Mary Chapin Carpenter is an artist who, at times, couldn't be defined. Her music was marketed as country by her record label, Columbia Records, and she won five Grammy awards in the country music category, but Carpenter's music also features influences from country, folk and rock. From her first single "A Road Is Just A Road" from the album Hometown Girl, to her more recent projects, such as Between Here and Gone, The Calling, and The Dirt and the Stars, Carpenter has been releasing genuine, honest music that can fit into multiple musical boxes. Carpenter herself didn't enjoy being labeled as one specific genre, and is said to have preferred the label singer-songwriter.
Carpenter came by her love of music honestly, growing up in New Jersey and loving artists such as The Mamas And The Papas, The Beatles and John Denver. Early in her career, she considered music a hobby and was often shy when performing at open mic events. She graduated from Brown University and was planning on getting a "real job," but she stuck with music at the encouragement of her friend John Jennings. Soon, Carpenter earned a record deal with Columbia Records and started releasing hit songs in the country genre. While there are plenty of tracks in Carpenter's catalog that are deserving of being on this list, here are 10 of the best Mary Chapin Carpenter songs, ranked.
10. "Quittin' Time"
"Quittin' Time" was released in 1990 from Carpenter's sophomore album, State of the Heart. While the title may sound like another country anthem about getting off work on a Friday, the track is actually about calling it quits on a relationship. Throughout the tune, Carpenter sings to her partner, admitting that their relationship isn't what it used to be, but that it's still hard to say goodbye. This sad story is set to upbeat country instrumentation, which adds to the bittersweet aspect of the song. "Quittin' Time" landed at No. 7 on the Country charts.
9. "The Hard Way"
In 1992, Mary Chapin Carpenter released one of her most successful albums, Come On Come On, which spawned seven Billboard hits. One of those hit singles was "The Hard Way," released in March 1993. In the tune, Carpenter sings to a partner about how far they've come in life, saying that everything they have, they've gotten "the hard way." The song reached No. 11 on the charts and was nominated for Best Country Song at the Grammy Awards.
8. "Let Me Into Your Heart"
Fast-forward to 1996, and Mary Chapin Carpenter released "Let Me Into Your Heart" to radio. The tune, from her seventh album, A Place In The World, employs the use of horns, electric guitar and drums to create a breezy, summer love song. In the song, Carpenter sings to a potential partner, pleading with him to let her into his heart. The song landed at No. 11 on the US Country chart and No. 5 on the Canadian chart.
7. "Something of a Dreamer"
The No. 7 song on the list, "Something of a Dreamer," takes us back to Carpenter's second album, State of the Heart. Released in June 1990, "Something of a Dreamer" is a wistful, acoustic-heavy tune in which Carpenter sings about an innocent girl dreaming of falling in love. "She's something of a dreamer, something of a fool, something of a heartbreak when she gives her heart to you." In addition to the acoustic guitar and light drums, the song features piano and fiddle. "Something Of A Dreamer" landed at No. 14 on the Country chart.
6. "Tender When I Want To Be"
In 1994, Carpenter released "Tender When I Want To Be" as the second single from her Stones in the Road album. In this upbeat country tune, Carpenter sings to a partner about the vulnerability found when one is in love. The tune was a radio hit for Carpenter, landing at No. 6 on the Country chart. The Stones In The Road album also received a Grammy award for Best Country Album.
5. "Down At The Twist And Shout"
In June 1991, Carpenter released one of her most recognizable songs, the rowdy "Down At The Twist And Shout." Everything about this song spells country with fiddle instrumentation, along with cajun influence from backing band, BeauSoleil. In the upbeat tune, Carpenter sings of going to a dance club called The Twist and Shout for a Saturday night out on the town. The song not only landed at No. 2 on the chart, but it also won Carpenter a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.
4. "Shut Up And Kiss Me"
Released in August 1994, Carpenter's "Shut Up and Kiss Me" presents itself as a quintessentially-sounding early '90s country hit. In the lively tune, Carpenter sings to a potential lover, wishing he'd say to her, "Shut Up and Kiss Me." The song was Carpenter's only No. 1 on the Billboard country chart, and it won her yet another Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Fun fact: Trisha Yearwood sings background vocals on this track.
3. "He Thinks He'll Keep Her"
In December 1993, Carpenter released "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" as the sixth single from her hit album, Come On Come On. In the tune, Carpenter tells the story of a woman who spends years feeling unappreciated in a marriage only to find her own independence and path in the world. The song was yet another hit from the Come On Come On album, landing at No. 2 on the Country chart. "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" was also nominated for a Grammy for Record of the Year.
2. "I Feel Lucky"
The No. 2 spot on the list goes to Carpenter's 1992 hit, "I Feel Lucky." In this tune, Carpenter details a day in which she gets incredibly lucky even though all the odds are stacked against her. In the first verse, she sings of reading a terrible horoscope for her sign, but she goes on and has a good day anyway. Then in the second verse, she sees if her lucky strike can continue by playing the lottery, which is at $11 million. In the third verse, it's revealed she won the lottery, and she's at a bar where she buys the waitress a car and tries to fend off the advances of Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett. "I Feel Lucky" was yet another hit for Carpenter, landing at No. 4 on the charts.
1. "Passionate Kisses"
Coming in at number one on the list is Carpenter's 1993 single "Passionate Kisses," which is, again, from her Come On Come On album. The song, which was originally written and recorded by Lucinda Williams, is a playful country tune in which Carpenter sings all about all the things she wants, including a comfortable bed, food, warm clothes, and of course, passionate kisses from her partner. The song landed on No. 4 on the charts and earned Carpenter the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
Honorable mentions: "Never Had It So Good" from State of the Heart, "House Of Cards from Stones in the Road," "I Take My Chances" from Come On Come On, "Soul Companion" from Ashes And Roses, "You Win Again" and "Going Out Tonight" from Shooting Straight In The Dark, "Grow Old With Me" from Working Class Hero, "Mrs. Hemingway" from The Age of Miracles and "Wherever You Are" from Party Doll and Other Favorites.