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 Read More
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 Read More
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 Read More
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?
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 Read More
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. Thanks, 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 Read More
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) Read More
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 Read More
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?
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 Read More