Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Country's Top 25 Artists of The Past 25 Years

25. LeAnn Rimes

She was 13 years old when she arrived on the Country Songs chart in 1996 with "Blue," quickly drawing comparisons to Patsy Cline (for whom the song had been written decades earlier). Rimes, now 27, has notched twelve top 10s on Country Songs through 2006, and her career U.S. album sales stand at 20.3 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. After enduring recent tabloid scrutiny for an affair with actor Eddie Cibrian, Rimes has released a cover of John Anderson's signature song "Swingin' " as a preview to her forthcoming album.

24. Travis Tritt
With shoulder-length hair and a deep love for southern rock and outlaw country, Tritt's breakthrough hit was the unapologetically unsophisticated "Country Club" in late 1989. Although the Georgia native fancies himself an energetic country rocker, his biggest hits have ironically been his ballads. He topped the Hot Country Songs chart for the first time when the gripping "Help Me Hold On" shot to No. 1 in 1990. In fact, all of Tritt's five No. 1 songs are ballads. His reedy baritone is equally compelling on hard driving fare like "Put Some Drive In Your Country," or his most recent No. 1, the tender "Best of Intentions" (2000).

23. Martina McBride
Martina McBride used to sell t-shirts on the road with Garth Brooks while her husband worked the tours as a lighting and sound technician but the McBrides left all that behind when Martina had her first smash with "My Baby Loves Me" in 1992. The Grammy-winning Kansas native's biggest hits are often heart wrenching and profound, but she's just as capable of delivering chart topping hits with whimsical and light-hearted fare. She gained her biggest country crossover hit with "I Love You" in 1999, which spent five weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs. She's been a member of the WSM Grand Ole Opry since 1995.

22. Dwight Yoakam
Few country artists in the past 25 years have enjoyed as much multi-faceted success as this traditional singer/songwriter. In addition to 39 visits to Country Songs, including two No. 1s, Yoakam's resume includes 180-degree acting turns as an abusive alcoholic in "Sling Blade" and a terrorizing home invader in "Panic Room." (And, have you tried his "Bakersfield Biscuits," available in the frozen section at your local supermarket?)

21. Ricky Van Shelton
After winning the Academy of Country Music's 1987 top new artist award, the singer/songwriter collected 10 No. 1s on Country Songs through 1991, including the Dolly Parton duet "Rockin' Years." The Grit, Virginia-raised Shelton retired from touring in 2006 and these days, according to his website, enjoys time "flying his airplane, working on his 150-acre farm, gardening, repairing his collection of classic cars and antiquing."

20. Brad Paisley
In 1995, then-23-year-old Paisley was brokenhearted after his girlfriend had left him for his best friend. He went to see the film "Father of the Bride II" by himself and, upon seeing Kimberly Williams on-screen, he thought, "She seems like a great girl." After he became a mainstay on country radio in 1999, the two began dating in 2001 and married in 2003. Paisley's country music career has been equally-storybook, with career U.S. album sales of 9.5 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 14 No. 1s on the Country Songs chart.

19. Keith Urban
Australian Keith Urban didn't taste immediate success as the lead singer for The Ranch, but that all changed when his breakthrough solo hit, "Your Everything" blasted into the top five on Hot Country Songs in 2000. Guitar wizard Urban landed his first No. 1 with "Your Everything" in 2001. Since then, he's earned 22 top 10 songs (half of which have spent time at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs), three No. 1 albums, and actress Nicole Kidman's hand in marriage.

18. Dixie Chicks
With Bluegrass-influenced instrumentation and a knack for finding big smashes with poignant songs, the Dixie Chicks became country music's first new superstar act since Garth Brooks when debut single "I Can Love You Better" shot into the top 10 on Country Songs in 1998. The group's biggest selling single was the irreverent "Goodbye Earl," which proved to be way too wild for country radio - peaking at No. 13 on Country Songs in early 2000. 1999 album "Fly" went 10 times platinum, and 1998's "Wide Open Spaces" rang up 12 times platinum according to the RIAA, but it was during the tour for 2002's "Home" that the infamous "ashamed [George W. Bush] is from Texas" comment added 'political activists' to their resume.

