No one paid much attention to Kenny Chesney when he charted his first single, “Whatever It Takes,” in 1993. After all, country music was riding a tidal wave back then, and it was easy for a new artist on an independent label, as Chesney was, to get lost. That year, Garth Brooks had four No. 1s, while “Whatever It Takes” stiffed at No. 59.
Some of us had seen Chesney hanging out at Opryland Music offices, where he’d landed a job as a staff writer, and a few may have even heard him pounding out cover tunes at The Turf honky-tonk on Nashville’s Lower Broadway. Yeah, he was good. But a superstar-in-embryo? Hardly.
Still to come was the man of many faces: good-time frat boy, beach bum, triumphant lover, doleful lover, observer of life’s ironies and brevity and, ultimately, the stadium-packing king of the world. He’s left indelible musical memories every step of the way, from his early (and enduring) single, “The Tin Man,” to his latest radio release, “Here and Now.”
Here are 10 Chesney classics that reveal the man inside.
“She’s Got It All” (1997)
This was Chesney’s first No. 1 and, boy, does it show him to be a happy chap whose heart is totally intact. “She’s got it all, my heart, my soul, my wishes/all of my love, my hugs, my kisses/everything that means anything at all.”
“How Forever Feels” (1998)
Ain’t love grand? It can make you feel like Jimmy Buffett on a beach or Richard Petty roaring into the winner’s circle. The video for this song was the first to present Chesney as a full-fledged party animal.
“A Lot of Things Different” (2002)
It was a little early in Chesney’s career for him to start singing about regrets, but that’s what he does here. It certainly gives everyone who’s live a little a lot to look back on.
“No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” (2003)
Not just a song title, Chesney says, but a way of life — relaxing on the sun-drenched sand with friends, playing music and letting the tension melt away. It’s a theme he returns to time and again.
“Anything But Mine” (2005)
Is there any night more bittersweet than the last night of a summer romance? Here we’re presented a seaside memory of an attraction too precious to walk away from and too intense to last. One of Chesney’s most poetic songs.
“Keg in the Closet” (2005)
More partying than poetry here. Co-written by Chesney, it’s a flashback to the glory days when you were totally convinced that you and your frat brothers were the hippest tribe on the planet — or, at least, the drunkest.
“Don’t Blink” (2007)
A cautionary tale about savoring each second of the life you’re given. In a blink it’s gone. “Best start putting first things first/’cause when your hourglass runs out of sand/you can’t flip it over and start again.”
“Better as a Memory” (2008)
An elaboration on the rambling man theme, but with far more eloquence than most songs of that genre. Enjoy this love for what it is now, the song counsels, not for what you wish it might be.
“You and Tequila” (2011)
In this lament Chesney recorded with Grace Potter, bad love and alcohol are both killers, and you measure success in the number of days you’ve withheld yourself from both.
“American Kids” (2014)
What we have here is a scrapbook, not a story. But that’s OK since the pictures tell their own story. There are so many snapshots here of Americana, that we can all spot ourselves there.