Jul 10, 2024

Every #1 Country Song of the 2000s: 2000

By Bobby Peacock


January 1: "Breathe" by Faith Hill

I'm not as hard on this song as I used to be. That doesn't mean I love it; I just don't think it does anything wrong. I think at the time I was already burnt out on lush pop ballads thanks to my mom spinning Céline Dion so much. I still have an allergic reaction to the Diane Warren formula. But thankfully, where this one succeeds is by being considerably less cliché than its cohorts. "I can feel you breathe" is actually a pretty solid image that's easy to understand in the context of a grandiose love ballad. The vocals aren't nearly as histrionic as Faith would get on "There You'll Be" or "Where Are You, Christmas?" That said, every time I hear this song, my brain still automatically switches over to Cledus T. Judd's absolutely hilarious parody, "Breath." So yeah, nothing awful, just a merely okay pop ballad. B-

February 5: "Cowboy Take Me Away" by the Chicks

I'm a sucker for a good wanderlust song. It starts off strong with the lyric "I wanna touch the earth, I wanna break it in my hands / I wanna grow something wild and unruly" which is just such a sharp, distinct image. And it doesn't let up throughout the song, with pillows of blue bonnets, being out in the wild with no city buildings in sight, and all kinds of cowboy/western imagery. Each one makes sense and builds on the narrative, which is always a hallmark of this kind of song. It's hard to overstate just how damn good almost every Chicks song is, thanks to Natalie's bold voice and the crisp production and arrangements. The only reason this review seems so lackluster is because the high standards of their discography mean this song is only "great" in a sea full of amazing. A

February 26: "My Best Friend" by Tim McGraw

Sometimes it's hard to write much about a song that's just... there. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song. It's pleasant, it has a solid sentiment behind the lyrics, Tim sings it well, but this song leaves little impact after I'm done listening to it. I had to look it up just to remember a single lyric from it. This feels like one that got to #1 entirely off the momentum of the huge hit before it, yet left no impact of its own. And sometimes that just... happens. Such is life on Music Row. B-

March 11: "Smile" by Lonestar

Sometimes it's hard to write much about a song that's just... there. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song. It's pleasant, it has a solid sentiment behind the lyrics, Richie sings it well, but this song leaves little impact after I'm done listening to it. I had to look it up just to remember a single lyric from it. This feels like one that got to #1 entirely off the momentum of the huge hit before it, yet left no impact of its own. And sometimes that just... happens. Such is life on Music Row. B-

March 18: "How Do You Like Me Now?!" by Toby Keith

A lot of people even at the time painted this song as misogynistic and immature, but I never saw it. The guy is bragging about how much his life has improved for the better now that he's famous and his high school crush isn't. It's a narrative I can see a lot of people relating with, and on a meta level, it's a narrative Toby probably related with. This was a song his previous label had rejected, and his then-current label DreamWorks was hesitant to put it out after the predecessor ("When Love Fades") bombed. But it seems his instincts were for the best, as this was his first big crossover and the start of a new leg in his career. It's bold and cocky, but it's tempered with a playfulness that keeps it from feeling mean-spirited (such as the way the organ actually plays the "nyah nyah nyah" riff at the end). I think this song is just fun and those who dislike it either need to lighten up, or are letting his later more problematic material cast a shadow over this song. A

April 22: "The Best Day" by George Strait

One of the first times I heard this song, I was in the passenger seat of my dad's 18-wheeler somewhere in western Michigan. My parents divorced when I was 4, and over the years, his moving across the state meant I spent less and less time with him before his death. So the lyrics of memories shared with a father certainly resonate with me. Even if the final verse taking place at a wedding is predictable, the song's sentiment never feels mushy. It's helped by George Strait's calm read and the understated production; in particular, I like the tension created by the augmented chord in the opening riff. If I ranked all of George Strait's #1 hits, even counting only the Billboard ones, this would still be pretty high up there. And considering how stacked a deck that is, that's really saying something. A

May 13: "Buy Me a Rose" by Kenny Rogers feat. Alison Krauss and Billy Dean

After spending most of the '90s as nearly a non-entity, Kenny Rogers came back for a brief period with one of his best. This song's central theme of misguided attention toward a lover is already a cut above, but then you get to the twist, where he says "this is a story of you and me" and the song becomes ten times better. It's not just a story; by this point, it's an introspection -- an example of male vulnerability that I find so rare yet so compelling every time I come across it. Of course, Kenny's gravelly gravitas is in full force here, sounding tender and vulnerable against a calm, minimalistic production style with some very fine choices for vocal harmony. I always love it when veteran artists get one last rally with a great single, and this is truly one of his best on all fronts. A well-deserved comeback. A+

