Every #1 Single of the Nineties: George Strait, “Heartland”


George Strait

Written by John Betts and Steve Dorff


#1 (1 week)

March 20, 1993

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

March 19, 1993

George Strait’s sendup of contemporary country becomes a huge contemporary country hit.

The Road to No. 1

George Strait’s Pure Country soundtrack kicked off with one of his biggest career hits, “I Cross My Heart.” The next single from the project also topped both singles charts.

The No. 1

“Heartland” really only exists to serve the narrative structure of the Pure Country film, which opens with a child-age version of Strait’s character singing the song about simple country life alongside the “twin fiddles and steel guitar” that the lyric celebrates.

The film then cuts to an over-the-top arena-shaking arrangement of the same song that bears no resemblance to the music described by the lyric.  It’s there to demonstrate how far Strait’s character has strayed from his roots.

So MCA released the song just as it appeared in the movie, and it topped the country charts, giving Strait one of his least characteristic radio hits.

There’s probably some commentary in all of this about how country music was starting to stray from its roots in 1993 or something, but the truth is, if you dropped “Heartland” on the radio today, it would sound like Ernest Tubb comparted to nearly everything else on the dial.

And it’s a fun song that Strait sings well, which probably doesn’t reflect well on him as an actor, but certainly reflects well on him as a singer.  His sincerity always shines through, and there was no way he was going to not make this record work, even for the sake of a movie scene.   And so it works, because it’s George Strait.

The Road From No. 1

The Pure Country soundtrack produced another top five hit with “When Did You Stop Loving Me,” on its way to six million copies sold.  Strait kept his new hot streak going with his next studio album. We’ll see the title track later in 1993.

“Heartland” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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Next: Clint Black, “When My Ship Comes In”


  1. Yup. I agree with your commentary on this song. It works, even though it’s possible that it shouldn’t. And that’s because George Strait made it work.

    I didn’t realize “When Did You Stop Loving Me” was a top five song. I don’t remember it being played very much at all on the Hot Country 97 station that just played the hits that we had by the time I got into country music in late ’93. I do remember it being played more on the other country station that played more than just the hit country songs.

  2. You pretty much nailed it here, though for me, this song works a lot better in the movie and as part of the soundtrack than as a stand alone song. As I had mentioned in the “I Cross My Heart” entry, I didn’t get to see Pure Country until many years after it came out, and while I don’t have that much recollection of actually hearing this song when it was originally a single, I remember hearing it somewhere in the late 90’s/early 00’s and thinking “Man, that’s an awful lot of screaming guitars for a George Strait song!” lol. For me, it was hard to believe something that rock sounding was actually coming from him, and it wasn’t until I finally got around to seeing the film that I understood the production choices. While I now think it’s a fun, harmless ditty, this is still one of his weakest 90’s singles, for me. You’re totally right, though, that it actually sounds “Pure Country” now compared to the majority of what’s on the radio today. The general message of the movie is also truer now than ever before. Sadly, there sure have been a lot of “dancin’ chickens” in mainstream country for the past decade or so.

    Of course, if anyone actually feared that George may have been “going Hollywood” or “going rock and roll” or whatever after this song came out, their worries should’ve been put to rest when “When Did You Stop Loving Me” was released. It’s simply amazing how such a stone country ballad could actually still make it to the top 5 in 1993, even as the weather was warming up!

    While I wouldn’t go as far to say that country music began to stray too much from it’s roots in 1993, I do notice a slight shift towards more rock and pop leaning sounds and more aggressive production styles in quite a few of the singles starting somewhere in the middle of the year, while the previous three years of the decade were still pretty much dominated by traditional leaning sounds and still fairly laid back production. Still, even the least country sounding songs from ’93 and ’94 might as well be Hank Sr. compared to what we got on radio now…

    Btw, nice touch in using the same pic of “Dusty” as the one you used in the “I Cross My Heart” entry.

  3. I saw the movie once, but I can’t say that I really remember much of it. I also owned the soundtrack and got some good mileage out of it as it was solid throughout. This is quite an enjoyable song, but I always wished it was a bit longer. I also really like “The King of Broken Hearts” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends” from the soundtrack.

  4. This song sounds like it is from a soundtrack and works only as such. Just barely. Even with context.

    An exceedingly rare misstep by King George… that still went number one.

  5. Frank – Ooh, I love those two selections, especially “Where The Sidewalk Ends.” Besides George’s, I also like both Mark Chesnutt and Lee Ann Womack’s versions of “The King Of Broken Hearts.” Two more winners from Jim Lauderdale!

    Other cuts on Pure Country I really like are “Thoughts Of A Fool,” “Overnight Male,” and “She Lays It All On The Line.”

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