The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [February 2002]

Hello everyone! You didn’t read that headline wrong. The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music is indeed back! I am not a full-time writer at Country Perspective but I have come back to do this piece every week. I missed it and I know people were disappointed to see it go again. With the recent revamping of the current pulse, it’s a fitting time to come back. Thanks to Josh for letting me come back!

Anyway, this is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Every week, I will take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I will use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from February 9th, 2002.

  1. Steve Holy – “Good Morning Beautiful” 0
  2. George Strait – “Run” +3
  3. Brad Paisley – “Wrapped Around” +2
  4. Alan Jackson – “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” +4
  5. Brooks & Dunn – “The Long Goodbye” +2 
  6. Jo Dee Messina & Tim McGraw – “Bring On The Rain” +2
  7. Tim McGraw – “The Cowboy In Me” +2
  8. Garth Brooks – “Wrapped Up In You” -2
  9. Aaron Tippin – “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” +2
  10. Martina McBride – “Blessed” -1
  11. The Dixie Chicks – “Some Days You Gotta Dance” +2
  12. Tracy Byrd – “Just Let Me Be In Love” +1
  13. Joe Diffie – “In Another World” +2
  14. Toby Keith – “I Wanna Talk About Me” -5 [Worst Song]
  15. Rascal Flatts – “I’m Movin’ On” +4
  16. Sara Evans – “Saints and Angels” +2
  17. Chris Cagle – “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out” +3
  18. Kenny Chesney – “Young” 0
  19. Trace Adkins – “I’m Tryin'” +3
  20. Phil Vassar – “That’s When I Love You” +1
  21. Blake Shelton – “All Over Me” +1
  22. Tommy Shane Steiner – “What If She’s An Angel” +1
  23. Toby Keith – “My List” +3
  24. Cyndi Thomson – “I Always Liked That Best” +1
  25. Lee Ann Womack – “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger” +4 [Best Song]
  26. Emerson Drive – “I Should Be Sleeping” +1
  27. Steve Azar – “I Don’t Have To Be Me (‘Til Monday)” +2
  28. Carolyn Dawn Johnson – “I Don’t Want You To Go” +2
  29. Kevin Denney – “That’s Just Jessie” +3
  30. Travis Tritt – “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” +4

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +48

So as you can see, the music in mainstream country from the past definitely defeats the charts of today. It’s interesting to see how trends can affect certain songs in mainstream country music though. There was definitely an influx of pop sounds in country during this time, only back then they didn’t hit you over the head with it.  The country was actually more prominent than the pop sound! Unbelievable, I know.

Anyway, the more pop leaning production on some tracks is what really holds them back from higher scores. Either way however, there’s only one outright terrible song here with Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me.” You thought “Dirt Road Anthem” introduced rap into country? Think again. The only other bad songs here come from Garth Brooks and Martina McBride. The former is annoying as all heck and the latter is just too overproduced for my tastes. Still, not terrible.

The best songs here are pretty easy to pick out as well. I know it’s been polarizing for some but I always was moved by Alan Jackson’s song. The always excellent Travis Tritt and Lee Ann Womack of course delivered quality songs as well. Hell, even Rascal Flatts had a great song with “I’m Movin’ On,” and it’s surprisingly one of the most outright country ones here.

If you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

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17 thoughts on “The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [February 2002]

  1. Out of the songs here that I have listened to. I have to say I was a little more fond of “I Should Be Sleeping” (really good harmonies and vocals) “I Don’t Have To Be Me Til Monday”, “I’m Moving On” (one of my Top 10 singles of the 2000s) along with “Bring On The Rain” which I also loved a lot.

    I have a rather mixed feeling on Alan Jackson song, the production was great and Alan sounded great, but in a way the lyrics just feel a bit dated, add in radio overplay and I’m left in nuetral category.

    I am also very fond of Travis Tritt song and if you guys haven’t yet, check out the music video for it.

    “I Wanna Talk About Me” is still an insufferable dumpster fire. Like it’d probably be my worst if it was on the chart today. It gets worse by a mile.

    For best, it’s not even close Rascal Flatts “I’m Moving On” (which P.S Big Machine will have a new single soon for them) as the lyrics are amazing and Gary Levox absolutely nails the performance too absolute perfection.

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    • Of course the lyrics will feel dated since they were written about a specific event in 2001… The big complaint that song often faces is how Alan Jackson took an opportunistic approach to a hit with writing about that tragedy. Albeit, I personally like the song and how he framed with lyrics and message, but I see where people come from on that front of the complaint.

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      • I never saw it as opportunistic, as his vocals in the song reflected that.

        Really just radio overplay has butchered that song for me.

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  2. I don’t think I had heard that Womack song before, but I agree that “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger” is the best song on this chart! I also like “My List” from Toby Keith. It’s funny how black and white his two singles are on this chart.

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  3. A few thoughts:

    Steve Holy was another Curb artist who had a couple huge #1’s but never could get any sustained momentum due to Curb’s bizarre artist strategies. ‘Good Morning Beautiful’ was a four or five week number one if I remember correctly.

