The countdown concludes with a wide range of classics, including breakthrough hits, signature songs, and exciting later career gems from long-established icons of the genre.
“(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All”
Written by Alan Jackson and Jim McBride
LW #10 | BF #5 | JK #38
What makes a better country song than a stark naked light bulb, one lonely pillow on a double bed, a mournful fiddle and steel guitar? Jackson’s “(Who Says) You Can’t Have It All” is one of the finest exhibits to present as the answer to that question. – Leeann Ward
Written by Dean Dillon and Pam Tillis
BF #3 | LW #13 | KJC #24 | JK #31
Co-written with Dean Dillon, this lush ballad puts a new spin on the theme of morning-after regret, with Tillis half-consoling, half-chiding her remorseful friend. It’s a song that would have shone in the hands of virtually any artist, but it’s equally outstanding as a showcase of Tillis’ inimitable sense of presence on record. From the crescendo as the approaches the chorus to the beautiful trill at the end, Tillis renders the song with a performance uniquely her own. An absolutely exquisite record. – Ben Foster
Written by George Ducas and Tia Sillers
SG #5 | JK #5 | KJC #20 | LW #29
In a fair and just world, Ducas’ two Capitol albums should have become massive sellers, yielding a string of hits. But we at least have “Lipstick Promises,” a beautiful and achingly sad song that that blended contemporary country with a retro-cool vibe that only a few acts successfully pulled off. After a long absence, Ducas released a new album, 4140, last year, and his return to country music is most welcome. – Sam Gazdziak
“Thanks to You”
Written by Jesse Winchester
JK #1 | KJC #16 | SG #27 | LW #34
Rarely have country music’s relationships with vice and with faith intersected as fascinatingly and seductively as on Harris’ “Thanks to You.” Harris gives a bawdy performance as a woman who seems hell-bent on drinking herself to death and then using her charm to talk her way into Heaven, confident that she’ll hear, “You’re a mess, but you’re my child.” A bluesy, boozy triumph, “Thanks to You” stands as a gospel song that is, above all else, sultry. – Jonathan Keefe
“Callin’ Baton Rouge”
Written by Dennis Linde
BF #4 | KJC #7 | JK #10 | SG #17 | LW #20
“Callin’ Baton Rouge” manages the near-impossible feat of capturing the euphoria of a Garth Brooks live show and channeling it into a studio recording. Despite the criticism Brooks took for his rock sensibilities, the record soars to exhilarating heights while placing country music’s signature instruments at the forefront. – BF
JK #2 | LW #7 | BF #18 | SG #19
From the album that revived a stalled out career, “Delia’s gone, was Recorded in simple mono sound, with just an acoustic guitar and a voice that was still strong and vibrant. Cash matter-of-factly interprets one of the most singable murder ballads that there ever was. However, even with its sparse and singable nature, the ferocity of the song remains strong thanks to Cash’s naturally commanding performance. – LW
“Here I Am”
Written by Tony Arata
KJC #2 | BF #2 | JK #3
We should all be so lucky to have our conscience sound like Patty Loveless. That’s the role she plays during the first two verses of “Here I Am,” before a lifetime’s worth of regret takes over in the song’s bridge and final refrain and she examines her own motivations. It’s the most complex song in Loveless’ rich catalogue, and George Jones’ influence on her phrasing has never been more prominent. In other words, it’s Patty Loveless at her absolute best. – JK
“What a Crying Shame”
Written by Kostas and Raul Malo
SG #1 | JK #4 | LW #24 | KJC #25 | BF #29
This song, right here, is why people get nostalgic for ‘90s country music. The Mavericks could release a gorgeous tune that sounded like nothing else on country radio and still get airplay. With a lead guitar that sounds like it was borrowed from a Byrds album and a fantastic vocal performance from Raul Malo, “Shame” is still on country music’s cutting edge, 20 years after its release. – SG
Written by Bob McDill
KJC #3 | SG #3 | JK #8 | BF #13 | LW #15
Twenty years ago, it was a smart satire about all those musical gold-diggers slipping on cowboy boots and pretending they were country all along. Today, it makes you more than a bit nostalgic for when everyone who wasn’t actually country felt the need to fake it. – KJC
Written by Gretchen Peters
KJC #1 | BF #1 | LW #5 | JK #6 | SG #7
“Independence Day” is the kind of record that comes along only once in a lifetime. It was rare for such a topical song to find such a wide audience in country music in 1994 – it’s all but unheard of today. Gretchen Peters’ perfectly-written hit addresses a sensitive topic with candor, dignity, and not a hint of cloying or condescension. And while those qualities were present on Peters’ own recording of the song, it took the powerful pipes of Martina McBride to give the song the intensity it warranted.
