Unlike most years I feature for this series, the ’90s seems to be the one point in time where country music didn’t seem so fragmented. There wasn’t a huge diversity in style, but no one would mistake any of the songs from this year as anything but country.
With that said, I’ll be honest – this wasn’t a stellar year in terms of outright quality. There’s excellent songs here, but even the best ones would be a few spots lower in another year. Nearly half of the list even consists of cover songs, also, so I don’t know what that says.
Still, we’re not here to be negative. We’re here to count down the best hit songs of 1997 (top 20 or close to it). As always, this is the only feature where Wikipedia is a handy source. Also, these are, of course, only my personal picks and preferences. I invite you share yours down below!
First, some honorable mentions:
- Pam Tillis – “Land Of The Living” (A tune about getting back into the swing of things sounds as peppy as you hope it would be)
- Clint Black – “Half Way Up” (Black’s later work isn’t as well-received, but this is a nice, oddly moodier cut from him)
- Alan Jackson – “There Goes” (Nice, easy-going simplicity and Jackson’s charming demeanor always go hand-in-hand)
- Patty Loveless – “The Trouble With The Truth” (It’s almost like a country song that breaks the fourth wall)
- Trace Adkins – “The Rest Of Mine” (Adkins has always had somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde personality throughout his career, so no one really expected him to churn out a stone cold country ballad like this)
Further honorable mentions can be found here.
On with the list!
No. 10 – Tracy Byrd, “Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got”
As previously mentioned, this list will include quite a few covers. Normally I’d advise artists to refrain from covering a Johnny Paycheck song, but there are, of course, exceptions. Byrd’s lower-registered, plain-spoken delivery suits this song fine, and that melody is beyond infectious. Seriously – I can’t get that chorus out of my head now.
No. 9 – Alan Jackson, “Who’s Cheatin’ Who”
Speaking of cover songs that just seem to “work” with other artists …
Alan Jackson is a master at heartbreak and laid-back, easy-going humor, and “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” is a testament to that latter category. It’s certainly one of the most entertaining cheating songs in history, but it comes with the kind of clingy paranoia that might come across as insufferable in the wrong hands. Thankfully, Jackson handles it with his wry sense of humor and cornball personality, and it turns into an absolute blast.
No. 8 – Tracy Lawrence, “How A Cowgirl Says Goodbye”
My oh my, this is as smooth as butter. The Spanish flourishes give this such a breezy flavor, which is ironic given how sad it actually is, lyrically. This is a classic example of everything coming together to deliver an outstanding song. I’m going to have this in my head all day as well. I wish I had more to say about this, but it’s really one of those songs that speaks for itself.
No. 7 – Alan Jackson, “Everything I Love”
If “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” saw Alan Jackson acting as the devilish smartass we all know and love, “Everything I Love” shows his other, more somber side. Before the trope of comparing love to addictive substances was played out, “Everything I Love” showed the other side of the coin – a true destruction of someone slowly from within. Naturally, Jackson sold this track with ease.
No. 6 – Gary Allan, “Her Man”
Gary Allan’s introduction to the country music scene couldn’t have been more appropriate. Perhaps not the most exciting move in the world, but it was a bold statement to lead things off with a cover of a relatively unknown Waylon Jennings tune. Allan, perhaps more than most artists here, has always sold more serious songs in a scary good way, and this is about as straightforward and country as you can get, lyrically.
No. 5 – Patty Loveless, “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me”
As effective of a heartbreaking country song as any other out there, “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me,” has the kind of smooth flow to it that’s evident in the genre’s best. Loveless sings this not just with pure power, but also a tired, aching conviction. Additionally, the uptick in energy during the chorus gives it a driving punch for added flavor. “I can’t wait to see your face, but you don’t seem to miss me” – I mean … damn.
No. 4 – Trace Adkins, “This Ain’t No Thinkin’ Thing”
As previously mentioned, Trace Adkins is a bit of an enigma. There’s times where you swear he’s one of the best vocalists country music has to offer, and then there’s other times where he chases modernity in a way that’s flat-out embarrassing. “This Ain’t No Thinkin’ Thing,” however, is a rare case in its own right. I haven’t heard a song embrace modern flourishes this well since Brooks & Dunn’s “There Ain’t Nothin’ ‘Bout You.” It’s moody, but it’s got such a catchy melody attached to it that’s hard to resist. It’s infectious, and perhaps that’s the key to it all – don’t think too much about a song that tells you not to think, and you might find yourself entranced by it.
No. 3 – Travis Tritt, “Where Corn Don’t Grow”
Despite featuring two Waylon Jennings covers here, there was oddly a lack of Jennings on the charts by this point. Country music is full of contradictions.
Anyway, “Where Corn Don’t Grow” succeeds for the same reason Gary Allan’s version of “Her Man” did – Travis Tritt is a serious vocalist who serves the message of the track justice. In essence, “Where Corn Don’t Grow” captures the old feeling of wanting to be older as a child through excellent metaphors and framing. Of course, the child later learns what his father tried to tell him, but as always, it’s too late. And the vicious cycle of time continues.
No. 2 – Lee Ann Womack, “The Fool”
It’s a shame that one of Lee Ann Womack’s best songs is one of her hardest to find. But “The Fool” takes on an unusual perspective only seen a few times throughout its history. We’ve heard of songs shown from the perspective of the “other” woman, but what makes “The Fool” more heartbreaking is that, for all intents and purposes, this is an appropriate relationship. Yet the main character’s spouse can’t shake an old lover (and he doesn’t even know it!), making Womack come to the realization that there’s no love there after all. Her delivery of this song is absolutely chilling.
No. 1 – Tim McGraw, “Everywhere”
Without giving it a serious listen, “Everywhere” can sound fairly tender and sweet. But when you really dig into the content, it’s heartbreaking to hear how someone uses their misery to their advantage. Tim McGraw is a damn good emotive interpreter when the time calls for it, and his subtle, understated delivery of this track is the key to it all. You really can’t tell if McGraw is happy to see visions of his ex-lover or if he’s just adjusting to a new normal, but the track is effectively pulled off either way.