From small town Georgia, singer-songwriter Zac Brown spent decades dreaming of country music success while playing dive bars and traveling extensively to make a name for himself. His humble beginnings in the industry gave him the thick skin he’d need later on when his band’s debut album became a surprise smash hit.
Zac Brown Band has proved to be hit makers several times over, and their endurance has earned them the right to be called one of country music’s most successful groups of all time. With southern roots and a lustrous country sound, their explorations with other genres, such as reggae and jazz, confirm their skilled abilities as songwriters and musicians.
From their biggest hits to some of their most distinctive releases, we unpack Zac Brown Band’s best songs below.
16. Whatever It Is
With the release of ‘Whatever It Is,’ Zac Brown Band showed listeners everywhere they weren’t just a flash in the pan in regards to the wide scope of country music and its history, but the exemplary talent of a generation of southern rock musicians. A dedicated band who has been here to stay since they splashed onto the country music scene in 2008, this sweet tune is the ideal representation of the band’s homespun roots and unique coastal country sound. Laced with fiddle, beautiful acoustic instrumentation (including Zac’s nylon guitar strings he loves to play), and an easy rhythm, the hit single leaves lovers swooning with lyrics focusing on the beauty and tranquility of romance.
15. Goodbye In Her Eyes
Many of Zac Brown Band’s singles, including ‘Goodbye In Her Eyes,’ are co-written alongside prominent Nashville lyricist Wyatt Durrette. Durrette was the one to start penning this emotional tune while experiencing a breakup a full decade before he and Brown were comfortable enough to get in the studio and record it. As Durrette worked on the song with Brown, the story slowly formed, and they even brought in the help of fellow country songwriter Sonia Leigh to complete the bridge. It’s a pensive, moving release right in the wheelhouse of Zac’s sound, and its message is universal. Anyone who’s ever experienced heartbreak can surely relate.
14. Island Song
While Zac Brown Band is bonafide country, their beachy influence by way of country stars before them like Jimmy Buffett is unmistakable. Over the years, they’ve released their fair share of easy-going, beachy tracks that will make you want to book a cruise to the Caribbean right away. In the case of ‘Island Song,’ they drew on earlier hits like ‘Knee Deep’ to bring forth that breezy vibe once more. The band has always loved exploring other genres and blending them with their down home sound. In the case of the reggae track ‘Island Song,’ Zac croons as he beckons you to join him for a relaxing, sun-filled vacation.
Recommended: This one deservedly appears on our list of best island songs.
13. Mango Tree (feat. Sara Bareilles)
Zac kicks off this jazzy number for the first minute and a half before guest vocalist Sara Bareilles comes in and brings a whole new dynamic to the lovey-dovey tune. A polished up swing-style track with fluttering piano and horn work, the country band broadens their range once again with ‘Mango Tree.’ Nashville songwriter Niko Moon had a hand in writing the original version, which sounded a whole lot more like a Jack Johnson tune than a Frank Sinatra release. But once Brown got to work on it, he envisioned a more “big band” sound. With the sparkling work of both Zac and Sara on the track, it’s hard to imagine the swinging recording any other way.
Recommended: More tree-related songs (including this one.)
12. Jump Right In
Another Durrette-Brown collaboration, ‘Jump Right In’ was a huge success for the band after its debut on the album Uncaged. The joyous song, celebrating diving right into all life has to offer and celebrating its simple pleasures, once again proves Brown and his fellow bandmates have the whole island music thing down. Infusing just enough of their smooth country sound to make it a ZBB classic, the boys brought in pop superstar Jason Mraz to help finish the tune. Mraz has a few Caribbean-style hits to his name as well (remember ‘I’m Yours’ from 2008?), and the second he heard what Durrette and Brown had written so far he said, “I just want to jump right in,” and the rest as they say is history.
11. Highway 20 Ride
Appearing on ZBB’s debut album, The Foundation, the group scored a slew of top hits from the record, including ‘Highway 20 Ride.’ The album did exceptionally well, so well they even tied Carrie Underwood’s record of 3 singles from a debut album, all peaking at #1 on Billboard country charts. They racked up their fourth top ten hit with this single, a somber tune Durrette wrote while making the long journey to see his child every other weekend after a painful divorce. He wanted some good to come out of the heartbreaking situation, so he wrote ‘Highway 20 Ride,’ which he refers to as a “love song” to his son.
Recommended: Our emotional list of songs about separation.
10. The Wind
The boys trade in their flip flops for cowboy boots with ‘The Wind,’ which Zac describes as “the most country song” they’ve ever recorded. A toe-tapping, fast-paced love song that evokes a varnished bluegrass sound, the band returns to their roots with snappy rhythm guitar and plenty of violin chops to keep your boots dancing in time. Appearing on their Uncaged album, it’s another solid collaboration between Durrette and Brown, who also brought in the expertise of Georgia-based songster Levi Lowrey to round out that good-time, southern sound.
Recommended: Our pick of the best wind-swept songs.
Zac had fun on the brain when he jumped into the recording studio to lay down another one of his signature island-infused tracks, ‘Castaway.’ Though ZBB’s early work is effortlessly country, as the band evolved as musicians, they embraced a more laid-back, reggae-inspired vibe, and for good reason. For Brown, it doesn’t get much better than Bob Marley, who is his favorite artist. This enjoyable, beachy number finds Zac yearning for a laid-back island life, where he can “leave the world behind,” and “say goodbye to keeping time.”
