Tennessee native Morgan Wallen released his first EP Stand Alone in 2016, and If I Know Me, his double-platinum debut album in 2018. The follow-up, a 30-song behemoth of a record called Dangerous: The Double Album, came out on January 8th 2021 - debuting at the top of the album charts.
On February 2nd, the website TMZ released a video – recorded two days earlier – of Wallen using the N-word to a group of his friends. Following instant backlash by both the public and media, alongside suspension by his label Big Loud, he apologised for his actions, sought counselling and donated $300,000 to the Black Music Action Coalition. The label has now reinstated Wallen to their roster.
Dangerous went on to become 2021’s biggest selling album in any genre, and at the time of writing has spent 59 weeks at the top of the country album charts, smashing the previous record held by Shania Twain’s Come On Over. At the end of 2021, Wallen also found himself at No. 1 on the R&B singles chart, appearing with Lil Burk on 'Broadway Gurls'.
A hundred years before that, writing in Studies In Classic American Literature, D.H. Lawrence said “Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it”.
Shall we have a go? Here are The Best Morgan Wallen Songs according to Holler.
You could make a pretty good case for this whole list being made up of just songs from Dangerous, but that would mean missing some earlier gems like this one from If I Know Me.
It deftly sets up one side of Wallen's persona, once memorably described as “Bruce Springsteen meets Larry The Cable Guy”.
It’s conversational but incisive, old and new all at the same time, a recurring trademark.
Here's the first of those Dangerous songs, originally recorded by its writer Jason Isbell on 2013's Southeastern.
Not as abrasively passionate as the Isbell version, the understated longing in Wallen's vocal more than compensates.
The first Wallen party anthem - a swaying slab of Southern country funk, a tailgate bash in the parking lot - possesses massive drums, stinging guitar and Florida Georgia Line to boot.
Here’s the one that sets up the second key element of Wallen’s success – the very lack of it.
The Morgan Wallen in songs like these is a sad and remorseful character; always losing the girl and feeling the pain of heartbreak. It's deeply felt emotion that makes his victories – if they come – feel more like triumphs.
This is one of those triumphs, but expressed in a tone of disbelief that makes it all the more poignant and believable.
Like nearly all the songs on this list, it’s told in a series of vivid images drawn unambiguously from experience, but with that little sting in the tale that gives them life.
Via the pen of Thomas Rhett, among others, the third great theme in Wallen's repertoire - drinking to forget. On this occasion though, he provides it in his trademark sort of funny way.
Remember the car that got you through life, from A to B and everything in between? You know, the car with all the memories attached? Come and get it, it's for sale.
Collaborating with ERNEST, 'Flower Shops' is perhaps the most flat-out traditional country song here. The best line?:
Well, I took some pills, and she took the dogs
Aw, it's all gone to hell, she's gone to her mom's
Let’s face it, we’ve all done some. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that will do.
There’s a run of hits on Dangerous which are as good as any of the modern country era – melodically strong, lyrically direct but subtle and emotionally wrenching with it.
Ever had that holiday romance which you thought was going to last forever? This one’s for you.
This might be the quintessential Morgan song, packed full of lightly drawn but powerfully felt detail and with a genuine dilemma at the heart of it.
She wants to leave, he wants to stay. Who’s the winner?
Well, it would be the quintessential MW song, if it wasn’t for this one.
Here, he dials the tempo down a notch and allies the regretful lyric to the most gorgeous melody of his career to date.
Is there a catchier, more clever song about love / lust at first sight? There is not. It’s a ringtone, it’s a pop tune, it’s the feeling in your stomach when you see that person walk in the door.
Most of all, it’s demonstrably real, the kind of real that the very best country music offers when it’s at its very best.
It’s that quality that marks Morgan Wallen out as an artist at the top of his game.
If you are that real, of course, then reality is going to find its way into your work at every turn, especially if your reality has been Morgan Wallen’s recently.
Long time collaborators Jessi Alexander, Mark Holman and Chase McGill wrote this for Wallen, who burst into tears when he first heard it.
He delivers perhaps the vocal of his career to date on the story of a hell-raising boy seeking forgiveness.
So, the hits just keep on coming.
Morgan’s latest drop – co-written with Miranda Lambert, not a woman to suffer fools gladly – is an emotional sucker punch phone call to his mother, with a lyric that reads just like a transcript.
Its a much, much harder trick to pull off than it looks, or sounds.
For Morgan Wallen's 2022 concert tour dates, tickets and more, see below: