Tag Archives: Faith Hill

A Tale of Four Hits Collections

Four generous hits collections were released in 2010, each one chronicling the entire career of a contemporary country music star.  Individually, each double-disc set serve as the most expansive and thorough compilation for each artist. Taken together, they tell the story of country music over the last twenty years.

Alan Jackson
34 Number Ones

In the late eighties, Randy Travis did something that no other country star had done before. He became the top-selling country artist by a wide margin without making any musical concessions to pop or rock. In doing so, he tore up the old playbook. Suddenly, you could be a multi-platinum country artists without the added benefit of top 40 radio or accolades from the rock and roll press.

Thus began contemporary country music, the new paradigm that reached its commercial peak in the nineties, but has never come close to receding to its earlier status as a niche genre. A crop of young stars surfaced in 1989 and 1990, each one of them staking a claim to be the Haggard, the Jones, the Willie, the Waylon of their generation. Out of all of them, none struck a more perfect balance between artistic credibility and commercial viability than Alan Jackson.

Simply put, he is the most significant singer and songwriter of the past quarter century. So it’s no surprise that out of all of the country stars who’ve compiled #1 hit collections, Jackson’s set is the best, both in terms of overall quality and effectiveness in summing up an entire career.

Fact is, radio’s played nearly everything Jackson’s sent their way, and he’s demonstrated remarkably good judgment over the past twenty years. The highest of the high points – “Here in the Real World”, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”, “Chattahoochee”, “Gone Country”, “Where Were You”, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” – aren’t just great records from their time period. They’re accurate representations as well, little time capsules that show Jackson as being centrally relevant to the genre while he was also making great music.

Today, with critical acclaim and commercial success becoming increasingly divergent pathways, 34 Number Ones serves as a powerful reminder that one need not sacrifice quality for radio airplay. Of the new tracks, Jackson’s cover of “Ring of Fire” doesn’t quite measure up, It’s certainly a competent reading, but Jackson’s already a legend in his own right. Just listen to “As She’s Walking Away”, the duet with Zac Brown Band that serves at the set’s bonus 35th number one. His mere presence elevates the track into greatness.

Tim McGraw
Number One Hits

Jackson’s ascent into superstardom came at the peak of the new traditionalist movement. Tim McGraw got in just under the buzzer, breaking through a year before Shania Twain shifted the course of country music to a distinctively more pop sound. He’s since been able to maintain stardom by going with the flow of these changes.

At his best, few have been better than Tim McGraw, but Number One Hits documents his bookend years as a follower of trends. It’s the songs on either end of his hit run than are the weakest. Whereas Jackson has flirted with banality once in a while, McGraw has openly embraced it. He became a mega-star by alternating shoehorning the five-hankie weepfest “Don’t Take the Girl” between novelty songs like “Indian Outlaw” and “Down on the Farm”, all of which reek of the hat act herd mentality that was heading out of style in 1994.

But McGraw used his clout from those early hits to get access to better material, and his albums soon demonstrated a song sense that was unrivaled among the other new acts of the time, most of whom quickly faded away as pop ascended in the genre. The best of his biggest singles came over the course of the next decade. Classics like “Just to See You Smile”, “Please Remember Me”, “Angry all the Time” and “Live Like You Were Dying” were among the best songs on the radio.

For a while there, he could get just about anything into the top fifteen, but this collection focuses only on the chart-toppers. So instead of fantastic gems like “Can’t Be Really Gone”, “One of These Days”, “Red Ragtop”, and “If You’re Reading This”, this set features quite a bit of forgettable fare that hasn’t aged well. They may have topped the charts, but that doesn’t make “Not a Moment Too Soon”, “She Never Lets it Go to Your Heart”, and the particularly abysmal “Southern Voice” worthy of inclusion in a best-of set.

