Rodney Atkins released his first album, Honesty, in 2003, but his career got started a few years earlier than that. He actually charted his first non-album single, "In a Heartbeat," in 1997. And ever since that first 1997 single, Atkins has made a career out of writing and performing country songs that celebrate the simple life, hard work and country living.
It's worked out pretty well for him, too: Since 1997, he's earned six No. 1 singles. The first, "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)," came in 2006 -- nearly a decade into Atkins' career.
Atkins' recent single, 2019's "Caught Up in the Country," set the record for the longest run on the country charts. As for his 10 best songs? Scroll on to see if "In a Heartbeat," "If You're Going Through Hell," "Caught Up in the Country" or your other favorites made the cut.
"Invisibly Shaken"From 'If You're Going Through Hell' (2006)
“My friends say they’re proud of me / For taking our breakup so casually,” sings Atkins in this song's opening lines. But don’t be fooled, he says: “The truth is, since you said goodbye / I’m invisibly shaken.”
"Invisibly Shaken" is a down-the-middle breakup ballad, but it was an important one to Atkins; in fact, it was so important than when the label wanted to cut it from his album, he pushed for it to stay. Even though it never rose higher than No. 41 on the charts, it remains a sentimental favorite of many fans.
"Honesty (Write Me a List)"From 'Honesty' (2003)
Of “Honesty (Write Me a List),” Atkins tells Billboard: “Everything in this business revolves around a great song. Willie Nelson said it best: ‘Ain’t nothing wrong with any of us that a great song can’t fix.’”
This particular "great song" is a piano-driven ballad written by Patience Clements and David Kent, one that centers on a couple about to get divorced. The husband asks his wife to write down a list of what she wants, and instead of listing objects, she writes this: “Honesty, sincerity, tenderness and trust.” The hopeful song peaked at No. 4 on the charts.
"Watching You"From 'If You're Going Through Hell' (2006)
Atkins has written quite a few songs that celebrate the important occupation of fatherhood. “Watching You” is one of them, a reminder that children are always watching their parents, ready to imitate anything and everything -- the good and the bad. Ironically enough, the song was inspired by an incident during which Atkins’ son Elijah got in trouble at school … for singing one of Atkins’ own songs.
This celebration of fatherhood earned a nomination for ACM Song of the Year.
"15 Minutes"From 'It's America' (2009)
“15 Minutes” is a classic entry into the “clever country song with a wink” sub-genre. “‘Cause I gave up smoking, women and drinking last night,” Atkins sings in the chorus. “It was the worst fifteen minutes of my life.”
“15 Minutes” is the second single from Atkins' It’s America album, and a clear crowd-pleaser. It never rose higher than No. 20 on the charts, but it’s one of the best sing-a-long options in Atkins’ discography.
"Farmer's Daughter"From 'It's America' re-release (2010)
It’s hard to imagine Atkins’ discography without "Farmer's Daughter," but that was almost the case. The song is the fourth single from 2009's It’s America, but it wasn’t on the original album; instead, it was a bonus track on the album’s 2010 re-issue (and then was included on Atkins’ 2011 album Take a Back Road). “Farmer’s Daughter” is an ode to farm life and hard work -- and all of it being worth it to have a chance with the farmer’s daughter -- and was the first song co-written by Rhett Akins, Marv Green and Ben Hayslip. The It’s America track that almost wasn’t has since gone platinum.
"It's America"From 'It's America' (2009)
“It’s America,” the title track from Atkins’ third studio album, was Atkins’ fifth No. 1 hit. The song is his answer to the question: “What is America?” According to Atkins, “It’s a high school prom / It’s a Springsteen song / It’s a ride in a Chevrolet / It’s a man on the moon and fireflies in June / And kids selling lemonade.” The song, a high-spirited, upbeat track the whole way through, is driven by speedy banjo and drums that invite you to dance.
"These Are My People"From 'If You're Going Through Hell' (2006)
“These Are My People” is a celebration of Atkins’ favorite type of folks: city-living, big-business types who know that the secret to a good time is spending a lot of money.
Just kidding. This one's for the folks who “grew up down by the railroad tracks, shooting BBs at old beer cans” and who “take it all week on the chin with a grin ‘til we make it to Friday night.” The fiddle-and-guitar-driven anthem nods to Lynyrd Skynyrd and everything country. It’s funny, sincere and warmhearted, and that helped it became a gold-certified, No. 1 hit.
"Take a Back Road"From 'Take a Back Road' (2011)
Rhett Akins (one of this song’s co-writers, along with Luke Laird) tells Taste of Country that the inspiration for “Take a Back Road” came from hearing a friend say that listening to a Hank Williams Jr. song made him “want to ride a dirt road right now.” That dirt road became a back road, and “Take a Back Road” -- a love song to road trips and getting lose -- was born. It No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
"Caught Up in the Country"From 'Caught Up in the Country' (2019)
Driven by a repeating acoustic guitar line and Atkins’ baritone, “Caught Up in the Country” could be just another country song in which the singer lists out all of the things he loves about rural living. In fact, this song opens with such a list: “Square bales, flatbeds / Clothesline sunsets / Sky blue, barn red / Wind chimes, front porch / Good dogs, wood floors / Work boots, open doors.” What makes this song something special, though, is an explosive, joyous, four-on-the-floor chorus, a hand-clap breakdown and (perhaps most of all) the backing vocals of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
"If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)"From 'If You're Going Through Hell' (2006)
“If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” announces itself in a big way -- heavy picking and a big string section -- before Atkins' vocals even begin. The verses, meanwhile, feature rapid-fire vocals, and the chorus is anthemic -- all of which helped make “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” the first No. 1 hit of Atkins’ career. It was also named the No. 1 song of the year 2006 on Billboard’s year-end chart, and nabbed a nomination for ACM Song of the Year.