Sep 28, 2022
Apr 2, 2022
Sep 16, 2021
Editor’s notes: These are Bobby’s picks - not staff selections. They are in no way predictable; you might even call them eclectic, but I like that. They are in alphabetical order, not ranked. I added a few links in the song titles, particularly a few more obscure choices, and there are a few videos scattered throughout. I imagine you’ll discover some new songs as we go through his 300 picks over the next couple of weeks. I know I did. ~Trailer
By Bobby Peacock
With all of my worst-of lists out of the way, let's balance it out with some positivity. And why not start with the decade I grew up on and know the best -- the 1990s? As with the worst-of lists, this is presented in alphabetical order.
Where better to start than with a Mac McAnally co-write? When the narrator catches his wife in an affair, so many emotions are present: anger, confusion, self-awareness, and most surprisingly of all, reconciliation. I especially love the lyric "She said 'you're not the man you used to be' / And he said, 'Neither is this guy'." The production is extremely spare: just acoustic guitar, strings, and a lead vocal. Even the melody conveys the emotions by setting the verses in minor key before resolving to major key at the chorus and ending.
By this point, the then-41-year-old Carpenter was starting to feel her age. This shows in the song's central theme: looking back at all of the things in your past and feeling dissatisfied with how far you've gotten (as in, "not far enough"). It also shows in the vocal and production, considerably more weathered than even two years prior. There are times that I feel like I should be further along in life than I am now, and I dwell way too much on the past for my own good. What I really need to do is take to heart what she sings in the bridge: "there's no such thing as no regrets".
These guys should have been big. They had it all: great production with lots of fiddle and guitar, strong harmonies, and a distinctive lead vocalist (can I call them the anti-Eli Young Band?). Their debut single took all of that, plus some unusual chord patterns, to bolster an already strong tale of a guy facing a breakup. Despite everything bad going on around him in association with this, he holds his head high and claims to be "doin' just fine". I think it's that underlying optimism that makes this one a winner -- and if not for a label closure and lead singer departure, I think they could have.
4. "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down" by The Mavericks featuring Flaco Jiménez (#13, 1996)
The Mavericks' blend of old-school country, rock, and Latin music is one of the best and most colorful styles a country band could have. This song's bright accordion runs, popping drums, and Raul Malo's extremely colorful voice are the complete opposite of the lyric; never before has a lyric like "they all wonder why I wear a frown" sounded happier. But that works in the song's favor to make it seem thematically similar, yet so tonally different, from the previous entry. Plus, I get to type the name "Flaco Jiménez".
Thanks to the VHS compilation series Country Video Monthly, this was probably my gateway drug to alt-country. The narrator is a smart-aleck who looks at porn, smokes dope, drinks too much, and hates cops. but still thinks he's a decent person. Sounds like a total asshole, right? But the lighthearted production and his bemused, self-aware delivery (you can almost hear him chuckling some of the lines) make him seem more than cognizant of his shortcomings even when they land him in jail. And I'm never one to turn down good self-deprecation.
6. "Amy's Back in Austin" by Little Texas (#4, 1994-95)
I'm still amazed at how much hatred Little Texas got in their heyday. Sure, they looked like a hair-metal band, but they were far from lacking in chops. My favorite '90s cut of theirs finds the common "love that nobody thinks will work" -- get this -- actually failing for once. He's not sure where she is now, but he's got a couple of very detailed guesses. The result is very tuneful, packed with harmony and imagery, and overall carries a desperate yet melancholy groove that shows an emotional depth far beyond the likes of "God Blessed Texas".
In this song, a soldier fighting in the Civil War has second thoughts about the battle -- especially because he has both friends and a brother on the Union side. Although reconciliation is made, the scars remain and the narrator wishes there were "another side" to settle all these conflicting differences. (Talk about a subversion of country music's southern pride.) Even better is how amazingly this song's message has aged. In a world full of black and white, I'm right and you're wrong, where divisiveness is the name of the game, maybe what we need is intervention from another side.
8. "Anymore" by Travis Tritt (#1, 1991)
Slow-burning power ballad production (how many other country songs have a harpsichord?) that still sounds extremely country and extremely passionate -- and the lyrics are more then able to keep up. He wants to tell her that he loves her before it's too late. What was holding him back? What made finally pushed him to start saying he loves her? Does he actually not love her? Did she die? (The video suggests that he's a war veteran trying to hide his injuries.) The fact that this song is so big and powerful, yet still has room for interpretation, is ultimately its greatest asset.
Long before he had a production and/or songwriting credit on seemingly half of Nashville, Shane McAnally (no relation to Mac) took us through the familiar trope of wondering what an ex is up to now. Casually conversational lyrics like "Jesse Taylor said he saw you yesterday / He said you look great, as if I care" are on point. We also get possibly the only country song to use the Pachelbel's Canon chord progression, and three key changes add a lot to the already twangy, tuneful, energetic production.
10. "Baby Likes to Rock It" by The Tractors (#11, 1994)
The Tractors' debut is one of the most creatively fun projects I've ever heard. Its lead single alone brims with roadhouse energy and unfiltered production. Steve Ripley has a distinctively growly country-rock-blues voice that fits an off-kilter take on the "song about a hot girl". This had a lot of sexual energy without feeling creepy (especially given that Ripley was 45 at the time). There's a reason that this song so often gets name-dropped whenever a work of fiction needs to reference a '90s country song -- it's just that strong and memorable.
11. "Baby, Walk On" by Matraca Berg (#36, 1990) or Linda Ronstadt (#61, 1995, as "Walk On")
Matraca Berg already had a couple cuts as a songwriter when she tried her hand as a singer. Her debut single was such a strong start that I'm at a loss as to why she didn't fare better on that front. It's a fiery salvo at a guy who can't seem to commit to ending the relationship. I just love the way the song actually begins with the phrase "oh no", and the other witty lyrics like "this time I don't mind shining your walking shoes" don't hurt either. Both artists who cut this song gave equal amounts of firepower and personality without seeming like copies, so I only felt it right to double-dip here.
After all the shade I threw on them in the "more of the worst" list, you're probably surprised that I like any of their songs at all. And yeah, this one seems extremely light on the surface -- miss you/kiss you rhymes and all -- but it excels in one thing. Namely, conveying the absolute joy of a young love. I find this song to be extremely well-produced, as harmony-driven as "A Random Act of Senseless Kindness" wasn't (seriously, they sound like if Exile added a bass singer), and overall so catchy and ebullient that I literally couldn't include it. Sure, laugh if you want, but I stand by this one.
