Previous: Favorite Hit Country Songs of 1996
I called 1996 a stacked year in the last edition of this series, one that would likely only be rivaled by 1992, just according to a quick, cursory glance. I wish I could say that remained true, but I’m going to hold off on those designations until we’ve reached the conclusion of this decade, because 1995 proves we’re definitely in the heart of ‘90s country, and all winners because of it.
At any rate, I am going to predict that no other year will give me the trouble of sorting itself out quite like this year did, because on sheer quantity alone, there are songs that aren’t even honorable mentions here that might have made other top 10 lists on weaker years; it’s that stacked, and has been revised more times than I care to admit. And what’s more is that there are several songs here that I’d count among my favorites of the entire decade entirely – an abundance of riches in quality and quantity. Of course, given that we’re now smack-dab in the middle of one of the genre’s most lucrative decades – critically and commercially, especially given how this is basically the peak of the boom period – it shouldn’t feel as surprising as it does. It just means we’re in for a fantastic batch of music.
As a refresher, regardless of whether you are or aren’t new to this feature, this is a series in which we explore the hits of yesteryear – not necessarily the best or most impactful ones (because that’s just a silly exercise anyway), but rather just personal favorites, meaning I invite you to share yours, as well. If you’re curious as to what qualifies for this particular list, here’s a handy guide. Let’s get started.
No. 10 – Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Tender When I Want to Be” (written by Mary Chapin Carpenter)
This one snuck up on me when I revisited it. Maybe it was that impeccable roiling melodic groove that sucked me in and wouldn’t let go, or maybe it’s because for as many songs as Mary Chapin Carpenter has where her guard is up, letting it down here is the entire point. Granted, I do love the no-frills bite of her other material, but this optimistic love song where she leans into the wind – consequences be damned – is a nice change of pace, allowing both partners to stand on an equal level with one another, which is the healthier way to go anyway if it’s a relationship meant to last. It may be underrated in her general discography, but something this infectious and breezy is too potent to deny.
No. 9 – Alan Jackson, “Song For the Life” (written by Rodney Crowell)
I’m not surprised to see Alan Jackson grace another list of mine, but that he’s only helping to start it off with one of my favorites of his really says a lot about what’s ahead. And while he is playing to comfortable territory here off the spacious neotraditional mix where everything from the understated piano to the fiddle sounds impeccable opposite his warm, graceful charisma, like with most tracks of his, it’s the writing that pulls me in further. Like with “Remember When,” this is Jackson taking a moment to get personal and reflect on the journey thus far, framed through the sense of humanity that underscores so many of his best works … albeit through Rodney Crowell’s perspective this time around.
How fitting that it feels natural regardless, though, especially when the ultimate lesson is that he’s still learning how to be more expressive and empathetic, with an open admittance that he’s had his faults but is working to overcome them and become more mature. It’s a really starkly presented sentiment from two masters of the craft, and the proof of concept for this song’s message is evident in nearly everything that came afterward from both of them… and before, really.
No. 8 – John Anderson, “Bend It Until It Breaks” (written by John Anderson and Lionel Delmore)
You know, judging by these first few entries (and what’s ahead), I think underrated favorites by personal favorite artists is the theme of this list for me. After all, while “Bend It Until It Breaks” does play pretty similarly to “When It Comes to You” off the smooth, slow-burning Mark Knopfler-inspired riff to echo it, this lets its intensity fly more in full force with that fantastic fiddle lead, haunting melody, excellent solo, and smoldering outro. And honestly, I can even get the intentions behind this one a little better – where John Anderson’s character refuses to let a partner emotionally manipulate him further and just wants so desperately to escape the toxic cycle, plain and simple. And yet, given how infectious this is, it’s a firestorm I can’t help but love and revisit it often; I haven’t broken it yet, at least.
