The list comes to a close with ten classic records from some of the era’s most commercially and critically successful stars.
It’s easy to be cynical about country radio these days, but unlike most of the songs on the lists we compile now, 1993’s best singles got a lot of airplay. All but one of our top ten entries reached the top five of the singles chart. If we could get a success rate today that was anywhere near that, it might be safe to turn on the radio again!
Enjoy the end to this list, and us writers will enjoy that rare downtime that comes between finishing the publication of one of these lists and starting another one!
“Nothin’ But the Wheel”
Written by John Scott Sherrill
#3 – BF | #7 – KJC | #24 – SG
Loveless’ brokenhearted narrator takes to the midnight highway with only the mournful sounds of fiddle and steel for company, sadly aware that she is not being missed at home. In a catalog rich with beautiful ballads, this is one of the finest. – Ben Foster
Written by Toby Keith
#3 – SG | #6 – LW | #12 – JK
Toby Keith’s first single was a number one success. As if the addictive riff throughout the singable song wasn’t enough to make the song good, it also is devoid of the swagger and bravado with which Keith would eventually become closely associated, even though it was about wishing that he had been a cowboy. Keith performs the song with the same vulnerability and humility of the man with the “dream in [his] eye and a prayer in [his] heart” that he sings about. – Leeann Ward
Written by Alan Jackson and Jim McBride
#2 – SG | #19 – BF | #26 – KJC | #31 – LW
“Chattahoochee” is the perfect meeting of an artist and a song and a year. Maybe today, jaded country music fans would groan if someone tried to sing, “It gets hotter than a hoochie coochie.” In 1993, though, it was the right time, and the right song, and Alan Jackson was the perfect person to sing it. The music video of Jackson water-skiing in the Chattahoochee was the bow that tied it together in a perfect package.
While Jackson can sing a weeper with the best of them, “Chatahoochee” was pure, innocent fun. Even when the subject turns to teenage hormones (“We fogged up the windows in my old Chevy”), Jackson deftly turns away from anything heavy (“So we settled for a burger and a grape snow cone.”) Jackson has always been a reliable go-to guy for breezy summer songs, (see also “Summertime Blues” and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,”) but “Chattahoochee” is still the most fun out of them all. – Sam Gazdziak
“Ain’t That Lonely Yet”
Written by James House and Kostas
#2 – KJC | #16 – SG | #19 – JK, LW
So deliciously, passive-aggressively bitter, with those sour emotions layered under a surface of weariness and resignation. This was the first of three consecutive #2 hits, all of them as hooky as they were melancholy. Dwight Yoakam was never better at commercializing his artistry than he was in 1993, and radio was all the better because of it. – Kevin John Coyne
“Let That Pony Run”
Written by Gretchen Peters
#2 – LW | #6 – JK | #12 – KJC | #24 – BF
“Let That Pony Run” was 1993’s most gorgeous song thanks to both Pam Tillis’ beautiful performance and the song’s pretty melody. Beyond the aesthetics, however, it also runs deep with sadness and eventually triumph. We find ourselves rooting for Mary, who bounces back after her husband admits to infidelities. The song does not portray any bitterness from Mary, just hopefulness for her own resilience. – LW
“Every Little Thing”
Written by Al Anderson and Carlene Carter
#4 – JK | #5 – BF | #6 – SG | #17 – KJC
A shining example of how country music can truly evolve, “Every Little Thing” combines Carlene Carter’s affinities for vintage pop and 80s new-wave with her deep understanding of the conventions of country music. The result is a single that sounds as fresh today as it did more than two decades ago, and one that still sounds like a more progressive take on country than any of the soundalike bro-country or ETM (y’know, Electronic Tailgate Music) singles that have clogged radio playlists over the past several years.
Carter’s ballistics-grade voice and her cheeky wit make for a distinctive single that simply couldn’t have been the work of any other artist. Over the course of “Every Little Thing,” Carter sounds at turns put-out, hard-up, and maybe just a little bit off-her-rocker, but she never for a second sounds like she isn’t having an absolute blast. That sense of pure fun is ingratiating and infectious, and it makes “Every Little Thing” one of the 90s very best country singles. – JK
Written by Matraca Berg, Suzy Bogguss, and Gary Harrison
#2 – BF | #3 – LW | #8 – JK | #16 – KJC
A record that illustrates what is lost, not just through country radio’s gender bias, but also through it’s obsession with youth. This Matraca Berg co-write imbues dry wit and a hint of wistfulness into its portrayal of a settled wife and mother who compares her youthful dreams and fantasies with the way her life has actually turned out, cynically asking the titular fairy tale princess, “Does the shoe fit you now?”
While today’s country radio fills its few female slots with the vapidity of “God Made Girls” and “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Hey Cinderella” shows just how much more interesting it can be to hear from a woman who’s lived a bit. – BF
#5 – LW | #6 – BF | #7 – SG | #10 – KJC | #33 – JK
Radney Foster sings about the futility of endlessly fighting. He declares that nobody wins and suggests a truce instead. With its catchy melody, the simple truths found within the song serve as a vital reminder that there’s no point in lighting the same old fuse. Foster sings the song with passion and resolve, which made the sentiment something anyone could relate to and adopt. – LW
“The Song Remembers When”
Written by Hugh Prestwood
#1 – BF, KJC | #3 – JK | #18 – LW
Perhaps the most brilliant achievement of “The Song Remembers When” is that it is much a song that evokes nostalgia as it is a song about a song evoking nostalgia. Hugh Prestwood’s lyrics are pure poetry, and Yearwood’s performance is typically without flaw, but the undersung hero is producer Garth Fundis. When he does a callback of the opening acoustic guitar lick right after the line, “When I heard that old familiar music start,” “The Song Remembers When” suddenly becomes the song that’s being sung about.
It may not be Yearwood’s signature hit, but it captures the essence of who she is as an artist better than anything she’s ever recorded. – KJC
“He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Written by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Don Schlitz
#1 – JK, LW, SG | #3 – KJC | #4 – BF
The song title was taken from a 1970s Geritol commercial with the tagline, “My wife, I think I’ll keep her.” Carpenter took all the sexist overtones from the source and turned them onto their head, making it a powerful statement about a woman discovering her independence and her inner strength. It’s not necessarily a happy ending – she ends up in the typing pool at minimum wage, and not living some tacked-on happy ending with her dream husband and a mansion.
But reality is seldom perfect, and this song was released in a time when three-dimensional, well-rounded characters could exist in country music. It’s not like we need a further indictment about the state of contemporary country music, but “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” packed enough drama and character development to become a two-hour movie. Most songs today can barely sustain a story through a three-minute music video. – SG