100 Greatest Men: #97. Collin Raye

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He broke through to stardom singing love ballads in the style of Vince Gill, but it was his turn toward more adventurous topical material that cemented the musical legacy of Collin Raye.

Born Floyd Collin Wray in Arkansas, he is the son of Lois Wray, a professional musician who often opened for the big acts of the fifties, including legends like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.  Growing up, Collin and his brother Scott would often perform on stage with their mother.  As the boys got older, they struck out on their own, forming the Wrays Brothers Band.  They soon became popular local performers across Texas, and also had success performing in Reno, Nevada.

The band, now performing as The Wrays, signed with Mercury Records in the mid-eighties, after a few independent label releases raised their profile. But their major label releases were not successful, and the band broke up after losing that deal.  At this point, Raye adopted his stage name and embarked on a solo career, signing with Epic Records in 1990.

His first single, “All I Can Be (Is a Sweet Memory)”, did reasonably well, peaking at #29. It set the stage for the big breakthrough, “Love, Me.”  A heartbreaking ballad about a grieving grandfather, it was an instant classic, and began an impressive streak of hits that would make Raye one of the most dominant radio acts of the nineties.

Though he had some mid-tempo hits scattered among them, it was a string of ballads that kept him on the charts.  Mostly love songs, some became wedding hall staples, like “In This Life” and “That Was a River.”  Raye’s first two albums sold well and produced many hits, but he was not satisfied with them. Thinking himself capable of more meaningful music, he set out to make an album for the ages.  The result was extremes, his 1994 album that found him singing up-tempo material convincingly for the first time (“That’s My Story”, “My Kind of Girl.”)

But the standout hit was “Little Rock”, a powerful monologue from a recovering alcoholic that remains one of Raye’s finest moments on record.  The success of this song encouraged Raye to tackle more socially relevant material.  On his fourth album, I Think About You, the title track explored the exploitation of women in the media and society at large; “Not That Different” made the case for the universality of the human experience outweighing surface differences; and “What If Jesus Comes Back Like That” put the social justice inherent in Christ’s teachings front and center.

The depth of these hits elevated Raye into the Male Vocalist races at the country award shows, and gave the fuel for his run of hits to continue throughout the nineties. Though those hits would return to being more conventional in theme, they were still quite popular.  Highlights of this run include “I Can Still Feel You”, “On the Verge”, “Someone I Used to Know” and “Couldn’t Last a Moment.”  Raye also scored a major Adult Contemporary hit with “The Gift”, his 1997 collaboration with Jim Brickman.

As with so many other nineties stars, the new century brought a decline in fortunes. While his first four studio albums had gone platinum, nothing beyond a hits collection would sell gold in the years to come.  After his 2001 set Can’t Back Down failed to produce a hit, he left Epic Records. He’s since resurfaced on various independent labels, releasing 2005’s Twenty Years and Change to warm reviews and having a top 40 country album with 2009’s Never Going Back.  He had a minor chart hit with “A Soldier’s Prayer” in 2007, and continues to record new music and tour across North America.

Essential Singles:

  • Love, Me, 1991
  • In This Life, 1992
  • Little Rock, 1994
  • I Think About You, 1996
  • What if Jesus Comes Back Like That, 1996

Essential Albums:

  • extremes, 1994
  • I Think About You, 1995
  • 16 Biggest Hits,  2002

Next: #96. Gary Allan

Previous: #98. Lee Greenwood

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. Enjoyed the write-up but I would have had him much higher. He rarely wrote anything but few can match his vocal range and in the 90’s he did have good material. I saw him this past October and at 51 he doesn’t appear to have lost anything.

  2. Unlike Bob , I think he is about properly positioned except I would have him behind Lee Greenwood, who clearly was of greater importance than Collin Wray

  3. “he is the daughter of Lois Wray”

    You might want to change the wording of that sentence. Otherwise, nice piece. I wasn’t expecting him to make the list at all, but this position is about right.

  4. …colin raye was big on country radio in the nineties. every time i travelled to the usa in that decade he had hits on the radio and i bought the actual album. even though, he wasn’t a mover and shaker, he was one of country’s work horses on the airwaves during that time. “little rock” is my absolute favourite song of his, but there are plenty of others that are worth checking out – not only on the hits compilations.

  5. I always thought the main reason Collin Raye didn’t ascend to superstar status was the he lacked a strong image for fans to remember him by. Tom hit the nail on the head when he said Raye was “one of country’s work horses on the airwaves” during the 90s. He consistently released quality songs, with most of them being hits in a very competitive time in country music’s history. I can’t remember not liking very many of his singles either.

  6. I saw Collin Raye in concert in 2000. The opening acts were Jolie and the Wanted, followed by Steve Holy. Raye was noticeably late taking the stage (I found out years later it was because he wasn’t on site; he’d gone to Mass). That night I was introduced to Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktails (Wildberry Jack was my favorite) and someone else got a lot drunker than me. In fact, he was arrested, and then fled–while handcuffed–ultimately leaping into the Ohio River, where he drowned. Crazy night.

    I typically favor album-heavy artists over singles-oriented artists, but Collin Raye is one of the rare exceptions. I found his average album to be an aggregate of songs, rather than a cohesive statement. But, wow! Those singles were killer! I always felt he was unfairly overlooked come awards time; his voice punctuated his songs in a way that few of his era could match. I always found him likable in interviews, too, which is saying something because I typically lose most of my interest in an entertainer once they invoke religion to condemn the LGBT community. What won me over there was that Raye qualified his remarks by saying that he saw homosexuality as a sin, as defined by the Bible, but that he also saw it as basically just another sin and not worth all the angst that it seemed to generate.

    In addition to the five singles picked as essential here, I would have to find some way of adding “Anyone Else,” likely at the expense of “In This Life” (though that’s a matter of taste). Raye’s recording of “On the Verge” is relaxed, favoring an almost teasing sound; it would be an immediately urgent plea if recorded by one of today’s contemporary artists.

    I would suggest, to anyone vaguely interested in Collin Raye, that you scour eBay and see if you can turn up the Direct Hits one-hour radio special CD, in which Raye is interviewed about his career to that point, along with most of the songs collected on that hits set. I bought a copy more than 10 years ago for about $15 and still count it among the gems in my library.

  7. Travis I have to say that when Collin Raye made his remarks about the LGBT community I turned him off. That may be wrong- but I thought it was a bigoted statement wrapped up in the Bible. And I didn’t see his music as great to start with so it was easy to turn away from his songs.

  8. I wish I could recall now where I read Raye’s comments so I could quote the way he put it, but it struck me at the time that he was taking the tack that he couldn’t dispute the definition of it as a sin, but that he didn’t consider it the kind of thing that was of any concern to anyone else. I thought that was about the healthiest you could expect from someone with a pronounced devotion to religion.

    One of my oldest friends grew up in the Church of Christ and once cried because the rest of us were going to Hell on account of not having worshiped the way he was taught was the only correct way. After that, Collin Raye’s laissez-faire approach seemed pretty progressive to me.

    In general, though, I’m pretty quick to lose interest in anyone–celebrity or other–when I hear homophobic remarks. I’m not trying to stir up any debate over these larger issues, of course, but I do think it’s an appropriate avenue of discussion to see where an artist’s personal views and actions can influence how we respond to their work.

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