Remember when you first heard the Zac Brown Band’s smash debut single “Chicken Fried” on the radio back in 2008? That foot-stomping ode to the simple pleasures of the South signaled the arrival of a fresh new country-rock band with an eclectic sound.
Little did we know what a wild ride it would be over the next decade. Now as we step into 2024, the storied octet from Atlanta looks back on their meteoric career with Zac Brown Band: Greatest Hits Compilation, their first retrospective collection ever.
Spanning pivotal songs from the band’s first five studio albums, these 14 tracks trace Zac Brown Band’s evolution from scrappy upstarts to bonafide superstars who can hold their own with legends.
When Zac Brown set out to launch his band in 2002 after dropping out of college, it’s unlikely he envisioned they’d go on to notch 8 number one singles and 3 number one albums. But that’s exactly what happened thanks to infectious songs that blend southern rock, folk, pop and even EDM.
Their debut album The Foundation laid the groundwork for success, while 2010’s triple-platinum You Get What You Give showed increased depth. And 2012’s Grammy-winning Uncaged revealed a versatile group able to stretch their musical muscles.
Now as the 7-piece prepares for another album cycle in 2015, let’s revisit some signature Zac Brown Band moments and see how “Zac Brown Band: Greatest Hits Compilation” encapsulates their one-of-a-kind career.
Rising Stars With Southern Twang
Zac Brown had been paying dues around Atlanta for years, self-releasing 3 independent albums with his band before catching their big break. After hearing “Chicken Fried” in 2005, the group Lost Trailers asked to record Brown’s song.
But a licensing dispute ensued when Lost Trailers released it to radio early in 2006 without permission. The song was yanked from the airwaves per Brown’s legal request, but the wheels were in motion. Zac knew this foot-stompin’ toast to simple southern pleasures had potential.
In 2008 Zac Brown Band officially dropped “Chicken Fried” as the lead single off their major label debut album on Atlantic Records called The Foundation. It quickly shot up the Billboard country chart, selling over 2 million downloads en route to double-platinum status.
More importantly, it established Zac Brown Band’s unique identity blending southern rock with bluegrass and country elements. Banjo picking fused with crunchy electric guitar as Zac’s scruffy drawl celebrated cold beer on Friday nights and homemade wine.
“Chicken Fried” topping charts for multiple weeks opened doors for the namesake frontman Brown along with Coy Bowles, Chris Fryar, Clay Cook, John Driskell Hopkins, Jimmy De Martini, and Wyatt Durrette.
The song also graced rock radio waves thanks to its universal messaging around savoring the little things. Ultimately “Chicken Fried” scored Zac Brown Band their first Grammy nomination for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 2009. Little did we know that many more accolades were on the horizon.
Hitting Their Stride
On the heels of their breakout debut album The Foundation going platinum, Zac Brown Band unleashed “Whatever It Is” as the lead single for their 2010 follow-up You Get What You Give. This top 5 country hit showed their sweeter romantic side with a wedding song-worthy dedication to Brown’s lover.
He confesses he doesn’t have fancy poetic words to describe their bond, but says “she’s got whatever it is.” With gorgeously minimal production spotlighting acoustic guitar and organ, it gave Zac a chance to showcase expanding vocals.
The album You Get What You Give proved to be the group’s commercial peak, and hit triple platinum status. That success was fueled by an impressive string of hit singles that dominated both country and rock radio.
The week their Jimmy Buffett collaboration “Knee Deep” topped the charts was also the same week as the record-breaking release of Taylor Swift’s Speak Now. Proving their own industry clout, Zac Brown Band even beat out Taylor’s “Back to December” for that #1 spot in August 2011.
Another summertime anthem “Keep Me in Mind” peaked at #1 a few months later, bringing the band’s total to 6 chart-topping singles at that point. Its carefree vibe reminisced on good times with a flame and left the door open for reconnection down the road.
Immensely popular on tailgates and parties, the song fits nicely alongside previous feel-good singalongs like “Toes”. Zac Brown Band had clearly found their niche blending genres with southern hospitality.
Redefining Country Music
2012 saw Zac Brown Band make an even bigger splash into uncharted territory with their adventurous album Uncaged. The buzzy lead single “The Wind” incorporated a reggae influence thanks to Toots Hibbert of Toots and The Maytals guesting.
Landing at #1 for multiple weeks showed fans were embracing the group’s continuous musical evolution. However, it was the mysterious album cut “Goodbye in Her Eyes” that finally won Zac Brown Band the prestigious Grammy award that had been eluding them.
Penned by Sonia Leigh, Clay Cook and Zac himself, “Goodbye in Her Eyes” cut deep with its emotive violin and sentimental lyrics about the painful permanence of breakups. When Zac unleashes tear-jerking vocals pleading “don’t say goodbye in her eyes”, it’s truly spine-tingling.
The band took home the 2013 Grammy for Best Country Group/Duo Performance – their first win after 4 nominations. The praise kept pouring in, with Rolling Stone naming Uncaged the 7th best country album of 2012.
Clearly, Zac Brown Band’s daringness paid off – further evidenced by Uncaged later going platinum too. Fans were delighted with their genre-bending songs that incorporated pop and even EDM production styles.
Collaborating with artists like Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters showed Brown wasn’t afraid to think outside the box and take risks. Country music stations also took note, increasingly putting the band’s hits in regular rotation rather than just relegating them to secondary formats. In the process, Zac Brown Band helped redefine and expand country music itself.
Join The Band
In retrospect “Zac Brown Band: Greatest Hits Compilation” provides a fitting retrospective of the genre-bending group’s most pivotal career moments so far. As the 7-piece prepares for their next chapter kicking off in 2015, they can proudly look back at milestones like 6 platinum singles, 3 platinum albums, multiple Grammy nominations and that breakthrough first win.
The latest release The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 EP produced by Dave Grohl himself suggests more curveballs are in store. But the band’s foundation will always be well-crafted southern storytelling and multi-instrumental chops that set festivals ablaze.
Zac Brown Band’s songs have truly provided a unifying soundtrack for so many lively celebrations, rowdy tailgates, summer vacations, backyard barbeques and more.
As you listen to the 14 classics on this greatest hits compilation, it’s no wonder diehard fans lovingly refer to themselves as the Zamily.
Next time you hear larger-than-life anthems like “Toes” or “Knee Deep” or poignant ballads in the vein of “Colder Weather”, just follow Zac Brown’s invitation to forget your worries and join ’em for a good time. The Zamily Bandwagon has plenty of open seats waiting just for you!