Picking five songs you’ve gotta check out by Eric Church is one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced all year. Just five?? Can we set aside all of Carolina as necessary and go from there? Or Chief? Anyway. For the tip of the iceberg, here are five must-listen Church songs:
“Springsteen” (from Chief)
Church’s 2011 album Chief put him on the map in a lot of ways, giving him his first #1 album and songs, “Drink in My Hand” and “Springsteen.” The latter, co-written with Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell and produced by Jay Joyce, is an absolutely perfect combination of lyrical brilliance, anthemic melody, and timeless nostalgia. “If I bumped into you by happenstance, you probably wouldn’t even know who I am, but if I whispered your name I bet there’d still be a spark,” Church sings. If you haven’t, listen to his live version from the Caught in the Act album he released in 2013 – mid-song, Church takes a break to re-live his first Bruce Springsteen concert, transitioning into a cover of “Born to Run.”
“Sinners Like Me” (from Sinners Like Me)
This title track from Church’s 2006 debut album, written by Church and frequent collaborator Jeremy Spillman, is a great introduction to Church’s persona and artistry – a little left of center, sometimes cozy with sin, but not so far down the path of reckless abandon as to lose the listener. As with the best country songs, “Sinners Like Me” bleeds artistic honesty, with lyrics personal and specific enough to connect completely. “I was 15 when my daddy’s old man caught me halfway through my first beer / he laughed so hard when my face turned green / he said, ‘You come from a long line of sinners like me.’ / now me and brother go to see him sometimes / he don’t have much to say anymore / so we sit on his headstone with a fifth of Jack D / here’s to a long line of sinners like me.”
“Before She Does” (from Sinners Like Me)
The production almost snarls in this rock-heavy lead-off to Church’s debut album. Church details a set of beliefs, again leaning of specificity of imagery (“I believe that gas is too damn high / ain’t nothing more American than mama’s apple pie … I believe the bible is cold hard fact”) before getting to the meat of the hook, “I believe that Jesus is coming back / before she does.” Written with Jeff Hyde and Driver Williams, Church combines humor, patriotism, strength of character, and the absolutes of a relationship lost with melodic strength and electrics that shimmer with the heat of emotion.
“Like Jesus Does” (from Chief)
Written by Casey Beathard and Monty Criswell, this smoky slow-jam is among Church’s finer offerings in the more emotive realm, a vibe at which he excels, and absolutely nails with this track. “She knows the man I ain’t, she forgives me when I can’t / and the devil, man, no he don’t have a prayer / ‘cuz she loves me like Jesus does,” Church sings. While he didn’t have a hand in the writing, “Like Jesus Does” fits perfectly with Church’s acknowledged imperfection and best efforts at righteousness, and producer Jay Joyce leaves the production room to breathe, much like the sparse and similarly-themed 2014 “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young.”
“Smoke A Little Smoke” (from Carolina)
Church’s label was immensely not happy with Church’s choice to make this song a single off 2011’s Carolina. The song, which hit Platinum status but failed to peak above #16 on hot country, ruffled radio feathers with its drug references in particular – however, Church stuck to his guns with the release, which serves as yet another example of his strong artistry and ability to balance vocally driven moments with heavy rock influences.