Favorite Hit Country Songs of 1994

Previous: Favorite Hit Country Songs of 1995

After the previous two editions of this series, I should be thankful for a year that, at least at first glance, seems easier to sort out.

That’s not to say it’s a weaker year in comparison; I said before that we were in the golden age of this era, and that continues to remain true for … well, pretty much the rest of this decade, more or less – the next few lists for sure, at the very least.

No, I just mean that my favorites for this year shook out nicely and made the ranking process far easier than before, even if it was a very tight race between my top four contenders. It’s perhaps a bit less overall stacked in terms of sheer quantity compared to previously explored years, and this is probably the one year from this decade where I could also make a “least favorites” list. But the cream of the crop? It rarely gets better than this, folks.

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 – Faith Hill, “Take Me As I Am” (written by Bob DiPiero and Karen Staley)

I often forget just how much Faith Hill came out of the gate swinging, not just commercially but with some very strong singles, too. Of course, “Wild One” is the one that kickstarted it all and is also great in its own right, but “Take Me As I Am” is the sort of subtly great track that has greater staying power for me. Maybe it’s my love for the well-balanced production stacked against a potent electric groove, or maybe it’s the way Hill really gets to exercise her range on the chorus, aiming high to get through to a partner to keep things simple. She wants something built to last in the relationship, because at the end of the day, honest connections will matter more than mere platitudes. Like most singles from this decade, it’s strong and confident, but it’s also underrated and overlooked in terms of Hill’s discography.

No. 9 – Trisha Yearwood, “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)” (written by Matraca Berg and Alice Randall)

Back before the country music industry grew afraid of strong-minded women, artists like Trisha Yearwood, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Pam Tillis recorded songs that were vital to that perspective during the decade. We’ve already explored certain selections through this feature and will continue to, even later on through this list. So in centering this on its own, it’s not so much about Yearwood’s character breaking the struggle so much as her claiming her own agency within it, proving that she can “make it” just as well as a man can, all with God, wine, and Patsy Cline to keep her company. It helps that it’s also remarkably catchy, buoyed by that remarkably charming fiddle lick and hook to add a vibrancy to that good fight. I’d say it’s a win for all involved in its creation.

Ha! Take that once again, Garth!

No. 8 – Garth Brooks, “Callin’ Baton Rogue” (written by Dennis Linde)

I can’t lie; I tended to take most Garth Brooks singles from the latter half of this decade for granted when we went through those years, for various reasons. Maybe it’s the way he leaned on his goofy charm a little too often or the material itself being slightly haphazard, but it has taken certain revisits to see and hear them in new lights regardless. But this is an exhilarating rush in his discography like no other, as fun as it is frantic as he tackles this New Grass Revival classic from the ‘80s (and recruits them to play here – respect). It really is the perfect blend between his boundless charisma and the high-octane, Celtic-inspired presentation that makes this what it is, a record that kills on record and is even better live. I’d call it a perfect pub sing-a-long … but really, it’s the song you play when you want to sing and dance.

No. 7 – Vince Gill, “Whenever You Come Around” (written by Vince Gill and Pete Wasner)

Man, Vince Gill is just cheating once again, playing into slow, comfortable ballad territory and knocking it out of the park. Some of the touches of reverb and key tones do sound a tad dated today, but otherwise this is another drawn-out vocal showcase where there’s very little room to hide from Gill’s starkly presented pain. But unlike other heartache-related tracks in this vein for him, “Whenever You Come Around” is more about missed opportunities and the inability to to act on one’s own intuition. He’s not going to win in love because he can’t muster up the courage, and while it is a relatable sentiment, it’s the honest vulnerability on display that grounds it in for me. It’s another soulful-as-hell offering from him that shows what he can offer at his best.

