The Best Singles of 1994, Part 1: #40-#31

Our Best of 1994 Singles List kicks off today with the bottom quarter of our top forty. The list was compiled by weighing each individual writer’s choices, with preference given to songs that appeared on multiple lists. Each writer’s individual ranking is listed under the songwriter credits.

Bonus retro fun: Check out those cassette singles covers!

Alan Jackson Livin' On Love

#40
“Livin’ on Love”
Alan Jackson

Written by Alan Jackson

SG #14 | JK #23 | BF #37

Country music has, historically, given voice to those disenfranchised by poverty, validating and finding the value in the struggles of economic hardship. What elevates the appropriately bare-bones narrative of “Livin’ on Love” is the warmth and real sense of empathy in Jackson’s performance. – Jonathan Keefe

Patty Loveless I Try to Think About Elvis

#39
“I Try to Think About Elvis”
Patty Loveless

Written by Gary Burr

KJC #17 | BF #21 | SG #26

Loveless, as seen elsewhere in this list, is a world-class singer of heartbreaking ballads and tear-jerkers. And then there’s this number. As can be expected, Loveless knocks it out of the park, too, belting out rapid-fire lyrics that reference everything from Oprah to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Sandwiched between a couple of slow and dramatic singles, “Elvis” is a good reminder that Fun & Flirty Patty is still a vocal force to be reckoned with. – Sam Gazdziak

The Tractors Baby Likes to Rock it

#38
“Baby Likes to Rock it”
The Tractors

Written by Walt Richmond and Steve Ripley

SG #10 | JK #13

This was an odd case. A motley-looking group of veteran Oklahoma studio musicians made their way to Nashville to record an album, and somehow, “Baby Likes to Rock It (Like a Boogie-Woogie Choo Choo Train)” nearly cracked the Top 10. With slightly nonsensical lyrics and occasional scatting by singer Steve Ripley, this was one of the most unconventional songs of the year.

Much like the Kentucky Headhunters, The Tractors were maybe a little too weird to have lasting success, but at least they reclaimed the word “Boogie” from that awful Brooks & Dunn line dance song from a couple years prior. – SG

Wynonna Tell Me Why

#37
“Girls with Guitars”
Wynonna

Written by Mary Chapin Carpenter

KJC #15 | BF #20 | SG #31

The smart, witty songwriting has Mary Chapin Carpenter’s fingerprints all over it, but Carpenter was right to pass this one on. Some songs simply need to be delivered through a Wynonna growl, and this is one of them. – Ben Foster

Aaron Tippin Call of the Wild

#36
“Whole Lotta Love on the Line”
Aaron Tippin

Written by Donny Kees and Aaron Tippin

KJC #6 | LW #31

With a looping guitar riff that instantly ingrains itself in your mind, even a mediocre singer could’ve made a memorable number out of it. But get a top-notch singer like Aaron Tippin wailing about a love that’s still worth saving, and you’re left with the perfect country hook being in service to a classic country song. – Kevin John Coyne

Pam Tillis When You Walk in the Room

#35
“When You Walk in the Room”
Pam Tillis

Written by Jackie DeShannon

KJC #11 | BF #19 | JK #35

Speaking of perfect hooks, “When You Walk in the Room” had one for the ages, easily the most distinctive element of the song when it was previously recorded by the Searchers, Karla Bonoff, and its songwriter, Jackie DeShannon. But in a moment of inspired confidence and genre integrity that is inconceivable to imagine today, Pam Tillis stripped the hook of some of its signature notes so it would be more compatible with the steel guitar on her countrified version of the classic pop hit. No worries, as having Tillis as the vocalist gave the song more punch than in any of its previous incarnations, truncated hook and all. – KJC

Dolly-Parton-To-Daddy

#34
“To Daddy”
Dolly Parton

Written by Dolly Parton

BF #6 | LW #22

A stark account of a marriage gradually eroding over time – he fails to show appreciation and affection; she fails to communicate – told from the point of view of the couple’s child. Emmylou Harris’ 1975 hit version remains its definitive form, but it’s no surprise that songwriter Dolly Parton brings to it a warmth and humanity all her own.- BF

Lari White Wishes

#33
“Now I Know”
Lari White

Written by Don Cook, Cindy Greene, and Chick Rains

KJC #14 | JK #17 | BF #27

Her formidable talent should have made her one of country’s brightest stars, and Lari White’s biggest hit, “Now I Know,” showcases all of her strengths: A vocal performance that’s both soulful and technically flawless, an ear for pop structures that saved ample room for country conventions, and a deeply feminist point-of-view that, twenty years later, Nashville still hasn’t caught up to. – JK

Toby Keith Who's That Man

#32
“Who’s That Man”
Toby Keith

Written by Toby Keith

LW #10 | KJC #23 | BF #40

It started out as a songwriting exercise built around the old joke about playing a country song backwards (“You get your dog back, your wife back, your house back…”) But Toby Keith had the good sense to follow his instincts when he sensed a deeper song was waiting underneath the surface, and the end result is a powerful, melancholy inner monologue of a divorced man who has lost everything but the love he still feels for the family that has already replaced him. – KJC

George Strait Lead On

#31
“You Can’t Make a Heart Love Somebody”
George Strait

Written by Steve Clark and Johnny MacRae

BF #16 | KJC #18 | LW #19

An inspired twist on an age-old adage, “You Can’t Make a Heart Love Somebody” expresses the difficult truth that a person can’t fall in love with just anyone. It’s made all the more moving by the fact that the woman doesn’t come across as cold or callous – you can sense that the realization is every bit as painful for her as it is for the man she’s turning down. – BF

The Complete List:

7 Comments

  1. Oh yes dear Lord, Lari White. Side note: a while back, you guys had a feature on four hundred best singles of the nineties which did feature “Now I Know”, but inexplicably ommitted “Lead Me Not.” What gives?
    “Livin’ on Love”: funny, I’d never connect the song with economic hardship. Except for the “two young people without a thing”, I don’t see any justification for this interpretation, either – for me, it’s a version of the old “all you need is love”.

  2. Good set of songs – how did the genre get from there to today’s quagmire of bro-country, faux-country and c-rap ? Even the female artists were much better than the current crop.

    Out of this set I really liked “Baby Likes To Rock It “, in fact it is in my top five favorites from this year.

  3. I’ve always loved Patty’s “I Try to Think About Elvis”. It manages to be quirky and fun at the same time without crossing over into the now-deemed Brad Paisley category of tired and obnoxious humor.

  4. “without crossing over into the now-deemed Brad Paisley category of tired and obnoxious humor.”

    Not to get off topic but – Motown Mike, I’ve been trying to figure out why I no longer enjoy Brad Paisley but couldn’t put my finger on it. You just perfectly described my problem with him. Thank you.

  5. The Aaron Tippin song and the Alan Jackson are modern day songs for the ages..both underrated here and by country music in general. Never was a fan of the Tractors. The Lari White song was ammazing, but not her best (“Thats my Baby”

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