My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Editorials

Ray Price Remembered

Ray PriceWith the recent passing of legendary singer Ray Price, the chapter closes on the last of the great male honky-tonk singers of the 1950s. At times overshadowed by contemporaries such as Webb Pierce, Carl Smith, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky and Hank Locklin, Ray Price adapted and persevered, outlasting all of his contemporaries and continuing as an active performer until the end of 2012. His singles and albums encompassed a wide array of styles from shuffles, western swing and pure honky-tonk through to “Nashville Sound”, countrypolitan and pure classic pop standards. Willie Nelson calls him the greatest country singer ever and he certainly is in the top two or three for many of his fellow country artists.

Along the way he left a catalog brimming full of great music, charting 109 singles along the way, with 80 of them reaching the top forty and 46 reaching the top ten.

Born in 1926, and labeled as the “Cherokee Cowboy” because he hailed from Cherokee County Texas, Ray Price was part of what Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation, serving in the US Marines from 1944-1946 before starting his musical career in Dallas in 1948, recording a few singles for the small Bullet label.

Price’s big break came when he moved to Nashville, signing in late 1951 with Columbia Records and becoming the roommate and only real protégé of Hank Williams. When Hank died on New Years Day 1953, Ray inherited Hank’s band, the “Drifting Cowboys”, which was renamed and expanded to become the “Cherokee Cowboys”.

The hits started coming shortly after Price after signing with Columbia starting with 1953’s “Talk To Your Heart” which reached #3 on Billboard’s DJ charts. From that point through 1989 at least one of Rays singles would appear on the country charts every year.

Always a bit of a contrarian, when Rock ‘n Roll was beginning to hurt country music, Ray hit it really big with the retro sounds of “Crazy Arms” which featured a heavy bass, twin fiddles and introduced the world to the ‘Ray Price 4/4 beat’. “Crazy Arms” topped the charts for 20 weeks in 1956, staying on the charts for 45 weeks. For the next few years Ray scored big with such hard-core honky-tonk classics as “You Done Me Wrong”, I’ve Got A New Heartache”, “Heartaches By The Number”, “City Lights” and “Heart Over Mind”.

In 1963, having proved to the world that it was indeed possible to sell hard-core country in the age of rock ‘n roll and the “Nashville Sound”, Ray changed directions and started softening his sound with “You Took Her Off My Hands (Now Please Take Her Off My Mind)” followed by “Make The World Go Away” and a bluesy number written by a fellow who had been in his band, Willie Nelson. That song “Night Life” kicked off a new direction of more heavily orchestrated sounds for Ray culminating in his huge 1970 record “Grazing In Greener Pastures” b/w “For The Good Times”. This record sold close to a million copies and the B-side “For The Good Times” reached #11 on Billboard all genres chart.

The top ten records ended for Ray in 1975 by which time he was forty-nine years old, but Ray kept recording and experimenting giving exposure to new songwriters and following his own muse. Eventually Ray returned to his honky-tonk roots in his live performances

Ray Price was an innovator and collector/developer of new talent recording songs from new songwriters and giving valuable stage experience to new talent during his earlier days. Ray was among the first to record songs by Bill Anderson, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Conway Twitty. Among the future stars of country music to pass through his band were singers Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Darrell McCall, Van Howard, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush,and instrumentalists Buddy Emmons, Pete Wade, Jan Kurtis, Shorty Lavender and Buddy Spicher.

I could rattle on about the albums of Ray Price but will simply say that each album contains its share of treasures, although I am especially fond of his 1980 album with Willie Nelson, San Antonio Rose which contains one of my all-time favorite tracks the exquisite “Faded Love” with Ray and Willie joined by Crystal Gayle as part of a trio on the choruses.

In 2007 Ray and fellow legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard recorded an album, Last of The Breed and toured in support of the album.

Now the great Ray Price is gone, truly the last of the breed.

A Separation of Church and State: How the Country Music Association mostly got their nominations right this year

as13-dateIn 2006, the Country Music Association sent Faith Hill a clear message when Carrie Underwood was awarded Female Vocalist of the Year, only two singles removed from winning American Idol. They were ushering in a changing of the guard that sent ripple effects through country’s core women, making way for new talent at the helm.