No. 7 – Reba McEntire, “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” (written by Mark D. Sanders, Kim Williams, and Ed Hill)
Considering I praised “The Fear of Being Alone” in the previous edition of this series, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” may very well provide the perfect prequel, aided most by Reba McEntire’s signature sharp-witted delivery that always lets the direct message cut to the core. And if the former found her character pushed to the edge of a mistake caused merely by fear of loneliness and misspent expectations over a hookup, the latter is the intended warning to stay away in the first place. Of course, the entire point of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” is to show how it sometimes can’t be helped, where even if McEntire plays the role of a faraway onlooker here, she understands the heart is going to do what it will at its most vulnerable, consequences be damned. And she also knows it’s a domino effect of pain, where most people are going to let it be taken too far and repeat their mistakes over and over. Again, just a sharp-witted cut across the board in a discography full of them, and another underrated favorite of mine.
No. 6 – Travis Tritt, “Sometimes She Forgets” (written by Steve Earle)
I think this may be my favorite Travis Tritt single. I feel like I maybe neglected showcasing it further when I ran through my list of favorite Steve Earle songs, but it really is Tritt’s weighted delivery that sells it for me anyway. Of course, Earle’s own plainspoken, heartbreakingly direct setup helps as well, setting the scene for a barroom full of lonely patrons, but none as lonely as one particular woman stung by love one too many times before (how fitting that “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” is also here). And as Tritt plays the role of a mere onlooker, it feeds well into this song’s strong sense of empathy for the broken soul in question, where the depiction of her general mistrust and coldness toward anyone is a sad but relatable sight, indeed. And while I’d like to think the subtext maybe suggests that Tritt’s character is the one who burned her in the first place and carries his own regrets over it, it’s still just a fantastic tried-and-true depiction of heartbreak at its finest in a country song either way – one I won’t forget.
No. 5 – Alison Krauss & Union Station, “When You Say Nothing At All” (written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz)
Ironically enough, there are two tributes to Keith Whitley on this list (one albeit somewhat indirectly), and while we’ll get to the other one later on, for now we have Alison Krauss’ highest-charting country single – as the lead performer in the spotlight, that is, backed against her Union Station band. It really is the perfect combination of styles, where even if Whitley didn’t write this directly, his tender, magnetic warmth and charm makes it sound like he did. And in the magic of the calm and the quiet, we have an area where Krauss has always best operated, letting the message of, well, silence paradoxically resonate. It really is just a graceful record all around, strengthened not only by the gentle touches of mandolin and Krauss’ angelic tone (the second time I’ve described an artist’s voice like that this week), but also by the maturity present in the sentiment – that true love and devotion can, and should, be measured more by actions, not by mere words. It’s a lightning-in-a-bottle moment of magic, where perhaps its beauty really is just self-evident, elevated best by listening and saying nothing at all to let it shine. Can’t help but wish it had to led to more for Krauss in the country universe, though.
No. 4 – Daryle Singletary, “I Let Her Lie” (written by Tim Johnson)
This is a sad case, in more ways than one. Not only because Daryle Singletary was an underappreciated talent in his short time on Earth, but also because “I Let Her Lie” showcases the promise of what could have been. There’s a melancholy to this that he handles so uniquely well, not only in the disappointment over his partner’s continuous cheating, but also by how he’d truly like to believe there’s a part of her that still loves him. And by further setting up their established history as high-school lovers only for time and distance to take its toll on the relationship … it hits like a ton of bricks to hear it all unfold, especially given how by its end, Singletary’s character has no choice but to leave. Even then, he’s leaving without any bitterness or malice in his heart, because that love and history is just too strong to throw away, even if, of course, he can’t live that way anymore. Phenomenally well-framed, written, and performed in the delivery and the gentle touches of acoustics and fiddle that only let the hurt sink further. It’s an underrated gem of the decade.
