Category Archives: Open Thread

Discussion: Favorite “Romantic” Songs

No, no. We’re not talking about your standard “love songs” here. Sure, country music is filled with some of the finest odes to romantic love this side of Solomon 8:6. But once in a good while, it gets more…specific. You know? A little less distant in focus, a little more…intimate.

Of course, the best songs (and Country Universe discussion posts) usually don’t come right out and say what they’re about. They let the lyrics paint a suggestive picture, and leave it to the listener to figure out what’s going on. In the best records, that picture is also conveyed through an equally expressive vocal performance.

The model example of this sort of song would have to be Charlie Rich’s 1973 classic “Behind Closed Doors.” Over a gently swaying melody that steadily climbs into a joyous celebration of activities unseen, Rich coos and croons with the sort of swagger that could make a Sunday School song sound vaguely dirty.

Of course, sometimes it’s prudent to just come right out and say what’s on your mind. To my way of thinking, that approach is nowhere better exemplified than in Alison Krauss & Union Station’s take on the Robert Lee Castleman tune, “Let Me Touch You For Awhile.” Even in that record, though, the bulk of the sensuality lies in the tense situation implied in the lyrics and in Krauss’ Siren-esque vocal, rather than in an explicit run-down of the business at hand (or, to the singer’s chagrin, not at hand).

And then sometimes, a song is just alluring because it’s sung in an alluring way, without a whole lot of mention of any particular activity. Trisha Yearwood’s silky-smooth touch on “Cowboys Are My Weakness” is one of my favorite recent examples of that phenomenon:

But of course, just as everyone likes their eggs a different way, everyone has their preferred “romantic” stylings. The question is, friends, which country songs do you find the most “romantic”?

(And keep it clean!)


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Discussion: Pick a Candidate Theme Song

Brooks & Dunn’s “Only in America” has been used for both the re-election campaign of President Bush and the current campaign of Senator Obama.   That’s caused a bit of a stir, given the Republican leanings of Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn, but I think that Kix Brooks reacted perfectly.  Check out this piece from Chris Willman, the best country music writer this side of Jonathan Keefe:

I wrote about the partisan use of “Only in America” by the Republicans in a book I penned shortly after the 2004 election called Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music. Here’s how I described it then: “…Bush’s recorded intro and exit music — along with an occasional live rendition straight from the horsemen’s mouths — was Brooks & Dunn’s ‘Only in America,’ the unofficial Bush theme song. Funnily enough, that number was cowritten by a buddy of theirs, Don Cook, who went on to found a fledgling organization called Music Row Democrats. Having ‘Only in America’ drafted as the new ‘Hail to the Chief’ wasn’t really what Democratic activist Cook had in mind for his song (which isn’t even that gung-ho — listen closely, and there’s an ambivalence about the American dream to be found in the lyrics). But in Nashville, even of you’re on the other side of the aisle, sometimes it’s hard not to give at the office.”

I got Don Cook, the cowriter and Democratic stalwart, on the phone today to talk about the tune… and about how Brooks & Dunn themselves reacted to Obama’s use of it. Since Cook was a little taken aback when the GOP adopted it, does this feel like turnabout is fair play? “That’s exactly what Kix Brooks said to me when he called,” said Cook. “He said, ‘You had to endure George Bush using it, so it’s only fair that I would have to endure Barack Obama using it.’ But he said it in a real light-hearted way. For us as writers and them as performers, truthfully, we’re proud when anybody uses our song for something that’s substantial. Even if you’re diametrically opposed politically to the person who’s using your song, the fact that they like it well enough to use it at an important place in their life, you have to love that.” But not everybody necessarily feels the same way. Cook related to me a story about John Rich, the one country star who’s been a strong campaigner for John McCain already. “John Rich sent an angry text message to Kix last night, saying why did Kix allow that song to be used? And Kix said ‘I had nothing to do with it — that was their right.’ I sent John a text message today saying ‘If you enjoyed last night, you’re gonna love Kix’s version of ‘Ba-Rock My World, Little Country Girl’” (taking off on another Brooks & Dunn hit).

I think that music is a unifying thing.   When you’re singing along at a concert next to a complete stranger, for all you know that person holds completely opposing views to you, but you find common ground in your common groove.    In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to pick theme songs that represent the best qualities of each presidential candidate.