If they were able to suspend the concept to include a questionable dance remix of the #8 chart hit “Indian Outlaw” and the mediocre new hit “Felt Good on My Lips”, they might as well have just been more generous with the track listing and released The Very Best of Tim McGraw. His music has been far more compelling than this collection shows.

Dixie Chicks
The Essential Dixie Chicks

The explosive crossover success of Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes, and Faith Hill was in full swing in 1998, which left traditionalists hungering for a superstar alternative. In waltzed the Dixie Chicks, with a combination of musical credibility, traditional roots, and youthful appeal that instantly made them the darlings of the format. Over the course of two albums – 1998’s Wide Open Spaces and 1999’s Fly – they dominated radio, retail and the awards circuit.

Tracks from those two albums combine for fourteen of the thirty tracks of The Essential Dixie Chicks. All of the biggest hits are here, but chart success wasn’t the only determination for inclusion. Thank God for that, as less impressive top ten hits like “Cold Day in July” and “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me” are left off, with the far more compelling “Heartbreak Town” and “Sin Wagon” in their place.

As good as their first two albums were, it was the 2002 masterpiece Home that truly solidified them as artists for the ages. Released at the height of O Brother mania, the timing couldn’t have been better for this acoustic album. “Long Time Gone”, “Landslide”, and “Travelin’ Soldier” all went top two, and the album swept the country categories at the 2003 Grammy Awards.

And then, the bottom fell out. Poorly chosen words about the president quickly overshadowed Home, and the princesses of country radio suddenly became pariahs, taking the burgeoning roots movement down with them. Radio slamming its door shut is what makes a hit-centered Chicks compilation impossible, and Essential Dixie Chicks wisely chooses to give equal representation to Home and its follow-up, the California country Taking the Long Way.

An excellent job is done of selecting the best album cuts from both collections, an especially difficult task with the latter album. Sure, it won five Grammys and sold well, but the platinum single “Not Ready to Make Nice” was the only real hit. Thankfully, we’re treated to gems like “Top of the World” and “Truth No. 2″ from Home and “The Long Way Around”, “Easy Silence,” and “Lubbock or Leave It” from Taking the Long Way.

And while a case could be made for some great tracks left off – “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”, “More Love”, and “Voice Inside My Head” come to mind – everything that’s here is essential listening. Then again, the Chicks could have randomly picked any 30 songs from the four albums represented here and still ended up with a great collection of music, so high has their standard of excellence been all along. How many other superstar country artists could do the same?

Brad Paisley
Hits Alive

If the Dixie Chicks best represent the last gasp of lofty aspiration in mainstream country music over the past twelve years, Brad Paisley best represents the mediocrity the genre was willing to settle for. Rising to fame around the same time as the Chicks, Paisley was similarly touted as a traditional savior for the increasingly pop-influenced genre.

And for more than ten years, he’s lived up to the traditionalist part, rarely flirting with crossover sounds. Much like Alan Jackson, Paisley’s sound hasn’t changed much over time. But unlike Jackson, Paisley’s point of view hasn’t changed much either. He’s been releasing antiseptic, mostly dull radio fodder for most of his career, getting regular radio play with an endless stream of interchangeable love songs and party anthems.

Hits Alive attempts to assess his work to date, and it takes an odd approach. A disc of studio hits is paired with a disc of live recordings of his hits. Figuring out the guiding principle in song selection is near impossible. Some of his signature hits – “I’m Gonna Miss Her”, “Letter to Me”, “Waitin’ on a Woman” – appear only in live form. Songs that practically beg to be livened up, like “Ticks”, “The World”, and “Celebrity” – are only here in their studio incarnations. Bizarrely, “Alcohol” and “Mud on the Tires”, are presented in both forms.

The double dipping means early hits like “Who Needs Pictures”, “Wrapped Around”, “Two People Fell in Love”, and “I Wish You’d Stay” are omitted entirely. That’s a shame, because they’re all better than his string of condescending and slightly misogynist love songs that do make the cut, the worst offenders being “The World” and the jaw-dropping “Little Moments”, the latter providing a list of endearing traits that would be insulting if he was singing about his child, let alone his partner.