Sadly, it’s a record that has grown only more relevant over the passing of twenty years, with millions continuing to be victimized by domestic violence. One of the song’s most striking characteristics is that it doesn’t lay blame exclusively on the shoulders of the abusive husband and father. Rather, it also highlights the responsibility shared by all those friends and neighbors who whispered and talked, but always “looked the other way.” “Independence Day” not only shines a spotlight on an important issue, but does so in a way that challenges its listener to be a more caring and courageous person.
“Independence Day” is easily one of the finest and most important country singles, not only of 1994, but in the genre’s history. It remains a shining example of the ability of country music at its best to shed light on life’s hardest truths, and to give a voice to those who are suffering. – BF
The Complete List:
Favorites in this top ten are from PT, PL, MM and AJ’s Gone Country, the last partially because it’s one of the few songs that mentions Long Island and it was perfect for my playlist of songs with “Gone” in the title.
Now I have to check to see if I have any favorites that missed your top 40 for ’94.
“Independence Day” is remembered today primarily because of the over-the-top melodramatic video that accompanied the song. There was a reason the song topped out short of the top ten – listener support wasn’t there for the song. A local progamming director here played the song periodically because Clear Channel requird him to do so, but the song was rarely requested at his station.
I like Martina and might have liked the song with different production, but this was shrieking diva at its worst
…amen, bf – re “independence day”. what a mighty fine year 1994 was – not only in relative, but particularly in absolute terms. when it comes to this list, allow me to quote the delightful ms. megan trainor: “all the right junk in all the right places.” priceless.
Your assessment on radio airplay for “Independence Day” is factually incorrect. There were several radio stations that refused to air the song at all because of the subject matter, despite radio requests.
“Independence Day” is one of the most significant records to ever be released under the country music banner and shattered barriers for female-driven topical songs.
This was a genre where when murder happened, it was usually a woman being killed for adultery.
You are usually spot-on about country music history, Paul, but your blind spot here is surprisingly wide. “Independence Day” is one of the most beloved songs ever to be released, and it is not because of the video.
My favorites in the Top 10 are Jackson’s “(Who Says) You Can’t Have It All” and the Tillis & Loveless entries.
Overall, I was hoping some of the dozen or so following singles would have found a place in the Top 40. Oh, well. It was great fun looking back at the top singles from 20 (!) years ago. Thank you!
Billy Dean – Once in a While
Carlene Carter – Something Already Gone
Diamond Rio – Night Is Fallin’ in My Heart
Emmylou Harris – Crescent City
John & Audrey Wiggins – Has Anybody Seen Amy
John Anderson – Bend it Until it Breaks
Lorrie Morgan – My Night to Howl
Michelle Wright – One Good Man
Randy Travis – Before You Kill Us All
Randy Travis – Whisper My Name
Reba McEntire – Til You Love Me
Sawyer Brown – Outskirts of Town
Travis Tritt – Between an Old Memory and Me
No blind spot here, listeners either loved the song or hated it. Yes there were stations that refused to play the song, but many did play it. It was one of the least country records played on country radio in 1994, and was no more pioneering than “Skip A Rope” was in 1968, but not nearly as listenable
As I remember it, people were impressed with McBride’s impressive pipes at the time of its release, because it hadn’t been overdone yet. Of course, later the belting got tiring, but not at the time of that song’s release. I don’t recall anyone referring to her performance as “shrieking deiva” at the time.
I’ve been critical of McBride’s limited interpretive skills over the years and of the influence “Independence Day” has had on her song selection. But I’ll still defend “Independence Day” as one of exactly two times in her career (the other being “Whatever You Say,” for those keeping score) that her belting was actually in-service to a well-written song worthy of her considerable bluster.
as far as songs that didn’t make it, I would have included:
Wade Hayes – Old Enough to Know Better (Charles Rains & Wade Hayes)
Trisha Yearwood – It Wasn’t his Child (Skip Ewing)
Suzy Bogguss – Souvenirs (Gretchen Peters)
Shenandoah w/Alison Krauss – Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart (Bill LaBounty & Rick Chudacoff)
Hal Ketchum – (Tonight we Just Might) Fall in Love Again (Al Anderson & Hal Ketchum)
I was born in 1994, so there is another good single!
Also surprised that “Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart” and “Whisper My Name” didn’t make the cut, but inspiring debate is what these sort of lists are for!
