John Rich, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down”

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March 11, 2009

john-richAs one half of Big & Rich, John Rich has certainly demonstrated that he knows how to throw a big, ostentatious party. However, in “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” Rich’s recent solo release, the Nashville Star judge and Gone Country host takes to task those with the audacity to be ostentatious in these tough economic times.

Rich pulls no punches (and rightly so) in lambasting the fat cats on Wall Street who are giving out bonuses and throwing lavish parties with Government bailout money. However, the song falls short of inspiring righteous anger and garnering sympathy. Instead of striking the right emotional chord, the song comes off as vaguely preachy as Rich draws an arbitrary line between those who live in the “real world” and those who don’t.

The failure to truly resonate is primarily the result of a lyrical approach prevalent in country music of late: the lyrics attempt to push a sentiment onto the listener, rather than painting a picture and allowing the listener to relate in his/her own way.  Such an approach shortchanges the emotional power of a song. Only when Rich breaks away from this conceit in the second verse, does the song shine: Well that old man’s been working in that plant most all his life / Now his pension plan’s been cut in half and he can’t afford to die.” Now, this is a story I’d be interesting in hearing. A sequel perhaps?

Written by John Rich

Grade: B-

Listen: “Shuttin’ Detroit Down”

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  1. I think it’s a prettty good song, but the record falls down on John Rich’s uninvolved-sounding vocals. He just doesn’t invest enough anger for it to convince the listener (me anyway).

  2. MichaelNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, I’d have probably given this song a “D.” I think John Rich’s singing is bland and boring. Even the line about getting “fightin’ mad” sounds uninspired. He might as well be singing about taking a nap. The melody is a little too simple and repetitive for my taste too. I doubt John Rich is struggling to put food on his table and this song seems oportunistic (a la “Have You Forgotten” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”) to me. The lyrics are generic and don’t really address any specific problems or solutions.

  3. Cutting the TreacleNo Gravatar says:

    I agree: this is opportunistic. And that’s what makes it much better than a B-. Is Rich milking the moment? Yes. But so what? The Chicks did it and won a bunch of Grammys. May the same happen to Rich. It’d be too bad if there wasn’t a place for a guy who can write a song that strikes a pretty significant chord with a pretty big part of the population that’s pretty pissed off about a situation that they didn’t cause.

  4. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    Very insightful review. I’d like to love this song – it sounds really cool, and topical material sure helps shake the mainstream climate up, and I think it’s called for right now. But I don’t think Rich tackled the subject with a lot of substance. It may strike a chord with people who already happen to feel just as Rich does, but it offers almost no insight into why he happens to feel that way – as Lynn pointed out, that relatively short bit in the second verse is pretty much all you get. Everything else is just preachiness – it requires you to already share his perspective to get anything out of the song, which isn’t how truly transcendent music (even of an opinionated nature) works.

    Plus, personally speaking, I think the use of language like “the boss man” and “DC’s bailin’ out them bankers” frankly sounds awkward and dated coming from Rich’s mouth. It sounds like he’s trying to wear the clothes of a blue-collar poet like Haggard but can’t really pull it off (and by the way, it’s super-ironic to hear considering that John Rich is one of the most extravagant celebrities in Nashville).

    But again, there are things I like about the song. So I think a B- is totally appropriate.

  5. CMWNo Gravatar says:

    Nice review, Lynn. I feel pretty much the same way about this song as you and Dan.

    Plus, personally speaking, I think the use of language like “the boss man” and “DC’s bailin’ out them bankers” frankly sounds awkward and dated coming from Rich’s mouth. It sounds like he’s trying to wear the clothes of a blue-collar poet like Haggard but can’t really pull it off (and by the way, it’s super-ironic to hear considering that John Rich is one of the most extravagant celebrities in Nashville).

    I agree 100%, Dan. Add “New York City town” to the list of things that just sound awkward and forced coming out of Rich’s mouth, as though he’s trying to take on a sort of hayseed persona but not being very convincing (or, perhaps, sincere) about it.

  6. Kevin J. CoyneNo Gravatar says:

    My big beef with this song is that it presents New York as separate from the real world dealing with the economic crisis. Wall St is one of thousands of streets in NYC, and it’s a pretty darn small one in a city of 8 million people. Our entire city (and state) have been hit hard.
    I think if John Rich or anyone else rode the subway for an afternoon, they’d discover that quickly.

  7. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve despised this song since the first time I heard it, and it’s just one more reason why I don’t have much use for Mr. Rich. If you want to hear a class act sing about something that’s current, check out the new Tracy Lawrence song “Up To Him”.

  8. Roger NewcombNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t care for this at all. I’m not a huge fan of “topical” songs especially when you bring in politics into it or assume an area or group of people are all the same.

    He talks about selling make believe and that’s NOT what we do here. But isn’t that what country music is? Mostly fiction.

    I personally don’t believe the world needed John Rich to weigh in on the economic crisis.

    I live in New York and I pesonally believe it’s more of “the real world” than the one he lives in, at least based on the many public statements he’s made over the years about various things.

