One of country music's most storied decades began in 1990 with a new crop of stars taking the reigns while established names from the '80s expanded their legacies.
The storied Class of '89--Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Lorrie Morgan, Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson--backed up the hype with some of the year's best country songs. Simultaneously, established names (Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea and the late Keith Whitley), new acts (Doug Stone) and legends (Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker and Ronnie Milsap) released cuts worthy of nostalgic playlist consideration.
Read on to revisit how the country charts looked before Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, The Dixie Chicks, Brooks & Dunn, Joe Diffie, John Michael Montgomery, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Toby Keith and others emerged to help the class of '89 define Nashville for a new generation of fans.
10. "Where've You Been," Kathy Mattea
Ken Burns' Country Music documentary raised awareness of this Kathy Mattea song during its otherwise slim coverage of the early '90s. In its time, the song won songwriters Jon Vezner and Don Henry the 1990 CMA award for Song of the Year. Another track off the album Willow in the Wind, "She Came From Fort Worth," charted even higher in '90.
9. "Dumas Walker," The Kentucky Headhunters
With all due respect to what's still a stellar live act, the commercial success of the Kentucky Headhunters might've been the wildest development as country music transitioned between decades. The Southern rock group struck gold with this rowdy original as well as covers of Bill Monroe ("Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine") and Henson Cargill ("Skip a Rope").
8. "Help Me Hold On," Travis Tritt
Despite introducing himself with the cheekier "Country Club" and its music video, Travis Tritt picked up his first No. 1 with this sensitive love song. Tritt fends off a broken heart in a musical conversation with duet partner and regular collaborator Dana McVicker.
7. "Born to Be Blue," The Judds
The Judds' farewell album Love Can Build a Bridge opens with nothing but two of the most familiar voices of the prior decade and beautiful piano accompaniment. When the song hits full stride, it takes a sudden Southern rock and honky-tonk turn.
6. "Jukebox in My Mind," Alabama
After owning the '80s, Alabama treated fans to one of its best albums, Pass It On Down. It featured three number one singles: "Forever's as Far as We'll Go," "Down Home" and honky-tonk throwback "Jukebox in My Mind."
5. "Chains," Patty Loveless
Patty Loveless' breakthrough 1988 album Honky Tonk Angel's long-term success continued in '90 with this brief, catchy earworm. Her next album, On Down the Line, hit shelves in May 1990.
Read More: The 15 Best Patty Loveless Songs, Ranked
4. "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow," Alan Jackson
Right before huge stadium shows became the norm for country stars, Alan Jackson sang this moving ode to the smoky bars that still host up-and-coming country stars as well as veterans in search of one last hit.
3. "Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart," Randy Travis
Somehow, all-time great vocalist and song interpreter Randy Travis didn't run out of near-perfect singles in the '80s. This Grammy-nominated cut off No Holdin' Back sizes up nicely against the career-launching hits from 1986's Storms of Life.
2. "Love Without End, Amen," George Strait
Themes of faith, family and fatherhood make this more than just another no. 1 hit for King George. This morality play set to a county song sounded ageless as decade-specific production techniques and lyrical themes emerged on Music Row.
1. "The Dance," Garth Brooks
One of the most gorgeous songs from any time period became a hit in 1990 and, in the process, helped introduce the masses to a pop culture phenomenon. Even some naysayers turned away by Garth Brooks' stage theatrics adore this song. A very different Brooks standard, "Friends in Low Places," topped the Billboard charts that came year.