Yesterday’s Songs: August 20, 1997

I’m happy to resurrect an old Country Universe feature today, as I look back at the top twenty singles on this date in 1997.

What this batch of songs symbolizes, to me, is a changing of the guard in country music. Certain names here attained their first – or rather, breakout – hits, and other names benefited from a solid sense of consistency that makes this batch an overall easy one to like, even if it’s mostly not emblematic of the ‘90s at its absolute best; which extends to some of the artists featured here, too. As for why I picked this particular year, I wanted to pick my birth year as a way to reignite this feature.

Here’s a look back at the top twenty country singles from 23 years ago today.

Top Twenty Country Singles

August 20, 1997

#20

“I Left Something Turned On At Home”

Trace Adkins

Peak: #2

This was back when Trace Adkins’ humor was subtle and actually somewhat clever. It’s goofy, but perhaps what best elevates its appeal is how Adkins downplays the humor to keep it grounded and let the hook hit with a little more impact … upon first listen, that is. It’s cute enough to warrant repeat ones, though. Grade: B

#19

“It’s All The Same To Me”

Billy Ray Cyrus

Peak: #19

Billy Ray Cyrus was always more than “Achy Breaky Heart” anyway, but the cool thing about his grit and confidence was that it never came with the usual smugness typically associated with attitudes in songs like these. Sure, this particular one is a bit basic in its framing, but Cyrus is making it clear that this relationship is truly dead and that he’s moving on to greener pastures … or not; it’s all the same to him so long as he gets gone. I love the moodier groove and melody to this. Grade: B+

#18

“You And You Alone”

Vince Gill

Peak: #8

I’ve always loved how this makes listeners think it’s a run-of-the-mill tale of devotion, only to eventually rip away the veneer and subtly reveal that Vince Gill isn’t winning over anyone’s love. It’s all about empty promises and “what could have beens,” where the love didn’t work out for whatever reason. Gill would have elevated this no matter what, but when you realize that passion in his performance is born out of weariness and ache, it hits so much more effectively. One of his best and most underrated. Grade: A

#17

“It’s Your Love”

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

Peak: #1

Tim McGraw’s urgency and passion elevates an incredibly basic lyric, but both him and Faith Hill would later outdo this with “I Need You” anyway. Why? Because Hill does more than just provide backing vocals. This is too one-sided, though it is decent. Grade: B-

#16

“Go Away”

Lorrie Morgan

Peak: #3

A smart little ditty. The swaying groove fits the scattershot content well. Not a world-beater by any means, but it’s a lot of fun. Grade: B

#15

“Day In, Day Out”

David Kersh

Peak: #11

It’s catchy, but it’s the first of many examples here of an overcooked love song with a weak vocal. There’s better fluff out there than this. Grade: C+

#14

“The Fool”

Lee Ann Womack

Peak: #2

One of Lee Ann Womack’s finest singles, and it’s only making me more excited to finish my eventual “Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists” feature on her. What I’ve always loved about her performance here is that it’s painted with an obvious ache, but never any bitterness toward her significant other or his ex. If anything, she’s mad at herself for holding on to something that just isn’t going to work, and it’s all about finding the strength to accept that; move on from being just that “fool,” if you will. Purely devastating. Grade: A

#13

“What The Heart Wants”

Collin Raye

Peak: #2

What I said about the David Kersh single applies here, only this one goes out of its way to craft some fairytale love story that’s completely overblown. And Collin Raye really botches the vocal here, especially when the chorus tests his upper range and proves he’s not up to the task. Grade: C

#12

“The Shake”

Neal McCoy

Peak: #5

Between his infamous NFL tune and this song, Neal McCoy just has a thing for asses. But “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On” this most certainly is not, and it’s even creepier hearing how insistent McCoy is that some woman – any woman – just come “shake it” for him. It’d probably be unfair to say this helped to birth more offensive entries in “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” but it didn’t help. Grade: D

#11

“How Your Love Makes Me Feel”

Diamond Rio

Peak: #1

Yes, this is as cheesy as previous entries on this list, but it’s elevated by lead singer Marty Roe’s pure exuberance. He, the songwriters and the rest of the band knows this is corny, so they lean into it with campy comparisons and a punchy arrangement. This character sounds like he’s in love, and that counts for something. Grade: B-

#10

“There Goes”

Alan Jackson

Peak: #1

You can always count on Alan Jackson to pepper his heartache with a well-worn rollick, humor and clever wordplay, with some fun piano and pedal steel accents to boot. This isn’t even among my favorites in his discography – if only because it’s the sort of fun, little ditty he’s performed with better execution on other similar tracks – but it’s still one of the better entries in this batch. Grade: B+