Thankfully, many of his best moments are included, most notably “Whiskey Lullaby” and “When I Get Where I’m Going”, two hits that have gone on to become genre standards in the years since their release. Plus, the live disc brings some unexpected treats. “Time Warp” showcases his stunning instrumental talent, while the hits “Water” and “American Saturday Night” truly do come alive on stage, making them sound better here than they did on the radio.

Of the four collections, Paisley’s may be the least impressive, but it’s still a decent representation of one of country music’s last superstars, and it speaks volumes about the creative holding pattern that still paralyzes the genre. Unless the spiritual successors to Alan Jackson or the Dixie Chicks come along, Paisley’s might be as good as it’s gonna get on country radio.

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CMA 2010: Female Trouble

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.

Never. Think about that for a minute. If this category’s nominees are to be considered reliable, the CMA is essentially saying that there has never been a time in the past 44 years that more than two of the genre’s top five acts have been female, and in the past decade, there’s never been more than one.

Why is this coming to a head this year, when it’s been a problem all along?  Because there is no rational argument that exists, in this era of decreased record sales and economic downturn, for the exclusion of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift from this category.  Ironically, the inclusion of another female artist – Miranda Lambert – makes the oversight even more obvious.  By any historical standard for this category, Lambert would be jockeying for fourth or fifth place, at best.

With all due respect to Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, their success this year would not get them into this category if they were women. Yet two women who have far exceeded them this year by every measurable standard, two women who are more immediately recognizable and widely beloved than Paisley and Urban have ever been, are left off of the list.

There’s a bias here, and it’s hurting the credibility of the CMA. How is it possible that acts long past their prime, like Brooks & Dunn or Vince Gill, were still getting Entertainer nominations regularly, yet superstars like Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Taylor Swift only made the cut once?  Has there truly been no woman besides Reba McEntire in the last 25 years who has been one of the five top entertainers more than once?

Even if you strain your reason to justify Swift’s exclusion because she was a little less visible during the last three months of the eligibility period, the Underwood snub is the most blatantly unfair this category has seen since the days of Shania Twain, who somehow only earned one nomination while she was absolutely destroying the competition at an international level that has never been matched.

Perhaps the voting methodology of the CMA awards, which allows voters to pick up to five nominees in each category, has exacerbated the “token female” dilemma.  I don’t know, and I really don’t care. Because in an era where even the ACM Awards are showing better taste than the CMA’s, the flagship organization of country music needs to address its female trouble while it still has a single shred of credibility left.

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #50-#26

The themes of love and loss have permeated country music for as long as it’s been in existence.  This second-to-last batch of great nineties hits contains songs that are direct descendants of well-known classics like “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, along with a Shania Twain hit that would  have made Roba Stanley smile.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #50-#26

#50
Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)
Travis Tritt
1991 | Peak: #2

Listen

From the first forceful guitar strum on, this kiss-off number somehow manages to seem unusually cool and collected in its own aggression. You get the impression that Tritt’s character has been anticipating this moment, and has already made up his mind that he’s going to relish every second of it. – Dan Milliken

#49
I’ve Come to Expect it From You
George Strait
1990 | Peak: #1

Listen

This is about as dark and bitter as George Strait gets. It’s a coat that he wears well. – Kevin Coyne Continue reading

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Single Review: Jamey Johnson, “Playing the Part”

Country boy, you got your feet in L.A. Again.

The country boy as fish out of the water in Los Angeles. Or New York. Or Detroit. It’s a pretty common theme in country music. Jamey Johnson does his own spin on this theme with his new single, “Playing the Part.”  It’s not terribly bad, but it’s not terribly good, either.  “Big City” certainly doesn’t have to worry about losing its slot on the Waffle House Jukebox.

