“35 MPH Town”
Written by Toby Keith and Bobby Pinson
Toby Keith revisits one of his most successful ongoing themes – life in a dying small town.
In this case, he lays the blames the pending death on a lack of religion and strict discipline in the lives of today’s youth.
It’s a different approach for him, as usually he talks about the collapse of economic opportunity leading to the downfall of small town America. That’s lingering under the surface, of course, but not his primary focus here.
One of the earliest, surest signs of getting older is when you start asking the question, “What’s the deal with kids today?” They’re really not much different than we were, as Keith hints at with references to the drinking and smoking in his mom’s youth.
Keith is such a master storyteller that he can let the mother do most of the talking as to why the town has gone downhill, but the protagonist speaks volumes simply by his need to ask the question. If he hadn’t left home as soon as he could, he’d already know the answer.
For me, that lack of knowledge told me more about why the town was dying than anything the mom said throughout the song, though he inhibits her voice in the way only a great singer can. There’s anger, vulnerability, and fear in there, and a bit of resilience and stubbornness, too.
I’m happy Keith’s star has faded a bit, as he’s gone back to making the compelling and interesting music that made him a dark horse candidate for superstardom in the first place. There have been a lot of singles from him lately that should be counted among his greatest, and this is one of them.