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
Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)
1991 | Peak: #2
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 determined that he’s going to relish every second of it. – Dan Milliken
I’ve Come to Expect it From You
1990 | Peak: #1
This is about as dark and bitter as George Strait gets. It’s a coat that he wears well. – Kevin Coyne
Signature hits, breakthrough hits, and why-weren’t-they-hits abound in this entry.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #150-#126
1994 | Peak: #1
A perfect time capsule of the boom times, as Jackson wryly notes all of those genre-hoppers who saw dollar signs in the growing country music scene. Funny how they didn’t arrive on radio until a decade later. – Kevin Coyne
I Want to Be Loved Like That
1993 | Peak: #3
Sometimes the deepest understanding of love comes from what you see around you. The narrator in this song won’t settle for anything less than the unwavering love he’s witnessed in his life, and his examples are stunning in the way they slice straight to the core of love, to the bond that can’t be broken by the physical world. This is one of the purest tributes to love I’ve ever heard. – Tara Seetharam
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
I Wish I Could Have Been There
1994 | Peak: #4
This is the country equivalent to “Cats in the Cradle”, but more tender and less selfish. – Leeann Ward
Sometimes She Forgets
1995 | Peak: #7
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
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
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
Somewhere Other Than the Night
1992 | Peak: #1
About a woman who only feels truly appreciated by her husband when they’re having sex. That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? – Dan Milliken
Looking Out For Number One
1993 | Peak: #11
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
Let That Pony Run
1992 | Peak: #1
Gretchen Peters wrote the gorgeous song and Pam Tillis, in turn, beautifully sings it. The song is about Mary, a woman who is forced to start a new life after her husband confesses his infidelities with no apologies. The story is sad, it’s resilient, and it’s hopeful. – LW
I Just Want to Dance With You
1998 | Peak: #1
Any monotony in the verses is overcome by the song’s completely enticing rhythm and flavor. How can you not get lost in this? – Tara Seetharam
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
It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since the nineties first began. Perhaps that’s because so many of the artists who broke through during that decade remain relevant on the music scene today, whether they’re still getting major spins at radio or not.
For many of us, it was the nineties when we discovered and fell in love with country music, and it’s the music and artists from that decade that represent the pinnacle of the genre. It may be debatable whether the nineties were the most artistically significant decade in the history of country music, but there’s no debating that country music never had more commercial success or cultural impact than it did in that decade.
It was a time that when the C-list artists could sell gold or platinum on the strength of one or two hits, and that 24-hour video outlets could give wide exposure to songs and artists that radio playlists could not. When the four writers of this feature got together and combined our favorite singles from the decade, it was clear that this retrospective had to run far deeper than the one we recently completed for the first decade of the 21st century. There were simply far more good singles to choose from.
New fans of country music in the nineties were hit over the head with the assertion that country music was one big family. Nothing demonstrated this mythos better than the all star jams that cropped up during the boom years.
There were some variants of this approach. A popular one found a veteran star teaming up with one or more of the boom artists to increase their chances of radio airplay. George Jones was big on this approach, with the most high profile attempt being “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.” Seventeen years later, it’s amazing to see how young everyone looks – even Jones himself!
As with the similar CMA category of Single of the Year, looking over the history of this category is the quickest way to get a snapshot of country music in a given year. There is a quite a bt of consensus among the two organizations here, and it is very rare for the winner at one show to not at least be nominated at the other. The winners list here would make a great 2-disc set of country classics, at least for those who don’t mind a little pop in their country. The ACM definitely has more of a taste for crossover than its CMA counterpart, and the organizations have only agreed on 17 singles in the past four decades and change.
As always, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back to 1968.
- Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
- Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
- Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
- Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
- David Nail, “Red Light”
There’s usually a “Huh?” nominee among the ACM list in recent years. This year, it’s David Nail. Good for him! Currington hasn’t won yet for this hit, even though he got himself a Grammy nomination for it. With Lady Antebellum reaching the upper ranks of the country and pop charts with “Need You Now”, my guess is that they’re the presumptive favorites. Then again, Miranda Lambert is a nominee for the third straight year, and she’s up for her biggest radio hit.
- Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
- Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
- Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder & Lead”
- Heidi Newfield, “Johnny and June”
- Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ On a Woman”
Adkins has been a fairly regular fixture on country radio since 1996, but this was his first major industry award. He also won the ACM for Top New Male Vocalist in 1997.