‘Best Hit Songs’ is a recurring (and lighthearted) feature where I take a look back at the “best” hit songs of a particular year (top 20 or close to it). It’s the only feature I operate where Wikipedia is a handy source. This time around, we’re taking a trip back to 1993. To see what other years I’ve written about for this series, click here or scroll to the bottom of this page.
This feature, as always, remains pointless (especially now), so let’s at least have some fun with it. The ‘90s provide a good soundtrack for that, and one could argue 1993 is one of the more pivotal years of the decade. After all, Garth Brooks would finally have some welcome competition when Shania Twain switched producers for her natural pop-country style that would, in part, dominate the decade. And with “hat acts” still dominating the airwaves, the neotraditonal sound was alive and well, too.
As always, let’s get started with some honorable mentions:
- Alan Jackson – “Chattahoochee” (When it comes to Jackson’s goofier material, this is an absolute highlight)
- Pam Tillis – “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” (The joke is right there and the song never wears it out. Plus, they really go all in with that riff toward the end)
- Sawyer Brown – “All These Years” (The final cut for the list, and though it gets a bit ham-fisted at points, it’s an interesting take on infidelity)
- Joe Diffie – “(Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox) If I Die” (A bit eerie to listen through now, but that switch it pulls – and you’ll know it when you hear it – proves why Diffie was equally adept at handling both serious and silly material)
- Tanya Tucker – “Soon” (Basically, Sugarland’s “Stay” before it existed; both songs are great)
On with the top 10!
No. 10 – Travis Tritt, “T-R-O-U-B-L-E”
Songs from this era sometimes got too corny for their own good, and then there’s ones that crossed the line so far to the point of being incredibly fun and endearing. No, “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” certainly isn’t a particularly smart tune; it’s a fairly standard bar hookup track that not many remember as an Elvis Presley track, all things considered. But Travis Tritt’s version kicks the tune into high-gear with a blazing fast take on ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll with the jauntier keys and burnished electric guitar, where Tritt, too, is obviously having too much fun with everything going on here. What’s most surprising is how the cover fits right in with the rest of those uptempo ‘90s hits, and while it’s basically just an adrenaline rush and little more, it’s a damn good one all the same.
No. 9 – Toby Keith, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy”
I’ve always found it ironic that, despite losing himself to machismo and jingoism in the 2000s, Toby Keith’s debut single is devoid of that while still, in a nutshell, being about wanting to be a cowboy. Even beyond a more technical analysis, though, that riff is as addictive and purely joyful as its chorus. And that’s largely the point – it’s a desire from a young, wide-eyed dreamer to live out that childhood fantasy, and even if that specific dream is dead, there’s something relatable about the fantasy and allure of an obviously fictitious life. It’s one of the most perfect choices for a debut single, and though it is just pure escapism, it’s an example of how that can still be potent.
No. 8 – Robert Ellis Orrall, “Boom! It Was Over”
To repeat what I said earlier in my Travis Tritt blurb, even the corniest songs could be fun and endearing … that is, provided they were in on the joke from the start. And there’s very few better examples of that then Robert Ellis Orrall’s novelty hit, where the title says it all. He’s not about to make the lead character likable, and by all accounts he had this ending coming, especially when the similes get more creatively ridiculous as the song progresses.
No. 7 – Reba McEntire & Linda Davis, “Does He Love You”
Spoiler alert: we’re done with the fun songs for the remainder of this list. All that’s left for this song is the pain these two women feel as they come face-to-face wondering who’s “the other woman” in their love triangle. Leave it to two powerful entertainers like Reba McEntire and Linda Davis to beautifully handle the emotional impact of the situation, too; especially when, in the end, they know the answer doesn’t really matter anyway. They’re already hurt and feel too humiliated to walk away, but there’s still something to the sentiment of wanting to know if any of that love was real, if only to face tomorrow with a little more confidence. Beautiful, tragic and gorgeous all the same; it’s a highlight in both of their discographies.