#9

“How Was I To Know”

John Michael Montgomery

Peak: #2

Yuck. In this scenario, this character prays he’ll find the love of his life and then … wouldn’t you know it, he does! Women don’t just happen to you, dude, and the bland vocal here isn’t making this one any better. Grade: D+

#8

“Dancin’, Shaggin’ On The Bouldevard”

Alabama

Peak: #3

I always want to dislike this one more than I actually do. It’s slick – nothing new for Alabama – it drags on way too long, and I’ve never enjoyed the falsetto parts. But it’s also infectious, enough to succeed in its role as a jovial, shimmering tune made for summer. Hell if I know what it’s about, though, or if anyone who wrote this knows what else “shagging” could mean. Grade: B-

#7

“Come Cryin’ To Me”

Lonestar

Peak: #1

It’s not quite as infuriating as Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” but it is operating from the perspective of “I love my little idiot,” where our lead character assumes the big, bad, real world is going to be too much for his significant other to handle. I suppose, to be fair, it could be about a child as they leave home for the first time, but that’d only make this generic instead of redeemable. I’ll just settle for something in the middle and go with “meh.” Grade: C-

#6

“Carrying Your Love With Me”

George Strait

Peak: #1

Our recent Sirius showcases would have you believe I’m not much of a George Strait fan, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that an artist with a discography as vast as his has its share of misses or, in this particular case, hits that just don’t rank anywhere near his best. It’s serviceable and more restrained than other thematically similar songs featured here, but that’s about it. Grade: B-

#5

“We Were In Love”

Toby Keith

Peak: #2

It’s easy to forget Toby Keith’s ‘90s material had a romantic side to it. Before he was lost to jingoism and beer in the 2000s, Keith managed to elevate a heartbreaker like this with a real sense of dramatic urgency, even if he sounds a bit whiny, too. Grade: B-

#4

“How A Cowgirl Says Goodbye”

Tracy Lawrence

Peak: #4

There’s a fantastic parallel to the breezy, Spanish-flavored acoustics and bouncy fiddle and Tracy Lawrence’s heartache on display. He sings this knowing he’s never going to find a woman who didn’t love him as much as he loved her, but he’s going to try and find her anyway, if only for simple closure. It’s one of his best. Grade: A-

#3

“Drink, Swear, Steal & Lie”

Michael Peterson

Peak: #3

This starts as a cool story song, only to unfold into a bland love song. To be fair, the concept is clever, but it doesn’t always work. I mean, “I want to drink from your lovin’ cup”? Really? It’s corny and only carries the tiniest bit of charm. Grade: C+

#2

“How Do I Live”

Trisha Yearwood

Peak: #2

To repeat what I said earlier about “It’s Your Love,” a simple lyric is elevated by a powerful performance – it is Trisha Yearwood, after all. Songs from movie soundtracks aren’t necessarily made to be song of the year contenders – even if this was also a pop hit for LeAnn Rimes – and this isn’t anywhere near my favorite Yearwood song. But that she still sounds so invested is a testament to her vocal skill set, powerful not only in the direct sense of the word, but also from an emotional standpoint. Grade: B

#1

“She’s Got It All”

Kenny Chesney

Peak: #1

Kenny Chesney’s first No. 1 single, and I’m struggling to understand why. He didn’t really find his voice here, nasal as it is anyway. But while “she’s got it all,” this song doesn’t offer much I haven’t heard better, including from this batch of songs. Grade: C

5 Comments

  1. Re. “How Do I Live?”: I agree that this isn’t exactly Trisha’s best song; and in any case, CON-AIR isn’t all that great a film, even for a rather routine 1990’s action flick. Just for some more arcane chart statistics, however, “How Do I Live?” is still, to date, her biggest pop crossover hit, peaking at a very respectable #23 on the Hot 100. And even if one thinks of it as a bid on her part to make a crossover into the pop music world via what is basically an Adult Contemporary ballad, many of which are quite cheesy, a hit is a hit is a hit. She knew that she could do better, as she would do later on 2000’s Real Live Woman and 2019’s Every Girl, where she showed that her musical heart was closer to that of her spiritual role model Linda Ronstadt.

  2. In 1997 I was still listening to over-the-air country radio, something I would continue to do until about 2005, when acts like Rascal Flatts and Jason Aldean started dominating country radio. Truth is, comparing this group of songs with the dreck that has been on country radio for the last 15 years, all of these songs are worth at least a “B” except It’s Your Love” which was dreck back then and is still dreck.

