400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #200-#176

The hits come from all over the place here. Breakthrough hits from Trace Adkins and Carlene Carter join one-hit wonders Brother Phelps and George Ducas.  And alongside crafty covers of songs by sixties rock band The Searchers and nineties country artist Joy Lynn White, you can also find tracks from three diamond-selling country albums.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties:


Carrying Your Love With Me
George Strait
1997 | Peak: #1

A traveler gets through his lonely nights on the sheer strength of love. It’s perhaps a little too saccharine for some, but the sweet melody and Strait’s understated vocals make the record work. – Tara Seetharam

Nothing’s News
Clint Black
1990 | Peak: #3

A man sits around in a bar “talking ’bout the good old times, bragging on how it used to be.” Standard premise, but Black’s melancholy performance lifts the record to Haggardly heights. – Dan Milliken

Rockin’ Years
Dolly Parton with Ricky Van Shelton
1991 | Peak: #1

The lyric is unabashedly cutesy, but Dolly’s and Ricky’s way of leaning into the song with no shame makes it all okay and even endearing. – Leeann Ward

We Can’t Love Like This Anymore
1994 | Peak: #6

A beautiful requiem for a dying love. The man just needs to know it’s over for sure so he can begin to make peace with it coming to an end. – Kevin Coyne

Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm
Montgomery Gentry
1999 | Peak: #17

The emotional and family roots are planted so deep that there’s no way that the family farm will be sold if father and son have anything to say about it. We’ve heard the sentiment before, but Montgomery Gentry’s take on the theme is a worthy addition. – LW

Trouble is a Woman
Julie Reeves
1999 | Peak: #39

A firecracker of a song that pays tribute to the tenacity and steadfast determination of a woman who’s been done wrong. Reeves’ performance is as blazing as the woman she’s singing about. – TS

What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am
Lee Roy Parnell
1992 | Peak: #2

What’s that saying again?: “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.” It seems that Parnell understands that concept rather well, as he plainly says, “You hurt me one time, I finally learned.” – LW

Too Cold at Home
Mark Chesnutt
1990 | Peak: #3

A melancholy record about a man who finds himself stuck at a bar because it’s too hot outside and too cold at home. Sounding both dejected and wistful, Chesnutt does a superb job conveying his pain, and his vocal emphasis on “cold” is just gorgeous. – TS

I’m On Your Side
Kathy Mattea
1997 | Peak: Did Not Chart

Jim Lauderdale sure knows how to write some catchy melodies and Kathy Mattea knows how to bring them to life. What’s more, this is actually a heartwarming, albeit fun, pledge of fierce loyalty. – LW

Let Go
Brother Phelps
1993 | Peak: #6

Finally breaking free from anything that’s held you back is liberating, but comes with the bittersweet realization that you were free to go all along. – KC

Livin’ On Love
Alan Jackson
1994 | Peak: #1

Jackson gave us so many strong neotrad ditties in the nineties that they can tend to run together and feel same-y, even when any one of them could have been a career highlight for a lesser artist. Like “Little Bitty” or “Gone Country” or “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Livin’ On Love” more or less tells you in the title what you’re getting, and also like those songs, it delivers with charm and catchy hooks to spare. – DM

When You Walk in the Room
Pam Tillis
1994 | Peak: #2

It was a quintessential crush song for the Searchers in the mid-sixties. Tillis adds a steel guitar to the classic guitar hook, but what sends the song to the stratosphere is her vocal. While the original had the lead singer matching the quiet tension of the backing music, Tillis lets loose toward the end, giving the song an added punch worthy of its lyric of unrequited love. – KC

Tonight the Heartache’s On Me
The Chicks
1999 | Peak: #6

t quite as lightweight as it appears on the surface. It’s satisfyingly self-pitying, but it’s also astute – from the clever spin on words in the hook, to the apt bite in Natalie Maine’s performance, to the sly line in the second verse: “I wonder if he told her she’s the best he’s ever known/The way he told me every night when we were all alone.” – TS

We Shall Be Free
Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #12

Garth Brooks lost some airplay with this gospel-tinged piece of social commentary that was inspired by the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed. It, however, remains one of his most overtly substantive songs. – LW

Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House
Garth Brooks
1991 | Peak: #1

How many clichéd metaphors can you fit in one song? I counted over ten, and Brooks makes every one of them work in this raucous, hilarious tribute to his better half. – TS

