Morgan Wallen remembers the first few times he heard Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise" on the radio. He'd just graduated from high school and was learning guitar chords from a chart he bought at Walmart. He hadn't yet considered auditioning for The Voice on NBC — actually, he was still very much trying to find his way in life after a dream of playing college baseball was crushed by Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm.

Five years later, the "Up Down" singer is friends with Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard and they came asking him if they could be on his debut album. Now they've toured together, written hit songs together ("You Make It Easy" by Jason Aldean) and share a record producer and publisher.

"They are definitely influences, but they're my friends first and foremost," Wallen says when asked to reflect on a friendship he admits was hard to fathom in 2012. "They could easily coast at this point, but they don't. I see how focused they are and how much more they want to accomplish and that's inspiring."

Musically, the award-winning duo and the country newcomer appeal to a similar group of fans — both artists' songs mix rock, hip-hop, country and pop. But a close listen to Wallen's If I Know Me album finds a singer who is anything but a carbon copy. At no point did he even worry about perception or comparisons, frankly.

"I just do what I do," he says. "If I love it, then I'm hoping my fans will as well."

Michael Hardy, Brad Clawson and CJ Solar wrote "Up Down," and it landed in Wallen's lap when his manager heard it at a songwriting festival in Key West, Fla. The 24-year-old knew it was special immediately — he insists it was the one song above every other on his debut album that he had to have. From there the FGL guys asked to record some lyrics for the would-be hit, giving it some gravitas, if nothing else. Currently it's a Top 10 at country radio and a sure favorite at summer tailgates this year.

Listen for it turned up loud when Wallen tours with a new friend named Luke Bryan in 2018. The What Makes You Country 2018 Tour runs through the summer.

Morgan Wallen's Jason Isbell Cover Is Soul-Stirring

Maybe "Up Down" Should Be Added to This List? 

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