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Since we published our first issue of Country Weekly in 1994, thousands of country albums have been released. Some were awful, many were passable, a lot were quite good and a few were masterpieces. Here are a few of the 100 we think made the biggest impressions, had the broadest influence and generally loomed the largest. Of course, you're free to disagree.
1: Dixie Chicks
When the train rolls by, I'm gonna be ready this time, sings Natalie Maines in Fly's opening moments - and ready they were. The Dixie Chicks' moment had come, and Natalie, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison jumped that train and rolled to glory.
Their major-label debut, Wide Open Spaces, was already a phenomenon, and observers inside and outside of the industry wondered if this energetic young trio was a flash in the pan. The Chicks responded with Fly, an album that blended old-time instruments and modern sensibilities with a sound just slick enough to take over the radio - which is exactly what happened. In the weeks following its release, its songs swarmed the country chart. Fly spun out five Top 10 hits (controversy kept the revenge fantasy "Goodbye Earl" stuck at No. 13), sold over 10 million copies and took Album of the Year honors from the CMA, ACM and the Grammys.
It took more than hits and publicity to make that happen. Fly embodies the independent spirit and confident defiance that made the Chicks heroines to a generation of young women. Songs like "Ready to Run," "Sin Wagon," "Hole in My Head" and "Let Him Fly" gleefully dance all over the notion that a woman requires a man's approval - and the Chicks' own success made them leaders by example. It's funny how the girls get burned, Natalie sings on "Don't Waste Your Heart," And honey, as far as I'm concerned, the tables have turned.
The tables have turned on the Chicks since then - last year, their political views got them practically eliminated from the country radio world that had embraced them not so long ago. But the seismic impact they made on music is still being felt, and it's perfectly captured on Fly. Of all the music made in the past 10 years, none came close to matching its buzz.
2: Garth Brooks
It ran for 100 minutes, spread over two CDs. It featured 25 songs - three of them new, two of them oldies featuring additional verses - recorded at 25 separate shows. It sported two special guests, Trisha Yearwood and Steve Wariner. It offered six different album covers to choose from.
And it remains the best-selling live album ever, with 15 million copies moved - over a million of those in the first week, a sales record at the time. More than any other album, Double Live summed up the glorious, shoot-the-moon excess of Garth Brooks. But now that he has retired, it's also the best reminder we have of his tireless energy, unstoppable showmanship and fierce determination to make sure every fan who bought a ticket to his shows left happy.
Check again next Thursday for Part Two of The 100 Greatest Albums , or get the full story from this week's newsstand issue!