Few artists embody the sub-genre of ‘Lifestyle Country’ as strikingly as Riley Green. The ideals and culture of the Deep South run through Green’s music as unwaveringly as the Mississippi river.
Whether he’s paying tribute to the overlooked wisdom of former generations (‘Behind the Times’, ‘Hell of a Way to Go’) or looking for trouble in a rowdy small-town bar (‘If I Didn’t Wear Boots’, ‘Get That Man A Beer’), every Riley Green record feels as though it has been proudly swathed in the Star Spangled Banner.
Here are 15 of Riley Green’s best songs.
The song that introduced Riley Green to the world, ‘There Was This Girl’ tells the tale of a whiskey-chasin’ ladies’ man who turns into a settled-down husband over the course of a trio of evolving choruses. It essentially compresses country music’s progression from Bro-Country to Boyfriend-Country into roughly three minutes.
Although it will always be Riley Green’s break-out hit, to view ‘There Was This Girl’ as the touchstone of the Alabama native’s discography would be to overlook the lyrical wit and evocative scene-setting he introduces on later material.
Romantic slow-burners are few and far between in Riley Green’s repertoire, but whenever he does switch out his Coors Light and CAT Machinery tee for a glass of red wine and a button-down shirt, he can be quite the charmer.
‘Break Up More Often’ epitomises this, as Green regales the listener with a story of his girlfriend driving away after a stormy fight, before they make up the following day, giving the relationship a newfound sense of passion. ‘Damn, maybe we should do this more often’, Riley Green muses with a wink.
When he performs live, Riley Green always introduces ‘If It Wasn’t For Trucks’ by quipping that he’d grown frustrated at the lack of truck songs in country music, so he decided to write one himself.
Although the intentional irony of this is never lost on the listener, ‘If It Wasn’t For Trucks’ transports you to the dusty backroads of Jacksonville, Alabama, before Riley Green takes you for a spin down memory lane.
He recalls all the key moments his trusty 4x4 has witnessed, such as experiencing his first kiss, crying behind the wheel when he found out his grandpa had passed away and chatting to God on the pew of his bucket-seat.
‘Numbers on the Cars’ finds Riley Green revisiting the themes that pervade powerful songs such as ‘I Wish Grandpas Never Died’ and ‘Behind the Times’. This is Green’s sweet-spot between endearing, familial warmth and escapism to a sepia-tinged, bygone era.
Green viscerally paints a picture of his grandpa, who is suffering from dementia and doesn’t even know who his grandson is anymore. However, when he treats him to a day out at his favourite race-track, a flicker of recognition returns to his paw-paw’s eyes (“Then somewhere around lap 23 / That old man turned and smiled at me and / For a moment, I know he knows where we are”).
We’re not crying, you are.
Full to the brim with pithy witticisms and timeless bon-mots, ‘That’s What I’ve Been Told’ is another instance of Riley Green tipping his ball-cap to his elders, and all the lessons he’s learnt from them so far (“If you're just sayin' prayers, then you ain't prayin' / If both men ain't shook hands, then it ain't sold”).
It’s packed with colourful, wistful imagery and a level of specificity that ensures you’re left hanging on every adage Green offers.
In a way, this serves as the sequel to ‘If It Wasn’t For Trucks’, as Riley Green wonders what his life would be like if he’d been forced to go through it without his beloved, weather-beaten boots.
The track sees the return of Riley Green’s no-nonsense tough-guy persona, as he credits his Tecovas for giving him an additional boost of confidence - and, seemingly, a reduced sense of patience (“Might have let that guy keep runnin' his mouth / Might've walked away before I knocked him out / If I didn't wear boots”).
This is arguably Riley Green’s most important song to date. Despite having previously underlined his aversion to politics, due to the traditional-leaning themes that underpin his music, Green often seems aligned with conservative principles - exacerbated by his decision to wade into the Bud Light saga.
Nonetheless, ‘That’s My Dixie’ concretises Green’s mission statement, which appears to be that he can denounce intolerance and racial injustice, while still feeling a sense of Southern pride. Despite running the risk of oversimplification - as well as coming close to downplaying how bad things really are - ‘That’s My Dixie’ is a thought-provoking and refreshing self-examination, in light of modern challenges to the Deep South identity.
