Now, before anybody gets upset, nobody’s claiming 2014 isn’t a good year for country. You can find plenty of top ten type of lists of the best 2014 songs the genre had to offer, but this is not one of them. All we’re doing is revisiting some of the top country songs of the last few decades that we feel must be given another listen. We assume everyone is familiar with tunes from — well — old times, such as the classic Hank Williams, Dolly Parton or Johnny Cash, so the list will consist only of songs that came after 1990. So, without further ado, here is a list of 5 top country songs from the last 25 years that you should add to your current iTunes playlist this week.
1. Kacey Musgraves – Follow Your Arrow (2013)
Despite scandalizing a segment of the country music audience with its “girls-kissing-girls” and drug references, Kacey Mysgrave’s rebellious far from romantic lyrics had a great reception among the genre’s younger fans. She released four albums between 2002 and 2008, yet remained firmly underground until she signed with Mercury Nashville in 2012, which lead to her fifth album making it to top 10: shooting straight to number 1 in US Country chart and number 2 on Billboard. By the looks of it, Musgrave’s — let’s say — modern approach in this line of music, is helping her career as one of the young country artists that you should keep an eye on.
2. Dixie Chicks – Goodbye Earl (1999)
Before finding themselves in the middle of an Iraq War controversy in 2003 for their comments critical of George Bush, the Texas born Dixie Chicks had some of the top country songs of the 90s. The one you give another listen to in 2014 is another source of controversy, the light-hearted, yet sad Goodbye Earl which, alongside its video, gives the story of two friends taking revenge on one of their male partners for domestic abuse. While the frank depiction of abuse was shocking for those who saw it as being inconsistent with the song’s fun melody, others saw it a story of female empowerment.
3. Taylor Swift – Mean (2010)
Taylor Swift was only twenty when she released “Speak Now”, but it was already her 3rd album and, since her 2006 self-titled debut she had already experienced her share of negative media attention. This song came as a comeback of sorts at the sort of criticism she deemed as being not constructive, but just mean. Seeing how since 2010, Taylor Swift has become one of the celebrities that is, for weeks on end, attacked by the media for her private life, it doesn’t seem to have shamed the celebrity gossip rags too much. However, almost a decade from her debut she is one of the top selling artists today, receiving a great deal of love from some critics, such as Billboard’s top 20 Taylor Swift hits list, and her being seemingly ever present on radio top 100.
4. Shania Twain – You’re Still the One (1997)
Could there be a list of country songs from the last 25 years that doesn’t include Shania Twain? Maybe, but it would be a very good one. One of the largest stars of the 90s and early 2000s, Shania Twain played her role in popularizing her music way beyond the borders of the usual genre audience and this song was one of the reasons why that happened. In 2004, Twain retired from performing due to vocal chords issues, but made a triumphal return in 2012 and has announced work on a new album. What better time to get back into some of her top country songs?
5. Johnny Cash – Hurt (2002)
Now, this song may not be quite the right country song to play at a summer karaoke party or dance on at a wedding for more than one reason. One would be that it was sang by Johnny Cash quite a while after he departed from his country roots and the other one being that it is a cover of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. Nonetheless, the intensity with which Cash sang the song, paired with the fact that it was one of his final releases makes “Hurt” an absolute milestone. Trent Reznor, who first penned the song in 1994, was taken aback by Cash’s version, stating that “Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore…”