, as well as an ACM Award for Song of the Year in 2012.