No. 6 – Toby Keith, “Who’s That Man” (written by Toby Keith)

I don’t think it’s much of an unpopular opinion to say that Toby Keith’s ‘90s run has aged far more favorably than his 2000s one, and if I’m looking for the crown jewel of that excellent run, it’s probably this song. He may never have had Vince Gill’s soaring pipes, but Keith’s rough-edged, hangdog delivery was just as able to deliver genuine vulnerability and pain that cut on a bone-deep level. Case in point: story of a divorced father stopping back through his old neighborhood and watching how everything has changed, from the neighborhood itself to his family within it. And while that recurring piano riff and pedal steel licks suit the atmosphere well as is, it’s Keith’s delivery that’s always grounded this in for me, wanting so bad to reconnect but knowing there’s no chance, with enough empathy to see how even his kids have adjusted to their new normal and not wanting to disturb that. Genuinely potent and heartbreaking, it’s Keith at his best.

No. 5 – Martina McBride, “Independence Day” (written by Gretchen Peters)

You see, one reason I’ve always loved Gretchen Peters’ songwriting is that it can be bleak – often even vague to mask a subtler meaning – but not without a lesson to be gained. I find it ironic, then, that what is possibly her most directly stated song to date is the one most often misunderstood, an independence of a far different variety.

And yet, even off the bells ringing and crunchy, hard-hitting electric axes, this is still a bleak story of a woman done with accepting her abuser’s wrath, all told from their child’s perspective. And considering the child is wise enough to notice how others have always looked the other way at it and even comes to understand when her mother takes matters into her own hands, it implies an almost disturbing maturity beyond her years that says so much about the toll taken – and without saying anything at all, really. As far as this decade goes, an obvious classic, but the fact that we’ve still got a little ways to go is a testament to how this time period would actually let a song like this ring out in all its glory.  

No. 4 – Patty Loveless, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” (written by Karen Taylor-Good and Burton Banks Collins)

You know, I joke about how much Alan Jackson oversaturates my lists, but Patty Loveless is just as guilty … but in a real good way. If the material was any lesser I certainly wouldn’t reward it, but damn it, she did it again. Though, to be frank, it took some time for this cement itself as a favorite of mine, not just in going through this list but in general over the years. It’s just not the sort of song that’s easy to listen through multiple times; it’s too uncomfortable, and it took my own personal losses for it to really connect.

But of all of the ‘90s songs to play around with the concept of having their titles carry different meanings with every verse and chorus, this is one of the finest. A song that tries to capture the winds of change in multiple ways, from saying goodbye to childhood innocence, to having to grow up and face the hard truth that love doesn’t always work out, to having to say goodbye for good to the person who taught you how to say it in the first place, it’s actually direct and simple in concept and execution. But it resonates because we all understand her frustration even when we can’t directly to it at the current moment in time, because we remember the sting how hard that one word can be to say or express. And the underlying message is that goodbye doesn’t have to actually signal an end, but rather to place distance between a past hard time and a present day in which we can look back with fondness having now been healed. It’s another song here that would have only been properly recognized in this era, and I’m happy to say it’s held up in these circles, too.

No. 3 – Dwight Yoakam, “Fast As You” (written by Dwight Yoakam)

Oh, you don’t know how happy it makes me that we’re finally digging in to Dwight Yoakam’s commercial heyday. Trying to find the right words to actually describe his odd sense of magnetism will be the tougher issue, but I’m happy to try and oblige. After all, such is the forward-thinking approach of Yoakam’s style, especially when every element on display here offers trademarks of an already established style: a well-developed groove that builds into several fantastic solos, a performer having way too much fun being as suave as he is, and lyrics that speak to two poison lovers looking to keep up with each other’s treachery, love with abandonment, and likely tear each other down along the way. Look, there’s a part of Yoakam’s persona that plays very much into the lonely, wandering troubadour archetype, but when it’s performed with this much swagger and knows very well how to own it, it’s always going to be a winner. Hell, truth be told, I don’t think any of us are as fast as him, or ever going to be.

