Jul 18, 2024

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Every #1 Country Song of the 2000s: 2001


2001

By Bobby Peacock

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January 20: "Born to Fly" by Sara Evans

"I've been telling my dreams to the scarecrow" is one of those opening lines that knocks it out of the park immediately. It's such a clever introduction to this song's underlying theme of wanting to expand your horizons, and it honestly feels like a natural complement to the song before it. Every single line is clever and inspirational, a tough needle to thread ("How do you keep your feet on the ground when you know that you were born to fly?"). The timbales in the production, followed by that strong acoustic strum. Dobro, and string-heavy coda, add a fantastic sonic backdrop to Sara's voice -- bold yet twangy, adding pop without removing country. Sara Evans can be hit-and-miss at times, but her best material is every bit as strong as her contemporaries. A



January 27: "Without You" by The Chicks

I don't know why this seems to be the one big Chicks hit that no one remembers, because it's easily up to their standards. "I've sure enjoyed the rain, but I'm looking forward to the sun" is a damn great opening line, and it continues in the same fashion, keeping up a surprising slow-burn about a failing relationship. The way it's more relaxed in delivery and production -- love the subtle strings and Dobro -- makes it almost an outlier, if not for the fact that "You Were Mine" also exists. While this one isn't quite as hard-hitting as "You Were Mine," that's not a knock against this song either. I can't deny a line like "Somebody tell my head to try to tell my heart that I'm better off without you," especially with how it leads into that beautiful falsetto. This is every bit as strong as "Cowboy Take Me Away" and in my opinion deserves the same recognition. A



February 3: "Tell Her" by Lonestar

This is probably one of the only times where Dann Huff amping things up was a good move. The album version is too restrained to the point of sounding wimpy, but the radio edit went for a much bolder arrangement that forces Richie McDonald into a fuller delivery that never goes over the top. When you hear him sing "Tell her that you need her" on the radio edit, he sounds like a guy who's been there, who made some mistakes, and is offering well-placed advice -- whereas on the album version, he just sounds like Dan + Shay on a bad day. Lyrically, this is one of their best from the power ballad era, and I'm amazed (pun intended) as to why this isn't in the same caliber as "Amazed" or "I'm Already There." It's good stuff especially if you bother to track down the radio edit -- something not even their Greatest Hits album could be bothered to do. A (radio edit) / B- (album version)



February 17: "There Is No Arizona" by Jamie O'Neal

This one hooked me in on first listen and I still maintain it as one of the best of the entire decade. The narrative is surprisingly nuanced: he says he's going to start a new life with her in Arizona, but instead uses this as an excuse to ditch her entirely before she gives up hope. The title alone tells you everything, but the narrative is so compelling from first to last word. O'Neal's voice is bold and commanding, recalling Chely Wright with a little bit of Rosanne Cash thrown in. I especially love the mix of acoustic guitar and drum loops, creating a very distinctive sonic palette that can hardly be better matched to the fantastic lyrics. From this song alone, I can tell you Jamie O'Neal deserved way the hell more of a career than what she got. A+



February 24: "But for the Grace of God" by Keith Urban

Having not yet found his sound, Keith Urban aimed for the motivational market. The first verse paints the picture of neighbors fighting, something I've witnessed many times myself. I don't even have an issue with the fact that he wants to pray for them. But it's the prayer itself that kills this song: "But for the grace of God go I / I must've been born a lucky guy / Heaven only knows how I've been blessed with the gift of Your love." I'm reminded of the prayer of the Pharisee as recounted in Luke 18: "God, I thank You that I am not like other people--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." If the verses had been completely identical, and the chorus more empathetic -- praying for the fighting neighbors' and old man's lives to become better, or even offering a helping hand -- then I would be fine with the message. But as it is, the self-centered humble-brag of the chorus ruins everything here. I will say, I do like how relaxed Keith's delivery is, and how this is one of his more country-sounding production jobs. I just wish this had a better message. C-



March 3: "You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like This" by Toby Keith

What I find interesting about Toby Keith at this point is how he hadn't quite shed the smooth balladry of his '90s work; he just got a better producer. This is a harder, old-school country lyric about feeling lost in the moment with someone you shouldn't be with (the old "just friends" trope), accentuated by a slow-building chorus. I love how the chorus actually begins with the hook and just keeps building up line after line to set the mood even further, alongside some unusual chord structures. I also like how the title transforms into "When you kiss me like this, I think you mean it like that / If you do, baby, kiss me again" for that added bit of tension. Some of Toby Keith's best works are ballads thanks to his flair for drama mixed with his ever-present grit, and this exemplifies his strengths on slower songs. A