13. "Back When We Were Beautiful" by Matraca Berg (did not chart, 1997)
I swear this wasn't just compensation for making Matraca share the last slot (although I'd like to thank her for confirming that this was a single). Much like Jamey Johnson's fantastic "In Color", it's about an old person reminiscing about their younger days via photographs. The old woman in the song hates that she's aging but tries to hide it through the love of her grandchildren, adding another layer to the already emotion-packed memories. Matraca's voice is soft and emotive, showing that she can interpret as skillfully as she can write.
14. "Back Where I Come From" by Mac McAnally (#14, 1990)
Mac can write, produce, and oh yeah, he's a decent singer too. His delivery on his eternally-underrated solo efforts is as charmingly laid-back and subtly nuanced as his lyricism, and his only solo top-40 hit is a great starting point. While it would be easy to dismiss this as a Norman Rockwell-esque photo of small-town life, details like "paint your name on the water tank / or miscount all the beers you drank" add an unexpected grit and depth. He knows it's not a perfect place and not up to everyone's standards, but he's still proud. And it's that mix of detail and humility that makes this one a winner.
15. "Backroads" by Ricky Van Shelton (#2, 1992)
Ricky Van Shelton always had an outside-the-box approach to song selection, and that led to a cut by Canadian country singer Charlie Major. Brimming with an energy that he only sometimes showcased, this is just a great country driving song. We learn a lot about the guy; he just calls in and takes a drive, unconcerned about whether or not he'll still have a job tomorrow. RVS' portrayal is extremely sunny and likable, and the production is heavier than usual for him -- just making me wonder where all that grit disappeared to when he cut "Wild Man".
The first bit of Cajun seasoning on this list, and it's not even Eddy Raven for once. Instead, it's New Yorker Bob Woodruff, whose second and final chart entry is a delightful little guitar-heavy ditty about finding that Louisiana lady. (And possibly leaving with her in the broad daylight.) Beyond the unusually edgy production (he did a re-recording in 2013 that's even better), the unusual attention to detail -- Spanish moss, cypress trees, and katydids set the scene -- gives me a lot of fun stuff to work with in this unexpectedly fun, catchy cut.
"Are you still in love with me or not" is a question asked in a lot of songs. But Thrasher Shiver brings some Everly Brothers-esque harmonies and pretty, minimalist production to the concept, along with unusual chords and breaks in song structure. Clever lines like "I'd rather hear the truth, though the truth might set you free" are deceptively understated. Thrasher Shiver may have been a little left of center, but at least Thrasher continued to write mostly-good songs for other artists. (We'll forget he wrote "Bob That Head".)
18. "Before You Kill Us All" by Randy Travis (#2, 1994)
One of many times where Randy Travis finds a hard-hitting edge to his traditional sound. And how does he do it? Dark comedy. The plants and the goldfish are dying, and the dog and cat aren't eating. The narrator himself is miserable, because all he sees around him is death -- all brought on by his lady leaving him. It's all played for complete deadpan comedy, and all the better for it. And this will be the first of many instances on this list where I assert why I liked Randy's output better in the '90s. I could easily put five more examples of that on this list, but it's too long as it is.
19. "Bend It Until It Breaks" by John Anderson (#3, 1994-95)
John Anderson's songs from his well-deserved early-90s resurgence often have an unusually compelling sense of melancholy to them that matches every emotion he puts in as singer and lyricist. One of the best on that front is his last big hit, where his repeated rejection is phrased in a way that I'm surprised more people haven't tried. "How much more can this poor heart take? You bend it until it breaks". It's just a great listen and an unusual twist of a common trope, and yet it's far from the only song of his that I'm putting on this list.
Another guy with a big voice and a big guitar brings us an original, thoughtful take on the concept of "all these wrong steps led to me being with you". The hook itself is a great way to convey this, and some other surprisingly inspiring lyrics like "my eyes see the world in more than black and white" and "I think life is living through things I can't control" only add to the depth. Sadly, country radio didn't bite (I blame it on him signing with Curb Records) and other than writing "Heartbroke Every Day" for Lonestar, this talented guy seems to have completely slipped through the cracks.
21. "Better Things to Do" by Terri Clark (#3, 1995)
Terri started off strong by bringing twang and wit. It's a common joke to excuse one's self from a situation by making up a reason that doesn't even make sense (e.g., "I could wash my car in the rain"). TV Tropes calls this the "I Need to Go Iron My Dog" scenario. But even under the comedy, there's still an obvious determination in the line "I don't need to waste my time" -- and more prominently, in how the lyrics turn more direct at the end ("or just get on with my life"). The overall package, though polished enough for radio, still has a lot of unexpected high points that make it a standout.
The opening line "Hey man, I'm glad you asked / 'Cause I know more about that than I want to" sets a charmingly conversational tone for the rest of this excellent heartbreak song. In fact, I think it's that tone alone that sells me on this guy's situation and makes me want to root for him. The smooth, George Strait-caliber production and plaintive vocal? Now those are what make the song even better yet. It's a shame that a few false starts and health issues kept him from hitting the big time, because he easily had the goods.
23. "Blame It on Your Heart" by Patty Loveless (#1, 1993)
Even if it weren't for six-year-old me being the only one in the car on a long family road trip who could successfully sing "blame it on your lyin', cheatin', cold, dead-beatin', two-timin', double-dealin', mean, mistreatin', lovin' heart"every time, this one has a lot going for it. The playful yet commanding tone, the assertion that he'll get burned again for screwing around, the steel guitar-heavy production... Or the fact that a song this uniquely appealing could only come from such a fusion as veteran songwriter Harlan Howard and '90s hitmaker Kostas.
24. "Boom! It Was Over" by Robert Ellis Orrall (#19, 1992-93)
Another unusually upbeat take on breakups. (Given that Robert also wrote "All Things Considered", we're already forming patterns here...) He offers no shortage of delightfully fun lyrics that convey just how abruptly this relationship ended (e.g., "like a knockout punch sends a man to the mat"). The production, though radio-friendly, is still bursting with energy -- as a song with an explosive title should be -- and Orrall makes it a winner with a charismatic vocal not unlike a countrier Huey Lewis.