No. 6 – Trisha Yearwood, “Walkaway Joe (feat. Don Henley)”
It’s easy, in hindsight, to listen through artists’ past singles and identify their biggest strengths. For Trisha Yearwood, it’s her voice – soft enough to grant subtlety, but powerful enough to demonstrate the full emotive range her performances often require. With “Walkaway Joe,” it’s just her, piano for atmosphere and that lingering feeling of sadness and regret that only a dobro can conjure. And though the song has always cleverly framed itself as an archetype of a young relationship with specific details only used to make this particular story unique, Yearwood sounds like she’s in that brokenhearted woman’s mindset – the one who didn’t heed her mother’s warning out of a stronger desire for what she thought was love. Sure, the ending to this particular relationship is a bit more brutal than an average high school fantasy, but if anything it only serves to show how deep those scars will run for this woman henceforth. It’s not even Yearwood’s best song from this year pulling from that same sentiment, but more on that later.
No. 5 – Patty Loveless, “Nothin’ But the Wheel”
With this selection, I’m stretching the definition of “hit,” which is more sad than anything. This is among Patty Loveless’ best work – a piano ballad that shifts toward a warm acoustic foundation with enough atmosphere and lingering fiddle and pedal steel to capture that lonesome feeling of striking out on one’s own. Escapism for the sake of itself rarely makes for good material, but when this trip on the highway is used to frame Loveless’ drive away from a troubled past and dead relationship, the subtext left from that pain is heartbreaking. Though what I think I like best is an overall message of hope and resilience, where that drive may not provide all of the answers she needs right now, but will certainly provide enough temporary solace to push forward. That’s all it takes sometimes.
No. 4 – Confederate Railroad, “When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back”
This took me by surprise – a sparse, brittle acoustic ballad with fantastic texture coming from a band known more for their rowdier, southern-rock-inspired cuts. On the surface, I suppose it’s not that surprising; this decade did favor corny and overly sentimental ballads, after all. And “When You Leave Like That” is all set to cross that line of being mawkish … and then it doesn’t. There’s no happy ending for the star character who recklessly stumbles through life because of a bad childhood, and redemption only comes when it’s too late. The song doesn’t ask for sympathy, but it does show how even the tiniest decision can forever alter who we are and who we become, and without that solid foundation, you’re forever doomed to just repeat those mistakes.
No. 3 – Pam Tillis, “Let That Pony Run”
The opening lines of this song remain some of my favorite of all time: “Mary was married with children / Had the perfect suburban life / ‘Til her husband came clean with the help of Jim Beam and confessed all his sins in one night.” It’s a common theme for country music, but it says so much with so little. That’s considering, too, how “Let That Pony Run” is more complicated than that anyway. It finds Pam Tillis’ character caught in the aftermath of the situation, free to move on with her life yet unable to find the courage to do so. Yet the subtext is hopeful, acknowledging how she’ll be fine one day after that shock fades and she finds the strength to explore her newfound freedom to find herself. And there’s never any judgment cast even when there easily could be – part because she’s not sure what to really make of all of it, but also because the song hints she needed this break anyway; the love died long ago anyway. Let that pony run, indeed.
No. 2 – Dwight Yoakam, “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”
I’ve discussed before how the This Time era was one of Dwight Yoakam’s best from a creative perspective, and this single stands with “Fast As You” as evidence for that – an atmospheric, moody song cut from those Californian roots, even if I wouldn’t label it an outright Bakersfield sound. It’s a rambling from an isolated wanderer that could easily lose itself to bravado, and yet Yoakam’s tone is mostly withered. He’s had enough and knows the pain isn’t about to stop anytime soon, yet he’ll weather it somehow. And Yoakam is one of few performers who could sell this with the weary brand of resignation it requires.
And for the record, it’s a great quarantine song.
No. 1 – Trisha Yearwood, “The Song Remembers When”
A song about a song, and Trisha Yearwood’s finest, at that. Kris Kristofferson himself has called Yearwood the finest interpreter of song, and I’m not sure one needs any more evidence than this. She moves from being shocked at how many memories this one song she’d forgotten conjures to letting said memories absolutely crush her, and it’s a tricky emotional balance Yearwood nails effortlessly. It’s dangerous to assume a song is relatable for everyone, but considering the two subjects in question here are painful memories and a connection to a certain song, it’s safe to say every music fan at least understands this song’s sentiment. It’s a sparse piano ballad accented only by hints of acoustics, reverb, strings and pedal steel, and yet for as much room as Yearwood has to exercise her voice to potentially overdo this track, she effectively tests her emotive range more than her pure power. An absolutely gutting, crushing song, and easily the finest single of this particular year.