17. Vince Gill
Aside from having earned a reputation as the nicest guy in Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Famer's versatile tenor vocals and instrumental prowess has made him an international fan favorite, and an often cited influence on many of today's younger artists. His country hit making career began in the mid '80s when "If It Weren't For Him," a duet with Rosanne Cash, became his first top 10 on Hot Country Songs in 1985. His solo breakthrough hit was the Grammy winning "When I Call Your Name" in 1990. He has 27 top 10 singles, including five No. 1's on that chart.

16. Faith Hill
Hill is among the most celebrated women in country music history, with ACM, Country Music Association, Grammy Awards and People's Choice Awards honors among her haul since her arrival in 1993. She married Tim McGraw in 1996, and four of her duets with him contribute to her 42 career entries on the Country Songs chart, where she's notched nine No. 1s. "My career... has been amazing," Hill told Billboard in 2005. "I've had an incredible climb and done things that I could never dream that I would ever do, but I have remained the same person."

15. The Judds
The Judds became country music's only successful mother-daughter duo and practically owned the country charts during the 1980's. Naomi and Wynonna shot to stardom with a cover of Elvis Presley's "Had a Dream (For the Heart)" in 1983, followed by heartfelt ballads such as "Mama He's Crazy" and "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)." All but two of their 16 singles between 1984-89 topped Hot Country Songs, but health problems forced the elder Judd to retire from performing at the end of 1991. Health renewed and touring with Wynonna this summer, Naomi's other daughter is actress Ashley Judd.

14. Shania Twain
Though absent from Country Songs since 2005, Twain remains the best-selling female country album artist since Nielsen's SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991, having sold 33.9 million albums in that span. Her lasting pop culture prominence was reaffirmed when she served as a mentor this past season on "American Idol"; following the April 27 and 28 episodes, Twain's "Greatest Hits" soared back onto the Billboard 200. "It was emotional for me to listen to every one of their gorgeous voices singing my words," Twain blogged of the top six finalists. "Every one of them thoroughly entertained me and reminded me of how lucky I am to be a songwriter."

13. Hank Williams Jr.
Anyone who thinks country music didn't attract a sizeable youth audience before the early '90s must have slept through Hank Williams Jr.'s chart run during the previous decade. He first appeared on Hot Country Songs in 1964 with a cover of his legendary father's 1950 smash "Long Gone Lonesome Blues," but found a new, youthful following starting in the mid '70s. He resonated with rebellious young fans via songs like "Family Tradition," "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound," and notched successful versions of his fathers hits, such as "Honky Tonkin'". At one point in the mid '80s, the younger Williams simultaneously had six albums on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart.

12. Clint Black
Another member of country's well-documented "class of '89," videogenic Texan Clint Black burst onto the scene with "Better Man," which topped Hot Country Songs in June of that year. Although fellow '89 star Garth Brooks quickly eclipsed all other country artists, Black's career was almost as stellar. He landed 13 chart toppers on Hot Country songs between 1989-99, and seven platinum and multi-platinum albums.

11. Rascal Flatts
After first appearing on the Country Songs chart with the No. 3-peaking "Prayin' for Daylight," the trio has earned ACM top vocal group honors each year since 2002 thanks to its winning mix of bouncy country-pop and swooping ballads. Ten of the band's 40 Country Songs entries have reached No. 1, and the trio has sold 19.8 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "There's never been a method to our madness," RF's Joe Don Rooney has said. "We just cut the best songs we can, and through the years we get better at what we do."

10. Brooks & Dunn
Brooks & Dunn is retiring at the end of the current touring season with nearly 20 years of hits to their credit. Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn splashed onto the scene with debut single "Brand New Man," which spent two weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs in 1991. The duo immediately found a receptive audience during the early '90s Country boom, eventually scoring 41 top 10s and 20 No. 1s on Hot Country Songs, and 10 of the duo's 16 charted albums are platinum or multi-platinum.