25. "Born to Be Blue" by The Judds (#5, 1990)
That languid piano-and-vocal intro is a great slow-burning start to an otherwise thumping bluesy number that just doesn't quit. (I get that radio has a short attention span, but this one needs the full 4:51.) Sometimes you're so unsure about finding the right one that you question whether you ever will (a reason I gave up entirely on the search). Mike Reid knew how to write it (what doesn't he know how to write?), and Wynonna knew how to sing the hell out of it in a way that foreshadows her more fiery solo work such as "No One Else on Earth".
26. "The Box" by Randy Travis (#7, 1995)
The narrator always perceived his deceased father as hard-headed and unloving until finding a box of mementos that are vividly expanded on. Even before my own father died, I always wondered what sides of him I never got to know. The perception of men as uncaring is a sadly common one, and it's refreshing to see that perception stripped away -- even if it only happens in hindsight. As I said back at "Before You Kill Us All", Randy just got better and better throughout the '90s by pushing his sound in new directions without abandoning his core, and this is the greatest example.
27. "Bubba Shot the Jukebox" by Mark Chesnutt (#4, 1992)
Dennis Linde is one of my favorite songwriters, mainly because of his excellence at oddball character sketches. Sure, it's silly that a man would get so agitated by hearing a heartbreak song that he'd shoot a jukebox, but it's so obviously played tongue-in-cheek that it works like a charm (the "reckless discharge" is claimed not to be because he "hit just where [he] was aimin'"). Just like Mark, I can see it as something that would actually happen, and I especially love just how matter-of-fact he is in conveying the silliness of it all.
28. "Cafe on the Corner" by Sawyer Brown (#5, 1992)
When I worked overnights at McDonald's, we'd often have old farmers come in at 5 AM just to sit and chat over coffee. It was clear to me that they had little else left in their lives in a world that was rapidly changing around them. Just like in this song's sympathetic character sketch, I've seen way too many people who should be happily retired instead taking any job they can find just for a little extra money. Hell, the line "this job don't pay half what it's worth / but it's a thankful man that gets it" hits pretty hard nowadays for just about anyone.
29. "Cain's Blood" by 4 Runner (#26, 1995)
Rarely has a song about the struggles between good and evil sounded so... dark. Michael Johnson (yes, the "Give Me Wings" guy) came up with the song's idea while in jail, and it's that specificity and humility that make the lyrics spark on their own. And the spark becomes a fire with the stark and foreboding arrangement fronted by some of the best four-part harmony ever to come out of Nashville. It's an amazing musical package that manages to hit extremely heard even for a non-believer such as myself.
30. "Can't Be Really Gone" by Tim McGraw (#2, 1995)
She's out of his life, but he wants to believe that she isn't because of all the personal effects she's left behind. Each is given a detail and an emotion, creating a very unusual yet extremely effective picture. Both his voice and the production are warm and dramatic without ever overpowering. This was the exact moment that he proved capable of more than just ditties such as "I Like It, I Love It" or formulaic Nashville fare like "Not a Moment Too Soon", and I think that's why it's still my favorite of his after all this time.
31. "Catahoula" by the Bellamy Brothers featuring Eddy Raven and Jo-El Sonnier (did not chart, 1997)
No, this isn't just an excuse for me to lament the fact that my "only singles" rule keeps me from including "Jesus Is Coming". (Did you look it up yet?) Nor is it an attempt to shoehorn Eddy Raven into everything. It's a wonderful ditty with a lot of Cajun-flavored energy; the story is that he's lost his woman, but doesn't care because he has his pet dog. (I'm a cat person, and I'd still love to have a dog who can fetch beer.) One of the few country songs to actually be about dogs in the first place, it's made great by name-dropping local landmarks and cities -- and by just being so much fun to listen to.
Previously released in 1991 for Larry Boone under the title "I Need a Miracle", this song was re-worked for Gene Watson six years later. I always liked Gene Watson's emotive, reedy voice. He was the right choice to sing the hell out of a simple plea to God: you did all these miracles, now can you please make her come back to me? It sounds simple on paper, but it's all the more potent by not overselling the central concept and letting the struggle shine through. This man sounds desperate, and I want to see him succeed.
33. "The Cheap Seats" by Alabama (#13, 1994)
As a child, I would watch the Detroit Tigers on the radio (no, that wasn't a typo). That nostalgia ties into this song and its charming portrayal of a small-town minor-league team. Sports songs don't usually focus on the minors or the Midwest (the latter especially surprising for Alabama). Even on its own, I just find it a humorous ("we got a great pitcher, what's his name? Oh, we can't even spell it"), wistful ("this ol' town's not quite so small"), and celebratory ("The game was close, we're callin' it a win") approach to a somewhat uncommon topic.
34. "Cheap Whiskey" by Martina McBride (#44, 1992)
After all the Martina-bashing on the worst-of lists, I think it's only fair to highlight a few of her best. He's gotten so hooked on the bottle that it's driven her away. Instead of being all "you did this, you did that" as some songs of this sort tend to be, the focus is entirely on the man's side of the picture. He did everything wrong, and only now that she's gone completely -- and apparently now that he's sober, too -- does he realize what a fool he was. And it's presented all so matter-of-factly that even in the guy's ignorance, you still have sympathy for him.
35. "Cherokee Highway" by Western Flyer (did not chart US/#38 CAN Country, 1995)
An extremely potent anti-racism song with a hard-hitting performance. Two boys, one white and one black, become friends after watching the latter's father die at the hands of the KKK. The white boy's house is then burnt down in revenge, leading to both boys' deaths... and the utterly devastating final line, where the white father (himself one of the Klansmen) can't tell their bodies apart. This song's no-holds-barred stance still holds up against contemporary racial protests, leaving me hopeful that it will continue to find a new audience.
36. "The Chill of an Early Fall" by George Strait (#3, 1991)
As I wrote this review, I saw comments on Country Universe debating this song's quality -- some liked it, some thought it was mediocre. To me, it's one of his best by merit of being an unusually detailed character study. Her old flame is back in town, and the narrator afraid that she's shifting her focus back toward said old flame. As the song progresses, he goes from tormented and fearful, to dejectedly realizing that yep, it's over. Even the production, with its spaced-out acoustic and steel, sounds like the unusually early, cold autumns we've sometimes gotten here in Michigan.