Despite a busy little beat, Johnson remains only a step above lethargic.  His “Randy Travis 45 on 33 1/3 speed” vocal delivery worked for the slowly revealing lyrics of “In Color” and “High Cost of Living.”  But it lets him down here. Even the addiction reference feels obligatory, with Johnson repeating the “pills’ and “Hollywood hills” rhyme that worked much better on Faith Hill’s “When the Lights Go Down.”

That record worked because Hill actually sounded like someone who could have known someone in L.A. who’d gone down that road. Johnson’s got a gold album under his belt and has won a few awards, but it’s a stretch to picture him as a country boy who went chasing fame and fortune in California and is now collapsing under the weight of his success.

It was a stroke of marketing brilliance for Johnson to package himself as a modern-day Outlaw, making it far easier for him to reach a targeted demographic that would eagerly embrace him. Lord knows they’re going to eat these limited editions up like Taylor Swift fans blew their Sweet Sixteen money on this.

But he’s yet to really demonstrate that he could be the second coming of Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson.  Right now, he’s got a shot at being a modern-day Gary Stewart or Mel Street, but he’s going to need better material than this to get there.

Like so much of country music today, and pop for that matter, the marketing and media campaigns are dramatically outpacing the development of the music.  Artists who have an album or two under their belt are being heralded as the new incarnation of legends with thirty-year careers. It’s an insult to the legends and an unfair burden to place on artists that are still honing their craft.

Because  in the end, the hype will die down and the music is all we’ll be left with.  I’d love to see Johnson become the traditional country legend that he’s been prematurely ordained, but he’s barely out of the starting gate, and I don’t see him getting much further down the road with material like this.

Written by Jamey Johnson and Shane Minor

Grade: B-

Listen: Playing the Part

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #125-#101

Johnny Cash may have been too dark for country radio back in 1994, but his morbid single lives on alongside debut singles, seventies covers, and a whole lot of Mary Chapin Carpenter.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #125-#101

#125
Breathe
Faith Hill
1999 | Peak: #1

Listen

Sure, the melody of the chorus sounds just like “It Matters to Me.” But “Breathe” took the country power ballad to new heights, becoming Hill’s signature hit in the process. – Kevin Coyne

#124
Life’s a Dance
John Michael Montgomery
1992 | Peak: #4

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It’s the catchy fiddle riff that’s  so memorable about John Michael Montgomery’s debut, number one, single. He is known for being a balladeer, but this one is an up-tempo motivational song. – Leeann Ward Continue reading

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #175-#151

Proving that the airplay charts don’t tell all of the story, this part of the countdown features several singles by nineties stars that didn’t reach the top but have stood the test of time.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #175-#151

#175
I Wish I Could Have Been There
John Anderson
1994 | Peak: #4

Listen

This is the country equivalent to “Cats in the Cradle”, but more tender and less selfish. – Leeann Ward

#174
Sometimes She Forgets
Travis Tritt
1995 | Peak: #7

Listen

Tritt gives a surprisingly but fittingly subdued performance on this cover of a Steve Earle song, telling the story of a woman who sometimes forgets that she’s sworn off men. I can never get enough of the incredibly cool arrangement. – Tara Seetharam Continue reading

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Carrie Underwood and Female Country Artists: A Historical Perspective

I’ve always been something of a chart junkie. While I don’t pay as close attention as I used to, I still have a pretty good handle on historical trends. One artist I’ve been keeping an eye on is Carrie Underwood. When each official country single from her first two albums peaked at #1 or #2, it caught my attention.

But I never expected the trend to continue, with three more #1 hits from the new album. The source of that belief was the history of women on country radio, especially in the twenty most recent years that were based on actual monitored airplay instead of radio playlists. Since that change, far less records have gone #1 or #2.

When “Undo It” reached #2 last week, Underwood became the only female artist in country music history to have eleven consecutive top two singles. Until then, she was tied with Tammy Wynette, who scored ten consecutive top two singles from 1967-1970. All but one of Wynette’s singles were #1 hits, with the only #2 being “I’ll See Him Through.” With “Undo It” moving to #1 this week, Underwood has only two singles in her streak that didn’t top the charts: “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” and “I Told You So.”

