The Best Singles of 1991, Part One: #40-#21

The first half of our Best Singles of 1991 list showcases the wide array of young talent that dominated the country music scene in the early nineties.  A handful of veterans appear alongside them, bringing the A game they needed to compete with their younger counterparts.

“What About the Love We Made”
Shelby Lynne

Written by John Rotch

#5 – JK

No less than Tammy Wynette once said that Shelby Lynne had the best voice in country music. Of Lynne’s early bids for mainstream stardom, “What About the Love We Made” remains the finest example of how her performances bleed with raw emotion and extraordinary power. – Jonathan Keefe

“True Love Never Dies”
Kevin Welch

Written by Gary Scruggs and Kevin Welch

#11 – JK |  #30 – SG

Its title suggests an inspirational paean of devotion, but Kevin Welch’s “True Love Never Dies” is a tale of grief and regret as deep as the “ocean of sorrow” he’s going to sail across to get back to the true love he walked out on. – JK

“One of Those Things”
Pam Tillis

Written by Paul Overstreet and Pam Tillis

#21 – JK | #26 – BF | #36 – SG

Tillis originally recorded “One of Those Things” in the 1980s, in her first foray into the country music world: a singles contract with Warner Brothers. It didn’t chart. More than 5 years later, it became a Top 10 hit, and Tillis earned her recognition as a singer and a songwriter. Tillis wrote this with Paul Overstreet, and while her Put Yourself in My Place album had many wonderful songs, this was a vocal highlight. – Sam Gazdziak


“Fallin’ Out of Love”
Reba McEntire

Written by Jon Ims

#13 – KJC |  #17 – BF

This tale of going from broken down by heartbreak to being empowered by it is perfectly paralleled by McEntire’s vocal performance, which begins as tear-soaked heartbreak but builds up to making the rafters ring as independence is fully claimed by the end of the second verse. – Kevin John Coyne

“Keep it Between the Lines”
Ricky Van Shelton

Written by Kathy Louvin and Russell Smith

#16 – LMW | #31 – SG |  #38 – KJC

“Keep It Between the Lines” may be a shade heavy-handed, with God literally speaking to a single father in the words of his father. But what’s country music without sentiment and spirituality and family relations all coming together in the final verse? Van Shelton doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a New Traditionalist, but he knew how interpret a song and make it a hit. – SG

“You Know Me Better Than That”
George Strait

Written by Anna Graham and Tony Haselden

#17 – LMW |  #24 – BF |  #39 – KJC

His new love thinks his perfect, but it only makes him pine further for the former partner who knew him warts and all. A perfect marriage of heartache and humor with a level of maturity and everyday realism scarcely heard on radio today. – Ben Foster

“(Without You) What Do I Do With Me”
Tanya Tucker

Written by David Chamberlain, David Lewis, and Royce Porter

#15 – JK |  #28 – KJC |  #36 – BF

The surface reading of this song is that it’s about the loneliness after a bad breakup, but the intensity of the desperation makes it sound to me like a song about separation by death. It works both ways. – KJC

“Two of a Kind, Workin’ On a Full House”
Garth Brooks

Written by Bobby Boyd, Warren Haynes, and Dennis Robbins

#23 – JK |  #31 – LMW |  #34 – SG |  #37 – BF

While Brooks has often been criticized for not being country enough and even blamed for veering country music away from the neotraditional sounds of the nineties, “Two of a Kind” is as country as it gets in the neotraditional world! With its poker metaphors and redneck references, the song is silly, but it’s also  catchy and clever. – Leeann Morrow Ward

Garth Brooks

Written by Billy Joel

#9 – BF |  #22 – KJC

We got our first taste of Pomp & Circumstance Garth with this big-throated, melodramatic cover of Billy Joel’s “Shameless.” It’s a disarmingly powerful track, especially at the end, when a female background singer named Trisha Yearwood steals the spotlight with her jaw-dropping wail.  – KJC

“Mirror Mirror”
Diamond Rio

Written by Bob DiPiero, John Jarrard, and Mark D. Sanders

#7 – JK | #26 – SG

The song takes a familiar fairy-tale premise and turns it into a nightmare of regret and self-loathing, which is an impressive trick. But even that is nowhere nearly as impressive as Diamond Rio’s vocal harmonies on the chorus of “Mirror Mirror.” – JK

