"Some of that stuff don't sound much different than Dylan."
-- "Gone Country" by Alan Jackson

In October of 1992, “Pure Country,” starring George Strait was released.  The movie did not get a very favorable response from critics and didn’t quite live up to expectations at the box office (with Strait’s popularity as a country music star).  But the soundtrack did make #1 on the Billboard Country Album chart and did generate two number one singles, “I Cross My Heart” and “Heartland.”  The plot of the movie reflects country music in the 1990’s.  Dusty Chandler becomes disenchanted with “all the smoke and lights” and walks away from his concerts, eventually to return to the stage with “just me and my guitar.” 

There’s no doubt that country music expanded in the 1990’s.  Some successful artists of the 1990’s, like Strait, continued to cling to the traditional approach.  But many of the new artists sought new sounds to widen the genre’s appeal, especially to younger audiences.  Sales of country music doubled from 1989 to 1991 and doubled again between 1991 and 1994.  There was a proliferation of FM country music stations and the new artists were filling stadiums. Songs like Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" and Brooks & Dunn's "Boot Scootin' Boogie" had country music fans headed to their local honky-tonks for some country line dancing.

The biggest new star by far was Garth Brooks.  He had his first #1 record in 1989 with “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”  By the end of the decade, he would have sixteen more.  He set records for sales and concert attendance.   In 1997 Brooks played a free concert at Texas Stadium to a crowd of 190,000.  He excelled at soulful ballads like “The Dance” and rockers like “Friends in Low Places.”  His stage performance was heavily influenced by rock and roll.  As to his country credentials, Trisha Yearwood described him as “more country than I’ll ever be” with his songs, but a rock artist on stage.

George Strait was the other side of the country music coin.  His music was as country as Brooks, but his stage performances were much more conservative.  Strait placed 16 songs at #1 in the 1990’s including “Love Without End, Amen” which was certified platinum.  Alan Jackson had 15 #1’s and both “Chatahoochie” and “Gone Country” were platinum records.  The duo of Brooks & Dunn (Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks) scored fourteen #1’s during the decade, including 1996’s cover of B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria” from 1973. Tim McGraw had eleven #1’s, eight of which are certified platinum, including 1994’s “Don’t Take the Girl.”  With hits like “Nothin’ But the Taillights, Clint Black was a fifth double digit #1 artist (10). 

Shania Twain was the female side of Garth Brooks also displaying the rock concert influence.  With leopard prints, short skirts, tight pants and glitter her videos and live performances set music and fashion trends.  Her second album, “The Woman in Me” produced five #1 singles and was a #1 Billboard Country album and reached #5 on the pop chart.  Twain’s music was directed at cross-over success with some songs (“You’re Still the One”) released as “pop versions” and sent to pop radio stations.

Shania Twain was one of many female artists who made it big in the 1990’s.  Reba McEntire continued her success from the 1980’s placing eight in the top spot in the 1990’s, including her platinum certified, “Fancy” in 1991.  With her mother retiring from performing due to illness, Wynona Judd issued her first solo album in 1992 which featured three #1 hit singles including “No One Else on Earth.”  Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California” has become one of the most recognizable songs from the decade but it peaked at #2 – she would follow with three #1’s including “I’m Alright.”  Beginning with her first release, “She’s In Love With the Boy,” Trisha Yearwood had five #1’s in the 1990’s.  Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” peaked at #12 in 1994, but eventually became a platinum certified record.  McBride had four #1’s in the 1990’s including “Wild Angels.”  It had been 30 years since a female vocalist debut had stayed #1 for multiple weeks when Faith Hill’s debut release in 1993, “Wild One” was #1 for four weeks.  She reached the top of the chart five more times in the 1990’s.  Terri Clark had four 1990’s #1’s, including “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” in 1993.

Alabama continued their success from the 1980’s with five #1’s in the 1990’s.  “I’m In a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” was a #1 Platinum single in 1992.  Diamond Rio and Lonestar were two other bands with major success in the 1990’s; Diamond Rio with two #1’s including “Meet in the Middle” and Lonestar with four #1’s including “Amazed.”

Male / female duets have been a staple of country music and that continued in the 1990’s.  In 1997 Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks had a #2 success with “In Another’s Eyes.”  Reba McIntyre teamed up with Vince Gill in 1992 for a #1 record, “The Heart Won’t Lie.”  Shania Twain and Bryan White reached #4 in 1998 with “From This Moment On.”  One of Tim McGraw’s #1’s was a duet with Faith Hill, “It’s Your Love.”