    Not grading on a curve, I think Kephart has these assessed about right

  3. Oh, I’m loving this feature! Most of these songs take me back to when my parents and I took a trip to Maine in August 1997, and they bring back a lot of great memories. :)

    The Billy Ray Cyrus song is one of my all time favorites from him, and I specifically remember hearing as my step dad and I were sitting in the driveway in our car, just before the Maine trip, waiting for mom. It’s too bad most people still only know him for Achy Breaky and his mullet, when he also had songs like this. Definitely one of his most underrated.

    “We Were In Love” is one of my most favorite singles Toby has ever released. It has a beautiful melody that sticks with you forever after hearing it, and I love the nostalgic lyrics. I also think this is one of his best vocal performances and one the most emotional ones I’ve heard from him. It’s hard to believe this is the same artist who would release an endless barrage of mindless beer songs in the next decade.

    “There Goes” by AJ might be my favorite here, though it’s hard to pick just one. Love the straight ahead traditional arrangement, and once again, a beautiful catchy melody. I also think it has just the right amount of humor, and personally, I prefer it to many of his novelty tunes. This is one that definitely takes me back to that Maine trip, as well.

    Totally agree with you on the Vince Gill song. One of his most underrated songs, for sure. Once again, (anyone notice a trend here?) this song has such a beautiful melody that takes me right back to the time it was always on the radio, and I love Vince’s vocals on this one.

    Lee Ann Womack’s “The Fool” might be the one to tie with AJ as my favorite on this list. I love how the arrangement kind of has the right balance between traditional and contemporary. The trusty fiddle and steel are there, but I also love the strings in the background and Lee Ann’s smooth vocals. And of course, I just love the lyrics. You just don’t hardly hear songs like it on the radio anymore. Looking forward to that feature on Lee Ann, btw!

    Always really enjoyed Lorrie Morgan’s “Go Away.” Definitely one of the most fun songs she’s released, along with an equally fun video. It’s too bad that she didn’t have many more hits after this one.

    Have to disagree on the Lonestar song. It’s one of my favorites from their pre “Amazed” days. Love the catchy melody to this one. It’s one of the first ones that comes to mind when I think of Summer of 1997.

    “Day In, Day Out,” “She’s Got It All,” and “Drink, Swear, Steal & Lie” are definitely the kind of fluff songs I can handle. Not lyrical masterpieces by any means, but they never fail to put a smile on my face when I hear them. Same goes for Diamond Rio’s “How Your Love Makes Me Feel.”

    The Yearwood and Strait songs are also not my top favorites in each artist’s discography, but they’re still solid and enjoyable. I’d probably give the edge to “How Do I Live” though, as I love Trisha’s vocal performance on it. Also love the steel solo on the radio version. And yes, it also reminds me of Con Air.

    Also have to disagree on the JMM song. Yes, he probably released one too many love ballads in his career, but this is one that always stood out to me. Love the melody in this one, along with the guitar work. I also like how he started showing off his falsetto on this one.

    “The Shake” is definitely my least favorite here, but I’ll gladly take it over the other “shake” song by Luke and most of the other stinkers that have been on the radio for the last decade or so. Let’s just say, if the worst songs from the 90’s were as bad as country radio gets today, I’d be a happy camper.

    Other songs I remember really enjoying around this time that weren’t on this list are “Whatever Comes First” by Sons of the Desert, “Down Came A Blackbird” by Lila McCann and “Please” by the Kinleys.

    Anyway, thanks for this feature! This was a great trip down memory lane. :)

  4. Thanks, Jamie! I remember when Kevin revived it a few years ago (2016, I want to say?). Little did I know it started around 13 years ago!

    Keith’s ’90s material is really solid. Truthfully, he had some solid stuff in the 2000s, but most of it was relegated to being album cuts and/or lesser known hits.

    Definitely hear you on the melody thing too – my biggest gripe with a lot of mainstream country songs is that they favor clunky, loud percussion over a strong melody. There’s also a lot of indie-country that could benefit from focusing on melody.

    Thanks for reading, too! And thanks to Kevin for letting me revive this feature!

  5. August 20, 1997 was the day I moved into college. This was a great trip down memory lane! My favorite tracks here are the ones from Diamond Rio, Trisha Yearwood, Lorrie Morgan, and Lee Ann Womack. I like the McGraw/Hill duet, but he had better singles coming from that album, which was the one that made me a big fan of McGraw.

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