March 10: "One More Day" by Diamond Rio

Diamond Rio became way more pop at the end of the '90s, but they did so without subtracting country -- thanks in no small part to their ever-present twangy harmony. This could have been a standard piano ballad, but Marty Roe and his bandmates (not to mention the prominent mandolin) cut away any semblance of gloss. Although it was written as a love song, the premise of wanting "one more day" found a new life after the fact, as even the band themselves pointed out. Fans of Dale Earnhardt, those who witnessed the Oklahoma State University plane crash, and of course, those who lost family and friends in 9/11 all related with that premise in a way that the song was not originally intended to convey. And who doesn't love the hook of "But then again, I know what it would do / Leave me wishing still for one more day with you"? It's clever and meaningful, never trite. Broad appeal and subtext are hard to pull off without sounding vague or boring, but I'd say they more than got it right. A



April 7: "Who I Am" by Jessica Andrews

I wanted to root for Jessica Andrews. After all, LeAnn Rimes had already gone full pop, and Lila McCann never had anything even remotely as good as "Down Came a Blackbird." Unfortunately, Jessica's only big hit was also her worst. Even at the time, I thought this song sounded like what two 40-something men think teenage girls think about. Is an 18-year-old really going to dream about the Seven Wonders? It doesn't even stick to its focus, as halfway through it degrades into more fortune-cookie gibberish without an underlying narrative. Exactly what mistakes did she make? Why does being Rosemary's granddaughter matter toward her identity? (Especially when, as I've pointed out many times, her grandmother isn't actually named Rosemary?) There's no semblance of personality, and it's all sold in a bland uninspired vocal performance with bland uninspired production. Why couldn't she have had a hit with her cover of "Unbreakable Heart" instead? D-



April 28: "Ain't Nothing 'bout You" by Brooks & Dunn

After a weak 1999 and 2000, Brooks & Dunn were back, bigger and better than ever. This song is their biggest sounding, immediately leading off with electric guitar, hard drums, and slap bass. Right out of the gate, B&D had a message to convey: they're back, bigger and better than ever. Yes, that's still Ronnie Dunn, twangy and gruff as ever -- even Kix is higher up in the mix than usual. The lyrics are some of their quirkiest and most fun when portraying how much he loves her, freed of the chauvinism or formula that bogs down some of their '90s hits. (Favorite line: "I love your attitude, your rose tattoo, your every thought / Your smile, your lips, and your the list goes on and on and on.") Even without the subtext of this being the genesis of a massive comeback era for them, it's still a fantastic example of B&D firing on all cylinders with an accessible, unique, and fun love song that easily ranks among their best. A+



June 9: "Don't Happen Twice" by Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney around this point is quite interesting in how he was beginning to cut higher-quality material but had yet to cohere into his famous arena rock-meets-beach bum style. Of course, songs like "The Tin Man" and "That's Why I'm Here" show he was always able to aim his sights a bit higher. This song is no exception. It's not as original as the former or deep as the latter, but it's still a lot of fun. There truly is nothing like falling in love for the first time (something even I, an outspoken aromantic, can tell you). I love the little details of singing Janis Joplin and drinking wine out of Dixie cups on the hood of a car for that extra bit of quirkiness. But to me, the song's appeal is in just how chill it is, combined with its observations of how any "first time" with anything -- not just the love in this story arc -- can't be re-created. A-



June 16: "Grown Men Don't Cry" by Tim McGraw

I have a weakness for songs where men show their emotions. It's so subversive that even if the execution doesn't fully land, the premise can usually carry it to the finish line. It's a bit sappy what with the homeless mother and son living in their car and the little girl saying "I love you, dad" at the end, but I do like the twist in the second verse -- where the memories of the narrator's father are quickly swept away by the sudden revelation that said father is now dead. (I had a lot of missed opportunities with my own dad before his death, so that kind of stuff almost always hits me.) Tim's voice is a little whiny in his attempts to sound sincere, but I can chalk that up to this being a bit of a transitional period for him artistically. Maybe a little less preaching in the third verse (Tom Douglas usually nails the religious references, but I think he overshot a bit here), and this could be great instead of merely decent. B



