This edition of “The Best Hit Songs” explores a transitional period in country music. The ’90s boom had long been over, and even Garth Brooks and Shania Twain were collecting their final big hits. Hat acts were transitioning into easy listening pop-country acts, and in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the theme of the year was simply, “looking for a solution” or, at the very least, some stability.
As always, I determine the best hit songs according to what’s listed on Wikipedia (since it offers a more varied list than the Billboard year end list). The hits had to be at least top 20 or close to it. I should also mention that these are my personal picks for the best hit songs of the year and are in no way meant to judge merely the biggest hits of this year. These are just my personal favorites of this particular year, and I invite you to share your own.
As per usual, let’s get started with some honorable mentions:
- Darryl Worley – “I Miss My Friend”
- Joe Nichols – “The Impossible”
- George Strait – “Living and Living Well”
- Tim McGraw – “Unbroken”
- Jo Dee Messina – “Bring On The Rain”
On with the list!
No. 10 – Shania Twain, “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!”
There’s a reason why I say these picks are personal at the beginning of these pieces. My mother playing music videos of Shania Twain are some of my earliest memories of country music, and this song in particular was one that had strong replay value in our house. By all accounts, it is a fairly ridiculous song (as is the music video), but it’s one of the most addicting songs to ever enter my eardrums. When you combine a stellar hook with childhood nostalgia, there’s no way this wasn’t making my list.
No. 9 – Brad Paisley, “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)
Only Brad Paisley could get away with this song without looking like a total jackass. But like “I’m Gonna Getcha Good,” “I’m Gonna Miss Her” works for being so damn fun. This was peak Paisley humor, showing a man at a crossroads between his two loves and ultimately picking the love that’s never let him down. You know what’s coming when he’s granted this decision, but the buildup to the “big reveal” works nonetheless. Country music rarely got as witty or fun as it did during Paisley’s glory days.
No. 8 – Alan Jackson, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”
And on the subject of singers recording material right in their wheelhouse, there’s nostalgia, and then there’s Alan Jackson nostalgia. Jackson has always been a thinker; the type of artist who cherishes every memory he makes and turns it into solid country gold. On “Drive,” Jackson cherishes the thrill of driving for the first time as well as simply making a memory with his father, Eugene Jackson, to whom the song pays tribute. It’s a tale where experiences and memories shape the kind of people we are, making us wonder how we could ever pay tribute to our heroes one day. In Jackson’s case, he goes on to make the same kind of memory for his little girls, but he also makes a simply stunning country song in the process.
No. 7 – Kenny Chesney, “The Good Stuff”
Now let’s see – Shania Twain has us covered in the hook department, Brad Paisley is bringing his usual dose of good-natured humor to the table, Alan Jackson is sharing his life with us, and Kenny Chesney has tapped into his reflective side. Yep, we’ve got a great chart here.
In all seriousness, 2002 was also a transitional year for Chesney as he moved from generic neo-traditional artist to the reflective, beach-loving bum we know him as today. “The Good Stuff” was one of the first marks of his unique side, showcasing a good lesson learned in what could only be marked as a country song. “The Good Stuff” is evidence of a time where the country songs had wisdom and didn’t just focus on a quick hook to get the job done. It’s one of Chesney’s best.
No. 6 – Tammy Cochran, “Life Happened”
This song is what they mean they call country music three chords and the “truth.” Not all our big dreams come true. Who we wanted to be as children usually changes by the time we become adults, but even in that time frame before when we’re all starry eyed teenagers with dreams, well … things happen. “Life Happened” manages to tell three different stories while still keeping everything cohesive, and the specific details of the story actually make this song more relatable to us all. Still, “Life Happened” doesn’t wallow in its gloomy perspective. Even when the narrator herself gets caught in the throes of life, she realizes that her life turned out alright regardless, and while we may not all live the life we want to live someday, we’ve still got a lot to be thankful for. Cheesy? Maybe, but true? Absolutely.
No. 5 – Rascal Flatts, “I’m Movin’ On”
It honestly took guts releasing something this raw so early in Rascal Flatts’ career, especially from a band best known for their hook-driven, upbeat tunes. Say what you will about Gary LeVox’s voice, but there’s no denying he isn’t pouring every ounce of himself into this song. His performance is really what makes the song hit like a ton of bricks. The theme is simple, but LeVox’s triumph makes this a passionate song. Simple, sparse, and tastefully delivered, this is easily Rascal Flatt’s finest moment on record to date.
No. 4 – Dixie Chicks, “Landslide”
It’s a rare choice to cover in country music, but the Dixie Chicks simply nailed this Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac classic. Really, they turned it into their own country music classic, with their stellar three-part harmonies illuminating the song’s underrated melody. The song also felt so timely, painting a picture of someone running away from past dangers without really knowing where they’re going. They’re lost and looking for answers, and if that didn’t capture everything all too well, I don’t know what did.
No. 3 – Tim McGraw, “Red Ragtop”
On the surface, “Red Ragtop” is a breakup track. When you read between the lines, “Red Ragtop” becomes a rare instance where country music tackled a very difficult subject with sincerity, exploring the moral issue without being preachy either way. It’s a wonderfully done story that takes you by surprise once you realize there’s more at stake than young love.
No. 2 – Blake Shelton, “Ol’ Red”
Hey, I’ll admit it. I grew up with this version of the song rather than the George Jones original. But you can’t really say this song is out of Blake Shelton’s wheelhouse. Considering he’s one of the most naturally charismatic performers in the genre, Shelton pulls off this somewhat ridiculous tune easily. Like many songs on this list, it’s a song with a story that demands your attention from beginning to end, and what secured this song’s high placement on this list was the creativity behind it all with lines that are endlessly quotable.
No. 1 – Dixie Chicks, “Long Time Gone”
When I started this feature, the purpose was to open a time capsule full of great music or, at the very least, music that connected greatly with me. As such, the only qualifications for making these lists is that the songs have to be of a high quality. This No. 1 is a rare example where a song goes beyond its already stellar quality. It makes a statement that speaks to this vicious cycle we call country music. “Long Time Gone” was the Dixie Chicks’ first release since settling their lawsuit against their record company. After they returned to country radio, the climate had changed completely, with most women ejected off of the dial and newcomers emerging without the heart and soul behind their music.
“Long Time Gone” continues country music’s tradition of keeping it grounded in its roots while also focusing on its true evolution, one where the pushing of boundaries is organic rather than tailor-made by a record label. It’s certainly a statement that rings true now more than it originally did, but this is more than a song – it’s a sign of leadership.