In 2017, Michael Ray was coming off of two Top 5 radio singles in three tries while Morgan Wallen was still very much looking to taste commercial country music success. It's not quite fair to say they fought each other for a pivotal summertime hit, but there was definitely a fight.

"For some reason, some powers that be didn't hear what me and 12 million other people heard," Ray shares. "Live and learn."

The song was "Up Down," a quadruple-Platinum No. 1 hit for Wallen and the first of four straight No. 1 singles. Ray would kick off the Amos era with a Top 20 single called "Get to You," and since then he's notched two more Top 5 songs. During a conversation with Taste of Country about his new Dive Bars and Broken Hearts EP, he expressed more than a little regret for getting talked out of the Hardy co-write.

"I fought like hell for 'Up Down,'" he says.

In a way, things came full circle for Ray on the new EP, as he closes with a Wallen co-write called "Workin' on It" that he says Jesse Frasure sent him while he was touring.

"I ain't the man I wanna be yet / But I'm workin' on it," he sings to close the chorus.

Call it his 'theme song' if you'd like. Conversations about Ray's new music and place in life have focused on a week-long therapy program he entered to distance himself from what he calls "generation trauma." After his split from Carly Pearce in 2020, he began to see the anger he witnessed from adults around him growing up in a broken home manifesting in his own life.

"I'm a trailer kid from central Florida," Ray says. "When people start telling lies ... the redneck side of me goes, 'I wanna hit everybody.' Obviously, that's not the right thing to do."

"Spirts and Demons (feat. Meghan Patrick)" and a play on words called "Don't Give a Truck" are two more highlights from Dive Bars & Broken Hearts, a project that leads with vulnerability for perhaps the first time in his life.

"It's kind of that thing, if you don't prioritize your health now, you'll have to prioritize your medication later," Ray says, laughing.

20 Hit Songs That Another Country Artist Passed On

Some of country's biggest hits almost sounded a lot different, all because some artists passed on tracks that wound up being big singles for others.

Dierks Bentley passed on "Whiskey Lullaby," and the song sat for three years before Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss cut it as a duet. Jason Aldean's "Big Green Tractor" was almost a hit for another well-known male, and Frankie Ballard passed on a song that became a big hit for Blake Shelton. Ballard felt it just "wasn't him."

Here are 20 songs another artist passed on first. In most cases they regret it.

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