Counterpoint: Wait, Y’all Are Serious About This ’90s Country Thing?
Modern adulation for the '90s is symbolic of a singular generosity among country music fans who lived through it. Like we do for family, dogs and Adam Sandler, we conveniently forget about the misdeeds to protect mawkish stories we've cherished for two decades.
Country music of the 1990s is remembered as being playful and — for the most part — homogenous. The decade was certainly vulnerable to critics and haters shouting, "That's not real country!" but most would agree that compared to today, the pendulum swinging between Hank's music and the established pop-country mix had less space to travel. When someone says a modern song recalls '90s country music, they're saying it's more traditional and a more definitive brand of country music.
The "real country music" argument allows us to dismiss some really corny ideas, however. Even some of the hits haven't stood the test of time — the Boot's own list of the 10 worst country songs that were big hits includes four from the '90s — but we refuse to let go. Taste of Country's list of 50 essential '90s country songs includes quite a few gems and lumps of coal, all of which are remembered with equal enthusiasm. These are things people actually sang, out loud, on the radio:
"I want to drink from your loving cup."
"She thinks my tractor's sexy, it really turns her on."
"Now I lay me down to sleep and pray the Lord my soul to keep / If I die before I wake, feed Jake / He's been a good dog."
"Fix me up with a mannequin, just remember I like blondes / I’ll be the life of the party even when I’m dead and gone / Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die."
"I gotta thank mama for the cookin', Daddy for the whoopin' ... I thank the bank for the money and thank God for you" - from Sawyer Brown's "Thank God for You," a song that came with this really uncomfortable music video:
The thing is, we all know this to be true but don't outwardly say it. Need proof? Think about how '90s country music is presented today. Walker Hayes' very modern new single "90s Country" came with several days of fake album covers to promote it. Jason Aldean's "1994" celebrated farmer tans, time machines and (the famously mulleted) Joe Diffie. Dierks Bentley's faux '90s cover band Hot Country Knights is as much a comedy show as it is a concert. To the modern country fan, '90s country music is a punchline.
That's an unfair assessment of a decade that regularly found original ways to express love, loss and life's frustrations. "Strawberry Wine" by Deana Carter is the definitive first love song. No one has done defiance better than Travis Tritt and Toby Keith did 20 years ago, except for maybe Waylon Jennings 20 years before that. That John Anderson's "Seminole Wind" was a hit is mind-blowing, considering the right field nature of his statement and sound.
History books will show a rich decade of new ideas and novel presentations.
Pop culture will remember "Achy Breaky Heart."
Which has more influence?
In 20 years, the same thing will probably happen to today's country music. Now that we're several years removed from bro-country, it's fair to wonder if our kids will smile on early songs by Florida Georgia Line and mid-career hits by Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean and Randy Houser in the same way Generation X and Y, and Millennials smile on the music of Diffie, Neal McCoy and (sorry, but it's true) Shania Twain. They'll likely embrace the charm of another era's culture and mannerisms, but inspirations to make great music for their generation will come from contemporaries.
50 Essential '90s Country Songs: