Single Review: Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris, “Craving You”

“Craving You”
Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris

Written by Dave Barnes and Julian Bunetta

I’m a child of the eighties.

Sure, I was technically born in the seventies, but I turned one in 1980. I grew up on eighties music. My sister was a Madonna wannabe and had a stack of eighties pop 45s that stretched to the heavens, and they were pretty great records.

So I get all the eighties nostalgia. Heck, The Goldbergs is my favorite sitcom on the air right now. There’s nothing wrong with a throwback.

But if country artists are going to keep doing throwbacks to eighties music, perhaps they should read a vintage issue of Billboard:

A quick history lesson for today’s country artists. Your aspiration above is not Madonna. Stop trying to write pop songs like her. Listen to “Into the Groove” or “Like a Prayer” and realize that she’s out of your reach.

Your aspiration is not Whitney Houston. Stop trying to sing pop licks like her. Listen to “Greatest Love of All” or “How Will I Know” and realize that she’s out of your reach.

Your aspiration is not Bon Jovi. Stop trying to do arena pop/rock as well as then. Listen to “Livin’ on a Prayer” or “You Give Love a Bad Name” and realize that they’re out of your reach.

The closest your attempts at eighties pop are going to come to 1987 is Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. They are largely forgotten for a reason, and eighties pop wannabe records like “Craving You” are far less memorable than “Lost in Emotion” or “Head to Toe.”

But they still came closer to pulling it off than you ever will because they were fluent in the same language. Pop and country are not the same languages. What makes a pop record work is very different than what makes a country record work, and few talents over the years have been able to successfully pull off records that succeed as both.

I have no problem with crossover country, but it only works if you have an understanding of both genres. “Craving You” doesn’t know how to be pop and has no connection to country. It fails as a pop record and as a country record. Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris don’t know what they’re doing.

My recommendation to both of them, and the vast majority of their country radio colleagues, is to look at the picture above and study the second guy on the right. Randy Travis knew what he was, and made some of the best country records in history because of it. Those records were so good at being country that they crossed over to the pop market. Not on the radio or anything like that, but they appealed to a much wider audience than country fans, and he was the first country artist to sell four million copies of an album without any spins on pop radio.

Fans of both country and pop bought his records because he knew who he was and what he was doing. Listen to “Forever and Ever, Amen” or “On the Other Hand.” Study him. Take good notes.

Oh, and check out Dwight Yoakam and the Judds while you’re at it. Understand where the genre that you claim to be a part of actually came from. What they were doing in the eighties is far more instructive for what you should be doing than any pop record of the era.

Sure, you’ll probably fall short of that standard. Even some of the great country artists can’t match Randy Travis. But if you’re going to be an imitation of someone that isn’t quite as good as the original, there is at least some dignity in falling short of being Randy Travis.

It’s better than some guy comparing you to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and still finding you lacking in comparison.

Grade: D

18 Comments

  1. On point as always Kevin. I was hoping to hear way more Maren Morris on this one, as I am a much bigger fan of hers. Disappointed to see Dave Barnes attached to this as well.

  2. I still have my 45 single of Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam’s “Head To Toe,” thank you very much…

    Honestly, I find the “D” generous. Like I said when live-tweeting the ACMs, it’s like Thomas Rhett listened to Chris Lane’s “Fix” and thought, “You know, I’ll bet I *could* do worse.” And then did somehow.

  3. Very interesting write-up. I became a parent a few day before Christmas of 1979 and baby #2 will be 35 next week. That’s probably why the 80’s are the decade I know the least about as far as music is concerned. They really were still making 45’s in the 80’s? I think that the last 45’s i bought were by the Cowsills.

    I have a few Whitney Houston albums but nothing from Madonna or Bon Jovi. I’m not at all familiar with Lisa Lisa or Cult Jam. I didn’t discover Kathy Mattea or Randy Travis til the 90’s.

    You say that “What makes a pop record work is very different than what makes a country record work, and few talents over the years have been able to successfully pull off records that succeed as both.” How about the Eagles and Don Henley’s Cass County?

    I’m not a fan of Maren Morris or Thomas Rhett and “Craving You” is not going to change that. Agree with your D.

  4. When will Jeff Foxworthy…er Thomas Rhett realize his voice is too country to sing pop music? And BAD pop music at that. Agree with the review and grade on this one.

  5. I will not stand for the Lisa Lisa shade! Lol! Songs like “Head to Toe” are great Motown throwbacks, and songs like “Let the Beat Hit Em” were ahead of their time.

    I get the general point of this review, but I wish more was said about the actual song in question.

  6. Welp, it’s better than Vacation. And definitely better than South Side. But those aren’t really compliments, because it still sucks.

  7. Oh, poor Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam. I blame Billboard for putting them on the same cover as Madonna, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, and Randy Travis!

    Funny that in 1987, they were all around the same point in their careers, and that all four acts went on to be legends.

    I did good diligence and listened to “Head to Toe” and “Lost in Emotion” again. I think I just can’t get past the visual of my sister singing along with the 45s at the top of her lungs. Maybe I’d like them more if I’d heard them first in a more controlled environment!

    Through the power of YouTube suggestions, I was also reminded how much worse it got in this vein. Ladies and gentlemen, The Jets:

  8. Leeann wrote:

    “The actual song in question doesn’t deserve to have more said about it.”

    Yeah, it was so derivative of other works that I couldn’t come up with thoughts any more original than the song itself!

  9. I love The Jets, too! Lol! I can recognize that’s about nostalgia more than anything, though. Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam were legitimately good and of course helped create Latin freestyle with songs like “I Wonder If I Take You Home” (which would go on to be used as a sample in a Black Eyed Peas song). And “All Cried Out” is a solid ballad:

  10. “It’s better than some guy comparing you to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and still finding you lacking in comparison.”

    I love the closing line of that review…lol.

    As far as that Jets video goes…yikes. That must be where the “Saved by the Bell” producers got their idea of 80’s fashion from. (Although, the song…still probably a better listen than “Craving You”.)

  11. It also needs to be mentioned that The Jets actually did the theme song for the classic show Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers:

  12. The review could not have been more on point, although I would have given the song a D+ (talk about high praise !)

  13. It’s a fine and noble thing to wish for, but we’re not going to get a Randy Travis or Dwight Yoakam-inspired album or even single out of the likes of Thomas Rhett. He has made no secret of the fact that he’s a bigger fan of rock and pop than country; in fact, he’s so lacking in self-awareness that he wears it like a badge of honor. The closest Rhett would ever get to that would probably be something inspired by Bryan White, or maybe Mark Wills, i.e., nothing even in that time zone. I have said it before and will say it again: Thomas Rhett is the very personification of what Alan Jackson sings about in “Gone Country.”

    Regardless, Kevin, this is one of your best reviews yet.

  14. Also, in re: this:

    the Eagles and Don Henley’s Cass County

    To the extent that Cass County works as a country album (and it does so VERY well, IMO), that’s because of Don Henley’s love of country music. He grew up listening to KWKH, the home of the Louisiana Hayride. And one of the songs on Cass County was a cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming.”

    But Thomas Rhett doesn’t have that. If you asked Rhett who the Louvin Brothers were, he’d probably say they were the guys who did “Summer in the City.”

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