Underwood has received a similar message this year with Taylor Swift being nominated for Entertainer of the Year in her place. Swift may be a bigger celebrity with a broader reach, but Underwood’s no slouch – a sold out tour, four #1 singles, ambassadorship for country music, and she’s been hosting the ceremony going on five consecutive years. Heck she just took over Sunday Night Football theme song duties.

In recent history all the top solo female artists (Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, and Faith Hill) have been nominated and won (Hill lost to Dixie Chicks in 2000) while her contemporaries Swift has won twice and Miranda Lambert received her only nod to date in 2010. That Underwood is being snubbed yet again is one of the biggest injustices in the 47-year history of the award show. Underwood and Swift should be competing in the category together – they both have rightfully earned their place in the category.

Underwood aside, it’s nice to see the Country Music Association mostly get it right this year. The major theme of the nominations is artistic quality, as evidenced by Kacey Musgraves receiving six nominations, a move I didn’t see coming. She’s been building a lot of buzz this year but with little support from country radio, I hardly gave her a chance. Her nominations prove the CMA is still looking for quality contemporary music and actually care about maintaining at least one shred of dignity. They should’ve gone further and showered Ashley Monroe with praise, too, but her outsider-looking-in status likely left her a square peg in a round hole and she was deemed too Americana for this mostly mainstream affair.

There was once a time when you could count the number of females who’ve taken home Album of the Year on one hand. That list has grown in the past few years thanks to wins by Lee Ann Womack (2005), Taylor Swift (2008) and Miranda Lambert (2010). This year Blake Shelton stands alone as the only solo male artist in the category, proving that airplay on country radio isn’t the only factor in scoring a nomination.

I believe whole heartedly that you cannot deny an artist success once they’ve achieved it, no matter how much you may dislike the singer or their song. The world may cry foul over Florida Georgia Line and “Cruise,” but they clearly earned the Single of the Year, Musical Event of the Year, Duo Of The Year, and New Artist nods. The song is a behemoth and is clearly being rewarded as such. Swift’s showering of affection is more puzzling, since the success of Red came in the pop market, but “Begin Again” and “Highway Don’t Care” did keep her relevant in her home genre this year.

Where the Country Music Association deserve the most credit is with the separation of church and state – if you notice, “Cruise” isn’t in the Song of the Year race nor is Here For The Good Times up for Album. In fact, none of the genre’s biggest names (Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, or Shelton) have a Single or Song of the year nod, something I never thought I’d see. Absence by ‘bro-country’ powerhouses leaves the likes of “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Mama’s Broken Heart” to battle it out for the win.

It’s nice to see Nashville songwriters back in the Song of The Year race, too. Even more impressive is the CMA’s distinction in excellence, seeing that the best of commercial Nashville scored big, while the laundry list lovers are left to voyage down dirt roads with beer kegs, country girls, and pickup trucks. Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally are two of the best writers around right now and combined with Musgraves, they’re killer. What other writing team can claim two nominations in the same year?

In sizing up the New Artist competition, I was about to show my denial of a mass extinction, until I looked at the Billboard Airplay Chart and noticed “Parking Lot Party” in the top 10, on it’s way to becoming Lee Brice’s fourth consecutive number one. Like fellow nominee Kip Moore, he’s becoming a force for the future, and with his single “I Drive Your Truck” up for Song of the Year (Brice doesn’t have a writing credit on it), he has a better chance of winning than I gave him credit for initially. This is a very strong category, although Musgraves is the only nominee with proven artistic potential, a necessary ingredient for longevity.

I’ll have my predictions closer to the November 9 telecast, with a breakdown per category, and thoughts on each individual race. But overall the Country Music Association deserves credit for getting more right than wrong this year, mostly opting for artistic integrity over commercial viability.

Check out all the nominations here.     

Country Music’s Next Great Renaissance: The unthinkable success of Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’

Florida-Georgia-Line-Cruise-Remix-2013-1200x12002013 in country music:

  • Vince Gill and Paul Franklin release the sublime Bakersfield
  • Alan Jackson treats his fans to his long-awaited bluegrass record
  • Florida Georgia Line’s single “Cruise” surpasses Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On” to become the longest #1 in the history of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Chart, breaking a 63 year record

Wait, what? You read that right, folks. 2013 will forever be known as the year mainstream country music officially went to the dogs. I don’t even know how to begin expressing my anger, hiding my palpable sadness, or getting over a turn of events that marks the most significant failure in the history of country music.