No. 2 – Mary Chapin Carpenter, “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” (written by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Don Schlitz)

And speaking of performers with an odd sense of magnetism about them, we have another underrated talent coming through with arguably her best-ever song. And I don’t say that lightly with Mary Chapin Carpenter, especially seeing how “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” is one of the ballsiest releases of the entire decade. It’s cut from Loretta Lynn’s cloth of showcasing the neglected housewife in a troubled marriage, but this is the ‘90s, so not only is she going to actually leave – she’s going to find that happy ending.

Well, somewhat. After all, for as chipper as this can feel off the infectious, tongue-in-cheek melodic hook, well-balanced groove, and blasts of organ, it’s not an easy road to victory. By the last verse, she’s working a minimum wage job on her own. But hey, it’s a hell of a lot better than before, and some victories can only be measured on an individual level. Humorous, confident, and certainly righteous, it’s everything good about this decade wrapped in one song.

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:

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “I Take My Chances” (written by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Don Schlitz)

Well, hello again. Another biting, witty song of hers with a refreshing dose of optimism brimming underneath, even in bleak circumstances.

Faith Hill, “Wild One” (written by Pat Bunch, Jaime Kyle, and Will Rambeaux)

Obviously, “Take Me As I Am” connects with me just a little more, but I can certainly agree that this was the perfect introductory firestorm for her. Great stuff.

Joe Diffie, “John Deere Green” (written by Dennis Linde)

Billy Bob and Charlene’s love story has endured, as has Diffie’s discography. Man, I still miss him. Dennis Linde, too, come to think of it.

David Ball, “Thinkin’ Problem” (written by David Ball, Allen Shamblin, and Stuart Ziff)

Sing it with me now: “Yes, I ad-miiiiiit, I’ve got a thinkin’ prob-lem…”

Tracy Lawrence, “I See It Now” (written by Larry Boone, Paul Nelson, and Woody Lee)

Kind of like “Who’s That Man,” only with a happier ending, even if said happiness only comes through closure and personal growth.

Blackhawk, “I Sure Can Smell the Rain” (written by Walt Aldridge and John Jarrard)

I haven’t really had a chance to discuss this beloved ‘90s group at length, but this is my favorite single by them.

Alan Jackson, “Who Says You Can’t Have It All” (written by Alan Jackson and Jim McBride)

Much like Vince Gill, Alan Jackson has his own cheat code to communicate heartache.

Kathy Mattea, “Walking Away a Winner” (written by Tom Shapiro and Bob DiPiero)


And finally, Pam Tillis, “Spilled Perfume” (written by Pam Tills and Dean Dillon)

Pam Tillis was always great at lending a helping hand in song, whether to herself or to a friend in need.

And now, my No. 1 pick:

No. 1 – Collin Raye, “Little Rock” (written by Tom Douglas)

Ending another one of these features with a huge, sweeping ballad is probably predictable for me, but I don’t think it could have been anything else to end this year. “Little Rock” isn’t just a career highlight for Collin Raye, it’s one for country music in general, pointing the focus toward its beloved bottle but also detailing the dire consequences it can carry – not just for the victim in question but to their loved ones, too. That’s the tricky thing about this song: Raye is more than convincing enough to sell the even-keeled framing of someone who’s made mistakes but wants desperately to move on from them, and for as much visible wreckage as he details through his alcoholism, it’s also a moment that humanizes a character.

But the bulk of that weight carries through in the presentation. I’ll be honest and say that Raye has a tendency to oversell quite a few of his ballads, but this feels grounded and earned. A whirring string section here feels like a cathartic crescendo, where even if forgiveness doesn’t come, the personal triumphs are enough to savor for now. After all, change won’t stick if he isn’t doing it for himself first and foremost.

Of course, that’s the other tricky part of this song. 19 days sober for someone like that feels more like 19 years, but for others … it’s probably not enough time to forgive, if there even is a limit on that at all. And for as much as he’s trying to hold it all together, he knows that the work alone may not be enough to erase the damage done, let alone actually win her back. And I think that’s why it feels profoundly empathetic, able to capture someone who hasn’t had an easy road to recovery but is trying his best. And maybe only seeing that side of him and his story on record is why it’s easy to sympathize with him, even if we hear the full version anyway.

Next: Favorite Hit Country Songs of 1993

4 thoughts on “Favorite Hit Country Songs of 1994

  1. Although I agree that this year isn’t quite as strong as 1995 – 1997, it’s still full of excellent songs and it was really hard to come up with my list. Again, I had some great songs that I love that didn’t make my Top 10 (or even Top 15 with honourable mentions) including “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” “Walking Away a Winner,” “Pocket of a Clown” and “I’ve Got It Made.” This was also quite a strong year for Canadian artists, with some personal favourites of mine coming out in 1994 (including some that didn’t quite make my list like Ian Tyson’s “Alcohol in the Bloodstream” and George Fox’s “Wear and Tear on my Heart”).

    A few notes on your picks:
    – I really enjoyed Faith Hill’s early albums and all three of her hit singles from 1994 were good/great.
    – IMO, Toby Keith’s 90s run is far superior to his 00s music and “Who’s That Man” is a great example of this (although I prefer “Wish I Didn’t Know Now”).
    – For as much as I loved (and still love) Alan Jackson’s music, I’m a bit surprised I haven’t fit too many of his songs in for this feature. His 1994 hits are all really good, but there are just too many other great songs in these years.
    – “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” is a fantastic song, but I find it very hard to listen to, even though I haven’t experienced the kind of loss articulated in this song (which goes to show how great it is).
    – I think I’ve mentioned before that Dwight Yoakam is my favourite artist of all time, but, for some reason, I’ve never really loved “Fast As You” and I’ve never quite understood why it is so popular. I do think it’s a good song, and I don’t skip it when I’m listening to the album, but it’s just never connected with me as much as it does with others.

    Here’s my list.

    Honourable Mentions:
    – Words by Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus – one of his best
    – Every Once in a While by Blackhawk – I was really into this band in the 90s and this is my favourite song of theirs (their other hits this year were really good too)
    – Dreaming With My Eyes Open – Clay Walker was my first favourite artist and his self-titled debut album is my favourite of his
    – Independence Day by Martina McBride – I don’t have much to add from your write-up – simply a modern classic song
    – One Good Man by Michelle Wright – between this song, “Now and Then” and “Guitar Talk,” it was quite a year for her north of the border

    Top 10:
    10. She’s Not the Cheatin’ Kind by Brooks & Dunn
    9. Live Until I Die by Clay Walker – this song connected with me as a teenager and I still love it today
    8. State of Mind by Clint Black – one of my favourite Clint Black songs
    7. I Can’t Reach Her Anymore by Sammy Kershaw – this is the prime Sammy Kershaw era and he had a number of great options to choose from this year – this is one of his best
    6. Little Rock by Collin Raye – easily his best song
    5. I Just Wanted You to Know by Mark Chesnutt – maybe not one of his most popular hits, but it’s excellent
    4. Tryin’ to Get Over You by Vince Gill – what a year for Vince Gill! Between this song, “Whenever You Come Around” and “What the Cowgirls Do,” he was on top of his game (this might be my favourite album of his)
    3. Give Me a Ring Sometime by Lisa Brokop – easily my favourite song of hers (she has many other great songs but this has always been my favourite); if you haven’t checked her out, do yourself a favour (I would start with the album that this song is on called Every Little Girl’s Dream)
    2. Whenever You Come Around by Vince Gill – I don’t have anything to add from your write-up; it’s simply a great song
    1. Whisper My Name by Randy Travis – my favourite Randy Travis song

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t have much to add but appreciate you sharing your own list and thoughts as always! I’ll have to listen to Lisa Brokop, as I’m actually unfamiliar with her, so thanks for the suggestion!


      1. She’s really good and if you ever need any insight on Canadian country music, particularly from the 90s, just let me know!

        Liked by 1 person

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