“Undo It” is Underwood’s tenth #1 single. How rare is it for a female to reach that milestone? The last woman to reach it was Rosanne Cash, her tenth #1 being “Runaway Train” in the fall of 1988. Earlier that same year, Reba McEntire scored her tenth #1 with “Love Will Find Its Way To You.”

Underwood’s support at radio is unprecedented for a female artist in the modern chart era. In less than five years, she’s already tied for the most #1’s since 1990, and she’s moving quickly up the all-time list as well:

Most #1 Hits by a Female Artist – Monitored Era (1990-present):

  1. Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood – 10
  2. Faith Hill – 9
  3. Shania Twain – 7
  4. Jo Dee Messina – 6
  5. Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood – 5
  6. Sara Evans, Patty Loveless, Taylor Swift, Wynonna – 4

Most #1 Hits by a Female Artist – All-Time:

  1. Dolly Parton – 25
  2. Reba McEntire – 23
  3. Tammy Wynette – 20
  4. Crystal Gayle – 18
  5. Loretta Lynn – 16
  6. Rosanne Cash – 11
  7. Anne Murray, Tanya Tucker, Carrie Underwood – 10

Why do you think that Underwood has been the one to push up against country radio’s glass ceiling so much? Can she keep this up?  Will she eventually get to the top of each list, or is there somebody below her that might jump ahead?

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Filed under Crunching the Numbers, Miscellaneous Musings

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

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

#250
I Meant Every Word He Said
Ricky Van Shelton
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

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

#249
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying
Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2

Listen

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

#248
You Ain’t Much Fun
Toby Keith
1995 | Peak: #2

Listen

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

#247
Tender Moment
Lee Roy Parnell
1993 | Peak: #2

Listen

Actions speak louder than words. – KC

#246
Go Rest High On That Mountain
Vince Gill
1995 | Peak: #14

Listen

Every once and awhile an artist delivers a song so powerful that it seems to shatter all divides in its genre. A tribute to both the late Keith Whitley and Gill’s late brother, “Go Rest High On That Mountain” pairs deeply spiritual lyrics with a tender, emotion-soaked performance. The combination is magic. – TS

#245
Nothing
Dwight Yoakam
1995 | Peak: #20

Listen

Living up to its title, the Yoakam’s barren heart and soul are replicated in the arrangement of the song.  If emptiness has a sound, this is it. – Kevin Coyne

#244
(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All
Alan Jackson
1994 | Peak: #4

Listen

Jackson more than earns his neo-traditional street cred thanks to this song. Just soak up that lonesome steel guitar! – LW

#243
It’s Your Love
Tim McGraw with Faith Hill
1997 | Peak: #1

Listen

A good power ballad shot to greatness by its artists’ striking chemistry – palpable, fiery and so very genuine. More than just a hit single, “It’s Your Love” represents the moment in country music history at which we were introduced to one of its definitive couples. – TS

#242
Grandpa Told Me So
Kenny Chesney
1995 | Peak: #23

Listen

Amidst a collection of country life lessons passed down from two generations back is one to live by: “There’ll be times that you want to hold on but you’ve got to let go.” – KC

#241
Thank God For You
Sawyer Brown
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

This man has a lot to thank God for, including stereotypical parental figures, but he’s most thankful for his girl. – LW

#240
I Never Knew Love
Doug Stone
1993 | Peak: #2

Listen

An earnest, soulful confession of love. It’s hard to ignore the fact that it leans more in the adult-contemporary direction than that of anything else, but when a song is this moving, it’s also hard to care. – TS

#239
What She’s Doing Now
Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #1

Listen

In an unusual tact for Mr. Brooks, he forgoes melodrama in order to allow the natural drama of pining for a lost love to speak for itself. The dialed down performance works in the service of the song, as the sadness appropriately penetrates through. – LW