In retrospect 1994 was a pretty good year, especially in light of the years that followed it
My favorites, a baker’s two dozen, in order
01 David Ball – “Thinkin’ Problem”
02 Merle Haggard – “In My Next Life”
03 Shenandoah & Alison Krauss – “Somewhere In The Vicinity of The Heart”
04 Tractors – “Baby Likes To Rock It”
05 Joe Diffie – “John Deere Greene”
06 Dan Seals – “All Fired Up”
07 George Jones & Alan Jackson – “A Good Year For The Roses”
08 Trisha Yearwood – “XXXs and OOOs”
09 Alabama – “The Cheap Seats”
10 Dawn Sears – “Runaway Train”
11 Dwight Yoakam – “Pocket Of A Fool”
12 Martina McBride – “Life #9”
13 Neal McCoy – “Wink”
14 AaronTippin – “I Got It Honest”
15 John Michael Montgomery – “Be My Baby Tonight”
16 Tracy Lawrence – “If The Good Die Young”
17 John Michael Montgomery – “I Swear”
18 Johnny Cash – “Delia’s Gone”
19 Kenny Chesney- “The Tin Man”
20 George Strait – “The Man In Love With You”
21 Kathy Mattea – “Walking Away A Winner”
22 Dixie Chicks – “Planet of Love”
23 Travis Tritt – “Foolish Pride”
24 Clint Black – “A Good Run of Bad Luck”
25 Clay Walker – “If I Could Make A Living”
26 Reba McEntire – “Why Haven’t I Heard From You”
As I said it was a good year as there were easily a few hundred songs I liked from the year 1994
And yes, Leeann I heard the term shrieking diva applied to Martina this year – it certainly wasn’t a term I originated !
Regarding “Independence Day”. I have to agree with Paul D on this one. I think it has always been overrated and I don’t believe it will be significant in 20 years. However, only time will tell. It’s a great vocal, but subject matter alone does not make a great song. Controversial songs in country have always been around but it seems every generation wants to claim their favorite singers pushed the boundaries more than the previous. In reality, it’s usually more media hype. Just my two cents. Overall, it was a good year in country.
I think one would sell “Independence Day” extremely short to suggest that its impact is solely due to “subject matter alone”, even though its subject matter was groundbreaking for its time. I believe the song also deserves recognition for the way it dealt with its subject matter, as I brought out in my above comments. Its message is far more complex than just ‘Hey, domestic violence is a thing.’
My respect for what McBride did in bringing “Independence Day” to a wide audience is separate from my feelings about her career overall. While she is a talented vocalist who has made a number of records I’ve enjoyed, she has never ranked among my favorite singers.
Agreed wiith Ben on all points. She is not one of my favorite artists either, but the song was undoubtedly impactful and will continue to have an important place in country music history, which is thanks to both Martina’s appropriate vocals for the song and Gretchen Peter’s adept songwriting.
It’s so fun to remember all of these great ’90s tunes. The Mavericks are my favorite band but for some reason “What A Crying Shame” has never struck me as their best single. I still love the song but would definitely rank “O What A Thrill” above it. Later singles like “I Should Have Been True,” “Here Comes the Rain” and “Things I Cannot Change” all rank above “Shame” as well for me.
The sweet thing about The Mavericks is, even though I have favorite songs by them, even their songs that I’m not as crazy about are still very good.
I would throw in “Closing Time” by Radney Foster as one of my Top 10 of 1994.
I would’ve included “Cheap Seats”, “Somewhere in the Vicinity”, “I got it Honest” and Chely Wright’s “Till I was loved by You” somewhere in my top 40. I was never a Pam Tillis fan, so her songs wouldve been out. All in all noe a bad countdown and a great stroll down memory lane.
Now for a new project, since were in the season, how about the best Christmas songs both taditional, and non traditional of all time?
I would have included Reba’s “Heart is A Lonely Hunter” and “Why HAven’t I Heard From You” here.
Additional songs I would have included:
Shenandoah – “Somewhere In The Vicinity of the Heart”
Billy Dean – “We Just Disagree”
John Michael Montgomery – “Rope The Moon”
Wynonna – “Is It Over Yet”
Garth Brooks – “Standing Outside The Fire”
Clint Black – “Good Run of Bad Luck”
Travis Tritt – “Foolish Pride”
Faith Hill – “Wild One”
I like the Reba singles that people have been mentioning for inclusion on the list or their own. Personally, I would cite “She Thinks His Name Was John,” if I were to cite a Reba single on a Best-of 1994 list. While it’s not one of her best career-wise or one of my most favorites from her, I think it was a daring choice in terms of subject matter for the time, but she had the star power to back it up and take the chance. Otherwise, this list was a great read!