37. "Choices" by George Jones (#30, 1999)
That first verse alone -- "I was tempted, by an early age I found / I liked drinkin' / Oh, and I never turned it down" -- is sad but true in being part of the George Jones story even though he's not the original artist (Billy Yates previously cut it in 1997). But even if you don't know about all the ups and downs in his life, you believe the hell out of the Possum when his well-worn voice tells the world that he's made a lot of mistakes that he'd like to fix. I'm barely half the age that Jones was when he cut it, and sometimes I feel that way too.
38. "The Coast Is Clear" by Tracy Lawrence (#26, 1997)
The man in the song is offering a chance at reconciliation with an ex: she clearly doesn't like her current situation, so he offers to take her out to the beach so they can talk and reminisce. It's a surprisingly nuanced take on second chances that's smoother and more relaxed than Tracy's usual fare. Given that his next big hit was "Lessons Learned", and that his next marriage has lasted since 2000, maybe his own song actually convinced him to clean up his act after the domestic assault incident that caused radio to drop this one so quickly.
Other than Dwight Yoakam, there really weren't many torch-bearers for the Bakersfield Sound in the 1990s. Enter Big House, a band so blatantly Bakersfield that their harmonica player was even named Sonny California! A snappy acoustic slide and heavy bass give the song immediate presence and weight far beyond many of its contemporaries. Then add on Monty Byrom's plaintive yet playful read of quirky lines like "get a little lovin' in the oven / Sugar pie in the pan" that plead for an ex to let him back in the house on a rainy day.
40. "Come Next Monday" by K. T. Oslin (#1, 1990)
It wasn't until after her death that I began realizing just how classy K. T. Oslin always was. Even her more upbeat fare always seemed to have the poise and maturity that one would expect from a woman in her mid-40s, but without feeling tired or edge-less. This one dials up the snark with lines like "I won't talk dirty for a week or two" in its confident promises to give up on a man who seems to be little more than "excess baggage". Even the production is way less dated than Harold Shedd tended to get, thanks to an improperly-set keyboard and some snappy percussion.
Yet another unassumingly great Mac McAnally song (and because I can't write these lists without a crapton of call-backs, his version was the B-side to "Back Where I Come From"), and one of many feminist tales on this list. The central character is a recent divorcee putting up with sexual harassment at work -- which escalates from a bevy of belittling comments to bribery in exchange for sexual favors. My own interpretation, and apparently the music video director's as well, is that she stands her ground and calls him out on thinking with the wrong head.
42. "The Crush" by JJ White (#69, 1991)
After the Judds and Sweethearts of the Rodeo made it cool, it was no surprise that more two-woman duos would ensue. Lead singer Jayne White (I found out in writing this review that she died of cancer in 2003) had a hint of Janis Joplin raspiness to her delivery, combining with sister Janice's harmony and guitar work for an impressively distinctive sound. John Hiatt's falling-in-love lyrics are just great ("Your huggin' and kissin', you know it makes a dead woman's light come on"), and these two sisters sing and play so infectiously that I'm baffled as to how they never caught on.
43. "Cryin' Game" by Sara Evans (#56, 1998)
By her second album, Sara was already pushing toward the poppier side, but this underrated and understated lead single gave no hint of that. Every bit as twangy as her debut album, it's also every bit as straightforward. "Do me right, don't do me wrong / Treat me nice or I'll be gone" sounds like such a simple line when typed out, but there's a thoughtfulness and tunefulness to the entire proceedings that brings to mind peak Rosanne Cash. Maybe it's just how refreshingly no-nonsense, steadily composed, and country this was at the time, but I've always found it to be one of her best.
44. "Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind" by Confederate Railroad (#9, 1994)
Brian Mansfield wrote that one of Confederate Railroad's recurring themes was "men left stunned and confused by a world that changed faster than they could follow". One of the best examples is this song. The narrator is taught that basic needs (food, shelter, love, etc.) are more important than material possessions such as the new Cadillac that he just bought. Later on, the father dies and is driven off to his grave in the very same car. An even-handed life lesson, told with humility, sincerity, humor, and irony -- and it's still only my second favorite from these guys.
45. "Daddy's Money" by Ricochet (#1, 1996)
As Bob DiPiero and Mark D. Sanders have both proven, it's possible to pack a lot of character and detail into even the most seemingly lighthearted moments. This guy has nothing else on his mind except for that one perfect girl in the church choir who's got "her daddy's money, her mama's good looks / More laughs than a stack of comic books" -- itself an incredibly charming line, helped by many others like it. And the performance is so bright and happy. It's not trying to be anything more than a fun romp, but it does it so exceptionally well that I can't help but love it.
46. "Dance the Night Away" by The Mavericks (#63, 1998)
All those things that made "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down" so great? Take all of that, swap out the accordion for a horn section, and make the production just a tiny bit edgier. In fact, it could almost be seen as a follow-up to that song: a little further past the heartbreak, she's gone, and he couldn't be happier. Even if it seems light lyrically, the song is just brimming with energy and passion (helped in no small part by Raul Malo's spacious Roy Orbison-esque voice). Though only a modest hit stateside, this was a major crossover in the United Kingdom.
Another good-and-evil struggle with a religious bent. Here, the focus is a man who, now a happily married deacon, is still haunted by an earlier affair with a woman from New Orleans. Like so many other entries, this one grabs me right away by being a very distinctive character sketch laden with unusual details. (Such as the name "Dancy".) Restless Heart's typically breezy harmonies manage to hit a haunting tone on the chorus, and the production is heavy on the mandolin for that extra sonic standout.
This didn't start out as a country song (Amanda Marshall took it to #5 on the pop charts in her native Canada earlier in the year), but this charming tale of a relationship that's endured everything thrown at it is thematically country to the core. Already bolstered by detailed lyrics like "I wear your locket, our picture's inside / Inscription says 'the joy's in the ride'" (an effective nod to the title), it's married to a full-bodied evocative production and vocal that just sounds like the star-lit desert sky that is being sung about.
49. "The Day That She Left Tulsa (In a Chevy)" by Wade Hayes (#5, 1997-98)
The woman in this song tells her boyfriend that she's pregnant with someone else's child, and becomes so riddled with guilt that she leaves town. He would have forgiven her, but never got a chance to tell her. Wade seems so emotionally invested in the story that the last verse becomes utterly devastating when his commanding baritone matches up to it. With how common surprise pregnancies, infidelity, and "one that got away" stories are, it's stunning that this one mined such new and compelling material by mixing all three. (Yet one of the many times that Mark D. Sanders went above and beyond.)