“That’s What I Like About You”
Trisha Yearwood

Written by John Hadley, Kevin Welch, and Wally Wilson

#12 – JK |  #22 – SG |  #30 – BF

She had her biggest hits with her ballads, but Trisha Yearwood could— and still can, for the record— sell a bluesy, uptempo number better than just about anyone. On her cover of Kevin Welch’s “That’s What I Like About You,” she lets her man know exactly what works for her, and the way she belts and wails through that list makes it clear that she’s not to be trifled with. – JK

“The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'”
Travis Tritt & Marty Stuart

Written by Ronnie Scaife and Marty Stuart

#13 – SG |  #17 – JK |  #25 – LMW

 The Tritt/Stuart collaborations and subsequent tour was a marriage of two real talents at the top of their game. Tritt later guested on a Marty Stuart song with “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (for a Long, Long Time). But it was this song, co-written with Ronny Scaife, which was the bigger of the two hits. – SG

“Love, Me”
Collin Raye

Written by Max T. Barnes and Skip Ewing

#12 – KJC |  #15 – LMW |  #22 – BF

A beautiful conversation between a grandfather and grandson that begins as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and ends with a solemn prayer for the grandfather to be together again with the love of his life in the world that waits beyond this one. – KJC

“Rockin’ Years”
Dolly Parton & Ricky Van Shelton

Written by Floyd Parton

#7 – KJC |  #9 – LMW

“Rockin’ Years” is so sweet that it threatens to be too sweet. But it stops just short of  that boundary and instead this declaration of love and devotion is just the right amount of sweet and clever. – LMW

“Look at Us”
Vince Gill

Written by Max D. Barnes and Vince Gill

#7 – KJC | #9 – LMW

I’m sure there could be a better anniversary song out there than this one, but if there is, I haven’t heard it. – KJC

“We Both Walk”
Lorrie Morgan

Written by Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters

#3 – BF |  #29 – KJC

Don’t let the toe-tapping arrangement distract you from the underlying strength amidst vulnerability. Morgan’s narrator decides she’s done with her partner walking in and out of her life, and reveals that she’s done plenty of walking of her own – “You walk away…I walk the floor.” A great lyrical hook meets a great guitar hook and everybody wins. – BF

“Asking Us to Dance”
Kathy Mattea

Written by  Hugh Prestwood

#8 – JK |  #18 – KJC |  #39 – BF

An ode to spontaneity and taking advantage of rare opportunities when they arise, “Asking Us to Dance” boasts perhaps the most gorgeous melody to hit country radio in the 90s. Moreover, its vivid imagery (“There’s a whisper of a breeze/Blowing through the tangled silver/Hanging from the Cyprus trees”) is evocative and unique, and it keeps the song from lapsing into too-easy sentimentality.  – JK

“Time Passes By”
Kathy Mattea

Written by Don Henry and Jon Vezner

#15 – BF |  #21 – SG |  #23 – KJC |  #26 – JK

Don Henry and Jon Vezner are two songwriters that match Mattea’s troubadour style perfectly. At first listen, “Time Passes By” sounds like a revisiting of “Come From the Heart,” but listen to the urgency of that vocal and the Celtic influences in the production. This record said as much about where Mattea was going as it did about where she had been.  – KJC

“The Sweetest Thing”
Carlene Carter

Written by Carlene Carter and Robert Ellis Orrall

#11 – BF | #18 – SG |  #28 – JK |  #30 – KJC

Carter finds a deep potency in a simple lyric as she muses, “We wanted love to last forever, and the good Lord knows we tried, but when the rain came pouring down, there was no place left to hide. A #25 chart peak made “The Sweetest Thing” the closest thing Carter had to a ballad hit, and what a loss it was that radio listeners didn’t get to hear more of her vulnerable side. – BF

“Down to My Last Teardrop”
Tanya Tucker

Written by Paul Davis

#10 – BF | #20 – LMW | #34 – KJC | #38 – JK

Tucker revamps her sound for the nineties boom, and turns in a fiery vocal that recalls the best of her early seventies hits. This #2 smash launched the biggest-selling studio album of her career, and helped secure her CMA Female Vocalist win in the fall of this year. – KJC


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