9. Alabama
With 18 No. 1s on Country Songs since 1985, and 32 overall since its first, "Tennessee River," in 1980, Alabama ranks as Billboard's top country group of the past 25 years. The quartet, which has featured a consistent lineup of Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry and Mark Herndon since 1979, earned a chart record 21 No. 1 singles in a row from 1980 to 1987. The act retired from performing live following its 2003-04 "Farewell Tour" but has remained a chart force. Its "Songs of Inspiration" and "Songs of Inspiration II" topped Billboard's Christian Albums chart in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

8. Kenny Chesney
Tennessee's Kenny Chesney embodies the dues paying and false starts experienced by so many of the genre's most successful artists. Nashville's major labels passed on signing Chesney, and he was picked up by Phil Walden's Capricorn label. His first single didn't click at radio, but met with critical acclaim -- and eventually a deal with BNA, where he established himself as a bankable star with songs like "All I Need to Know" and "How Forever Feels." Perennially one of the top touring acts in the country, Chesney's chart history includes 17 No. 1's on Hot Country Songs, and nine chart toppers on Top Country Albums.

7. Toby Keith
Although Toby Keith has established himself during the past decade as country music's outspoken maverick-in-chief, he was originally cast in the early '90s as a song writing balladeer in the mould of Vince Gill. After changing labels in 2000, his career set an exciting new course with bombastic songs like "How Do You Like Me Now" and "Who's Your Daddy," and he became one of country music's leading post-9/11 troubadours with "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue," and "American Soldier." He's placed 19 singles atop Hot Country Songs, and scored eight leaders on Top Country Albums.

6. Randy Travis
After charting one song under his birth name Randy Traywick in 1979 (the No. 91-peaking "She's My Woman"), Travis returned in 1985 with "On the Other Hand," his first of 16 No. 1s on Country Songs. In the past 25 years, his 43-week reign atop Country Albums in 1987-88 with "Always & Forever" is the longest by a male artist. Last year, Travis won a new generation of fans when Carrie Underwood's cover of his 1988 Country Songs No. 1 "I Told You So," featuring Travis, reached No. 2 on the chart and the pair performed the song on "American Idol."

5. Tim McGraw
None of Tim McGraw's first four singles became hits, but he became an instant household hame with the quirky "Indian Outlaw" in 1994. That song, however, offered little clue of the broad range of songs that would come to define him as an artist. They include everything from disposable ditties like "Down on the Farm" and "Refried Dreams," to meatier and sometimes life changing ballads such as "Live Like You Were Dying" and "Grown Men Don't Cry." He's topped Hot Country Songs 23 times, and Top Country Albums 12 times.

4. Alan Jackson
When he first arrived with country music's "class of '89," Alan Jackson brought with him a respect for traditional country music unmatched by his peers. Jackson has strayed very little in terms of his overall sound, and his fans have applauded enthusiastically at every turn. He's taken 50 of his charted titles on Hot Country Songs into the top 10, and half of those have done time at No. 1. On Top Country Albums, all but three of his dozen leaders debuted atop the chart.

3. Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire's career is a study in how to make all the right career moves, from the time she first debuted on Hot Country Songs in 1976, to her current chart hit, "Keep On Loving You." She has 23 No. 1s on Hot Country Songs (Dolly Parton, with 25, is the only female act with more). McEntire is also the only woman to score No. 1 singles in the '80s, '90s, '00s and the current decade. She most recently topped the list with "Consider Me Gone" in December.

2. Garth Brooks
Since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991, Garth Brooks ranks as the top-selling U.S. album artist, with 68.4 million units totaled. Brooks helped spur a new era of popularity for country music in the '90s, thanks to his combination of intimate ballads and raucous jams, along with his flair for showmanship and theatrical stage shows and videos. While he has not released an album of all-new material since 2001, opting to spend time with his daughters and wife Trisha Yearwood, Brooks last year began a five-year engagement of shows at Wynn Las Vegas. "I've always felt that an artist is solely what his music and his fans allow him to be," Brooks has said. "In short, I'm blown away."

1. George Strait
Country Music Hall of Famer Strait, who holds several all-time Billboard records, tops our list. His 44 No. 1's on Hot Country Songs is the most by any artist in the chart's 64 year history. Strait took the lead on that chart when "Give It Away" became his 41st leader in September 2006, pushing previous record holder Conway Twitty to No. 2. With 82 top 10 singles, he is second only to Eddy Arnold's 92 top 10 achievements. He is the only artist in Billboard's history to achieve top 10 singles in 30 consecutive years (1981-2010).

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