50. "Does He Love You" by Reba McEntire featuring Linda Davis (#1, 1993)
The rare two-woman duet, and a big hit that was well worth the hype. I love how the melody twists and turns around the two protagonists' exchanges of words (augmented chords are so underused), with Linda more than holding her own against Reba's distinctively bold and bendy belt. I also like that the exchange -- so obviously meant for a back-and-forth -- is impassioned without being judgmental or angry -- everything laid out is either a fact ("I've known about you for a while now") or a question (the title).
51. "Down Came a Blackbird" by Lila McCann (#28, 1997)
Lila did her damnedest right out of the gate to prove that she wasn't just LeAnn Rimes 2.0. Against Shania-flavored country-pop production and a giant wall of backing vocals, she still manages to keep the verses cool and the chorus hot. The lyrics are full of interesting twists and turns; this guy has clearly messed up and driven his lover away, and now it feels like even the birds in the sky are mocking him. More metaphorical than my tastes usually call for (possibly a reference to the old English nursery rhyme "One for Sorrow"?), but that's just one of the things that made it stand out.
52. "Drift Off to Dream" by Travis Tritt (#3, 1991)
This man's got this entire picture in mind of them on a porch swing, or on a blanket in the yard, until they fall asleep together. All of these romantic gestures would be perfect if played straight, but the verses reveal the truth: it's all a fantasy for a woman he hasn't even met yet. Whoever, whenever -- he'll be committed when he does and won't settle for anything less. That's some dedication right there, and his gritty voice combined with the warm, dreamy, pretty production could not match the lyrics any better if it tried.
53. "Drivin' and Cryin'" by Steve Wariner (#24, 1993-94)
I freaking love Steve Wariner. Here, he takes on the common trope of driving just to get away from the memory of a lost love. His understated read of lyrics like "Gotta get back where I used to be / But I'm racin' with your memory" still brims with emotion. The melody leans heavily on suspended chords and brief resolutions to minor key, and Scott Hendricks finds an appropriately melancholy vibe. The extended guitar solo/backing vocal outro in particular recalls some of the Eagles' stronger moments in particular.
54. "Dumas Walker" by The Kentucky Headhunters (#15, 1990)
As if my "Top 10 Kentucky Headhunters Songs" list didn't give that away that this one would be on there. Like I pointed out on that list, I think there's a reason that this one endures despite its low chart peak. Not only is it a party song, it's one that is packed with raw energy that somehow maxes out both the country and the rock. And it's colored with so many uncommon details (how many other songs even mention shooting marbles?) that break it far away from my childhood nostalgia and into true greatness.
Maybe it's just because of the last two pandemic-crippled years, but I've really craved some songs about getting away from it all. John Bunzow offers just that in his only chart entry from an album that was never fully released (although I do have a demo copy). Distinctive Pete Anderson production and a very likable voice bolster this brokenhearted man's getaway plan: "a one-way ticket, two bottles of whiskey, and three long years to cure my mis'ry". With that double key change in the chorus, I can feel Bunzow's mood lifting as he realizes the end is in sight for his doldrums.
56. "Even the Man in the Moon Is Cryin'" by Mark Collie (#5, 1992)
The two main inspirations of this song were a flight to Arizona and an observation on the mood of the world in the throes of the Gulf War. And it's that confluence of ideas that assembles to make a great heartbreak song. She's gone and not coming back, the narrator's by himself out in the desert. The references to voices in the wind and stars in the sky, and yes, the man in the moon, all paint a very vivid picture of heartbreak -- helped so much by the spare "desert sky" production and Collie's slightly off-kilter everyman voice.
57. "Every Little Thing" by Carlene Carter (#3, 1993)
Carlene Carter's music always jumped out to me with its bracing country-rock production and the way that her phrasing recalls her mother June Carter Cash without sounding derivative. All of that energy combines into an extremely catchy look at being in love (a theme she revisited several times, yet had something new to say about every time). Alliteration ("my tongue gets tied when I try to talk"), a name-drop of The Young and the Restless, and an extremely catchy chorus just add to the package. And this is still only my second-favorite of hers!
That typical lush, guitar-heavy sound of Bennett's and the deceptively simple heartbreak lyrics (favorite line: "You can learn from mistakes in your life / My mistake was hurting you") give a very Everly Brothers feel to the entire proceedings. Add in a couple of unexpected chord shifts and then layer on top Marty Brown's extremely bluegrass tinged voice (seriously, why is every country singer named "Marty" so insanely talented?), and the result is a rather unexpected, yet compelling, slice of country-pop-bluegrass-rockabilly fusion cuisine.
59. "Every Time My Heart Calls Your Name" by John Berry (#34, 1996)
John's secret weapon was always his impassioned tenor. One of his lower-charting efforts shows an interesting look at that one old flame that just won't die out. I always liked the use of a "moth to a flame" simile, and how it jumps out of the otherwise straightforward approach. What isn't straightforward is the arrangement, which leans very heavily into electric guitar, piano, and especially his huge vocal. This is the only country song I've ever seen someone compare to the works of Meat Loaf, and anyone who can clear a bar that high is clearly doing something right.
60. "Everything's Changed" by Lonestar (#2, 1998)
My own hometown of Oscoda, Michigan began dying in 1993 when the local Air Force base closed, taking a good chunk of population with it. While I didn't have a high school sweetheart or anything, I do have a lot of memories both good and bad. Even in 1998, things were already changing, and they've only changed more since. And this song's melancholy look at these changes -- hung on the great hook of "Everything's changed except for the way I feel about you" so thoroughly captures the mood I feel every time I go through Oscoda and see one more abandoned building.
61. "Everywhere" by Tim McGraw (#1, 1997)
One of the last big cuts for Mike Reid, and a further sign of Tim's increasing artistry throughout the 1990s. On the surface it's a fairly standard breakup -- he wanted to run off with her, but she wanted to stay behind with the comforts of home. He's been out wandering ever since and swears that he still sees her in a variety of uniquely detailed places. The production and most importantly, Tim's vocal are a master class in understatement, lending a plaintive tone that makes you wonder if he ever does manage to hit an endpoint.
A cute twist on the whole "falling in love" metaphor and how it compares to other forms of falling. When I reviewed this album in 2010, I compared it to Marty Stuart's Hillbilly Rock, and for good reason -- it's got a strong rockabilly groove under its witty lyrics. Camp's version of his first cut as a songwriter outshines the sterile original version by Dude Mowrey, and pops out of the speakers every time. (Mark Chesnutt did a great version in 2000, as well.) While he could have been an under-the-radar alt-country artist, strong songs like this at least allowed him to be a somewhat popular songwriter.