May 20: "The Way You Love Me" by Faith Hill

This one stumbles right out of the gate with the dodgy as hell grammar that even 13-year-old me could spot right away: "If I could grant you one wish / I wish you could see the way you kiss." It's not helped by the bland yet padded "Ooh, I love watching you, ooh, baby / When you're driving me, ooh, crazy," which just drives home the utter lack of effort on the lyrical front. It's like she wanted to capture the effervescent nature of "This Kiss" (as evidenced by that song also having the lyric "the way you love me") but just couldn't capture that lightning in a bottle. This is just forced and empty. Literally the only thing saving it from being an abject failure is the genuinely interesting double key change on the chorus. And hey, at least the country mix doesn't have those creepy Auto-Tuned backing vocals. But otherwise, this is like if someone tried to make a cake but left out most of the ingredients -- it's just a floppy, doughy mess with no flavor. D-

June 17: "Yes!" by Chad Brock

How Chad Brock ever got a record deal, I'll never know. I once compared his robotic singing voice to the title character of Free Guy. I had a "virtual singer" program on my Mac as a teen, and even it provided more nuanced vocal tracks. Which is a shame, because the underlying lyric could have worked. Even if the setup is contrived (he meets her because she moves into his old apartment and has mail in his name; they fall in love and marry), a more likable vocalist could've made it work by nailing the hook. I would've loved to hear someone more capable of a loose funny delivery, such as Toby Keith, take on this one. It's not at all hard to see why Chad Brock faded away so hard that I legit cannot find recordings of some of his later singles anywhere online. (To say nothing of his militant conservatism on social media.) Between Chad's personality-free vocal and the canned production (seriously, what's with that gurgly synth bass in the beginning that never shows up again?), all I can say is "No!" (And be thankful that at least this isn't the Y2K version of "A Country Boy Can Survive.") C-

July 8: "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack feat. Sons of the Desert

Even at the time, I knew this was as out-of-character for Lee Ann as Alan Jackson covering Lil Wayne. A singer known for twangy, traditional, timeless fare like "A Little Past Little Rock" turns in a cold, sterile, pop ballad with no semblance of country whatsoever -- maybe it could have worked if she sounded like she wanted to be there, or if the lyrics had anything to say. This is a style of songwriting I just never liked, the way it just strings a bunch of random positive phrases together with no through line or narrative (which really set off "sellout" alarms in my head even at the time). It's like someone just cracked open a bunch of fortune cookies and just picked out the ones that rhymed. I've never understood why this is pitched as a mother-to-daughter song, when lines like "I hope you never lose your sense of wonder / Get your fill to eat, but always feel that hunger" are so broad-stroke as to instantly cover the entire canvas in beige. This played well to the Chicken Soup for the Soul crowd, but to me, it's so flavorless it makes Campbell's condensed seem like a gourmet meal in comparison. Literally the only interesting facet is Sons of the Desert's counterpoint on the chorus, but even that was scrubbed from the pop edit. D-

August 12: "What About Now" by Lonestar

This song starts off with a damn good line: "The sign in the window said for sale or trade / On the last remaining dinosaur that Detroit made / $700 was a heck of a deal / For a 400 horsepower jukebox on wheels." It's so full of vivid imagery of hitting the road and blasting some tunes with the one you love. Richie McDonald sounds like he's having fun, and the production is on point. However, there's one thing holding this back: it has a very weak melody. Nearly all of the verse is just this repeated so-mi-so-mi-so-mi-so pattern with no variation, and it doesn't get much more varied at the chorus. It's a shame the melody drags this down, because otherwise this would be one of the best post-"Amazed" cuts from a band that would spend much of this decade embarrassing themselves. B

September 9: "It Must Be Love" by Alan Jackson

I'm sorry, what was that about murder on Music Row again? Wedged between what is widely considered a high point for country music and this, a freaking Don Williams cover? AJ covering the Gentle Giant is such a no-brainer, as they both thrive on laid-back meat and potatoes fare like this. The production is the same twang you'd expect from him, not far removed from the Everything I Love album yet somehow just a tiny bit more energetic than Don's original. And it's such a simple lyric about the power of love, another theme both artists in question are quite familiar with. This one goes down so smoothly without ever feeling inconsequential, and I think it's easily a draw as to which version of this song is better -- AJ didn't change much because he didn't have to. It's just good. A

September 16: "That's the Way" by Jo Dee Messina

I've never been a fan of Jo Dee Messina's style. She never seemed to have the sass of Shania, the pipes of Faith or Martina, or the brains of Trisha -- most of her songs just felt "there" to me. However, this one works for me. It has a pretty neat opening riff full of acoustic guitar and chimes, even finding a few places to fit in a güiro. The melody is full of clever modulations, and Jo Dee sounds a lot less plastic than she usually does by finding a way to sing the chorus slightly differently each time. And honestly, it's one of the better lyrics she's picked, too. "I know from experience nothing's ever gonna make perfect sense" is a really head-turning lyric in all the right ways. I'm still not much of a fan of hers, but revisiting this after a long hiatus, I'm amazed that this one -- despite being her longest-tenured #1 and highest Hot 100 entry -- never had the staying power of "Bye Bye" or "I'm Alright," because I actually think it's slightly better than those. A- 

