See the year’s Top 20 videos on CMT’s Top Twenty Countdown. Check for air times on CMT.com.
Exhale, America. CMT herewith announces its Top 20 music videos of 2004. They are a varied lot that, taken together, embrace all the great themes of country music: love of country and family; a preference for the past over the present and the simple over the complex; and a generally fatalistic outlook on life. Consequently, most of the videos have a somber tone, with only six of them being outright festive.
Kenny Chesney earned three trophies (one shared with his singing buddy, Uncle Kracker). Keith Urban and Toby Keith netted two each. The only breakthrough video — the kind that establishes an artist’s basic identity and is likely to endure for the rest of his or her career — is Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.”
Let’s take one more look at the winners:
1. “Whiskey Lullaby,” Brad Paisley/Alison Krauss — One of country music’s many virtues is that it dares to be sentimental. This one pulls out all the emotional stops. The victim isn’t just another guy but a love-struck soldier returning from duty who discovers his betrothed in bed with another man. Instead of leaving and starting over, he stays around to be tormented by her presence — as she is by his. And rather than talk it out, they drink it out. It’s a tragic story effectively told.
2. “I Go Back,” Kenny Chesney — Like the Statler Brothers, Chesney has found a gold mine in his teenage past, as he once again illustrates. But sometimes you’ve just gotta ask yourself: Is going back to raspberry wine really worth the trip?
3. “You’ll Think of Me,” Keith Urban — This clip nicely captures the regret-to-rage ambivalence of a rejected lover. Ultimately, though, judging from Urban’s hangdog demeanor, regret prevails.
4. “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” Big & Rich — The asylum-dwellers go on a field trip. These boys are wired for ecstasy.
5. “Redneck Woman,” Gretchen Wilson — I haven’t seen this much environmental destruction since Alan Jackson churned his pickup through the mud in “Summertime Blues.” Here the message seems to be, “I’m poor, undereducated and culturally deprived, and I couldn’t be happier about it.” A real video manifesto.
6. “American Soldier,” Toby Keith — Despite its flurry of flags and tight-jawed images, this isn’t quite the gung-ho recruiting poster that the title suggests. OK, maybe it is. But Keith at least tones down the celebratory aspects of war.
7. “You Can’t Take the Honky Honk Out of the Girl,” Brooks & Dunn — Didn’t we meet this babe before in “Little Miss Honky Tonk”? Or was it “Rock My World (Little Country Girl)”?
8. “There Goes My Life,” Kenny Chesney — A straightforward narrative about an unwanted love child who becomes the center of her dad’s universe. Chesney’s voice rings with wistfulness.
9. “Party for Two,” Shania Twain/Billy Currington — I may be reading too much into it, but I believe these two kids are singing about having sex — and of gymnastic intensity. How about that swing!
10. “Live Like You Were Dying,” Tim McGraw — Watch this with the sound off, and you’ve got nothing more than a fashion film. But with the sound on, you’ve got a near-death, white-light, life-altering epiphany.
11. “Days Go By,” Keith Urban — “Seize the day,” Urban advises as he watches the world whirl around him. The graphics are more engaging than the message.
12. “Remember When,” Alan Jackson — As intimate and moving as our own family’s scrapbook. This is one of the most lyrical country videos ever made.
13. “Stays in Mexico,” Toby Keith — In “American Soldier,” Keith sings about a modern-day Minute Man. Here he chronicles a Sixty-Minute Man, a torrid tourist who really knows how to vacation.
14. “If You Ever Stop Loving Me,” Montgomery Gentry — Since the effects of a good woman’s love are nearly impossible to convey in pictures, why not just show a bunch of guys riding motorcycles with nary a woman in sight?
15. “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” Sheryl Crow — What with that long, windswept hair and tantalizing miniskirt, I keep forgetting what Crow’s problem is here.
16. “Long Black Train,” Josh Turner — Older country fans may remember a similarly themed song called “Little Black Train.” Although the dark and forbidding railroad imagery is arresting, the real star of this piece is Turner’s rumbling, sepulchral voice.
17. “When the Sun Goes Down,” Kenny Chesney/Uncle Kracker — Yet another island idyll from Tad of the Tropics. The scenes, however, are more about anticipating delights than realizing them.
18. “Break Down Here,” Julie Roberts — Roberts can never quite rid herself of her lover’s ghost as she drives across the desert dropping pieces of his memory by the roadside. A claustrophobic mixture of dread and determination.
19. “Feels Like Today,” Rascal Flatts — While a magical photographer snaps comforting pictures of each of his subject’s future, the Rascals sing of impending better times. The backdrops and characters are straight out of Fellini.
20. “Somebody,” Reba McEntire — Have you ever seen another face this radiant? A smile this elfin? Watching Reba beam over a burgeoning love affair is more riveting than the affair itself.
Now bring on 2005.