“Say What?” Classic – Harlan Howard

why-not-meHarlan Howard is one of the most distinguished songwriters in country music history. When interviewed about his #1 hit for the Judds (“Why Not Me”), he made an interesting statement about the need for repeating certain titles throughout a song:

“Why Not Me” wasn’t a great title. To get a really good record, you’ve gotta write a hell of a song when you’re dealing with a title that average. The only thing I know to do with songs like “Why Not Me” and “Busted” – which I never thought was a good title – is to put the title in there often so that people remember it. The weaker the title, the more you gotta hear it.”

“Why Not Me” earned the Judds the Country Duo/Group Grammy and the CMA award for Single of the Year. “Busted” was hit for both Johnny Cash with the Carter Family in the sixties and John Conlee in the eighties. Both songs feature the titles repeated endlessly.

I think this quote is fascinating because it provides a window into how two songs from different eras were crafted by the same writer. I never noticed the similarities before reading the quote.

I’d also add that the Little Texas hit “My Love” and the Brooks & Dunn hit “That’s What It’s All About” show how the rule can be taken too far, in my opinion, and turn into just an annoying song.

What do you think?

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4 Responses to “Say What?” Classic – Harlan Howard

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  2. Really interesting quote from the ‘dean of country songwriters.’ I never thought ‘Why Not Me’ was a weak title, but I agree that sometimes a line or a phrase needs repeating to drive the point home.

    But, you don’t see the repeating of lines over and over again in country music as much as with other genres either.

  3. And “Chicken Fried” says hello!

    In general though, I have to agree with Harlan. Songs with generic or oft-used ideas/titles need to be memorable. Would “Chicken Fried” have been so memorable w/o the title repeated as much?

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