October 14: "Kiss This" by Aaron Tippin

2000 was apparently the year of the comeback. I always found it strange that despite his blue-collar image, two of Aaron Tippin's three #1 hits were novelty songs. And as someone who derives their usual Internet handle from one of Aaron Tippin's novelty songs, I don't object to that -- he has the goofy energy to pull a lot of this off. Case in point: a clever way of phrasing the insult "kiss my ass." It's a standard revenge narrative with a few cheeky lines (no pun intended), but the delivery is where it shines. He drops into a lower register than usual, then twangs it back up on the chorus accompanied by a crowd of female vocals (one of whom is his own wife). Simple as the lyrics are, this is a song that, like most humor, hinges on the delivery. And on that front, it succeeds. B+

October 28: "The Little Girl" by John Michael Montgomery

You know you messed up when your "motivational" Jesus song has holes in it that even a 13-year-old can see. Even at the time, I knew how massively contrived this was: a kid watches her parents die in a murder-suicide, and then is taken in by religious foster parents. She sees a picture of Jesus and says "that's the man who was by my side when my parents died." (No doubt it was one of the stock images of Jesus as a white man -- again, something I knew even at 13 was not the case.) There's no implication of trauma, and no other emotion from the girl. It's the same sort of manipulative schlock that Snopes termed "glurge" -- attempts to be motivational that are so over-the-top that you can't help but wonder how anyone believes them. Even before social media, this sort of glop was circulated via chain e-mails (in fact, that's literally how this song came to be; writer Harley Allen saw it in an e-mail). While JMM's read is remarkably free of bombast, that means nothing when something this crass and manipulative is even committed to a recording studio, never mind sent out as a single. Do yourself a favor and listen to "Friends," "No Man's Land," or any of the other great JMM songs that fell into that void of forgotten post-"Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)" gems in his catalog and skip this entirely. (And skip whatever the hell "Nothing Catches Jesus by Surprise" was, too.) F

November 18: "Best of Intentions" by Travis Tritt

I don't know what happened, but after 1996's The Restless Kind, Travis Tritt seemed to entirely lose his spark. Nothing else he put out afterward had anywhere near the emotional investment of his earlier ballads like "Anymore" or "Drift Off to Dream," nor the swagger of "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)" or "T-R-O-U-B-L-E." He just became... boring. Admittedly, this is one of his better cuts in that timespan. This is a man asking for forgiveness for not pulling his weight in the relationship, telling his apparently soon-to-be-ex that he tried his best and is disappointed that he couldn't satisfy her. I think the song structure is interesting too, with two verses, the chorus twice, then a third verse. I think the only thing holding it back is that it lacks the power of his earlier ballads. If he'd cut this in 1993, the song would just soar by that second chorus. I don't know who's to blame here -- either Billy Joe Walker Jr.'s production style was too muted, or Travis just couldn't recapture the energy of his early days. Either way, it's a damn good lyric, and I'm sure he had the best of intentions delivering it, but it really is missing that special something. B

November 25: "Just Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Vassar

Phil Vassar started his career writing slightly left-of-center slice-of-life songs. His early material includes such gems as chasing after one's ex in her Isuzu; being ghosted by someone staying at a Ramada in Birmingham; and picking up a chatty hitchhiker with her own story to tell. That same energy carried into his first album, where after reuniting with a high school flame in "Carlene," we now see the ups and downs of domestic life. Children are fighting, the milk's gone bad, and the romantic candlelight dinner is Domino's, but that's okay, because you're still with the one you love. It's so utterly charming, eccentric, and sunny that it's impossible not to love. Phil gives a bright delivery against a nicely jaunty melody. It's actually kind of a shame he used up so much of his good material so quickly. A

December 2: "We Danced" by Brad Paisley

Another artist whose early career was also full of interesting slice-of-life songs got his second #1 just afterward. "We Danced" has an interesting narrative about meeting someone who left her purse behind at a bar after hours, then dancing with her and starting up a conversation. It sounds like something that could have actually happened, and never feels contrived. I think Brad generally came off more charismatic earlier in his career, and this song is proof. It's gentle and mellow, yet never soporific. Low-stakes songs like this can be boring if they aim too low (see the "My Best Friend"/"Smile" reviews above), but this one hits the sweet spot. A-

December 16: "My Next Thirty Years" by Tim McGraw

I haven't confirmed this, but I've been told that Tim has never sung this song in concert because he doesn't like it. And I don't know why. He should have more shame toward "Indian Outlaw" or "Truck Yeah" than this. Songs about taking stock of advancing age can come off as navel-gazing or preachy, but this one doesn't overshoot. I think it helps that it's another early Phil Vassar lyric. And as someone whose family has a long history of alcoholism, the line "Drink a little lemonade and not so many beers" gets a thumbs-up from me. Maybe it's because I'm in my 30s now too, but this song has aged amazingly well, and I feel just about anyone could get something out of its inspiring message. (And then once you're done, listen to Rodney Crowell's "Earthbound" and Trout Fishing in America's "Who Knows What We Might Do.") A-

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