First teased on his We Out Here live album in 2022, the studio version of ‘Hell of a Way to Go’ followed a couple of months later. Usually, the muse is his grandpa, but this time around, we get to meet Riley Green’s dad, who lists all the things that make him happiest and that he’d gladly choose as his final taste of life.
Whether he’s “Sitting on a lake like glass catching large-mouth bass, just my boy and me” or lounging on “A front porch swing / Something cold to drink, your mama’s hand to hold”, by the time we reach the song’s conclusion, we’re convinced they’d all be a ‘Hell of a Way to Go’.
Re-released in May 2023, after originally being made available as a solo cut as part of Riley Green’s 2019 album of the same name, the revamped version includes a blockbuster feature from Luke Combs.
Combs adds some star quality to this anthemic ode to a country boy’s roots, with the two 2023 tour-mates’ chemistry radiating through each lyric.
Another of Riley Green’s romantic outliers, ‘When She Comes Home Tonight’ is a sultry slow-jam that finds the Alabama crooner swapping out his muscled-up electric guitars in favour of a seductive, stripped-back instrumental.
This is not a side of Green we get to hear too often, which makes ‘When She Comes Home Tonight’ feel all the more special.
On his live album, Green explained that this track pivots around a metaphorical tension between the ‘Alabama Time’ zone and ‘Georgia Time’ zone. While out on the town in Florida, he meets a girl from Georgia who’s recently broken up with her hometown sweetheart.
However, after a few months of dating, our protagonist notices a handful of incriminating clues that they’re still together (“Well she's all Alabama / But she's got her feet stuck in the Georgia clay / And she's got a couple Bulldog jerseys / But she's never seen them play”). While the state-related references might be lost on those who live further afield, ‘Georgia Time’ is elevated by an irresistible melody and Green’s gruff, charismatic vocals.
Penned during the early days of the pandemic, ‘Better Than Me’ was championed by many as the best country song to emerge out of quarantine.
Although that honour arguably belongs to Luke Combs’ ‘Six Feet Apart’, ‘Better Than Me’ is nonetheless a comforting, faith-filled ballad that encourages the listener to always seek out the silver linings whenever they’re confronted by troublesome clouds (“'Cause with all this goin' on / I found some right in all this wrong / And I finally see / The good Lord knows better than me”).
One of Riley Green’s best story songs, the curtain opens on an unhappy marriage comprising a pair of “mean kids” and a wife with “wandering eyes”. As ‘Get That Man A Beer’ unfolds, Green reveals that he used to date the wife, and that he had a scuffle with her now-husband when he ‘stole’ her from him.
However, as Green looks through the rose-tinted lens of hindsight, he realises that he probably has a lot to thank the man for (“And I figured out later / Well, he might have did me a favour / So if you ever get that chance / Won’t you get that man a beer?”). It’s a certified earworm, despite the questionable grammar.
On ‘Behind the Times’, Riley Green once again draws on his paw-paw for inspiration. Although ‘I Wish Grandpas Never Died’ is Green’s iconic, career-defining song, ‘Behind the Times’ certainly rivals it in terms of its clever lyrical structure and plethora of emotional sucker punches.
It opens with his grandpa sitting in his favourite deck-chair as he reads the paper - ‘behind The Times’ - before he goes on to detail a series of outdated viewpoints.
This seems like the perfect recipe for a problematic track, but Green thankfully keeps it light and heart-warming (“‘Son, you're still young, but trust me when I say / Go hug your mama 'cause, boy, I promise you'll wish you could someday / When you find a good girl keep her, 'cause they don't grow on vines’ / Yeah, a man can learn a lot from a man behind the times”).
The crown jewel in Riley Green’s lustrous arsenal of hits, ‘I Wish Grandpas Never Died’ adopts a sweet, almost childlike perspective as the singer-songwriter outlines all the plights he’d happily rid the world of.
They vary from minor annoyances and idle fantasies (“I wish even cars had truck beds / And every road was named Copperhead”) to Green’s titular heart-rending expression of grief. ‘I Wish Grandpas Never Died’ remains one of Riley Green’s most recognisable songs to date, and serves as a clear, untainted window into the country star’s sonic blueprint.
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