No. 3 – David Lee Murphy, “Dust On the Bottle” (written by David Lee Murphy)
I think, next to “Friends in Low Places,” this is the ‘90s country song that pretty much anyone can sing along to from memory and can serve as the intended crowd-pleaser it was made to be. And how fitting that it’s only seemed to age even better with time, as fine as the metaphorical wine that defines this song’s message. It’s a case of nailing the basics and expanding further with excellent execution, first through the sharply well-defined acoustic groove that plays well to the propulsive, huge hook, and also by its elevation of familiar tropes through appreciated storytelling and character-based detail. I mean, in a nutshell, this plays to the cliché “old man offers advice” trope and actually manages to work, because it’s wrapped in the more important metaphor of building foundations meant to last, in life and love. And hey, when it’s as philosophical as it is catchy, I’ll gladly take it any day, no matter how much dust collects on that bottle.
No. 2 – Patty Loveless, “Here I Am” (written by Tony Arata)
Between “Here I Am” and “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” 1995 seems to be the year where Patty Loveless cleverly toyed with the concept of the kiss-off track to mine for gold. I love the desperation that characterizes the latter track’s final plea to end a neglect that’s frayed her relationship, but this is something else altogether. This is a kiss-off that Loveless isn’t there to actually witness, instead acting as something of an outside narrator to depict her ex-significant other’s increasing alcohol abuse. But it’s much sadder than her other tracks in this vein – certainly a different perspective from her more fun tracks in this vein – if only because she couldn’t wish him much worse off than he already is anyway.
In a way, there’s this strange sense of sympathy and empathy that looms over the track, where she might wish she could try and actually stop him, but the hard truth is she’s not responsible for his mental well-being. Yet it’s still heartbreaking to watch someone you still love in some way decay into a former shell of themselves. There are a lot of underrated gems here, but none quite as alluring or morally complex as this.
As always, before unveiling my No. 1 pick, here are a few honorable mentions that just barely missed the cut for this list, presented in no particular order:
Shania Twain, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” (written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain)
It’s arguably where her instincts for phenomenal melodic hooks first truly took form, as well as her penchant for confident kiss-offs.
John Michael Montgomery, “Sold” (written by Robb Royer and Richard Fagan)
Oh, I wanted so badly to include this in the top ten proper, my favorite cut of Montgomery’s next to “Letters From Home.” It’s still a winner – in auctions or otherwise.
Patty Loveless, “You Even Don’t Know Who I Am” (written by Gretchen Peters)
I already got to write a bit about this one through the “Here I Am” blurb, but on the flipside to that track’s bleak downward spiral, we have another spiral that feels cathartic as hell as Loveless goes down swinging to save what’s left of a relationship.
Dwight Yoakam, “Nothing” (written by Dwight Yoakam and Kostas)
This is … unique, even for Dwight Yoakam’s standards – and just as awesome for it.
John Anderson, “Mississippi Moon” (written by Tony Joe White and Carson Whitsett)
This is a track I’ve come to appreciate more and more over time within John Anderson’s discography; he just handles sunny reflective songs so earnestly.
Pam Tillis, “In Between Dances” (written by Craig Bickhardt and Barry Alfonso)
I always appreciate a good slight Celtic flair to any waltz cadence, and as always, there’s wisdom to cherish within a Pam Tillis song.
Shania Twain, “Any Man of Mine” (written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain)
Arguably the one classic next to “Sold” that might disappoint folks for a lack of greater representation on this list, but if “Whose Bed Have Your Been Under?,” was the experimental rebirth of Shania Twain’s music, this is the proof of concept.
Terri Clark, “Better Things to Do” (written by Terri Clark, Tom Shapiro, and Chris Waters)
These exercises have helped me gain a deeper appreciation for Terri Clark’s discography, a consistently great artist through and through. And this is where it all began for her.
Travis Tritt, “Between and Old Memory and Me” (written by Keith Stegall and Charlie Craig)
Another excellent Keith Whitley tribute, and oddly enough, still not the one I was alluding to earlier.
And finally, Randy Travis, “The Box” (written by Randy Travis and Buck Moore)
I said it in regards to “Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man,” I said it again in regards to “Out of My Bones,” and it bears repeating yet again: Randy Travis’ ‘90s run is just as great as his lucrative ‘80s one.
