Single Review: Mickey Guyton – “Nice Things”

“Nice Things”
Mickey Guyton

Written by Mickey Guyton, Liz Rose, and Stephanie Chapman

“Nice Things” impresses from its opening bars: The single begins with a gently-plucked acoustic guitar figure that, in a rarity for a contemporary country single, isn’t immediately drowned out by layers of EDM loops, screaming electric guitars, or that same pre-programmed drum track that’s been used on three-fourths of the singles released in 2017. When Mickey Guyton begins to sing, that simple guitar lick is her only accompaniment for the entirety of the first verse. Even when the production layers in additional instruments– there’s even a dobro, which feels like a minor miracle– and an unobtrusive percussion line, the arrangement of “Nice Things” gives Guyton and the song’s lyrics ample room to breathe.

That alone would make the single stand out on country radio in a dire year. But what elevates “Nice Things” to a should-be genre classic are its beautifully-turned phrases, Guyton’s thoughtful performance, and a memorable melody.

Guyton earned considerable attention for her vocal prowess on her first single, “Better Than You Left Me,” and she’s certainly one of the strongest singers to make any mainstream inroads in recent memory. Here, her technical skill is on full display. The song’s lilting melody both emphasizes the lyrical hook– “Mama always said you can’t have nice things”– and showcases Guyton’s impressive range. The way she lapses into her upper register halfway through the final verse recalls Trisha Yearwood’s sense of phrasing, and she reflects her narrator’s growing confidence over the course of the song with a sustained, controlled crescendo. It’s a measured and mature performance that few of Guyton’s contemporaries could hope to match.

Her performance also doesn’t pull undue focus from the song itself. Without a proper chorus, Guyton and her co-writers, Liz Rose and Stephanie Chapman, rely on their central conceit to carry the song’s thematic weight. They accomplish this feat by developing fully-realized characters in Guyton’s narrator, who recognizes her own worth and regrets that she hasn’t been treasured, and in her former partner, a man who is fundamentally incapable of treating the things he claims to care about with the kind of attention they deserve. When Guyton sings, “Oh, little boy with all your toys out in the yard / I gave you the moon but you had to have the stars / Took them from the sky and you left them in the dark / ‘Til they rusted right through,” it’s a line laced with equal parts resentment and pity.

Even more impressive is that Guyton uses a literary allusion to deliver her final kiss-off. She asks, “Don’t you know why the caged bird sings? / Like mama always said, you can’t have nice things.” Maya Angelou made the most famous use of the image in her poem “Caged Bird” and in the title of her first autobiography, 1970’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. But Angelou drew her inspiration from the poem “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, which includes the stanza:

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

With her final question, Guyton acknowledges how she’d been imprisoned by her lover’s neglect, and “Nice Things” is this caged bird’s song. It’s a credit to Guyton, Rose, and Chapman that they remembered that country music, at its finest, can boast of this kind of depth and thoughtfulness as one of its many virtues. “Nice Things” is a beautiful, smart song, and it’s among country’s very finest singles of 2017.

Grade: A

8 Comments

  1. I really love this song! Easily one of my favorite singles of 2017, so far. It’s beautiful, well written songs like this that remind me why I’ve always loved country music. I love her vocals on this, too. After hearing this in addition her previous releases, I’m really hoping she gets to release an album!

  2. Great song and review. I’m left with one question I hope you’ll pardon my ignorance and answer. You mention “the lyrical hook– “Mama always said you can’t have nice things”. In the next paragraph you say “without a proper chorus”. Why do you say the song doesn’t have a proper chorus. Is it too short? Isn’t the lyrical hook a part of the chorus?

    About 7 or 8 years I first heard a song called “Table 32” by Georgia Middleman, written by GM with Sam & Annie Tate. As far as I could tell, it had NO chorus. Shortly after I was playing John Denver’s “Windsong” LP from 1975 and realized that the title track didn’t have a chorus.

  3. @bob,

    That’s a good question! Since the line fits with the rhyme scheme and melodic structure of the verses, it doesn’t stand on its own as a proper chorus, even though it’s a repeated line. On the first listen, I expected that the “Little boy…” section would be repeated at least once to give the song a chorus. But I think the song’s structure works really well without one.

  4. @JK – thank you very much for your prompt response. Makes sense – the lyrical hook completes the verses except for the “Little Boy …” 3rd verse. The hook doesn’t stand on its own as a chorus usually does.

  5. In a perfect (or more just country radio world, I could see this being a big hit, seeing as how it has the neo-traditional arrangement down to a tee; and while I’m not sold quite yet on Mickey’s voice, it’s serviceable at the very least. But given the hostile climate there is for women on country radio, it will probably take a huge outpouring of support for this song to gain any traction (IMHO).

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