So, why is this so bad? A popular song, that the public is responding to with open arms (5 million + downloads), has reaped the ultimate reward for its mammoth success: tenure at the top so rock solid, not even Taylor Swift can dislodge it. But isn’t that what it’s all about, being rewarded for your success? I mean, aren’t records meant to be broken at some point anyways?

Yes, all that is true. But it isn’t about breaking the record; it’s how the record was broken. In this case it came last October when Billboard significantly changed the way song ranks were calculated on the Hot Country Songs Chart. Instead of only factoring in radio airplay from country stations, data from streaming services downloads of songs, and airplay for country singles on pop stations were now in the running to determine where a song would place on the chart. A separate Country Airplay chart was created to stand in addition to the old chart with new rules.

Factoring in streaming data and song downloads is fine. It is 2013 after all. Music doesn’t come solely from the radio anymore. But they went a step further – when a country single crosses over to ‘the pop world’ and charts, that data is factored in, too. And thanks to a pop/rap remix featuring rapper Nelly, you now have the phenomenon that’s going on with “Cruise.” In other words, a song can log multiple weeks at #1 on the Hot Country Song chart without any significant airplay within the format.

So, Hank Snow was dislodged from the top by a song featuring a guest rapper that took full advantage of a chart that recently changed its rules. That’s my first issue with this “accomplishment.” On Engine 145 the other day, I commented that this record (which wasn’t broken at the time) meant nothing simply because of the chart tweak. If it had happened this time last year, obviously under the old rules, then I would have no problem at all. At least then it would’ve been fair game.

Garth Brooks accomplished something similar six years ago when his “More Than A Memory” single became the first country song ever to debut on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart at #1. Did I cry foul? No, I didn’t. At the time, it didn’t feel like country music was selling out, even if, (allegedly) Clear Channel had a hand in getting the song played each hour for a week. It was just Brooks breaking yet another record on a chart that was equal opportunity for everyone.

This new Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart is so easy to manipulate it’s scary. Scott Borchetta, the mastermind at Big Machine Label Group, is currently the only one greedy enough to see this, the only label exec who’s conscience is suppressed deep enough to change the course of country music and not give a crap about how he is impacting the greater good of the genre. If we’ve learned anything from Hollywood celebrities and politicians, its money is the route of all evil, and people will stop at nothing to pocket big.

My other issue is the quality of the song. Is it really too much to ask for the song breaking the record to feature even a hint of artistic merit? J.R. Journey said it best last December:

“The only thing worse than this pair of deebags hitting a major breakthrough in their career with a piece of drivel like this will be the countless deebags-in-training that will be inspired to emulate Florida Georgia Line’s success. From the butchered grammar lyrics to the singers’ affected twang and dog tags around their necks, these guys are a legit training manual on how to be scuzzy deebag losers.”

I shudder to think about the doors being opened by the success of “Cruise.” Like “On The Other Hand” and “Any Man of Mine” before it, we’re likely in the middle of the next great renaissance in country music. But instead of eliciting excitement, I only feel dirty. “Cruise” marks the first time a cult song was met with such success and that’s most dangerous of all. Trailer Choir’s “Rockin’ The Beer Gut” was arguably just as big a fan hit, but country radio knew enough to spit it out before it got even half this big. Now there’s no telling what kinds of songs will be heard from radio speakers in the years to come.

Any historian with half a brain will look back at this and wonder – how do you go from “I’m Moving On” to “Cruise?” In those sixty-three years country music stopped evolving and outright changed. The closet pre-cursor to a track like “Cruise” is “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” but even the Charlie Daniels Band classic was loaded with equal parts sincerity and shredded fiddle. Country Universe’s Dan Milliken can believe, “love it, hate it, or tolerate it, the one thing “Cruise” undeniably had going for it was a mighty hook,” all he wants. But good or bad hooks aside; it doesn’t alter the fact that “Cruise” is the new benchmark for success in mainstream country. Lord help and save us all.

Conway Twitty remembered

Conway Twitty died on this day in 1993, just months shy of his sixtieth birthday. When he died, Conway’s 40 trips to the top of the charts was the most of anyone in country music, and he held on to that record for another 13 years until George Strait eventually eclipsed him.