A caveat: If you can’t bring yourself to be less than snarky about a candidate you don’t support, then please don’t pick a theme song for them at all.  I’d like this to be a positive thread, so be forewarned: rude and insulting posts will be deleted, whether they’re aimed at a candidate or a commenter.

I don’t have a personal favorite, but I see good qualities in both men.   If you only see them in one, just pick a theme song for that gentleman.   Have fun!


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Discussion: Recommend a Track(list)

Since all of you love to play with your iPods (or maybe that’s just me and I’m projecting it), let’s do Recommend a Track a little differently this week.

Put your iPod on shuffle, and keep playing until you’ve found 10 tracks you’d proudly recommend to others, then put how many tracks it took to get there.  (While doing this, ask yourself the pertinent questions, “How does he come up with these ridiculous questions?” and “Why do I keep answering them?”)

My 10 (out of 38)
1. Todd Snider, “Conservative Christian…”
2. Electronic, “For You”
3. Neil Diamond, “Slow it Down”
4. Willie Nelson, “Yesterday’s Wine”
5. Kathy Mattea, “I Will”
6. Collin Raye, “A Bible and a Bus Ticket Home”
7. Suzy Bogguss, “Saying Goodbye to a Friend”
8. Vince Gill, “Give Me the Highway”
9. Johnny Cash, “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry”
10. Chris Thile, “Waltz for Dewayne Pomeroy”


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Discussion: Classic Songs, Contemporary Artists

In the 1950s and 60s, it was common practice for country artists to make their own versions of previously-recorded classics.  Although these instances are few and far between in mainstream country music, a number of artists such as Martina McBride and Patty Loveless have recently revisited these old sounds and songs.

Imagine a feisty Miranda Lambert recording Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough” or Josh Turner putting his own stamp on Merle Haggard’s “That’s the Way Love Goes”, or Dierks Bentley getting right to the heart of the Harlan Howard-penned “Streets of Baltimore”.  Those are three of my personal choices at least.

What classic song would you like a current country artist to record?


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Discussion: Songs About Time

I don’t think I ever felt older than I did today.  I had a graduate class a bit earlier in the day, and also had to visit financial aid and such.  I was surrounded by undergraduates who looked like kids to me.   I actually ran in to one that I taught a few years ago, and she was surprised I remembered her name. (I was a little surprised, too.)

How did I know they were undergraduates?  They were wearing outfits.   You know, actual coordinated outfits that have a “look.”  Caps matching t-shirts matching shoelaces, which apparently are now changed to go with outfits.   Just thinking about the work that must go into such a thing made me feel old.

But as Todd Snider sang, “Too late to die young now.”    My favorite song about the passage of time is Snider’s “Age Like Wine”, but I wrote about that recently, so I’ll give a shout-out instead to Rodney Crowell’s “Still Learning How to Fly.”  I love the line about having ten good years left in his legs.  It also seems appropriate to pick a song of his, since I’ve been listening to his album in preparation to review it, and I believe time slows down when it’s on.

What are your favorite songs about time?


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Discussion: Same Title, Different Song

A Billboard Chart Beat reader noted a current trend on the pop charts:

Hi Fred,

Thanks for an always informative and entertaining Chart Beat column! On the entertaining side, I made an observation this week on the Hot Dance Club Play chart. With the debut of “Frozen” by Tami Chynn featuring Akon, there are currently three songs on the chart with identical titles to Madonna songs, but none being remakes of the Madonna titles.

In addition to “Frozen,” we have “Spotlight” by Jennifer Hudson and “Angel” by Natasha Bedingfield. Let’s also not forget Rihanna’s “Take A Bow,” which fell off the chart several weeks ago. So within the last month we’ve had four songs with titles of previous Madonna hits and none being a remake.


Jim Maino
Manahawkin, N.J.

Whenever I pick up a new album and recognize a title, I’m always curious to find out if it’s the same song that I know already.   A somewhat recent example is “I Told You So.”  I love the Randy Travis hit, and when I bought the Keith Urban album, was expecting the same song.  Instead, I got a rocker that I like even more.

So, today’s ridiculously obtuse and way too laborious for Labor Day’s discussion topic is:

What are your favorite different songs with the same title?

