The Jealous Heart

Relationships are tricky business. I’ve got to think country music knows that better than any other art form. Here in the real world, we tend to talk about our relationships with others in simple terms: friendly, intimate, casual, committed, short-term, long-term, stable, messy. Boring. Fun. Weird. Like each one can be reduced to a basic theme. A bite-sized blurb for your next cocktail party conversation.

But no relationship ever really has just one card in play. Human interaction is built on any number of individual and shared characteristics, many of which typically go unspoken. We have our obvious dispositions, of course – we’re sweet, or sarcastic, or reserved, or blunt – but then you throw in all the stuff that doesn’t make it into small talk, that we usually don’t identify in ourselves until long after the crap has hit the fan: we can’t empathize, we crave validation, we’re wary from past hurts, we feel we deserve everything, or perhaps nothing. And we’re proud. Very proud.

And pride’s the most interesting vice to me, because it’s the enabler for so many others. Pride is the central reactor when relationships go awry and one of the typical reasons they remain so. Think about it. Cheating isn’t just offensive because it violates trust; it’s offensive because it’s humiliating, because it shatters someone’s pride. Conceding the opposing point an argument isn’t undesirable because it has any real tangible consequences; it just makes someone worry they won’t be taken seriously. It’s an affront to pride.

That oft-mentioned concept of a “wounded” pride is especially evident, I think, in jealousy. Nothing is more humbling – or dangerously frustrating – than having no control over the object of one’s desires.

And like I said, what art form is more well-versed in that sort of thing than country music? Jealousy has been one of the thrusts of the genre since back when it was it was still called “hillbilly music.” Country’s first superstar, Jimmie Rodgers, had an iconic hit with “Blue Yodel #1,” a song that found him cooing,

I’m gonna buy me a shotgun with a great long shiny barrel
I’m gonna shoot that rounder that stole away my gal

…and of course,

I’d rather drink muddy water and sleep in a hollow log
Than to be in Atlanta, treated like a dirty dog

Now, if that’s not jealousy and wounded pride, I’ll slap a sad kitten. That straightforward, cathartic approach to emotional reporting is part of what drew me to country music in the first place, and a big part of why I continue to identify with it (not that I fantasize about shooting people, but you know what I mean). Country music just gets jealousy. It understands why jealousy happens, and the different ways different people act on it. That’s why we can have “Before He Cheats” and “More Like Her” in the same genre and have them both make perfect sense. It’s not that the genre endorses the emotion; it just acknowledges that it happens, that it makes its own kind of sense. And that it does have consequences. And people need to hear those things sometimes.

For my money, there’s no better exploration of jealousy than the title track of my first-ever Gary Allan purchase, See If I Care. Dark, brooding, and emotionally frank, the song finds its narrator obsessing over the the very specific pains of seeing his old flame waltz around with another man. It’s sad as hell, which of course means Allan knocks it out of the park. I’ve revisited it a few times myself when it’s seemed especially pertinent. Um. Yeah.

This would normally be the part where I asked you to chime in with your favorite song on the given subject. But of course, I realize this particular topic is not the most flattering one to have a discussion about. Who wants to own up to having a certain song they turn to when they’re at their most scathing, self-pitying, and generally not-commendable? But you know what? I’m just gonna tell you straight up: we are running out of things to talk about for these discussions. And it’s late, and I worked pretty hard on this one. So I want to see some answers, darn it!

Whining aside, what are some of your favorite songs based around or prominently featuring jealousy? It doesn’t have to be one you personally relate to; if you find the song interesting, that’s good enough!


  1. It’s not a very serious song, but one I can think of is “I Can Love You Better”. It’s not incredibly jealous, but the narrator wishes she could have control over the guy instead of his girl, and the narrator is frustrated that he can’t see why she is so much better than his girl.

    Honestly, I don’t have many songs with jealousy. Nice job writing the post, by the way.

  2. seriously good intro on a rather personal subject, dan.

    dwight yoakam’s “things change” sees the protagonist being left almost out of the blue. quite often, the reason is someone new in the leaving person’s life. jealousy, wounded pride, the whole catalogue is the usual result then. but sometimes, things take an unexpected turn….

    have you ever wondered, why on earth dwight staged that clip on a merry-go-round? music and visual art combined at its coolest.

  3. Not a country song, but my favorite song about jealousy – by leaps and bounds – is John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” (“I was feeling insecure. You might not love me anymore. I was shivering inside. I was shivering inside.”

  4. Good write-up, Dan — I really enjoy it when someone can successfully integrate the personal listening experience with more general commentary on a genre or sub-genre.

    The three wounded pride/jealousy songs that I’ve been listening to lately are “Family Tree” and “Mrs. Leroy Brown” by Loretta Lynn (two songs with very different attitudes from Van Lear Rose) and Keith Urban’s live rendition of “You’ll Think of Me” (you can check the version from his 2005 Livin’ Right Now DVD out here:

  5. This post is great. You really drove it home, Dan. Excellent.

    My example of this type of song is ‘Some Fools Never Learn’ by Steve Wariner.

    Some fools never learn,
    Play with the fire and you’r gonna get burned
    It’s only love when you’re loved in return

    I turn to those lyrics when life isn’t just how I lined it up to be.

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