If you've spent even just a few minutes listening to country radio, chances are you've heard a song written by Luke Laird. The prolific songwriter, who moved to Music City over two decades ago, is the mastermind behind many country radio singles, nearly two dozen of which have topped the Billboard country charts. In other words, Laird is not a one-hit-wonder; he keeps churning out huge hits for artists including Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum and more.
Laird's list of nominations and awards is extensive: He's won Best Country Album, as a producer, at the Grammys and ACM Awards (Kacey Musgraves' Same Different Trailer Park) and has is a two-time nominee for the Grammys' Best Country Song trophy. He's received the CMA's Triple Play Award (for three No. 1 songs within one year) six times and won Songwriter of the Year and Song of the Year from BMI -- and that barely skims the surface of his accolades.
It took Laird a lot of good old fashioned work to become a successful songwriter, though: After moving to Nashville in 1997, he received a degree in Recording Industry Management at Middle Tennessee State University, was an assistant tour manager for Brooks & Dunn and finally signed a publishing deal in 2002. Laird's first cut was on Lee Ann Womack's 2005 record There's More Where That Came From ("Painless") and his first No. 1 hit was Underwood's 2007 single "So Small."
The Boot spent some time combing through the songs Laird's written to compile a list of his best-ever hits. There are several top-notch songs we had to cut (Underwood's "Undo It" and "Last Name," Paisley's "Beat This Summer," Eric Church's "Give Me Back My Hometown," Lady A's "Downtown"), solely because there's Just. So. Many. Read one for our Top 10.
You know when you say you'll do something someday, but deep down, you know it won't happen? That's what "Blowin' Smoke" is all about: It's written from the perspective of several waitresses who are working dead-end jobs ("We're all out here talking trash, making bets / Lips wrapped round our cigarettes"), hoping to eventually quit, but ...
"Well, we all say that we'll quit someday / When our ship comes in, we'll just sail away," Musgraves sings. "But we're just blowin' smoke / Hey, yeah, we're just blowin' smoke."
Musgraves wrote "Blowin' Smoke" with Laird and Shane McAnally, then released it as the second single from her debut disc, Same Trailer Different Park. The gold-certified song was nominated for ACM Video of the Year.
As an extremely famous country music star, Bryan's work calendar is packed with tours, appearances, awards shows, recording and more -- plus, his roles as a dad and a husband are very important to him, so he juggles a lot. That experience translated into the writing of "Fast," which he co-wrote with Laird and Rodney Clawson shortly after taking in his nephew, Til, following Til's father (Bryan's brother-in-law)'s death.
“Luke’s schedule is so crazy. When you get him in here, you hope to be able to get onto something great, and it was just a real struggle," Laird recalls. After a short break in their writing session, Laird thought about the word "fast," which turned into "Fast, that's the kind of car you want to drive when you're 16," and the song blossomed into the hit fans know.
Bryan especially relates to the idea of life's swiftness: "My wife and I, the first 10 years, we’ve had so many wonderful things happen and certainly some tragedy happen. It feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in 10 years. You just reflect on that, I reflect on the building of my artist career, I reflect on the building of my family, and that’s kind of what puts you in that moment."
"Fast" was the sixth single from Bryan's fifth studio album, Kill the Lights, and his 18th No. 1 song. The chart topper made him the first-ever artist to nab six No. 1 Country Airplay hits from one album.
This 2012 hit, written by Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby and Laird, was born out of a mishearing: Laird tells Rolling Stone, "Natalie and I had written a song for Miranda Lambert called "Fine Tune" — one of my favorite songs I've ever written. Natalie was telling her publisher about it, and the publisher misunderstood and said, 'What is this song called "Pontoon"?' And Natalie was like, 'No, it's called "Fine Tune."' So we said, "We should write a song called "Pontoon.""
That was the right choice: The groovy, feel-good summertime song was LBT's first No. 1 single on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, and it won the CMA Single of the Year and a Grammy for Best Country Duo / Group Performance.
Laird teamed up with Pardi to write "Head Over Boots" for Pardi's sophomore album, California Sunrise, released in 2015. As the album's lead single, the song became Pardi's first No. 1 hit; it's also certified platinum. Laird calls "Head Over Boots" a "straight-ahead country song" and says he was "the lucky guy who was in the room that day" because Pardi "came in, sat down, started playing that shuffle groove. He had the title and sang the first few lines."