Time Marches On
Tracy Lawrence
1996 | Peak: #1

The passage of time seems like a broad, simple theme, but as the series of family vignettes in this song show, its impacts are specific and complicated. In an instance of brilliant songcraft, “Time Marches On” maintains a totally detached, matter-of-fact voice in touching on its characters’ developments, underscoring the point that time doesn’t make judgments or linger on particular moments the way we’re used to doing; it just keeps moving along, changing us without pause or permission. – DM

I’m Over You
Keith Whitley
1990 | Peak: #3

There’s nothing like righteous indignation (Why they makin’ those stories up”?) fueled by denial (“I’m over you”). Whitley naturally emotes these common, conflicting responses with his signature tear-stained voice, which makes for an irresistible slice of hard core country music. – LW

Every Light in the House
Trace Adkins
1996 | Peak: #3

Staunch conviction meets tender grief. Only Adkins could have made this as powerful a record as it is. – TS


You’re Still the One
Shania Twain
1998 | Peak: #1

It’s hard to believe that the woman who filled a million wedding hall dance floors never had a true ballad hit until this instant standard was released. Finally, an anniversary song for those who didn’t have the support of their family and friends when they got married! – KC

Lipstick Promises
George Ducas
1994 | Peak: #9

The Roy Orbison single you didn’t even know you were missing. Ducas won’t be falling for you and your deceitful cosmetics anymore, treacherous woman. – DM

A Broken Wing
Martina McBride
1997 | Peak: #1

A rousing story of a woman who rose above the physical and emotional constraints of her spirit-crushing husband. Like the best inspirational hits in McBride’s catalogue, “A Broken Wing” also doubles as a powerful tribute to women everywhere who’ve been told that “only angels know how to fly.” – TS

Walking Away a Winner
Kathy Mattea
1994 | Peak: #3

In 1994, Kathy Mattea made a calculated attempt at an explicitly commercial country record. It worked, thanks in large part to the album’s powerful title track. With surprisingly aggressive production behind her, she gives a performance that’s empowering to listen to even when you aren’t walking away from a bad situation. – KC

I Fell in Love
Carlene Carter
1990 | Peak: #3

Carter falls in love and throws a freaking musical party for herself. The song begs to be hula hooped or limboed to. – DM

Girls With Guitars
1994 | Peak: #10

Mary Chapin Carpenter might have written it, but it might as well be autobiography with the fiery authenticity that Wynonna rips into it. Bonus points for Lyle Lovett, who gives distinctive background vocals that nearly drown out fellow backup singer Naomi Judd. – KC


On the Road
Lee Roy Parnell
1993 | Peak: #6

Sometimes you hit the road knowing that there’s probably nothing better on the other end of it. But getting gone is still better than sticking around where you’re no longer valued, as Parnell demonstrates through the desperation of a lonely housewife, a teenage kid dodging college, and an unhappily retired couple. – KC

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties (2010 Edition)

#400- #376 | #375- #351 | #350 – #326 | #325 – #301

#300 – #276 | #275 – #251 | #250 – #226 | #225 – #201

#200 – #176 | #175 – #151 | #150 – #126 | #125 – #101

#100 – #76 | #75 – #51 | #50 – #26 | #25 – #1


  1. Anyone remember when Trisha Yearwood closed the Country Freedom Concert after 9/11 singing Garth’s “We Shall Be Free”?? Loved that…

  2. Walking Away a Winner was the first country album I ever purchased – back when I was still buying most of my music on cassette tape. Kathy was on Oprah with Oleta Adams to promote the Women for Women album that supported breast cancer awareness. While I really enjoyed “Walking Away a Winner” what really made me want to purchase the album was Kathy’s later performance of “Who’s Gonna Know.” Thanks, Oprah.

  3. Re. “A Broken Wing”–this kind of illustrates one issue I’ve had with Martina that has kind of kept me from really liking her, which is her tendency to love hitting those high notes a little too much. I know others might disagree with that, but there are times when Martina doesn’t know when to say when.

    Re. “We Shall Be Free”–I probably won’t get a lot of plaudits for saying this, but I think this song is his best, because, in a music genre whose politics skew rightward, he was willing to put his money where his mouth was and speak of an America of diversity and inclusiveness where nobody gets shut out. That takes a lot of guts, in my opinion.

  4. I had never heard that Carlene Carter song before, but after reading about it, I had to check it out. What can I say? I like songs that beg to be hula-hooped or limboed to. Cute video.

