My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Back to the seasons (and songs) of my youth

None of my relatives on either side were musicians. I have a cousin who plays piano in his church, but that’s about it. Music in my family came from the radio. In the late 1980s when compact discs were first becoming more popular, my Grandma Journey – always a one-step-ahead kinda woman – began amassing the first CD collection I ever saw, back when the CDs came packaged in cardboard boxes three times the height of the plastic jewel case, for record store display purposes I later deduced. Anyway, grandma’s favorites were tongue-in-cheek classic country songs. Weekends with her, we’d sit at the table in her dining room, playing rummy while a string of tunes from Buck Owens and George Jones played from that huge black player with the dancing orange lights. Songs like “Act Naturally” and “Under Your Spell Again” were regulars, but the one we heard most was Jones singing about the girl he loved in “Saginaw, Michigan”. Grandma was always quick to point out the song’s payoff line to me, in case I missed it this time. “See, he didn’t really find any gold in Alaska”, she would explain. “He lied to that guy so he could marry the daughter and go off and be happy.” She was a big fan of the underdog, my grandma. I knew back then that she and her songs were cool, and I still think so.

When I was five years old my dad bought a tow truck and began a towing service. Going along with him on a run was all I wanted out of life back then. Afternoons and weekends, I spent a lot of my youthful existence in that old blue Chevrolet tow truck while the tape deck schooled me on classic albums from Hank Williams Jr, Randy Travis, and others. But the one I remember best was the old white cassette – if you remember cassette tapes, you’ll remember they were white before record labels decided translucent plastic was more stylish – of Alabama’s Roll On. Released just months after I was born in January 1984 when Alabama was arguably the hottest band in the U.S., the set housed 4 consecutive #1 singles. I couldn’t get enough of the title track back then, but two album cuts stand out to me most now. The band’s southern rock influence is evident on the flick-your-bic-worthy “I’m Not That Way Anymore”. It’s a tale of road-weary musicians grown tame and leaving behind their wild and crazy ways, told behind hushed electric guitar solos with the guys’ airtight harmonies and written by the four band members. Even though I didn’t understand the lyrics, I was taken with slow-burning feel of the song. What you hear on the album was recorded live in Dallas and so was the accompanying music video, though it was never released as a single. The other song that made the biggest impression on me was closing track “Food On The Table”, a simplistic espousing of the staples in life. Its outlaw country-inspired back beat is coupled with an ’80s pop melody that crawls into your brain and stays there. I barely play it anymore, but hardly a week goes by that I don’t find myself tapping a foot and singing “we had food on the table and shoes on our feet…”

My timeline for these memories begins sometime in 1989. I know that because I also have a clear memory of George Strait’s “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye”, making its chart run at the time, being played several times a day. These days, with a niece and nephew both five years old this Summer, knowing that the songs they hear today could be the ones that stay with them until they’re grown, I find myself resisting the urge to only play the top 40 stations and songs for them when either one is with me. Sure, they can and do sing a long with Katy Perry’s big, catchy choruses and know every word to Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” – it’s edited in my market to remove the words “bullet” and “gun”. But I also want them to hear about a Cajun’s temper when he’s ‘really got trouble like a daughter gone bad’ and the story of Tommy proposing to Katie outside the Tastee Freez. Like me, maybe they’ll wonder if those boys ever make it to the church on Cumberland Road, and they may well have those ‘big old wheels keep rolling through their mind’ too. I wonder if they will relegate the songs I play for them as old-people-music, and find their own way into country music’s past and present. It is a family tradition. Or will they come to appreciate the songs I played them are boss, or whatever slang term the kids are using for great and awesome when that day comes.

Share your first recollections of music and the people who shared it with you in the comments.

7 responses to “Back to the seasons (and songs) of my youth

  1. bll July 26, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Mum was only 23 when she had me (I’m the fourth!) and her tastes were close to her children’s. So I grew up listening to her folk/ country music as well as the Beatles, Mott the Hoople, Tom Jones and the 60s rock of my older siblings. My first loves were Jim Reeves, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Glen Campbell. I then collected Willie Nelson, John Denver, Krostofferson and Jennings as well as a load of Celtic music. Then came Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, Garth, Reba and Trisha, the soundtrack of my 30s.

  2. Occasional Hope July 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I don’t really have any favourite songs from childhood, because I didn’t hear country music growing up but discovered it myself as a teenager. The songs I liked were kind of unfocussed until I started listening to country. Then it was like coming home – discovering what I would always naturally have gravitated to, if I had only known it was there.

  3. Jonathan Pappalardo July 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    My first musical memories were listening to Eagles with my parents, godparents, and grandfather. We all have a very deep love for the band. That led into country music and in I first became aquatinted with Lorrie Morgan, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Collin Raye, and Alan Jackson.

    It was Lorrie Morgan’s “What Part of No” that first got me hooked on country music before my love solidified through MCC’s Come On Come On album. I remember listening to that CD, getting to the third track, and thinking “so, this is country music?” I’ve been obsessed ever since. The other two CDs instrumental in this love were Raye’s I Think About You and Jackson’s The Greatest Hits Collection.

    I’ve been listening to country music exclusively since 1996 and never have been able to get enough. I joined LeAnn Rimes fan club that year, too. She was the first artist for which I collected everything ever recorded. I even have the cassette tape of her 1993 album All That.

    But my favorite song of all time goes back to my love for Eagles. “Lyin’ Eyes” is one of the most under appreciated masterpieces of the last forty years. If only 99% of all songwriters had even 1% of the talent of Don Henley and Glen Fry. They will always be my favorite songwriting partnership and, in my opinion, are much better than Lennon/McCartney, probably because their music has much in common with country.

  4. J.R. Journey July 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I’ve always felt Lennon/McCartney were a bit overrated as songwriters too. And “Lyin’ Eyes” ranks up there with “Take It To The Limit” (and “Tumbling Dice”, “Tracks of My Tears”, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”) as not only my favorite Eagles songs, but my favorite classic rock songs ever.

    Also, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On, Come On was one of the first two albums I ever bought for myself. Until then, I only listened to my parents and grandparents’ albums. I bought Come On, Come On and Reba’s It’s Your Call on the same day in December 1992 and officially began my own music collection. It’s hard to believe that’s been nearly two decades now.

    • Ben Foster July 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      The first album I ever bought for myself was Shania Twain’s Come On Over, though it had been out for at least five years by the time I got a hold of it.

  5. Razor X July 28, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    There weren’t any country radio stations to speak of in the northeast when I was really young, but from a really early age I was drawn to the country music that crossed over to the pop charts, even though I hadn’t associated any of it with the label “country.” “Rhinestone Cowboy” was popular when I was in kindergarten and so was “Delta Dawn”, though it was probably the Helen Reddy version I heard in those days. Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray, and Ronnie Milsap were the artists I liked back in those days.

  6. Ben Foster July 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I can never talk about my music history without my “age showing,” but here it goes anyway. As a child of the nineties, Garth Brooks and Lorrie Morgan both played an early part in my musical evolution, though I had no real concept of the “country music” label at that time. My parents were never huge country music fans, but I had an uncle who was into country, and who occasionally introduced my parents to country artists he thought they might enjoy, which included Brooks and Morgan. LeAnn Rimes found her way into our home a few years later, followed by Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks, and Shania Twain. It wasn’t long after that that I discovered and started listening to our local country radio station, and began reading Country Weekly, while the advent of iTunes made a large variety of music readily available. The rest, as they say, is history.

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