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Labor Day Discussion: Songs About Workers

While they’re not as common as they used to be in country music, sometimes good songs about workers still surface.    Tim McGraw’s “I’m Workin'” on his most recent album was a highlight, and Trace Adkins’ “I’m Tryin'” was his best single ever, in my opinion.  A perennial favorite is Alabama’s “40 Hour Week (For a Livin’)”, which I’d argue was their best single.   But I’m partial to celebrations of working class stiffs.

Nobody in the history of country music ever captured that spirit in song better than Aaron Tippin. I love ’em all.  “Working Man’s Ph.D.”  “I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way.”  And my personal favorite, “I Got it Honest.”  It inspires me every time, especially now that my father has passed on.

I’m an educator myself, but my father was an electrician.   He was always impressed by my ability to speak in front of crowds and write (long-winded) papers, as it was always a weakness of his.  But he could look at a building once and instantly know the best way to wire it.    I would help him on the weekends growing up, and given that I’ve always had the coordination of a drunken sailor, he wisely kept me away from anything with an electrical current.

I always joked that if he tried to do what I do, he’d make a few spelling errors. If I tried to do what he did, I’d be dead in a matter of seconds.   Given that how hard it would’ve been to write those long-winded papers in the dark, I’d say the contributions he made to making this world a better place are far greater than anything I’ve done so far.

So this became about my father, which I didn’t intend when I began writing this, but what can I say? He was a working man, right up until he couldn’t work anymore.    He deserves the shout-out.

What are your favorite songs about workers?

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Discussion: Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Gender in Country Music

I fear this post won’t quite live up to its ambitious title, and I realize that I’m stirring the tempest pot a bit by putting those two artists in the same sentence.   But the tone that surfaces whenever Carrie Underwood is discussed here is something that I find increasingly frustrating, so I’m going to talk about it. Hopefully, I’ll get a meaningful conversation going along the way.

Readers of this site know that I write a lot about women in country music.  Part of that is because the majority of my favorite artists are female, and part of it is because I have a sensitivity to gender issues as a whole.  It’s impossible to be an educator and not pick up on the way that societal messages are distilled through the media and our own cultural traditions.   What’s always amazing to me is how popular culture both mirrors and reinforces such things.

Witness the recent attempt to make Carrie Underwood and Jessica Simpson seem like rivals.   Pitting young female artists against each other in the gossip pages is nothing new, especially when you can make it out like they’re fighting over a man.   Even more popular is the “aging female star is threatened by the young new starlet” storyline.    That was the subtext that made the silliness over Faith Hill’s on-camera joke at the CMA Awards gain traction in the media, even though Hill can be seen giggling and laughing right before she did the fake outrage bit.

Earlier on in Underwood’s career, an attempt was made to turn an innocuous comment by Wynonna into a criticism of Underwood’s music, with the reporter noting that Underwood was “teary-eyed” but not bothering to get a quote from Underwood herself.   The construct is a two-for-one here: older women get to be shown as bitter and threatened by younger women, while the young woman herself is portrayed as a helpless victim.  All of it is constructed from whole cloth.

Continue reading


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Thursday: Recommend a Track

Don’t know why I’m so into kiss-off songs for this feature, as this is my third in a row.  This week, I’m recommending “I’ll Be Gone”, a killer track off of Clint Black’s 1989 debut album, Killin’ Time.    Even though five singles were pulled from that record, there were still could’ve been hits that were overlooked.

This is Clint at his best, with rapid-fire wit and wordplay backed by fierce honky-tonk country.   “Baby you’ve got questions I don’t care to answer, and I don’t get off on leading people on.”   He tells the lady he’s leaving behind, “Before you see me going, I’ll be gone.”

That’s my recommendation this week.  What’s yours?

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Discussion: Retro Album Artwork

I’m surprised by the amount of discussion on yesterday’s open thread, but apparently bad album artwork gets people talking. The criticism of the Lee Ann Womack cover got me thinking about her well-received album artwork last time out, for her masterpiece There’s More Where That Came From. It was praised for its retro style:

It was popular, but I always preferred the retro approach taken by The Mavericks, on their 1996 album Music For All Occasions. I like the humor present in it:

Patty Loveless is taking the retro approach with her new album art, though with some modern style mixed in for good measure:

Of course, nothing tops actual retro album artwork from back in the day.  Here are two of my favorites, from Loretta Lynn and Porter Wagoner, in that order:

Mention your favorite album artwork in the comments with an explanation why, and I’ll post a thread featuring reader picks later tonight!


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