63. "Fast as You" by Dwight Yoakam (#2, 1993-94)
This one has all of the Dwight Yoakam hallmarks: extremely catchy Pete Anderson lead guitar riff, lots of Hammond organ, and a slightly left of center setup. You may have broken my heart, but maybe someday the tables will be turned and you'll be in the same situation I'm in now. Especially since I'm the one who pushed you to the limit in the first place. It's that typical Dwight Yoakam off-kilter nuance that builds on the Bakersfield sound of his first couple albums, but cranks up the horsepower for an even stronger and more enjoyable ride.
64. "Feed Jake" by Pirates of the Mississippi (#15, 1991)
The plainspoken narrator in this beautifully spare character sketch is conflicted over his music, his lover, and treatment of marginalized people, but knows that he can still trust in his pet dog. Is he just going to bed and hoping to wake up in a better world? Is he contemplating suicide? Is he just rambling? All of that would make for a damn fine country song, but then the third verse completely tears down stereotypes and supports the gay community. Long before I came out as pansexual, I knew that this song would endure by merit of its timelessly inclusive message.
65. "Flowers" by Billy Yates (#36, 1997)
From the first note, this one is extremely country -- and not just in the production or Yates' voice. He's stopped drinking and has cleaned up his act, and he wishes that she could see him. You think it's a breakup, but instead, he's at her graveside after having killed her in a drunk-driving accident. By eschewing verse-chorus structure and ending on the utterly devastating line "look what it took for me to finally bring you flowers", the impact is all the stronger. Easily one of the best, and most emotional, twist endings ever.
A big meaty rockabilly guitar riff and a gruff vocal show a clear Steve Earle influence (as it should; he co-produced this album) without feeling derivative. This was the younger, spunkier, and more Texas-flavored Jack Ingram who was an under-the-radar favorite in the '90s, and this short and sweet little package has an extremely atypical take on true love. "Make my heart flutter" alone comes close to pegging the meter on completely original and inspired hooks, but rhymes like exasperation/palpitation/exaggeration damn near blow the roof off with their uniqueness.
67. "For My Broken Heart" by Reba McEntire (#1, 1991-92)
With Reba by now in full control of her voice, and paired with a producer intense enough to keep up with her, she certainly didn't slack in finding songs worthy of both. The fact that this album was so clearly informed by the loss of her road band in an airplane accident only intensifies the underlying sadness. The narrator in this breakup is so distraught that she can barely function; despite this, the world continues to go on around her, uncaring for her current state of emotions. It's easily one of the most devastating heartbreak songs out there, even without the added subtext.
68. "Framed" by Chris Knight (did not chart, 1998)
I love a good murder mystery. Here, the narrator is accused of killing another man, but insists that he was wrongly accused. This leads to his wife leaving him, and ten years of imprisonment that he'll never get back. But then we get to why he thinks he was framed -- he did commit murder, but he thinks it's okay because the target was the asshole who committed adultery with his wife. It was justice in his eyes. This is the kind of twist that makes for great, dark, compelling storytelling, and Knight's gritty tone matches it to a tee.
69. "Friends" by John Michael Montgomery (#2, 1996-97)
For most of the period between "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)" and "The Little Girl", it felt like JMM was coasting. He had a ton of top-10 hits in that timespan, but none had any sort of staying power. And I don't get why, because there is some real treasure in that stretch Case in point: this very sharp portrayal of a man who doesn't want to be friend-zoned. Lyrics like "dagger to the heart" and especially "you say you love me very much[...]those are the sweetest words I never want to hear" are extremely incisive in unexpected ways, really enhancing the downbeat, moody feel.
70. "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks (#1, 1990)
This song has been praised to the moon and back, and I think it deserves it. Garth recognized the self-deprecation of the hook and gave a boisterous delivery that reads far more interestingly than the deadpan sadsack present in Mark Chesnutt's version. In terms of melody and production, it just sounds like something you'd hear a ton of people singing along with in a bar even before exactly that at the ending. And perhaps that's why this song is the enduring classic that it is; no matter how bad things get, sometimes it's good just to laugh it off with your buddies.
71. "Ghost in This House" by Shenandoah (#5, 1990)
The man in this story is so brokenhearted that he feels like he's not even corporeal. That alone is a powerful image. But it turns out there's another ghost in this house: his lover. Did she die? Or are they both in a stagnant relationship that's lost all the passion? It's a powerful image with just enough ambiguity for multiple equally valid interpretations. Marty Raybon's performance is masterfully haunting as is expected of him. (Alison Krauss' version is every bit as beautifully haunting if not more so; if it were a single, this would handily be a dual entry like "Baby, Walk On" was.)
72. "Go Rest High on That Mountain" by Vince Gill (#14, 1995)
Another obvious choice, but a deserving one (and easily the front-runner for "how did that not chart higher?"). Songs that touch on human emotions usually connect the strongest when those emotions are drawn from real experiences -- and in this case, Vince deftly uses the losses of both his brother and Keith Whitley to connect to the listener. Even the title is beautifully poetic without being over the top, especially when followed up with "son, your work on Earth is done". By keeping everything simple and letting the vocals and production shine, the overall feel is heavenly.
73. "The Greatest" by Kenny Rogers (#26, 1999)
A kid playing baseball tries to hit his own pitch but strikes himself out, leading him to declare himself a good pitcher instead. It's clear that this kid is an introvert (I can relate), but has a knack for finding a positive in any situation. By sounding like something a kid would actually say in such a situation, and not like he's just parroting a bunch of signs he saw at Hobby Lobby, the message is very charming, real, and relatable. And it's that realism, combined with Kenny's incredibly charismatic delivery, that rose above the "Don't Laugh at Me"s of the world to deservedly stage his brief late-career revival.
Hey, remember when the Warren Brothers were still smart and cocky, and not boring married men who sang and wrote about being boring married men? This guy didn't want to commit to a relationship, but apparently she's found a way to win him over anyway. And he responds in probably the way I would if I wanted to be in a relationship -- playful sarcasm. ("If you're accusing me of needing your sweet touch / Accusing me of loving you too much / Guilty"). This is an energy that almost none of its contemporaries had.