June 23: "I'm Already There" by Lonestar

What would "Cat's in the Cradle" sound like without the details, introspection, or reversal of roles at the end? Take that, and layer on strings, guitars, and a whiny over-the-top vocal (all of which are far worse in the radio edit, by the way), and you get "I'm Already There." The father doesn't even try to reflect or offer any kind words; he just says I know you miss me, but I'm already there. Can't you see me? I totally love you through my inaction. And then it dumps the kids in favor of letting the wife have a turn, only to get the exact same cold shoulder. This was the exact point where I gave up on Lonestar -- they were no longer the "No News" guys, they were this. How did Frank J. Myers go from all those great Eddy Raven songs to glop like this? F



August 4: "When I Think About Angels" by Jamie O'Neal

"Why does the color of my coffee match your eyes?" is an easy line to make fun of, but I get what she was going for. This is just a cute song with its whole "one thing leads to another" thought process, something I would consider one of the closest attempts at conveying ADHD in lyrical form. Rain leads to Singin' in the Rain, which leads to singing a heavenly tune, then to angels, then to the guy who's also an angel. That's a lot less cutesy than I'm making it sound, and it's helped by Jamie O'Neal never over-selling it. I do think the backing vocals are mixed a little weird (to the point I used to think some of them were sped up Alvin and the Chipmunks style), but a couple of minor auditory quirks don't do any harm to a premise this charming. B+



August 11: "Austin" by Blake Shelton

Right out of the gate, I knew Blake Shelton had something special. This sounded fresh and traditional at the time, and depsite the use of an answering machine, I think it still holds up today. I love how Austin is both the setting and the name of the woman. I love how the answering machine message changes with each chorus to convey the emotional changes of the breakup. His voice is gritty and dramatic, and the production builds up with him to a fantastic third chorus ("Can't you tell, this is Austin / And I still love you"). Literally everything works on this song, and I think it set the bar almost too high for the rest of his career. (Although he did have a lot of gold early on.) I just wish he'd go back to this style. A+



September 15: "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight" by Toby Keith

More tongue-in-cheek swagger from Toby Keith. This one has a pretty standard "I'm not ready to commit" narrative that on the surface most of us have probably heard a billion times. But there are a lot of elements in play that make it stand out. First, I love how the chorus works from high notes down to a low register on the line "that would be too demanding." I love how the woman in the song has some degree of agency and we get a few lines from her perspective. I love the little chuckle before "easy now" at the second chorus. This guy is way too easygoing and self-aware to come across as a lout. Literally the only reason I can't consider this one of his best is because he has an even better comedy song coming up a few entries down. A



September 22: "What I Really Meant to Say" by Cyndi Thomson

I hated that breathy singing style when I was a teen, but I've since grown to love it. (Shout out to Kellie Coffey.) This one has another highly enjoyable sonic element in the form of a penny whistle. (Shout out to the Chicks' "Ready to Run.") And that blends into some distorted organ and mandolin for a unique texture. It's also got that narrative I love so much about hiding emotions. Every suppressed emotion builds from verse to chorus: "I guess that's when I smiled and said 'just fine' / Oh, but baby, I was lyin' / What I really meant to say / Is I'm dying here inside..." Just like the similarly-themed "Just to See You Smile," there's a degree of understatement and tension that lingers for the rest of the song. And I think it works every bit as well, thanks to a distinctly different writing and production style. It's a shame she bailed after only this one album, because she clearly had the talent for more. A+



October 13: "Where I Come From" by Alan Jackson

What a waste of a perfectly solid, ZZ Top-esque groove. The first verse and chorus really have nothing wrong with them, as the trucker gets pulled over by a cop and questioned about his very out-of-place Southern accent in New Jersey. But then the second verse hits, where "south of Detroit City" (a note to both AJ and Journey -- it's called "Downriver") he insults a waitress for not making biscuits like his mom's. Then the third verse, he turns down a lady in California who flirts with him, only because she doesn't "sing soprano." That to me is probably the worst verse (even before we get to the awful slant-rhyme of Ventura/finger, and what the hell "had to use my finger" even means in this context). I've heard it derided  by others as everything from merely rejecting non-standard femininity to possible transphobia. The fourth verse isn't that bad either, but by that point you're tired of all the droning, not to mention the way he can't keep straight whether the chorus references sittin' or pickin', and whether it's on the front or back porch. Even if you're not as put off by the second and third verses as I am, this song is still just too damn long for no reason. D