  9. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t read this as an attack on NYC at all. I think you guys are REALLY reading into it..Are you sure you’re not bringing your bias against Mr. Rich into your observations?., “While they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town..” sounds to me more of an attack on Wall Street corruption as opposed to an attack on the city itself.

    Unless there are other llines beyond this snippet that are more blatant, I feel that New York City is incidental to the point he’s making, in this context it is the setting, it is merely the geographical backdrop of the corruption he’s attacking…”Wall Street” theoretically (for his purposes) could be anywhere that corporate corruption exists. Wall Street is his metaphor for corporate corruption. I don’t believe he is characterizing the city as a whole, or that he is stereotyping it at all. “In that New York City town” is merely a rhetorical phrase he is using in order to complete his rhyme scheme. I’m sure Mr. Rich would consider the hard working neighborhoods in NYC to be the “real world” as well. And maybe even the honest brokers on Wall Steet..

    Conversely, he IS using Detroit for a metaphor for hard working communities that are suffering, but he is pitting Detroit against Wall Street, not against NYC.

    As for the music itself, I like the sound of it, and appreciate what JR is trying to say.

  10. GailNo Gravatar says:

    EWWW, cannot stand this song! It’s too depressing! John Rich does not have a good voice..IMO!

  11. Cutting the TreacleNo Gravatar says:

    Not much room for muscular, straight talking songs on here.

  12. AnnieNo Gravatar says:

    Steve – I completely agree with you here. Cutting the Treacle – I don’t understand your last post…..please explain…..

  13. Kevin J. CoyneNo Gravatar says:

    I wouldn’t expect logic or reason from someone who is clearly here to denigrate what we do.

  14. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Interesting. I don’t hear anything muscular in this song…that’s kind of my problem with it.

  15. vpNo Gravatar says:

    Even living as a neighbour to Detroit and hearing this song once every hour, I am not all for this song, not just because it is supposed to be super political. It sounds like a cry for pity to me. Everyone everywhere is feeling the economic punch and I know it is just an example of this but it still sounds whinny to me.

    Plus I don’t like the fact that the last minute addition to his album with this song happens as soon as the presidental canidate loses the race, too ironic to me, the previous government set this into motion and I feel he is using this song against the new one.

  16. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    One of the problems that I have with this song, and really with John Rich in general given his bellicose pronouncements, is that he sees everything in absolutes, while the real world in which we live is decidedly ambiguous. This economic crisis we’re in is so incredibly complex, a Perfect Storm that was probably 20-25 years in the making, and it would seem that this fact has totally eluded him.

    I have no objections about artists from any genre of music speaking out or commenting about hard times in song; it’s their right to do so. And I know that country music is the common man’s music, and rightly so. But at the same time, I’d like to think that the country music fan base is a lot smarter than its backwoods stereotype gives it credit for. Pinning blame for hard times on any one group of people, be they politicians, individuals, or corporations, as Rich does here, does nothing to help real people or lift up America in what is arguably the greatest economic crisis we may ever see.

  17. Paul DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I am not a John Rich fan at all but I do like this song. I don’t think that the listener should expect to read anything spiritual or profound in any form of pop music and at times we get too serious about what we expect of music. The B- grade is about right, mostly due to Rich’s vocal deficiencies. In the hands of a better vocalist (Gene Watson or Daryle Singletary for instance), this could be an A-.

    Yes it’s simplistic but so is blaming George Bush for the current economic crisis whuich has its origins deep in the bowels of the Clinton administration. Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard could fit that much truth in a three minute song, but most writers fall far short of that mark

  18. BugsMeanyNo Gravatar says:

    Not crazy about the song but I like the line about “selling make believe” (and I used to work in finance). The vast majority of Americans will never interact with Wall Street, and a lot of their “products” (e.g., an interest-rate derivative) have no intrinsic value.

  19. AgGuyNo Gravatar says:

    I see the point Rich is trying to make, generally, but I do have a problem with his loose use of the word “bankers” in the lyrics “…….DC’s bailing out them bankers as the farmers auction ground……”

    I work in the industry he is talking about with that lyric, and I can tell you that bankers–those that work for banks (not investment “banks”) did not receive bail out money from DC or anyone else. Fact is the majority of community banks cannot receive such funds due to their corporate structure. Additionally, many of these banks who finance farmers are well capitalized enough to the point that they don’t need the money, plus they elect not to have our government suddenly own shares of their business. There may be a few farmers auctioning ground presently, but it isn’t because of economic weakness in agriculture. Agriculture has experienced a long-overdue couple years of decent profitability. Any farmer that is auctioning ground right now is either doing so because they are retiring, or it is because of poor management or bad luck. Those who manage their farm well are in no danger of having to liquidate.

    Rather, the bankers that truly received bailout money, are those who work for investment banks—banks that do not take deposits nor make loans. They are just a “bank” of managed investments.

    The term banker is used too loosely in the media and also in Mr. Rich’s song. Don’t believe everything you hear in the media. Take if from a real life banker.

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