#238
Find My Way Back to My Heart
Alison Krauss & Union Station
1997 | Peak: #73

Listen

Some of the best songs from AKUS play on the home life that’s sacrificed by following the musical dream. Krauss remembers how she used to laugh at songs about the lonely traveling life, but she’s not laughing now. – KC

#237
I Know
Kim Richey
1997 | Peak: #72

Listen

It takes more than self-awareness to mend a broken heart. – KC

#236
Leave Him Out of This
Steve Wariner
1991 | Peak: #6

Listen

A man makes a soaring yet understated plea for his lover to let go of her past love. The song is made sadder by the touch of resignation in Wariner’s performance, which suggests the man knows he’s making his plea in vain. – TS

#235
Just My Luck
Kim Richey
1995 | Peak: #47

Listen

Roba Stanley once sang about the joys of the single life and its simplicities.  Richey is about to leave it behind, and wonders just how lucky that makes her. – KC

#234
What if I Do
Mindy McCready
1997 | Peak: #26

Listen

A whole song about deciding whether or not to go all the way with one’s movie date. McCready gives a fantastically entertaining performance, speak-singing her lines with a a bold campiness that most other gals wouldn’t dare. – DM

#233
Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow
Alan Jackson
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

Stories of would-be stars trying to make it big in Nashville are nothing too novel, but Jackson’s plucky earnestness gives this one an accessibility many of the others lack. – DM

#232
Now That’s All Right With Me
Mandy Barnett
1996 | Peak: #43

Listen

The other great Barnett single of the era, fusing Patsy Cline-style vocal class, Pam Tillis-style production and Gloriana-style youthful exuberance. – DM

#231
With You
Lila McCann
1999 | Peak: #9

Listen

Ten years before “You Belong With Me” made its splash, McCann set her sights on the same demographic with a song just as relatable, vibrant and passionate. That the song lacks Taylor Swift’s sharp perspective is perhaps what makes it such a great record: there’s something so pure about McCann’s fully unapologetic, headfirst fall into love. – TS

#230
My Maria
Brooks & Dunn
1996 | Peak: #1

Listen

The rare country cover of a pop song that improves on the original. No offense, B.W. Stephenson. – DM

#229
Boom! It Was Over
Robert Ellis Orrall
1992 | Peak: #19

Listen

How far can an amazing song title carry you? All the way to #229, that’s how far! – DM

#228
Somewhere in My Broken Heart
Billy Dean
1991 | Peak: #3

Listen

So simple and plain in its heartbreak, and so understated and quiet in its delivery.  – KC

#227
I Just Wanted You to Know
Mark Chesnutt
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

Chesnutt makes a phone call to an old love that could be construed as creepy, pathetic or terribly sad – take your pick. I’m going with a mixture of all three, with a pinch of selfishness thrown in. Either way, “I Just Wanted You to Know” is a memorable slice of the-one-that-got-away reality.- TS

#226
I’m Gonna Be Somebody
Travis Tritt
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

In the twenty years that passed since the release of this song, the path to success in the music industry has morphed into something that looks very different than it used to. Unlike that of Bobby in the song, these days an artist’s journey can come in all shapes and forms, sometimes abrupt and sometimes completely unprecedented.

Think what you want about this paradigm shift, but here’s what I believe: regardless of how you shoot to the top, the only way you’ll achieve longevity and, most importantly, respect in country music is if you share the fire in Bobby’s eyes. This soul-stirring hunger and unshakable passion is the heart of “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” and the reason it remains a timeless classic. Here’s to hoping – and I’m optimistic – our modern artists are made of the same stuff. – TS

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #275-#251

This section begins with a song about a farmer and his wife and ends with one about Mama. Doesn’t get much more country than this!