  5. Hard to believe that “Walking Away a Winner”, a DiPiero-Shapiro song, was Kathy Mattea’s last top ten country hit, reaching #3 in ’94 according to Wiki. Like ccdixon, I really loved “Who’s Gonna Know” written by Kathy’s husband, Jon Vezner.

    When I saw Martina’s performance of “Broken Wing” on one of the late 90’s country music awards shows (can’t recall which show now or the exact year), I was just amazed at the time at how good she was. For that performance, her “love of hitting the high notes” that Erik commented on I think was appropriate.

    There are so many great songs in this group, it makes me want to see the rest of the list right now.

  6. I like “A Broken Wing” all right; it’s just had its impact weakened over the years by there being a few too many Martina glory-note and/or abuse songs. If she had stopped at “Independence Day”, “Whatever You Say” and “A Broken Wing”, I’d be good. I hate to say it, but she probably should have left “Concrete Angel” be. Beautiful song and video, but in terms of her catalog, it might have been better off in another artist’s hands. On the other hand, I guess she has her trademarks now.

  7. I never cared much for “Concrete Angel”…I get more of a spiritual vibe from “A Broken Wing,” ironically.

  8. I’ll never forget how wierd it was watching Melinda Doolittle pull “Trouble Is a Woman” out of a hat on AI. I hardly even remembered that song, it was such a minor hit.

  9. I agree, Jim, though I thought it was refreshing to hear something that wasn’t so expected.

    Dan, I hadn’t made that connection before, but now that you mention it, I hear it.:)

  10. Melinda Doolittle and Julie Reeves went to Belmont together was the story, I think.

    I really loved the other single from the album, “It’s About Time”, because of that weird self-referential chorus. This is a good one too, though.

  11. In terms of what Garth did with “We Shall Be Free”, I would compare it to Elvis’ similar 1968 smash “If I Can Dream” (from the NBC-TV special that marked the King’s return to pop music glory), which itself was a song born out of social turmoil and was also a call for a better world. Chalk it up to being the right man in the right place at the right time (IMHO).

  12. “In terms of what Garth did with “We Shall Be Free”, I would compare it to Elvis’ similar 1968 smash “If I Can Dream” (from the NBC-TV special that marked the King’s return to pop music glory), which itself was a song born out of social turmoil and was also a call for a better world. Chalk it up to being the right man in the right place at the right time (IMHO).”

    Not even close. Garth’s song is lame. Sorry but it is

  13. Yeah, “It’s About Time” was solid, too. I didn’t realize she was a Bruin. (Grrrr!)

    As for “We Shall Be Free.” Lame? Better be careful. There’s at least one known Garth aficionado around here.

  14. I will admit that I’m not objective at all when it comes to this song. I naturally gravitate toward songs of this nature, lame or not. Same goes for Garth Brooks, I guess, since I pretty much love his music.

  15. Well, I was referring to myself. So I guess there’s too of us. “We Shall Be Free” is a bit on the dramatic side, I’ll give Kevin W that. And I’d even go so far as to say it ain’t really country. But lame? When I think about that song now, and the time it was written in…it comes off as incredibly forward-thinking. Visionary, even.

  16. That’s exactly how I feel about it. I guess if it’s country, it’s more like southern gospel. And I’d never argue that Garth can’t be dramatic here and there.:) But the messages within the song are anything but lame and rather progressive for its time and, unfortunately, even still today (it seems).

  17. …interesting to realise at this point that a really strong guitar-man like lee roy parnell managed to keep his songs still pretty much on the country side of things, whereas the present trend always sounds as if the prominent guitar-riffs tend to push the current radio-fare well into the pop-territory of the genre. i mostly enjoy it both ways, when it’s done well, but if i had to chose between now and then, i’d probably still pick “then”.

  18. LOVED Melinda Doolittle’s performance of “Trouble is a Woman”. WOW!

    To add to the “We Shall Be Free” discussion… I remember this was when Garth was just getting too cheezy and the hype was overflowing the “ridiculous” brim. I LOVED Garth’s first three cds but then the cheez and the tv specials were just too much. Still a great guy but even a decade plus later, I’m still suffering from Garth burnout.

    Love the Carlene Carter shout-out! Talk about someone with so much promise that got sidetracked in a bad, bad way. I think she’s finally trying to get it together tho and appreciating her family’s legacy. Hopefully!

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