In a male dominated industry, it’s often difficult to hear distinction in the plethora of male voices on mainstream country radio. We do not have such a challenge with Randy Houser, however. Instead, Houser has a voice that rivals the soul and strength of Brooks and Dunn’s Ronnie Dunn. Regrettably, his debut album mainly suffered from production that detracted from his distinctive voice by placing heavy emphasis on the trending bombast of the times.
It’s pretty rare that the CMA nominations garner much attention outside of the country music press, but the always excellent Whitney Pastorek at Entertainment Weekly has a lengthy article trying to rationalize the exclusion of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift from the Entertainer category.
It’s amazing that in a year where a record was set for the most nominations by a female artist, there can still be a valid accusation of gender bias among the nominations. Women have been poorly represented in the Entertainer category for pretty much the entire history of the CMA Awards. Even when you include duos or groups with female members, there have never been more than two out of five nominees that are women.
And so we come to the end. The top of our list includes a wide range of artists singing a wide range of country music styles. Thematically, these entries are diverse, but what they all have in common is what has always made for great country music. They are all perfectly-written songs delivered with sincerity by the artists who brought them to life.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #25-#1
Smoke Rings in the Dark
1999 | Peak: #12
A dark, atmospheric wonder, as Allan delivers the final eulogy for a love that couldn’t help burning out. – Dan Milliken
Just to See You Smile
1997 | Peak: #1
Being deeply enamored of someone can make it easy – even appealing – to forfeit your own well-being. This single’s sunny sound reflects the persistent affection pulsing through its protagonist, but its story demonstrates the heartbreak to which such unmeasured selflessness leads. – DM
Some of these covers became big hits, like Billy Dean’s “We Just Disagree” and Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria.” Various album cuts and tribute projects demonstrated Lorrie Morgan’s fondness for Bonnie Tyler (“It’s a Heartache”), Garth Brooks’ love for Kiss (“Hard Luck Woman”), and more than a dozen artists’ affinity for the Eagles.
It’s just a matter of time before today’s country stars start remaking pop and rock hits from the nineties. Here’s a few that I think would work well:
Many a star was launched in the nineties, a few of them right out of the gate. This section includes the debut singles from Toby Keith, Jo Dee Messina, LeAnn Rimes, and Doug Stone, along with Grammy-winning hits by Alison Krauss and Dwight Yoakam.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #100-#76
The Battle Hymn of Love
Kathy Mattea & Tim O’Brien
1990 | Peak: #9
Wedding songs are typically made of the same fiber, but this one is a little different: it’s energized by burning conviction and fierce pledges. – Tara Seetharam
1996 | Peak: #10
Sure, the novelty of thirteen year-old Rimes’ prodigious Patsy imitation helped things along. But that unshakable yodeled hook would have made “Blue” a classic in any era of country music. – Dan Milliken
A lot of songs from both ends of the charts here, including a husband-and-wife duet that spent six weeks at #1.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226
I Meant Every Word He Said
Ricky Van Shelton
1990 | Peak: #2
At least the third song on this list about a guy mulling over romantic gestures he wishes he’d made to his former love, and the most traditional among those songs. You could easily imagine this one being a minor classic by a 60’s or 70’s legend, so close is its replication of that style. – Dan Milliken
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying
Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2
My hard-and-fast rule for Toby Keith: The sadder he is, the happier the listening experience tends to be. He’s all kinds of sad in this snapshot of post-divorce melancholia, reflecting on everything from unfair custody protocol to the greater motions of the universe. Even a gratuitous Sting cameo can’t detract from the single’s gloomy grandeur. – DM
You Ain’t Much Fun
1995 | Peak: #2
Toby Keith is also funny, though. What’s a man to do? Sobering up ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be from is perspective. Ever since he’s done so, his wife has been taking advantage of his increased functionality by giving him honey-do lists that he wasn’t ably tackling pre-sobriety. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. – Leeann Ward
A few should’ve been hits are mixed in with genuine smashes as the countdown continues.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #350-#326
How Do I Live
1997 | Peak: #2
When Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes released dueling versions of this song in 1997, it was apparently a wake up call to country listeners: “Hey, wait a minute. Trisha Yearwood is an amazing singer!” She elevates “How Do I Live” beyond its movie theme nature by adding layers of subtlety and nuance to the typical Diane Warren template. – Kevin Coyne
Boot Scootin’ Boogie
Brooks & Dunn
1992 | Peak: #1
I don’t claim to have any real knowledge of what it’s like to spend a night at the liveliest of honky-tonks, but I’ll be darned if this song doesn’t make me feel like I do. Because “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” isn’t really about a specific place where people go, and it isn’t even about the boogie itself; it’s about the universal thrill of busting out of the work week, kicking back and dancing your troubles away. From start to finish, Brooks & Dunn’s performance is a twangy blast of exhilaration, and that’s a feeling we can all relate to – outlaws, in-laws, crooks and straights alike. – Tara Seetharam
Female artists dominated this year’s ACM Awards in a way that would have been unimaginable just five years earlier, with nearly all of the major winners of the evening coming from a female solo artist or a band that prominently features a female vocalist. More significantly, this year’s ACM dissented from the CMA this fall in the marquee categories of Entertainer and Female Vocalist, which makes this fall’s CMA Awards that much more unpredictable.
Here’s my spin on the show’s highlights:
Carrie Underwood wins Entertainer of the Year
Perhaps we should have known not to underestimate the fan base of Ms. Underwood, who helped deliver the singing siren her second consecutive win for Entertainer of the Year. With Taylor Swift dominating the Grammys and CMAs, it was easy to forget that Underwood has continued to do quite well in her own right. Her string of hits at radio – eleven consecutive top two hits, nine of which reached #1 – is unprecedented. She’s also had ten gold singles, three of which have sold platinum or better. Her third album, Play On, has moved her cumulative album sales past eleven million.
Nashville takes over Vegas this Sunday for the 45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, and it could actually be an interesting night. Eight acts are vying for Entertainer of the Year, one trio is poised to sweep the show, and a certain artist’s performance may solidify her as Music Row’s Lady Gaga. We’ll find out for sure Sunday at 8 pm Eastern, but in the meantime, we’ve picked ‘em and predicted ‘em. Sound off in the comments below.
- Kenny Chesney
- Toby Keith
- Brad Paisley – Tara
- George Strait – Kevin
- Taylor Swift
- Carrie Underwood
- Keith Urban
- Zac Brown Band – Dan, Leeann
- Kenny Chesney
- Toby Keith
- Brad Paisley
- George Strait
- Taylor Swift – Dan, Tara, Kevin, Leeann
- Carrie Underwood
- Keith Urban
- Zac Brown Band