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #275-#251

#275
Somewhere Other Than the Night
Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #1

Listen

About a woman who only feels truly appreciated by her husband when they’re having sex. Practically literature, that. – Dan Milliken

#274
Looking Out For Number One
Travis Tritt
1993 | Peak: #11

Listen

From his rocking side, Tritt is tired of trying to please everyone around him, including his demanding lover. As a result, he brashly declares that he’s going to make some changes, which will include looking out for himself. Get out of the way, because his ferocious performance makes him seem quite serious about his epiphany. – Leeann Ward Continue reading

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #325-#301

The first quarter of the countdown comes to a close, highlighted by excellent comeback attempts by T. Graham Brown, Emmylou Harris, and Willie Nelson.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #325-#301

#325
He Would Be Sixteen
Michelle Wright
1992 |  Peak: #31

Listen

Sometimes the choices that you make linger forever. Here, a woman in her thirties drives past a high school football game, and her mind wanders to the painful void left in her heart from the son she gave up for adoption. – Kevin Coyne

#324
It Matters to Me
Faith Hill
1995  |  Peak: #1

Listen

Faith Hill’s sophomore album is a surprisingly deep set, filled with candid insights into different womens’ lives. The title track represents that approach well, with Hill’s protagonist speaking to the differences in her approach to love and her partner’s. Seems simple, but then again, people spend thousands in couples counseling trying to find a way to voice feelings this directly. – Dan Milliken

#323
She’d Give Anything
Boy Howdy
1993  |  Peak: #4

Listen

A not-so-subtle depiction of how elusive true love can be for some women – even those who desperately seek it – that resonates not despite of but because of its blatancy. There’s a beautiful honesty to the song’s precise articulation of the mixture of frustration and strength that builds up within these women. – Tara Seetharam

#322
The Trouble With the Truth
Patty Loveless
1997  |  Peak: #15

Listen

The trouble with the truth is that is just so demanding. We think we want it, but it often requires some sort of action from us once we have it. Loveless struggles with this quandary: “The trouble with the truth is it always begs for more. That’s the trouble with the truth.” – Leeann Ward

#321
Still Gonna Die
Old Dogs
1999  |  Peak: Did Not Chart

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Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, and Jerry Reed united for an amazing live album dominated by Shel Silverstein songs. For anyone who read his brilliant poetry books for children, “Still Gonna Die” is the golden years equivalent: clever, frightening, and darkly hilarious.  KC

#320
Wanted
Alan Jackson
1990  |  Peak: #3

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An apology via a wanted ad could be disastrous in the hands of many male country artists, but it’s simply lovely in Jacksons’, ringing with sincerity and regret. – TS

#319
Finish What We Started
Diamond Rio
1995  |  Peak: #19

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While it’s not a part of the wedding song canon, this is a gorgeous declaration of commitment. – LW

#318
Tryin’ to Hide a Fire in the Dark
Billy Dean
1992  |  Peak: #6

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From the first strains of the song, we know this is going to be a dark one. While he hasn’t physically cheated yet, the thoughts of at least wishing to do so are spilling over, which begs the analogy of “It’s like trying to hide a fire in the dark.” – LW

#317
She is Gone
Willie Nelson
1996  |  Peak: Did Not Chart

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As in his classic recording of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, Nelson’s sad remembrance of a lost love glows with unspoken warmth, as the beauty of his good memories shines through the outer layer of melancholy. – DM

#316
It Was
Chely Wright
1999  |  Peak: #11

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An ode to the nonsensical mess of emotions that accompany falling in love, just contradictory enough to make sense. – TS

#315
You Can Feel Bad
Patty Loveless
1995  |  Peak: #1

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As deft a take down of a departing lover there’s ever been.  Not since “You’re So Vain” has a jilted lover struck back so powerfully by simply holding up a mirror. – KC

#314
Till I Found You
Marty Stuart
1991  |  Peak: #12

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With a Roy Orbison feel, “Til I Found You” is a sweet declaration of finally finding the right one. – LW