75. "Half Way Up" by Clint Black (#6, 1996-97)
"One man's half way up is another man's half way down" is a great hook. I spent a lot of time feeling depressed when writing this list, and I think this was one of the songs that ultimately served as catharsis. We're thrown into Dorian mode and a bassier than usual production for this melodic assertion that few bad situations are insurmountable. Despite the individual differences in situations, it's the human condition to have ups and downs. Clint Black at his best knew how to be positively philosophical and tuneful without being pretentious or confusing.
76. "Hammer and Nails" by Radney Foster (#34, 1993)
Radney's first solo album kept the edge of his Foster & Lloyd days, but found an even sharper lyric style. (Seriously, what the hell, Alanna Nash -- there's no way this album was only a C+.) Lines like "you build one room for laughter, you build one room for tears / This ain't no game, no house of cards, it's gonna take us years" show a lyrically unconventional approach to building a working relationship. I also like that the song has a strong "foundation" on the musical front, given the heavy bass and clinking tire iron.
77. "Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart" by Randy Travis (#1, 1990)
By No Holdin' Back, Randy Travis found a modern edge to his traditionalism that I find way more compelling than his '80s material. This song's about a man trying to fix up a relationship after cheating -- all while blissfully unaware that he's painting the woman as the wronged party. Few writers other than the vastly underrated Hugh Prestwood would even try something that nuanced. Travis' sincere read and the unusually emphasized beats (another Prestwood trademark) really complete the package musically.
78. "The Hard Way" by Mary Chapin Carpenter (#11, 1993)
One of many instances where MCC uses a bright production to sneak in unusually thoughtful, mature lyrics. Not unlike "Hammer and Nails", this one emphasizes the collaboration that goes into keeping a relationship alive. Every lyric has something new to say on the theme of effort; I especially like "We've got two lives, one we're given and the other one we make". It's so extremely catchy and singable that it might take a few listens to really wrap your head around it, but that just makes the song all the more compelling.
Unlike "Are Your Eyes Still Blue" or Garth Brooks' "What She's Doing Now", the focus is less on the lost love herself (despite her name being in the title) and more on the overall feeling of growing older and witnessing the changes of the world around you -- especially in your own hometown. (Boy, can I relate. My hometown is a ghost town now.) We all grow old and we all drift apart from people that we once loved. And there's a despair to John's vocal and the moody production that really drives this point home.
80. "He Walked on Water" by Randy Travis (#2, 1990)
Right around the time this song came out, I got to meet my great-grandmother for the only time before her death. So I always wondered about her, and the other family members that I never met. Did I have someone in the family tree who was a cowboy, like the narrator's great-grandfather? I don't know for sure. But I think that Randy's warm, friendly delivery -- seemingly somewhere between amusement and sadness -- has me convinced that in some alternate timeline, there is a version of me soaking up stories and experiences from someone old enough to remember the 19th century.
81. "He Would Be Sixteen" by Michelle Wright (#31, 1992-93)
Speaking of wanting to know about people you've never met... In this song, the biological mother wonders about the life that the child is living now with his adoptive family. My own sister is adopted, and the only time any of us met her biological father is when he signed the adoption papers. I don't know if he's even thought about her since, but Michelle's beautiful slow-burn vocals (especially the way she sings "does he know about me?") and the nicely detailed lyrics have me wanting to believe that to be the case.
82. "Heads Carolina, Tails California" by Jo Dee Messina (#2, 1996)
I admit I've never been much of a Jo Dee Messina fan. But her debut single still stands above the rest by merit of just being extremely likable. The wanderlust theme is relatable to just about anyone, and often makes for good songs in my book. But the attention of detail to the theme -- including references to James Dean and Moses, and the unique use of a coin flip to determine the outcome -- is really what sells this one to me. There's a sort of unpolished, everywoman charm to this one that I find lacking in most of her other singles.
83. "Heart Half Empty" by Ty Herndon featuring Stephanie Bentley (#21, 1995-96)
This guy's clearly so torn up about his relationship that he doesn't know what to do: "love you, hate you, live or die". Then enter the female vocal on the second verse; turns out she's feeling exactly the same conflict. By framing it as a back-and-forth, a new dimension emerges from the lyrics. Even more interestingly, the song employs a double key change (going down, then up again) that both singers are more than capable of keeping up with (especially Ty, who just sings the hell out of his verses -- but when does he not?).
For a band that didn't even last a year, they sure put out a solid album. Clearly flavored by Restless Heart (whose drummer was a member) and Blackhawk (whose lead singer co-wrote it), the Buffalo Club finds an unusual mix of breeziness, catchiness, and urgency without being derivative of either source. The guy in this song is trying to put on a brave face during a heartbreak; however, the cracks are showing, and it's ambiguous as to whether she notices. And it's just so harmonious and catchy that it's hard not to root this guy on.
85. "The Heart Won't Lie" by Reba McEntire featuring Vince Gill (#1, 1993)
My favorite Reba song is a fascinating tale of two people whose personal lives and romantic desires are in conflict. She's afraid to answer the phone because it might be him; he's afraid of the possibility of repeated behavior. Under it all, they both know the state of mind that the other is in. It's surprisingly nuanced, made all the more so by who's performing it. Their vocal chemistry is so strong that I'm amazed they never put out a duets album, and I like the way that the suspended chords and uneven time signature add melodic tension.
86. "Heaven Help My Heart" by Wynonna Judd (#14, 1996)
Just like "Dark Horse", this is a cover of a pop song written by David Tyson and sung by a non-American artist (Tina Arena in this case). Thematically, it's the total opposite and makes for a great counterbalance. Not unlike "Born to Be Blue", Wynonna sings about the struggle of finding true love. Unusual turns of phrase like "without explanation, the bloom fell off the rose", airy organ fills (also present in Arena's original), a strong slap bass, and Wy's distinctly husky vocals just complete the package.
87. "Heaven in My Woman's Eyes" by Tracy Byrd (#14, 1996)
The first display of Mark Nesler's brilliant simplicity. With a classical guitar-driven arrangement clearly flavored by both Marty Robbins and Merle Haggard without being a pale imitation of either, he points out the flaws of the world: no one has enough money (still relatable today), common courtesy and sympathy are lacking, and it's cold outside. He's not bitter or whiny for one good reason: he's got a great woman by his side. Sometimes taking stock of the good is all you need to balance out the bad, and this song gets that.
