2017 is awash in ’90s nostalgia, from revivals and/or spin-offs of “Full House” and “Will & Grace” to “Twin Peaks” and a slew of other projects in development. It’s inherently cool to relive the ’90s, for better or worse. But you’ll most likely just feel old.
Music appears to be rehashing many of the sounds and themes of that era, too, with the likes of such country up and comers as Jon Pardi, William Michael Morgan, Runaway June and Midland borrowing from Alan Jackson, George Strait and Dixie Chicks. It was inevitable, really, but we aren’t complaining.
Below, we take a look at 10 songs from the ‘90s which remain just as relevant today.
10 Country Songs From the 1990s That Still Seem Relevant
1. “Independence Day” by Martina McBride
The year was 1993, and no one had released a song quite like this. Much like trailblazers Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton before her, McBride took a chance and sent this harrowing anthem to radio ⎯⎯ it failed to even crack the Top 10 but the legacy lives on. The instrumentation is very much in-line with what was happening at the time, but give it a little stylistic update, and this could have been issued in 2017. McBride’s pristine but impassioned vocal sells the song of abuse and redemption in a way no one else could possible master. The song is the definitive moment on her 1993 album The Way That I Am.
2. “What Do You Say” by Reba
With political turmoil raging across the nation, “what do you say in a moment like this when you can’t find the words to tell it like it is”? Reba instructs us to just tell our heart lead the way. Built in a three-verse structure, the story (a cut from her 1999 album So Good Together) progressives from dodging a question about an adult bookstore to a mother dying from cancer. Each chapter can be difficult to handle and process, but when you let go, the answer becomes evident. Maybe we should all heed Reba’s advice.
3. “Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill
Let’s be real: there are few singers as talented as Vince Gill. He makes you feel every ounce of heart and soul in his performances, and this 1994 ballad (from When Love Finds You) about saying goodbye stands as his crown jewel. You can never be ready for death, and the country legend offers a bit of comfort and hope in this searing, brutally-honest ballad ⎯⎯ “You weren’t afraid to face the Devil / You were no stranger to the rain,” he weeps. Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless, other byproducts of the neo-traditionalist movement of the late ’80s/early ’90s, coat on the utterly satisfying harmony.
4. “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter
Since we’re talking nostalgia, there’s no song more nostalgic than Deana Carter’s signature hit, from her 1996 album Did I Shave My Legs for This. As her debut single, more than 20 years ago now, she finds the restlessness of young love as a the catalyst to explore her life years later. She reminisces about the summer she was 17 and returns to her grandpa’s farm. “I still remember when 30 was old,” she sighs about her lost innocence, Getting older is a universally transformative movement; we all pass from wide-eyed teenager into full-fledged adulthood. You can’t stop it, but you can embrace it.
5. “Life’s a Dance” by John Michael Montgomery
“Don’t worry ’bout what you don’t know,” the singer, a part of the hat-wearing crooners of the early ’90s, avows. “Been knocked down by the swinging door / Picked myself up and came back for more,” he later confesses. The swirling, saloon-swing-style of the hook makes it one of the most contagious of that era, reminding us all that things happen, often outside of our control, but we just have to keep chugging.
6. “When You Say Nothing at All” by Alison Krauss & Union Station
Originally recorded by Keith Whitley in the late ’80s, Krauss lent her sterling vocals to a new rendition for the 1994 tribute album. Her version, mixing bluegrass and roots, is as iconic as the original. “It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart / Without saying a word, you can light up the dark,” she swoons on true love. That deeply-seated connection is one for the ages.
7. “The Secret of Life” by Faith Hill
We are all just trying to find happiness. On her third studio album, titled Faith, the pop-country singer reflects on that journey through the eyes of various well-plotted, blue-collar characters. What is the secret of life? Mom’s apple pies, a good cup of coffee, Monday night football, and the list goes on and on. But, really, “the secret of life is there ain’t no secret,” the narrative later advises. It’s whatever we make of it, and in 2017, that’s all that matters
8. “Little Man” by Alan Jackson
Known for this down-home charisma and appealing to middle America, Jackson laments the demise of mom ‘n pop business. “They don’t even know they’re killing the little man,” he weeps of the dirge of corporations, like Wal-Mart, which sprung up in the ’90s to commercial dominance. The song, from 1998’s High Mileage, is laced with sorrow but the arrangement is deceivingly bright and optimistic, tapping into the warm hearts and hard-working hands that make up the working class.
9. “The Thunder Rolls” by Garth Brooks
Dark and sinister, this Brooks signature blusters from a roll of electric guitar, cracks of thunder, pouring rain and catastrophic drums. “City’s looking like a ghost town on a moonless summer night,” he describes, unleashing a ghoulish tale of infidelity. The imagery mirrors that of the actual storm sweeping the land and the aftermath of the wife discovering her husband has been unfaithful. Brooks delivery, too, is chilling.
10. “The Song Remembers When” by Trisha Yearwood
The titular track from Yearwood’s 1993 album will shatter the dam in your heart of hearts. Possessing one of the most moving voices of all of music, she relinquishes the past by both reliving it and finally learning to let go. “For all the time that’s past, you’d think I would have not gotten very far,” she prayers. “I hope my hasty heart will forgive me just this once if I stop to wonder how on earth you are…” There are few ballads from the ’90s that are as affecting.