And now, finally, my No. 1 pick:
No. 1 – Vince Gill, “Go Rest High On That Mountain” (written by Vince Gill)
It’s a simultaneous tribute to Keith Whitley and Vince Gill’s late brother, and given his history with the former and the sort of familial bond via the latter that can never truly be measured or accurately expressed or known to anyone other than Gill himself, its emotional magnitude is matched only by few other country songs, if even that many. And while there is that disconnect between the first few lines specifically aimed toward Whitley and the remainder of the song, the pure primal resonance on Gill’s delivery alone is enough to pull it all together – even through the stage of grief where goodbye is all that’s left to say. And with enough wide open space and booming echo in the production off the languid guitar lick and organ to amplify its magnetism – plus, you know, harmony vocals from Patty Loveless, in case it wasn’t soul-crushing enough as is for you – there’s no other word for it: it’s cathartic.
It’s the sort of emotional cleansing that can feel oddly calming in spite of everything, where Gill’s loss feels like ours, or at least feels broad enough to speak for any of our own losses, too. A simple formula overall, really, but one where the potency and beauty is transcendent through and through, a masterpiece that’s been rightly recognized over time – not just within Gill’s excellent discography but within the country music story at large. And it feels like the right way to end this list, a closing of the book and clean rain to wash away anguish, if only temporarily.
One thought on “Favorite Hit Country Songs of 1995”
Similar to you, I found it hard to narrow this down to a Top 10 (Top 15 with Honourable Mentions). Some of the songs on your list could have easily made my list and my Honourable Mentions list could have been 2 or 3 times as long. I found it hard to not include some great songs such as Amy’s Back in Austin, Can’t Be Really Gone, Gone Country, Standing on the Edge of Goodbye, Better Things to Do, etc.
Speaking of Better Things to Do, I’m glad to hear you’ve gained a greater appreciation for Terri Clark’s music through this feature. There were some other really good singles from Canadian artists this year that didn’t quite make my list, but that I really enjoy (Feel the Same Way Too by the Rankin Family, This Used to be Our Town by Jason McCoy, What’s Holding Me by George Fox, to name a few).
There was also this interesting situation that seemed to occur somewhat frequently in the 90s. Both Martina McBride and Michelle Wright (Canadian) had hits with the song “Safe in the Arms of Love.” I really like Martine McBride’s version, but I think I slightly prefer Michelle Wright’s version.
Anyways, here is my list.
– Not a Moment to Soon by Tim McGraw
– I Let Her Lie by Daryle Singletary
– Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under by Shania Twain
– You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone by Brooks & Dunn (one of their top Kix Brooks leads)
– The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Reba McEntire
10. Mississippi Moon by John Anderson
9. You Don’t Even Know Who I Am by Patty Loveless
8. Fall in Love by Kenny Chesney – I’m not a big Kenny Chesney fan, but he has a few songs that I really like, this being one of my favourites
7. Dust on The Bottle by David Lee Murphy – I’m surprised that this song didn’t get old given how much airplay it got. I would add Fishin’ in the Dark to your list of 90s anthemic sing-along songs. David Lee Murphy had some other really good singles in this period, including Party Crowd from this year as well.
6. When You Say Nothing At All by Alison Krauss & Union Station – incredible vocal performance
5. Nothing by Dwight Yoakam – one of my favourites of his
4. Any Man of Mine – my #2 favourite Shania Twain song – this album is so great from front to back
3. Go Rest High on That Mountain – such a beautiful tribute song – I didn’t know it was partially about Keith Whitley – I thought it was only about Vince Gill’s brother. This song has brought me comfort in the past when family members have passed away.
2. Here I Am by Patty Loveless – my #3 favourite Patty Loveless song
1. Thinkin’ About You by Trisha Yearwood – my favourite Trisha Yearwood song – it was tough to pick between this and Here I Am
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