#313
Blame it On Your Heart
Patty Loveless
1993 |  Peak: #1

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A shameless radio bid delivered with more power and charm than such bids generally deserve. – DM

#312
You Never Even Call Me By My Name
Doug Supernaw
1994 |  Peak: #60

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Presenting the perfect Country & Western song! This is a great David Allan Coe cover with some alterations, including the exclusion of a stanza (which does water down the song a bit), changes to the spoken part, and additions of some special guests. – LW

#311
Wine Into Water
T. Graham Brown
1998  |  Peak: #44

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A kneeling drunkard’s plea for the modern age.  A broken man struggling with his alcoholism asks Jesus to perform His first miracle in reverse. Brown’s rough and tumble voice is the best possible fit for this fine composition.- KC

#310
High Powered Love
Emmylou Harris
1993  |  Peak: #63

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The added punch to the production shows that Harris could do nineties country as well as anybody on the radio back then, which is quite the compliment, given who was getting airplay in 1993.  A perfect lament for a lover who won’t settle for skin deep treasures, she wonders, “Is there anyone left with teeth just a little uneven? Who won’t spend more time with a mirror than he does with me?” – KC

#309
You Won’t Ever Be Lonely
Andy Griggs
1998  |  Peak: #2

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Griggs creates a touching ballad out of one of the sweetest, simplest promises that comes with making a commitment to someone – that no matter the storm outside, you’ll never have to face it alone. – TS

#308
A Door
Aaron Tippin
1997  |  Peak: #65

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Instead of serving as a means to shut the other person out, the door that Tippin is suggesting is for the purpose of letting the other person in. “a door ain’t nothin’ but a way to get through a wall”, he sings. If they work together to create it, then they might be able to walk through it to meet each other halfway. – LW

#307
Someday Soon
Suzy Bogguss
1991  |  Peak: #12

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Suzy Bogguss takes this Ian Tyson cowboy folk song and makes it her own. She successfully breathes emotion into this wistful song that, once again, pits woman against rodeo. – LW

#306
The River
Garth Brooks
1992  |  Peak: #1

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Built on a poignantly written metaphor, “The River” gracefully weaves together elements of faith, inspiration and motivation. It’s a masterful single, from its poetic lyrics to its beautifully simplistic arrangement, but the heart and soul is Brooks’ gripping conviction – quiet yet fierce. On a personal note, this song contains one of my all-time favorite lyrics that I often revisit: “So don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied/Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide.” – TS

#305
Time Passes By
Kathy Mattea
1991  |  Peak: #7

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Blessings are fleeting, and they’re best appreciated in the moment. It’s far more satisfying to celebrate them without the bittersweet tinge of regret. – KC

#304
You Can’t Stop Love
Marty Stuart
1996  |  Peak: #26

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To hear Marty Stuart tell it, there’s nothing more powerful than love. No matter what you do, you can’t stop it. True enough. – LW

#303
Everywhere
Tim McGraw
1997  |  Peak: #1

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McGraw’s character leaves behind a lifelong love interest and a little home town to explore the world. But instead of getting good closure, the poor guy starts seeing the girl he left in every place he visits, even long after she has married and had children. That these visions could feasibly represent both unresolved romantic feelings and the inescapable imprint of one’s roots is just country-delicious. – DM

#302
You’re Beginning to Get to Me
Clay Walker
1998  |  Peak: #2

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Walker’s falling head first for a girl, but he isn’t ready to take the plunge with the L-word just yet. In his catalogue of fabulous 90s hits, this understated “love” song gets overshadowed by some of the more distinct ones, but it’s nonetheless memorable. – TS

#301
Help Me Hold On
Travis Tritt
1990  |  Peak: #1

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Travis Tritt is one of few country artists who is as known for his rocking side as he is for being a strong balladeer. “Help Me Hold on” is a plea to his lover to help him salvage what’s left of their relationship, which doesn’t seem to be much, since she’s already packing a suitcase. – LW

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