October 27: "Only in America" by Brooks & Dunn

Although this song was released before 9/11, its themes certainly hit home afterward. Patriotic songs can sometimes get too extra by being too idealistic or vague, or too angry. This one, thankfully, avoids all the pitfalls. The kids in the school bus in the first verse could all have good or bad outcomes, from future President to future inmate; verse two even points out two aspirational entertainers who are presented with an option to chase their dreams or go back home. The chorus presents a picture of those who "dream as big as we want to" and how "everybody gets a chance" -- while such lyrics might hit differently after the likes of George Floyd, January 6, transphobic laws being passed in several states, and other unfortunate threats on those in our country, I think they still hold up as images of what America should be. We should be the "land of the free." To me, a further mark in this song's favor is that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama used it as a campaign song. This song unified people, and I hope it's not too late to reclaim the sense of unity and peace this song calls out for. A+



November 10: "Angry All the Time" by Tim McGraw

An otherwise great song with two minor faults that drag it down. I genuinely like the maturity that goes into a lyric like "I don't know why you gotta be angry all the time," and how we watch a relationship slowly come undone throughout. A more cynical read might paint this song as one-sided and defensive, but I never saw it that way. I think it's helped by the fact that Tim was really sinking into a more mature and thoughtful role, not to mention a slightly deeper and smoother vocal delivery that almost never oversold anything he sang. However, the line "twenty years have came and went" always bothered me -- normally I'm not that picky about grammar, but when the wrong grammar scans objectively worse, it just bugs me. The other thing is that Faith Hill's backing vocal -- while thematically relevant to the lyrics -- is as dissonant as ever. I've never thought that she and Tim had any chemistry on their collaborative songs and in fact, they often sound extremely clashing to me because of how utterly dissimilar their vocal tones are. Overall, a flawed but worthwhile package. B+



November 24: "I Wanna Talk About Me" by Toby Keith

I told you Toby had an even better comedy song coming up. This song is like absolutely nothing else on radio then or now, and I think it's all the better for it. The rap flow and beat are surprisingly strong for what was likely written as a joke, but I think it's way too lyrically sharp to be a "Red Solo Cup" style shitpost. This guy seems willing to engage in his wife's conversations about her own life -- he never sounds like he's mocking her in a "women, amirite?' tone, just playfully acknowledging that she's got a lot to say. "You know talkin' about you makes me smile / But every once in a while / I wanna talk about me" shows that he does truly care; he just wants to get in a few words of his own too. Just like with "How Do You Like Me Now?!," I think most of the people who bashed on this song just need to lighten up. This is fun, damn it. A+



December 29: "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" by Alan Jackson

9/11 inspired a lot of patriotic music that unfortunately reinforced a lot of red-state stereotypes, so hearing Alan Jackson's calm retrospective is a total breath of fresh air. I can remember walking between first and second period in high school and being told a plane hit the World Trade Center; I thought someone was pulling my leg, until we spent the entire rest of the day watching CNN instead of school work. I remember patriotic posters being put up in the school, and then later taken down because people kept vandalizing them with Islamophobic tirades. Most of America was just doing everyday things, and then we just... weren't. We were shocked, sad, angry, all kinds of emotions. The emotions ran the gamut, but Alan smartly knew how to put a positive spin on it. Loving one's neighbor, one's enemy even, was a far better answer to our problems than all the jingoism and bigotry that would follow and are still being felt today. And with his relaxing delivery and observant slice-of-life lyrics, Alan had a masterful message that I wish more of us had taken to heart. A



Previously: 2000



Robin Williams Country Reaction Gifs

When you listen to country radio for 5 minutes and it's clear AI and lots of computer programs were involved

When the board says they hired Tucker Wetmore to play at the mandatory corporate retreat

Cleaning the house and Whiskey Myers comes on shuffle

I got sea stories; they're all true

Your therapist when your girls dumps you because you wouldn't take her to see Kane Brown

Were you surprised when Post Malone went pop-country?

Listens to "In Your Love" by Tyler Childers once:

When your employer plays Sirius' The Highway over the office background music speakers

Jason Aldean at couples' therapy

Luke Bryan trying to appeal to the youths of Gen Z

Luke Combs' producer: Maybe dial it back on this next take
Luke:


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