The 1990’s ended with the sentiment expressed by “Pure Country” at the start of the decade still resonating with the country music community.  In September of 1999 George Strait and Alan Jackson performed “Murder on Music Row” at the Country Music Associations Awards ceremonies at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee.  The next month they recorded the song.  Even though never released as a single, it did climb to #38 on the country chart.  The lyrics complained that “The steel guitar no longer cries and you can't hear fiddles play / But drums and rock and roll guitars are mixed up in your face."  Traditionalists like Strait and Jackson kept country music grounded in it original forms, but the new millennium would propel country stars more and more into the mainstream of pop music.

listed in chronoligical order (click on column head to sort)

Title Artist Release Date Country Rank Hot 100 Rank My Rank
A Little Past Little Rock Lee Ann Womack 1998/6/22 2 43 16
Achy Breaky Heart Billy Ray Cyrus 1992/3/23 1 4 20
Blue LeAnn Rimes 1996/6/4 10 26 24
Callin Baton Rouge Garth Brooks 1994/8/1 2
Check Yes Or No George Strait 1995/4/10 1
Dancin , Shaggin on the Boulevard Alabama 1997/6/23 3
Don t Rock the Jukebox Alan Jackson 1991/4/29 1
Down At the Twist And Shout Mary Chapin Carpenter 1991/6/3 2
Easy Come, Easy Go George Strait 1993/8/9 1 71 17
Even the Man in the Moon is Cryin Mark Collie 1992/8/24 5
Friends in Low Places Garth Brooks 1990/8/5 1
Gone Country Alan Jackson 1994/11/15 1
Heads Carolina, Tails California Jo Dee Messina 1996/1/22 1
I Can Still Make Cheyenne George Strait 1995/9/28 4
Independence Day Martina McBride 1994/5/2 12
Love Without End, Amen George Strait 1990/4/6 1
Pop a Top Alan Jackson 1999/10/4 6 43 21
She s In Love With the Boy Trisha Yearwood 1991/3/5 1
Should ve Been a Cowboy Toby Keith 1993/2/12 1 93 8
Small Town Saturday Night Hal Ketchum 1991/4/16 2
The Dance Garth Brooks 1990/4/30 1
The River Garth Brooks 1992/4/27 1
This Night Won t Last Forever Sawyer Brown 1997/6/16 6
Wild One Faith Hill 1993/9/23 1
Write This Down George Strait 1999/3/18 1 27 25
Others Considered:
Title Artist Release Date Highest Rank Country Highest Rank Hot 100
Because You Loved Me Jo Dee Messina 1999/10/25 8 53
Blue Clear Sky George Strait 1996/4/25 1
Breathe Faith Hill 1999/10/4 1 2
Cheap Seats Alabama 1994/4/11 13
He Thinks He ll Keep Her Mary Chapin Carpenter 1993/12/6 2
How Forever Feels Kenny Chesney 1998/12/7 4 27
I Cross My Heart George Strait 1992/9/28 1
I Just Want To Dance With You George Strait 1998/4/13 1 61
I m Alright Jo Dee Messina 1998/5/11 1 43
I m In a Hurry and Don t Know Why Alabama 1992/5/5 1
Is There Life Out There Reba McIntyre 1992/1/28 1
It s Your Love Tim McGraw & Faith Hill 1997/5/12 1 7
Keep It Between the Lines Ricky Van Shelton 1991/7/11 1
Little Rock Collin Raye 1994/3/26 2
Longneck Bottle Garth Brooks 1997/11/22 1
Love, Me Collin Raye 1991/10/5 1
Maybe It Was Memphis Pam Tillis 1991/11/25 3
Midnight in Montgomery Alan Jackson 1992/4/20 3
My Maria Brooks & Dunn 1996/4/24 1 79
No One Else On Earth Wynonna 1992/8/25 1 83
Nothin' But the Tail Lights Clint Black 1997/4/29 1
One Night At a Time George Strait 1997/3/10 1 59
Poor Poor Pitiful Me Terri Clark 1996/9/23 5
Rock My World (Little Country Girl) Brooks & Dunn 1993/12/6 2
She Don t Know She s Beautiful Sammy Kershaw 1993/2/9 1
Standing Outside the Fire Garth Brooks 1993/12/13 3
Straight Tequila Night John Anderson 1991/12/2 1
Strawberry Wine Deana Carter 1996/8/5 1 65
That Don t Impress Me Much Shania Twain 1998/12/7 8 7
The Hard Way Mary Chapin Carpenter 1993/4/5 11
The Song Remembers When Trisha Yearwood 1993/10/12 2 82
Two Sparrows in a Hurricane Tanya Tucker 1992/9/5 2
When You Say Nothing At All Allison Krauss & Union Station 1995/1/5 3 53
Who s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under Shania Twian 1995/1/2 11 31
Wild Angels Martina McBride 1995/1/5 3
You re Still The One Shania Twain 1998/1/13 1 2
The Women in my 1990's top 25: Mary Chapin Carpenter, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Jo Dee Messina, LeAnn Rimes, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood

At some point in the early 1990’s a switch was thrown, and I started listening to country music.  From the Nashville sound to countrypolitan to country pop, from the 1950’s through the 1980’s I’d always found some country music to my liking.  But in the 1990’s I found myself listening to and buying country music more than contemporary pop music.  My favorite country songs from the 1990’s are mostly ones I heard during the decade, unlike previous decades when many of the songs on my list are ones I discovered later.