The idea for "Head Over Boots" came from spending time at a Texan dance hall. Pardi says, "I was drinking a beer, sitting down on the benches and watching older couples dance and younger couples dance. I really wanted a song that would make everybody want to dance and fit in that atmosphere. The next day, I woke up and had a cup of coffee and came up with the melody: 'I want to sweep you off your feet tonight / I want to love you and hold you tight / Spin you around on some old dance floor.'"
Laird teamed up with Hillary Lindsey and Lady A's Hillary Scott to write "A Little Bit Stronger," which Evans released in September of 2010 as the lead single from Stronger. Anyone who's experienced heartbreak can relate to this song, which became Evans' first certified-platinum single and fifth No. 1.
Scott brought her personal heartbreak to the writing room: She tells The Boot, "When I wrote it, I was barely a month out of a really, really bad breakup. It's very autobiographical ... one of the most personal songs that I've ever written."
"It was personal when I wrote it, but now that it's actually out there, it takes it to another level," Scott adds. "I'm sure [my ex] has heard it, but that's okay, because the song's about 'everyday without you, I'm a little bit stronger,' which is true. So, he can hear that. That's okay."
"A Little Bit Stronger" was the sixth Laird-penned song to hit No. 1.
What do you get when you get Laird, Rodney Clawson and Shane McAnally in a room together? Hits like "American Kids," recorded by Chesney. The song is certified platinum and peaked at No. 2 on the country charts.
This song is one that Chesney almost didn't record, though: Clawson sent it to him, but he never listened to it, and Little Big Town put it on hold. But, when he finally heard "American Kids," it was love at first listen.
"When I heard it, I knew I was gonna cut it," Chesney says. “It was unlike anything I’d ever heard – and I listen to a lot of songs. The rhythms, the images, the way the melody moved … It just grabs you and holds on, but even more importantly, it feels really good."
Rhett's platinum-selling "T-Shirt" was written by Laird, Ashley Gorley and Shane McAnally. The high-energy, youthful and funky song was released in February of 2016 and gave Rhett his sixth consecutive No. 1 hit -- but it was a hit that almost didn't happen for the singer, as Tim McGraw had the song on hold. To make a long story short, Rhett, his dad Rhett Akins and Gorley huddled up and prayed about it because the singer wanted to record "T-Shirt" so badly ... and the next day, he got the green light. The song is on Rhett's sophomore record, Tangled Up.
Underwood wrote "Temporary Home" along with Laird and Zac Maloy, and it appears on her third studio record, Play On. She's no stranger to No. 1 hits; in fact, the song was her ninth to top the charts. It also garnered a Grammys nod for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
"Temporary Home" is a moving song, which shares the narratives of three different characters: a young foster child, a single mom and an old man on his deathbed. They all have an eternal perspective rather than focusing on their circumstances, and the chorus' lyrics hold deep faith: "This is my temporary home, it's not where I belong / Windows and rooms that I'm passing through / This was just a stop on the way to where I'm going / I'm not afraid because I know / This is my temporary home."
Underwood says of the inspiration for the song, "I was reading a book called Purpose Driven Life: It talks about how this world is temporary; it's a temporary home, and we're on our way to someplace else, and we need to do everything we can here now because this isn't it. It's not over. That is something I believe down to my core."
"Hillbilly Bone"Blake Shelton
Laird wrote "Hillbilly Bone" with Craig Wiseman, and when he found out Shelton would be recording it, he was pretty pumped: He tells The Boot, "I thought, 'Are you serious?' I'd always wanted a Blake Shelton cut. I thought, 'I can actually hear him sing it!'"
Trace Adkins contributes guest vocals to the song, which was released October of 2009 and is worlds different from anything Laird's written for, say, Carrie Underwood. Need proof? Look no further than the chorus: "We all got a hillbilly bone down deep inside / No matter where you from you just can't hide it / And when the band starts banging and the fiddle saws / You can't help but hollering, 'Yee-haw!' ..."
A catchy and hilarious song, "Hillbilly Bone" was Shelton's sixth No. 1 and Adkins' fourth -- and it also charted in the Top 40 of Billboard Hot 100. The song won the 2010 ACM for Vocal Event of the Year, and Adkins also included it on the deluxe edition of his album Cowboy's Back in Town.
Church and Michael Heeney wrote "Drink in My Hand" with Laird, appropriately, after Heeney and Laird watched one of Church's live shows. Laird tells Rolling Stone, "We got on the bus after the show, and we were all feeding off the energy of the crowd. I started playing this groove and it came out: 'all you've gotta do is put a drink in my hand.'"
Church released "Drink in My Hand" in August of 2011. It was the second single from his album Chief and became the singer's first No. 1 hit. You can be sure they celebrated its success with a drink (or more) in their hands!