    Always liked ‘Just Let Me Be In Love’ it was something different than what Tracy Byrd usually put out.

    ‘I’m Movin’ On’ was Rascal Flatts debut single and from what I remember it actually was really a Gary LeVox solo song with the other guys not featured. Anyways it still remains their best single in my opinion.

    ‘I’m Tryin’ is a great song and probably would be my pick for Best Song on this chart. Trace Adkins with the right material is an awesome vocalist and this song has a world weariness that really makes it hit home. Yet another type of song that would have no chance nowadays.

    ‘My List’ is another of the post 9/11 songs that may be hard for younger listeners to appreciate but it was a time when it was really driven home how fast it can be all be gone. This was one of Toby Keith’s best songs from that period when he breaking big.

    Cyndi Thomson was always known as the country singer who walked away from her career after a couple of hit (including a number one). Hard to even imagine that happening but it did. I think she has made some attempts at a comeback through the years but has never caught on again.

    ‘Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde’ features a fun video starring Billy Bob Thornton and was from the last real gasp of chart success for Travis Tritt.

    Glad to see this feature back, Zach. Now we need that late 1980s version that was once alluded to.

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    • I always thought “Praying For Daylight” was Rascal Flatts debut song which is also one of my favorites from them.

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      • Yeah, you’re right ‘I’m Movin’ On’ was their fourth and final single from their debut album. Thankfully my Rascal Flatts trivia memory isn’t so good.

        While verifying the above I also looked up Steve Holy and his bizarre chart career. ‘Good Morning Beautiful’ was a five week number one in early 2002 and ‘Brand New Girlfriend’ hit number one in 2006. Other than that Holy charted 14 other songs with the highest charting being a #19 hit. All on Curb Records.

        And ‘Does My Ring Burn Your Finger’ was written by Buddy and Julie Miller. Womack has always had a great ear for picking songs that fit her. Not everybody can say that.

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  4. Tommy Shane Steiner: the one hit wonder. “What If She’s An Angel” went up to #2. His other singles peaked outside of the Top 40. He was gone & forgotten after one year.

    Steve Azar: the next one hit wonder. “I Don’t Have To Be Me (‘Til Monday)” went up to #2. I love the “Waitin’ On Joe”-album.

    Kevin Denney: love “That’s Just Jessie”. He reached the charts with 2 or 3 more tracks. A new album (“Something In Between”) was released two weeks ago & it’s a real good country album!

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  5. Great feature, Zack!

    I have to admit, it might be the nostalgia talking, but I actually like “Wrapped Up in You”, and don’t actively dislike “I Wanna Talk About Me.”

    Otherwise, my grades would align closely to yours, although I don’t know/remember the Joe Diffie and Blake Shelton songs.

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  6. Good one Zack and welcome back! I agree with your opinions but Tracy Byrd “Just let me be in love” is a +4 on my opinion and Toby Keith my guilty pleasure is a +3.

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  7. Thanks, Zack. One thing I love about the Past Pulse is the names that I have entirely forgotten, like Kevin Denny and his one and only single, “That’s Just Jesse.” I don’t remember this song at all, but it’s very good. Not too surprisingly, he was dropped by his label, and he has apparently dropped out of the industry altogether.

    For the most part, I agree with your ratings. But I would definitely give McGraw’s “The Cowboy in Me” a +4 or even a +5. It’s one of my favorite McGraw songs, though at least you gave it a positive rating.

    I must say that Cyndi Thomson was one of my favorite new artists at this time. I loved her album, and “I Always Liked That Best” was nearly perfect in my mind. I was very sad when she left in order to start a family. I was only 20 years old at the time, so my perspective and tastes have changed. Nonetheless, I love Cyndi Thomson.

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  8. I’m taking my time revisiting each track, but here’s my thoughts on the first ten.

    *

    1: Steve Holy – “Good Morning Beautiful”: -1 (I’m sorry, this is just beyond milquetoast. This is cavity-inducing saccharine to the point I have to consider it slightly-worse-than-mediocre. This didn’t belong on country radio then equally as much as “H.O.L.Y.” doesn’t belong on country radio now in how blatantly Adult Contemporary it sounds.)

    2: George Strait – “Run”: +2 (The lyrics are kind of corny in that the writers just spout off a laundry list of transportation options the subject has to return to the longing narrator. This is another classic example of how a vocal performance and some tasteful production can save a mediocre song, and Strait as almost always effortlessly accomplishes this.)

    3: Brad Paisley – “Wrapped Around”: +2 (The lyrics are uncharacteristically simple for a Paisley song, but some honky-tonk evoking fiddle and barroom piano liven this up to an enjoyable listen.)

