Country In The Nineties

We at Hitsvilly are told that nineties-style country music is making a comeback. We say, did it ever go away?

As music documenters we often ponder the "whys" of certain phenomena, and more times than not they boil down to the state of society. The nineties (and for that matter, the eighties) were an optimistic time. That optimism is reflected in the music. Even the sad songs were joyous.

Nobody was morose. Take a look at the hit TV shows of the time. Friends, Seinfeld. The characters squabbled over silly everyday annoyances ~ they were hardly culture warriors, wagging their fingers at their friends over micro-aggressions. They got miffed when one of their mates claimed credit for buying a Big Salad or they ribbed their friend for donning a too-tight pair of leather pants. You know, like real life.

Of course, optimism doesn't entirely explain why country music in the nineties seeped into listeners' bones. For an aspiring country songwriter in the nineteen nineties, Nashville was the place to be. It was the golden age of songwriting. There weren't twelve artists competing to record the one lone good song ~ hundreds of great songs spilled from the sky; enough for everybody lining Sixteenth Avenue to clasp at least one in their palm. 

Another factor was simplicity. Your humble Hitsvilly editor is hardly an expert on today's country music, but she's sampled enough to know that it's awful. Did everybody forget how to write songs? The current trend this songwriter has noticed is the compulsion to cram as many words into one line as bizarrely possible. What's the damn rush? It smacks of insecurity. A good writer takes his or her time. An honest emotion can be conveyed in a six-word line of lyrics. 

I cross my heartAnd promise toGive all I've got to giveTo make all your dreams come trueIn all the worldYou'll never findA love as true as mine


Which brings me to...emotion. Today's hits leave me...empty. They're either listicles, invoking fans' supposed favorite things (instead of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, it's big tractor tires and moonlight fishin' holes) or they namedrop Strait and Hank and Willie, trying to convince the listener that this really, really is a country song. Did you catch all the names? If an honest song smacked them in the ass, today's artists would choke on their espresso and spew a few choice epithets. "That ain't commercial, bro!"

I'm a thousand miles from nowhereTime don't matter to me'Cause I'm a thousand miles from nowhereAnd there's no place I wanna be
I got heartaches in my pocketI got echoes in my headAnd all that I keep hearingAre the cruel, cruel things that you said
"What? I don't get it. Is he drivin' a pickup truck with a lift kit? Am I supposed to feel, like sad or something? I'm jus' here for the party, dawg."

Finally, country music is a unique genre. With that comes some expectations. One, the beat. The ideal country song is two-step danceable. Two, instrumentation! Yes, a country song needs steel and fiddle, a Telecaster and real drums. And two-part harmony. Nineties country, almost without fail possessed all those things.

Clearly, today's listeners (and not just the old fogies) are craving all those things. It's too bad they're not getting them, at least not on Top 40 Country radio. No wonder they've begun searching out old nineties releases.
In the weeks ahead, we'll be featuring some of the best nineties country albums, for those who don't know where to start. In the meantime check out our "Best Of" list of nineties country artists.

Sasha Stewart, Executive Editor