Not many country acts have as much success as Zac Brown did with his band’s debut album. From The Foundation alone, they scored four chart-toppers right away. One of those was ‘Free,’ an introspective, soul-stirring hit featuring a couple who are rich in love even though they don’t have much money. Zac is an avid traveler, and the idea of the song came to him one day while hiking in Australia. When he got to the top of the mountain, his view was breathtaking, with nothing but pristine terrain for miles. He thought in that moment it was the most free he had ever felt. Thus, the beginnings of this early Zac Brown Band smash hit were born.
7. Loving You Easy
For ‘Loving You Easy,’ Zac channeled soul giants like Stevie Wonder and iconic ’60s groups like Jackson 5. He wanted to pay tribute to the Motown legacy while also keeping the single’s feel in contemporary country times. While the electric guitar contains a classic rhythmic soul riff, string work makes sure the light-hearted, romantic number stays in line with the band’s trademark sound. Appearing on their Jekyll + Hyde album, fellow country artist Niko Moon helped pen the single, as well as many others on the record. The top 40 hit celebrates the natural beauty of all the women in the bandmates’ lives.
6. As She’s Walking Away (feat. Alan Jackson)
When Zac isn’t teaming up with coastal country legend Jimmy Buffett, he’s dueting with country icon Alan Jackson for acoustic-based number one hits like ‘As She’s Walking Away.’ The gentle number emerged from a night when Brown and Durrette visited a bar to watch a UFC fight after a show. While there, Durrette felt an immediate connection with a girl from across the room, but because her boyfriend was with her, he never walked over to introduce himself. Later that night, as he regretted not taking a chance on what could have been love (the songwriter has a hopeless romantic quality about him), he began writing the lyrics to what would become one of ZBB’s most popular singles. The band shares a producer with Alan Jackson, who was more than happy to lend his vocals to the track. After all, the song’s hallmark country essence makes it sound like Jackson could have written the tune himself.
5. Colder Weather
Written after a gut-wrenching breakup left Durrette searching for words to ease his pain, he sat down in the band’s tour bus and began writing ‘Colder Weather’ while coming to terms with his road warrior lifestyle. When the group was experiencing their first pangs of fame and the traveling responsibilities that come with it, he realized how hard it would be to maintain a serious relationship with a woman he cared for deeply. When it didn’t work out, ‘Colder Weather’ became the symbol of not only Durrette’s transformation as a working musician, but the band’s as well. It’s one of their favorite songs to perform, with members describing the power ballad number as “poetic.” In true artistic fashion, the musicians turned pain into poetry and scored another top hit when the single debuted.
Recommended: More heartfelt songs about not being able to be with someone.
“I got everything I need, and nothing that I don’t.” An uplifting tune about embracing and celebrating the simple life, Zac Brown recorded another modern day country anthem with his southern-laced ‘Homegrown.’ A staple tune used for promotional materials during college football season, it’s a single that rejoices in small town living and being thankful for down-south cultural pillars like family, good friends, and a small piece of land to raise your kids on. Co-written with Wyatt and Niko, the trio had their fans in mind while nailing down lyrics. They wanted to write something country music fans could relate to. They definitely succeeded with this feel-good crowd-pleaser.
Island life can be found anywhere with this tropical hit, it’s a state of mind that transcends location. Written after the band took a vacation to Key West, Zac starts off the song at a beachy vacay spot. But when he runs out of “dinero” he has to head home. That doesn’t stop him from embracing island time as he trades umbrella drinks for a tall cold beer and white sand shores for his hometown Georgia clay. An early hit on their highly praised The Foundation album, the country best-seller would go on to become one of the country dance club scene’s most requested songs for line dance enthusiasts – a highly coveted accolade for artists in the country music genre.
Recommended: See our list of other classic country line dance songs.
2. Knee Deep (feat. Jimmy Buffett)
When the boys from the band met Jimmy Buffett on a camping trip, they all became fast friends. Not long after, Zac and his mates found themselves headed to Key West to record their tune ‘Knee Deep’ with the trop-rock legend. Not only did the beachy location of the recording studio rub off on the track, but Buffett’s duet work on the tune gave it a radiating tropical flavor. The Parrotheads leader had already struck gold when he paired up with Alan Jackson for their barroom jaunt ‘Five O’Clock Somewhere,’ and he scored big time once again with his collaboration on ‘Knee Deep.’ A story that finds a lovable protagonist seeking a tropical “permanent vacation” after a string of bad luck, the release on ZBB’s second album, You Get What You Give, proved they had staying power after the near-unprecedented success of their breakout debut album.
Recommended: Time for a beer? Listen to Five O’Clock Somewhere on our list of good country karaoke songs.
1. Chicken Fried
The band has been making music and releasing hits for years, but their tour de force remains their first single, ‘Chicken Fried,’ an inspiring tribute to Western culture and the American way of life. Brown and Durrette wrote it while they were still bartending and playing music in small Georgia clubs, dreaming of being heavy hitters in the country genre one day. In 2008 they got their wish when the band signed on to Atlantic Records’ brand new country department. When they decided to release the catchy tune as the band’s debut single, no one could have anticipated the success they’d have right off the bat with it. The same year they signed to Atlantic, they also released ‘Chicken Fried’ to radio stations, hoping for modest success to bring a little much-needed cash flow their way. They got their wish and then some. The single wasted no time rocketing up country charts to number one, a feat that is rare to accomplish and hadn’t happened in several years since Heartland’s hit, ‘I Loved Her First.’
Recommended: More clucking songs about chickens.