    4: Alan Jackson – “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”: +4 (Really, the only thing keeping this from a +5 is that it does tend to drag a bit too long in a way that’s really not necessary. Still, this deserves to be heralded as one of Alan Jackson’s timeless, signature songs for Jackson focusing all his heart on an empathetic connection to listeners far and wide. Where Darryl Worley’s shameless cash-in on jingoism represents everything that is wrong with how to respond to this terrible tragedy, Alan Jackson’s warm, heartbreaking and intimate hug of a ballad represents everything right. Honestly, I’m tearing up as I write this because our world desperately needs more songs like this in light of what has happened in Paris, Orlando, Minneapolis, Dallas, Kenya and so forth. The world needs a whole lot more empathy and a whole lot less polemics! =( )

    5: Brooks & Dunn – “The Long Goodbye”: 0 (Somehow when revisiting this, this almost sounds prophetic of the onslaught of percussion loops that would follow a decade later in the format. I mean, you can pair this with two-thirds of the songs from Cole Swindell’s sophomore album and play them back-to-back. So yeah, the production here sounds painfully stiff and mechanical. That said, the sincerity and distinctive flavor of these vocalists saves this song to a barely passable quality.)

    6: Jo Dee Messina & Tim McGraw – “Bring On The Rain” +1 (This tracks sounds a bit uncommitted for a title virtually begging for an action sequence. I mean, the production is pleasant enough, but that’s just it: it adheres to a similar volume from beginning to end and sounds too tentative throughout. There’s no clear cathartic point between either vocalist. Still, it sounds pretty and sometimes that’s just enough to satisfy.)

    7: Tim McGraw – “The Cowboy In Me”: +2 (McGraw’s greatest gift has always been projecting a degree of empathy in most anything he sings about. He may hardly be a versatile or expressive vocalist, but that misses the point. Where some aren’t known for that, they excel as interpreters. And this song serves as a very effective example of his strengths as an interpretive, emotive vocalist on full display. Yeah, the pumped-up arena rock histrionics on the chorus sound hilariously forced, but not to the degree where they betray the feeling; especially when the verses are intimate and distinctively country enough by the wistful use of fiddle. I kind of see this as an underappreciated hit when contemplating what his career songs are.)

    8: Garth Brooks – “Wrapped Up In You”: -2 (As a reversal of what I talk about with the #2 song, this is a fine example of how a track that has the right idea with the instrumentation and production is tarnished by a lame vocal performance. I mean, if you isolated the instrumental coda from the song beginning at the 2:45 mark and reviewed it on its own, it would get at least a +2, perhaps a +3, from me between the awesome use of harmonica and fiddle. Unfortunately, we also have to endure two minutes and twenty-five seconds of Brook’s overly slick, style-over-substance flavored singing here. It sounds like amateurish karaoke: between the passionless “Baby, baby!” punctuating the end of each verse, the clumsy nods to the fast-talking tradition in the intros of each chorus and the especially jarring “Ba-da-ba-ba-ba-ba!” in the bridge. Brooks has had his share of solid vocal performances for sure, no doubt about that. But then………………..we have misfires like this here……………. =P )

    9: Aaron Tippin – “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly”: +1 (Granted 2002 was a tumultuous time where, following 9/11, we needed optimism and a sense of empowerment more than ever. Thus, the appeal of this song then was most understandable. In hindsight, however, the songwriting does feel quite hackneyed and veers too closely to Montgomery Gentry dollar store symbolism. It never trespasses into jingoistic territory like, ahem……………Darryl Worley……………..so it does ultimately pass as an agreeable patriotic anthem. Still……………….yeah, Alan Jackson’s is umpteen times better. Just sayin’ is all.)

    10: Martina McBride – “Blessed”: -1 (The lyrics can’t be faulted here, and there’s no denying the sincerity of McBride’s performance and conviction. But damn, the production tries its level-best to derail those efforts. What the Flipper is up with the sped-up drum machine that is so shoved to the front of the mix throughout the entire second verse, for instance? I mean, is that really necessary when McBride is singing about lying in the quiet where no word has to be said about a lover? HELLO!!! And then there’s the shift to a higher key at the 2:50 mark: as though Paul Worley abruptly decided, in order to make this have universal appeal, he has to cut in in the mold of a “We Are The World” charity single. You even hear a flaccid fiddle there that does absolutely nothing to accentuate a cathartic sense of gratitude, or the pain and sacrifice it took to get where she is. Top it off with your obligatory charity single-esque choral backup vocals, and the cheesiness goes full circle.)

    *

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  9. I’ve struggled finding the time to re-liste and reflect on all of the remaining tracks, but I’ll provide scores only a little later.

    I guess where I’m generally at is that I was somewhat less impressed than you, but still agree it was a better time overall than it is now. I think the reason my scores are more lukewarm in comparison is because easy-listening was really dominating the format at this time, and I’m not a fan of that saccharine, “We Are The World”-esque Adult Contemporary flourish in any genre. It gets on my nerves after a while and makes for really sappy, generic elevator music regardless of how strong the lyricism and vocal performances are.

    My final score will reflect that, but still be better than the Pulse now.

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