While I had still found most of the music of the 1980’s to my liking, the mainstream sounds of the 1990’s had me scanning the radio dial; and I often ended up on a country station.  To check out if this impression is accurate, I looked at a list of 1990’s top songs.  Out of 100, I could only readily identify 23 (for other decades it would probably be 75 or more).  And when I tried to list my favorite non-country records of the decade, I only came up with around 25.  So for the 1990’s, country music would probably outscore other genres two to one.  And most of the pop favorites came from “Adult Contemporary” listings.  Songs like Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams,” Madonna’s “This Used To Be My Playground,” Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love,” and Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet” would be high on my list of 1990’s favorites, but they would have a hard time displacing my top five country songs.

Further evidence that country music was becoming my music of choice is that I have 61 songs in my collection of favorites – more than any other decade.  Of those 61, only a little over half (33) were #1 country songs – indicative of my my exposure to country music being more than just the most popular country records.   Only five of my top 25 were cross-over hits reaching the top 20 on the pop chart.  There are no #1 cross-over hits in the collection although “Breathe” and “You’re Still The One” did reach #2 on the pop chart.

Looking at my list, it’s obvious that two artists are dominant.  Both George Strait and Garth Brooks were artists that I discovered around mid-decade and then became acquainted with their earlier releases.  In 1997 I bought George Strait’s album, “Carrying Your Love With Me” and that sent me searching for other George Strait records.  I ended up buying his box set, “Strait Out of the Box.”  That’s where I became a fan of his earlier releases such as “Amarillo by Morning” and how they came to be listed as favorites from the 1980’s.  With five songs in my top 25, including #2, “Love Without End, Amen,” and ten on my total list of those considered, Strait is clearly my #1 artist of the 1990’s.

I had been checking out Garth Brooks songs on the radio and finally purchased the cd, “Sevens” in 1997.  Then Brooks published a box set of “Limited Editions” of his earlier albums in 1998 and I purchased that, giving me a collection of all of his 1990’s music at that time.  His earlier singles “Friends in Low Places” (#5) and “The Dance” (#1) made my top five and a total of four in the top 25 and six that were considered for my list.

The list could have been even more dominated by Brooks and Strait as both had other records that I could have listed.  For Brooks: “The Thunder Rolls,” “Unanswered Prayers,” “That Summer,” “We Shall Be Free,” and “The Beaches of Cheyenne.” And for Strait: “The Chill of an Early Fall,” “When Did You Stop Loving Me,” and “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This.”

Others that were prominent favorites in my new affinity for country music were Jo Dee Messina, Alan Jackson, and Alabama.  Jo Dee Messina had three songs considered and another, “Bye, Bye” was a certified platinum #1 that almost made the list.  Alan Jackson was close to the top two with four listings, including # 9, “Gone Country.”  His #1 triple platinum certified “Chatahoochee” was close to being listed.  For all its success in the 1980’s, Alabama doesn’t have a song in my top 25 for that decade, but three of its 1990 releases made it, including “Dancin’, Shaggin’ on the Boulevard” at #10.

Two songs that beg me to reconsider for the top 25 are “The Hard Way” and “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.”  “The Hard Way” was a track on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 1993 album, “Come On, Come On” which was one of the early country cd’s I purchased.  It was released as a single and reached #11 on the country chart.  “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” was Terri Clark’s 1996 remake of Linda Ronstadt’s 1978 version.  Ronstadt’s issue reached #31 on the Billboard Hot 100; Clark’s was #5 on the country chart. One song that didn’t make the collection is Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis.”  As it was a #13 Hot 100 hit but only reached #74 on the country chart I decided it really wasn’t a country song.  And Cohn doesn’t qualify as a country artist as none of his other singles were listed on the country chart.

Either Carpenter’s or Clark’s recording would have been in my top 25 if “This Night Won’t Last Forever” had been disqualified as more of a pop hit.  Just like Clark’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “This Night Won’t Last Forever” was a remake of a pop recording.  Writer Bill LaBounty made the Hot 100 chart at #65 in 1978 and Michael Johnson reached the top ten on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1979 (#19 on the Hot 100).  Sawyer Brown’s version was #6 on the country chart in 1997.  The song has a pop feel to it, but Sawyer Brown is a country band, and it was a success on the country chart, so it stays on the list.

As evidenced by the George Strait and Garth Brooks songs left off my list, the 1990’s was a decade that made me part of the country music audience.  I wouldn’t say I’d “Gone Country” like the Alan Jackson song describes as I still liked music such as 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up,” REM’s “Man on the Moon,” and Shery Crow’s “All I Wanna Do.”  But there is no denying that country music became a major part of my soundtrack for the decade.  If you’re a country music fan, I would think you’d find my list of favorites to your liking. And maybe there’s some you would disagree with, but keep in mind this is my list.

George Strait & Garth Brooks
George Strait starred in "Pure Country" which I probably watched in the mid 1990's on cable tv.
I caught up on George Strait's earlier music by purchasing the 4 disc box set towards the end of the decade.