Along with George Strait, Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire, country artists like Mark Chesnutt ushered in a revival of traditional country tones and twang to Nashville and country music in general. Though it seemed like he instantly busted onto the scene in 1990 with the mega-hit platinum album Too Cold At Home, Chesnutt had paid his dues throughout the ’80s with a handful of regional label singles and garnering a fanbase in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas.
Once he signed with MCA Records in 1990, Chesnutt was off to the races scoring a multitude of hits behind clever songwriting, a hardworking mentality and a deep baritone voice that still rivals country music’s best. When you look back over Chesnutt’s catalog, you’re overwhelmed with just how rich it truly is. For most of his albums during the ’90s, he offered up a varied crop of tearjerkers, honky-tonk anthems and detailed storytellers you could still two-step to. All the while, he showcased his sense of humor with clever choruses, tongue-in-cheek lines and lighthearted heartbreakers.
Here are 15 of Chesnutt’s greatest songs.
Though he name drops Beaumont in “Blame It on Texas,” it’s songs like “It’s A Little Too Late” where Chesnutt really pays homage to his East Texas roots. There’s a little bit of Louisiana home cooking rhythm nestled in the mix. It creates a nice up-tempo chug for Chesnutt to deliver his neo-traditional country croon. It also marks as being of a Chesnutt-penned tune, one he wrote with Roger Springer and Slugger Morrissette.
Released in ’97, Chesnutt’s “Thank God For Believers” finds him exhaling and slowing things down. It takes place after one of these late nights of rambling and boozing. Even though his wife is understanding and faithful, he realizes there are still consequences to it all. He ends it sitting in a church pew trying to see things from her point of view. It’s one of Chesnutt’s most reflective moments.
Few epitomized the working class man in the ’90s quite like Chesnutt. Like Joe Diffie and Travis Tritt, it felt as though Chesnutt could have had a regular 9 to 5 at a construction site or warehouse. His ’93 hit “It Sure Is Monday” was the perfect summed up that rush of anxiety that happens on Monday mornings after a wild weekend of too much partying at the local bar. He goes through the hangover protocol of drinking coffee and a lunchtime nap as he tries his best to work past his working man blues.
Released in ’02, “She Was” was Chesnutt’s final Top 20 hit. It’s quite the turn from the vast majority of his hits in the ’90s. Here, he steps in and slows things down as he narrates the full life of his mother. Time and again, he reveals the young woman in each verse is his caring mother. It marks as one of Chesnutt’s most intimate and sincere moments in his deep catalog.
The opening baritone of the guitar mixing into lighter country fiddle and pedal steel is one of Chesnutt’s best song openers. In an instant, he captures the lonesome ride drive home where he lets his daydreaming and what-ifs taken over while blasting the radio. You can almost feel the sun fading and warming the seats of his pick-up truck.
“Gonna Get A Life” is another moment in which Chesnutt plays up to his East Texas and Creole and Cajun roots. Written by Jim Lauderdale and Frank Dycus, Chesnutt plays up the infectious melody and chorus. There’s an accordion throughout that just drives the entire song into overdrive. Found on What a Way to Live, “Gonna Get A Life” is one of Chesnutt’s most laidback, carefree and fun moments in his career.
No one loves their home states quite like Texans do. Here, Chesnutt narrates a free-wheeling roamer who just can’t help but settle back down in Texas. In some respects, it’s like the counter to George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” While Strait can’t set foot back in Texas, Chesnutt has left a handful of broken hearts outside the Texas border — though, he only goes into detail on leaving an Oklahoma millionaire’s daughter in the middle of the night.
“Old Country” appears on Chesnutt’s third album, Longnecks & Short Stories. It’s not as flashy as some of the albums more up-tempo honky-tonk parties (“Bubba Shot The Jukebox” and “Old Flames Have New Names”), it’s one of Chesnutt’s best storytellers to date. It’s another reminder that Chesnutt could deliver heartfelt country crooners just as easily as rowdy party starters. The pedal steel shines throughout as it plays off Chesnutt’s deep whiskey-soaked baritone vocals.
Though Chesnutt rarely wrote any of his greatest hits, he had this innate ability to deliver the lines as if he was making them up on the spot. They were chalk full of idioms and universal country-fried phrases that could make you laugh, cry or both. That happens with Chesnutt’s first single, “Too Cold At Home,” where he narrates a sweltering long hot summer day.
Bubba may be the most relatable character in ’90s country music. Even though he shoots the jukebox, it was spurred on by a deep and intense emotional country ballad played. Everyone’s had one of those moments when a musical moment gets the best of you — albeit, maybe not to this level. And though it can feel like a bit of a novelty, “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” actually proves that most honky-tonk anthems revolve around cliche and worn out ideas. Deep down, it’s one of Chesnutt’s most playful and best storytelling moments.
Chesnutt’s ’94 divorce anthem “Goin’ Through The Big D” is the perfect chicken and egg situation. While most of Chesnutt’s best moments rely on the idioms, it feels as though Chesnutt and songwriters behind it, Mark Wright, John Wright and Ronnie Rogers, created their own. You throw the song title now and everyone knows exactly what you mean. The cautionary tale Chesnutt tells finds him mostly at odds with the judge’s ruling — where she gets the house and he gets the Jeep.
“I’ll Think Of Something” was originally recorded by Hank Williams Jr. for his 1974 album, Living Proof. In ’92, Chesnutt would revamp the tearjerker and land him his second number 1 Billboard Hot Country hit. Much like “Almost Goodbye,” there’s a dark and slick sonic punch to the song. Lines like “I’ll find so many things to do that I won’t have the time to think of her and then if she’s still on my mind I’ll try to drink enough to drown the hurt” are delivered by Chesnutt in such a way, that you can’t help but think he’s trying to convince himself he’s not really damaged by the breakup.
One of Chesnutt’s best qualities was being able to pack so much detail in a song without dragging the song into the four-minute territory. “Old Flames Have New Names” is one of his shortest songs, but it’s honky-tonk piano, infectious fiddle and Chesnutt’s fast-paced delivery make it feel longer and larger than it actually is. You’re right there beside him as he’s crossing out names in his little black book and realizing the situation.
Even at his lowest, Chesnutt’s songs still have a dose of humor in them. He may be alone and heartbroken, he’s still telling himself he’s not alone, even if they’re just the jukebox, some wine, freedom and time. In some respects, “Brother Jukebox” plays out like a companion piece to another Chesnutt hit, “Goin’ Through The Big D.” In both, Chesnutt’s just trying to make sense of his new found freedom. Found on his debut studio album Too Cold At Home, “Brother Jukebox” was one of five singles released and his first number 1 hit.
By the time “Almost Goodbye” was released in ’93, he had scored 10 Top 10 hits in just three years. It has one of Chesnutt’s best opening lines in “there was rain on the street last night. We stood beneath the front door light” where the music even feels stark and cold. He sets up the scene of a fighting couple who just couldn’t leave one another. It’s simple, pure and direct without feeling stale or sterile. Chesnutt may play the part of the carefree honky-tonker right at home at the local bar with the best of them, but it’s on songs like “Almost Goodbye,” when he lets down his guard, where he truly delivered his best work. “Almost Goodbye” isn’t just the best love song in Chesnutt’s catalog, it’s one of country music’s greatest.