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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Top Songs of the 1990's

VH1 ran a special last week on the top 100 songs of the 1990's. Yes, more recent nostalgic navel-gaving from Gen X'ers and the oldest Gen Y'ers, but still a lot of fun looking back at songs we had forgotten and remembering when we first heard some of the songs from our youth and adolescence.

But because WN can't help but be a bit contrarian and research something to death and boredom (and especially because this is an argument I'm not usually wont to make), let me point out that there is one gigantic omission from this list (which you can see on VH1. com here). Yes, there were inevitably bands and songs left off that could have made the list, which are all great argument-starters and discussion pieces, but one name was so glaringly absent that even WN, not even a particular fan of this musician, couldn't help but notice and had to recheck the list, almost sure that WN missed it in one of the episodes.

Who, you ask, is so noteworthy in their absence from VH1's list?

(building suspense, blog-style)

Garth Brooks.

Okay, so WN isn't a huge fan (fairly indifferent, really), but he was arguably the biggest music act going in the 1990's, and inarguably one of the 10. He's in a fairly small group of musicians to sell over 100 million albums, the majority of which he made in the 90's. According to Wikipedia (i.e. with a grain of salt, but with references!), his total album sales put him at either #1 or #2 among solo acts (with Elvis) and #2 or #3 overall (behind the Beatles).

WN isn't the type to make an argument that popularity is the same as excellence or that greatness should be measured in one way only, but it's nearly impossible to argue reasonably that Brooks wasn't one of the top 100 musicians of the 1990's and that one of his songs didn't merit being near the top of this list, let alone on it at all.

Anyway, one could take this a couple of ways. One is that Brooks didn't hold up very well in this decade (his divorce and quasi-retirement or maybe his music didn't stand the test of 15 years time); WN finds this a bit tough to believe, particularly given some of the dated songs that did make the list. (How long has it been since Kris Kross made you want to jump, jump?) A second take, which WN thinks is far more likely, is that there's a pretty clear bias on this list against country music.

Check out the list. The only country artist on the list is Shania Twain (#46, "You're Still the One"). But if you look at album sales (again, not perfect, but a good proxy for popularity), there were 46 albums from the 1990's that sold 10 million or more copies. (25 on the table, another 19 below)
  • 4 were soundtracks (The Bodyguard, Forrest Gump, Titanic, and The Lion King), of which two had a song on the top 100 ("I Will Always Love You" and "My Heart Will Go On").
  • 3 were older bands with either greatest hits albums (Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) or similar to a greatest hits (Eric Clapton's Unplugged).
  • 30 other artists and bands had an album that sold 10 million or more copies (including Whitney Houston and Celine Dion).
  • Of these 30, 21 had a song on the top 100 list: Pearl Jam, Metallica, Nirvana, Whitney Houston, Hootie and the Blowfish, TLC, Alanis Morissette, Jewel, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Matchbox Twenty, The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, The Spice Girls, Korn, Green Day, Mariah Carey, Madonna, The Notorious B.I.G., MC Hammer, and NSYNC.
  • The remaining 9 with no songs on the top 100: Garth Brooks, Kenny G, The Dixie Chicks, Kid Rock, Santana, Creed, Ace of Base, Faith Hill, and No Doubt.
  • 6 had multiple 90's albums selling 10 million-plus copies: Brooks (4), Shania Twain (2), The Dixie Chicks (2), Celine Dion (2 or 3, whether you count Titanic), The Backstreet Boys (2), and Mariah Carey (2).

Out of the 46 albums on this list and the 41 non-soundtrack, non-greatest hits that didn't have a top 100 song, 9 came from 4 country artists, of which 1 was on the top 100 list. Out of the other 6 acts up there, decent arguments could be made for 5 making the list (although Santana and Creed didn't release their albums until the second half of 1999, limiting their 90's appeal) and we'll pretend that Kenny G never happened.

Somewhere between 20 to 25 percent of the biggest 90's albums were country music and only 1 percent of the top 100 songs were country. 3 of the 9 snubbed bands (with 7 of the 13 snubbees' albums) were country. WN isn't a country music apologist usually, but it seems to me that this is apparently biased against country music. Yes, VH1 isn't typically thought of as a main purveyor of country music, but it's not as if the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill weren't mainstays on their rotations for some of their biggest singles. And while the list will always reflect the tastes and judgment of the selectors, it's a pretty big snub to leave Garth Brooks off the list.

Just my two cents.


Kim said...


Speaking only for country music fans (and really myself in general), I'm not looking at billboard charts here or anything -- I would put Garth Brooks' "No Fences" as the greatest country album of the 1990s. Shania Twain's "You're Still the One," while a decent enough song, wouldn't register in the top 10 songs. I'd likely go ahead and give it to Garth's "Friends in Low Places." I'm trying to find a good list of top country songs of the 1990s and can't...

Other songs that others (not necessarily me) would probably put as top 10 country songs of the 90s:

* Lonestar, "Amazed"
* Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, "It's Your Love"
* Shania Twain, "Any Man of Mine", (which I'd pick over "You're Still the One")
* Alan Jackson, "Chatahoochie"
* Dixie Chicks, "wide Open Spaces"

... and certainly something by Martina McBride, Brooks & Dunn, Travis Tritt & Clint Black, who were all big in the 1990s. Plus, Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley both showed up on the charts around 1998-1999.

Not that I'm saying that all of these should be on the list, mind you. I'm just saying that any of these songs would have been better choices than one of Shania's crossover hits to represent country music on the charts.

I don't think leaving out Garth Brooks has anything to do with his divorce, retirement, etc. Garth has never been heavily played on VH-1, if at all. You may see Faith Hill, Shania, Keith Urban, and some other crossover folks, but not Garth. I wouldn't expect to turn on VH-1 and see anything rational about country music anyway (except that I do remember them having one hour of country music on per week back in the early 1990s).

There's always a strong bias against country music as well. I remember a while back they were doing a countdown of one hit wonders and included Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart." Well, it's not like Billy Ray Cyrus has fallen off the face of the earth - he is still doing very well on the country charts. He's not considered a one hit wonder by country people, even if we'd really rather wish that Achy Breaky Heart never happened.

... there are plenty of country one hit wonders though, but that's another discussion.

Anyway, hooray for the country love!

Wacky Neighbor said...

I did err in not including Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achy Breaky Heart" in my blog, since it did make the list (#87). I think my point still stands.

The counterpoint to VH1 never giving much play to country music is that there was a substantial amount of rap that I wouldn't have expected to see on VH1 (more likely MTV) that made the list nonetheless (Eminem, Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre) and some rock as well (Metallica, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains). So I think it's almost letting VH1 off too easily by just saying they don't play a lot of country music, when there are other bands who made the list that almost certainly weren't in VH1's regular playlists.

Anyway, so here's a follow-up question: is country music left out of the discussion of popular music primarily because so many people exclude it or because country music is more insular and doesn't try to bring in everybody?

Kim said...

I don't know the answer to your question. As a country person, I never EXPECT to see country music on VH-1 charts, and I'm never surprised to see rap...

I guess people who listen to country listen to country... and no one else does?