88. "Helping Me Get Over You" by Travis Tritt featuring Lari White (#18, 1997)
An unusual pairing leads to stellar results. Although it's less grandiose in production than Tritt's usual ballads, it's no less emotional. Both parties in this song are getting over a relationship and seeking solace in one-night stands. Sometimes it's so hard to fill a void, and sometimes it's interesting to know that someone else is in the same situation. Both Tritt and White give amazing performances, and in particular, I like how the song shifts into a lower key for White's verse. It's another song that does a lot without saying a lot, and its nuances become more obvious on repeat listens.
89. "Here I Am" by Patty Loveless (#4, 1994-95)
It's common in country music to still be haunted by the image of the one you used to love (see "Everywhere"). But here, the perspective is different: the woman is taunting her man by pointing out that he still can see her everywhere, even as he tries to drink his troubles away. But the twist is that she's still carrying a torch for him, too. Is she projecting, or is this really how both parties are feeling? Whatever the case, it's another fantastic character study with one hell of a vocal -- but do we expect anything less from Patty?
Gambling references and heartbreak are common. Hell, in 1993 alone, Doug Supernaw had done it with the very good if controversial "Reno". But I'm a sucker for Dave Gibson co-writes and metaphors that actually hold up; probably the best is "I'm at home playin' solitaire", which I'd like to believe is a nod to "Flowers on the Wall". Add to it a great everyman vocal and production just polished enough to keep most of its rock edge, and the result is an unassumingly charming little number that keeps worming its way back into my head too many times for me not to include it.
91. "Home Sweet Home" by Dennis Robbins (#34, 1992)
The home sweet home of the title is flawed -- the sewing machine interferes with the TV, sister's always on the phone, and the roof leaks -- but it's these imperfections and his carefree discussion of the same that cram a ton of charm and personality into a mere 2:27. His unpolished vocal and slide guitar, combined with the heavy rhythm section, add even more character. I especially like how the third verse ends on a promise of love-making, which to me suggests a couple who are more than willing to put up with a few imperfections. Because let's face it, life would be boring if everything were perfect...
The narrator grew up in a small town that seemed perfect on the surface, only because everyone kept everything hidden. (As someone who grew up in such a small town, I can relate.) The story is enhanced by pointing out that she's going through a hard time in her own relationship, and fears yet another scenario full of concealed darkness -- a great follow-through on the hook. Even the arrangement and production manage to reflect the conflicting emotions, mixing upbeat guitar riffs with a myriad of suspended and minor chords.
93. "Hypnotize the Moon" by Clay Walker (#2, 1996)
Clay Walker had a way of matching his energetic delivery to strong songs and heavier-than-usual production (look at just how many guitars are on, say, "What's It to You"). This one is very nearly a power ballad, but he has the vocal strength to carry it through its weighty production. It's also got a great melody and a fantastic "power of love" observation. I always thought it was just a great hook -- "she could charm a star and hypnotize the moon" -- and the sonic surroundings add that feeling of "space" that such a hook calls for.
94. "I Can Still Make Cheyenne" by George Strait (#4, 1996)
This is where the cowboy rides away. He called up his woman to apologize for being gone so long, only to find out that his absence has caused her to leave him for another man. While it resolves the tension on her end -- she "always expected the worst", after all -- the sadness is now on the guy's side. Does he make it to Cheyenne, or does he only get partway before his heartbreak consumes him? Strait's delivery is at his understated best, and the plaintive fiddle acts like an ending credit. It's a fantastic story song that leaves just enough hanging to instill questions.
95. "I Can't Do That Anymore" by Faith Hill (#8, 1996-97)
In a rare outside cut for Alan Jackson, this woman has done everything to please her husband, yet feels so robbed of individuality or acknowledgment that she's reached a breaking point. Faith's direct read of the lyric brims with everywoman empathy. Beyond the obvious feminist angle that already makes this song so compelling, I think that she may also have rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD) -- extreme emotional response to real or perceived rejection often overlapping with ADHD. There are times that I fear that I struggle with this myself, allowing me a personal emotional connection that I didn't expect.
96. "I Don't Call Him Daddy" by Doug Supernaw (#1, 1993)
My parents divorced when I was 4, but until I turned 11, my dad --seemingly always between jobs -- still lived close enough for a regular visit. And I think that is why six-year-old me attached to this song so well. If mom had already had another boyfriend, I probably wouldn't have called him "dad". And sure enough, I never felt that way toward the next man in her life. (The current one's way better.) So in short, I can understand this song from just about every perspective, and Supernaw's well-worn everyman performance would sell me on it regardless.
97. "I Go to Pieces" by Southern Pacific (#31, 1990)
"I Go to Pieces" by Peter and Gordon is a classic that combines the best of British Invasion pop and Everly Brothers-styled harmonies. Well-suited for a country remake, it already got a smooth ballad reading by Dean Dillon in 1989. Southern Pacific instead brought their already fine harmony singing to the forefront with an extremely snappy a cappella rendition. In an era long before Home Free, this took a lot of balls to even conceive, and especially to release as a single. In a way, it's almost even more timeless than the original.
98. "I Just Might Be" by Lorrie Morgan (#45, 1996)
A brighter and much countrier production than usual -- seriously, this is the twangiest she ever got -- is the right match for this bracing yet casual dismissal of a man who threw his relationship away. All of these interesting little "just might be"s pile up in charming detail, building up to the climactic line of "I just might be the best damn thing that you ever threw away". Her read is every bit as self-confident as ever, but with a different songwriting and production style behind her, the result is a Lorrie Morgan song that hits differently, but just as hard, as her other greats.
There are a lot of ways to talk about the "one that got away". Here, Mark tries something different by calling her up and giving her a maybe just a little TMI look at his life. "Yeah, I know you're doing fine, but as for me? I'm still imagining you and me driving down the road and blaring the radio." A more aggressive read might have made it sound a bit creepy, but Mark's laid-back delivery and the consistently high-polish, high-energy production approach of Mark Wright make it seem extremely charming and real... and memorable.
A neat little tweak on the ol' cheatin' song. She's been cheating on him, and he knows that she's being deceitful about doing so. But he lets her get away with it because he loves her too much. Over time, he realizes that this isn't doing either of them any favors and just quietly leaves while she's sleeping. This ending verse, in addition to turning the phrase "let her lie" on its head, adds a depth and a change of heart, and the ever underrated Daryle's stone-country voice nears Keith Whitley levels of honky-tonk greatness.