After Harold Jenkins took his stage name from two points on a map of the southern United States, he spent the decade between 1956 and 1966 having spotty success on the U.S. Hot 100 chart. 1958’s “It’s Only Make Believe” went to #1, but Conway would have only two more songs to crack the pop top 10. Interestingly, his #10 placing of the Irish standard “Danny Boy” is the song’s highest ranking on the Billboard chart among dozens of recordings over the years. In 1966, Conway switched his focus and began recording country music. His first country single, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, reached #18 and 1968’s “Next In Line” was Conway’s first country #1.

Here’s Conway singing his #1 pop hit from 1958:

Conway’s chart dominance in his time was legendary. Between 1971 and 1989, every solo Conway Twitty single released – 58 in all – reached the country top 30. Meanwhile, he and duet partner Loretta Lynn took 5 singles to the top, and placed 7 more in the top 10.

Here’s Conway and Loretta singing my favorite of their duets, “After The Fire Is Gone” on WSM’s Opry Almanac in 1971:

In a that career stretched 35 years, Conway was still a relevant hit maker right up to his death. In his recent piece remembering George Jones, Paul Dennis noted the 1960’s were his favorite era for Jones hits. The 1980’s era Conway Twitty songs are my favorites: “Tight Fittin’ Jeans”, “Don’t Call Him a Cowboy”, “Saturday Night Special”.  The 1982 album, Southern Comfort, in particular, got me hooked. The album’s two singles aren’t really special – though I like “The Clown” – but there are two tracks that sum up Conway Twitty and his song selection to me. “She Only Meant to Use Him” is an example of the wry storytelling and golden-rule-vindication that makes country music superior to other genres. “Something Strange Got Into Her Last Night” is the perfect country cheating song: a mid-tempo waltz with a layer of steel guitar and a winning double entendre in the title. (A bit of trivia about Southern Comfort: a young Naomi Judd is the model featured with Conway on the album’s cover.)

Conway was called the High Priest of Country Music and “the best friend a song ever had”. I’ve always been drawn to singers with big, emotive voices, and Conway Twitty’s sturdy and nimble baritone hits my ears just right. It doesn’t hurt any that he’s singing some of the best songs ever written.

Here’s another of my favorite Conway Twitty hits, 1975’s “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” (written by Earl Thomas Conley and Mary Larkin):

George Jones remembered

george-jones-200a-072408mbWith the passing of George, all the radio heroes of my early childhood, except Ray Price, have gone from the scene. I can’t tell you exactly when I became cognizant of George Jones, as he seemed to have always been there. I remember radio playing songs such as “White Lightning”, “Who Shot Sam?”, “Don’t Stop The Music” , “Just One More” and You Gotta Be My Baby” during the 1950’s and liking the sound of the records, although not necessarily understanding what they were about.

I can tell you when I became a real fan of George Jones and when I started understanding what his music was about. In 1961 I turned nine years old and lived across the street from a kid whose father manifested all of the bad behavior that was revealed in George’s songs. While many sang “the endless ballads of booze and broads” in those less politically correct days, George brought a depth of emotion that few could achieve. But while many singers mined those same waters, few were also as good at singing of other matters such as love and faith. Let’s face it, George Jones could sing even the most mediocre and most maudlin songs with convincing sincerity, so when he had good material to work with, the results transcended what everyone else was doing.

For my money, the very best recordings George Jones ever recorded came during the 1960s. Yes, he became a more nuanced singer later, but he was already 98% at his nuanced peak and his voice was at its absolute peak.

During the 1950s George recorded for Starday and/or Mercury (there were some collaborative efforts between the two labels) and while there was considerable youthful enthusiasm there, the polish had not yet been applied. Towards the end of his run on Mercury a few songs were released that heralded the direction George was going – “The Window Up Above”, “She Thinks I Still Care”, “Tender Years”, and “You’re Still On My Mind”. These songs exhibited a little more careful production than was often the case and were far more introspective than the usual “ballads of booze and broads”. While “You’re Still On My Mind” was not released as a single until after George left Mercury (and accordingly received no promotional push) it was an impressive effort and earned the songwriter Luke McDaniel some additional money when the Byrds included it on their Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album.

I have said many times the 1960s were my favorite era for George Jones recordings. In 1961 George’s recordings started appearing on the United Artists label. While perhaps a bit heavy on the strings and vocal choruses, these recordings feature strong material and find George in fine voice throughout. This era kicked off with a magnificent single, “She Thinks I Still Care” b/w “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” as the B side. The A side shot to #1 where it stayed for six weeks. I thought the song on the B side was the stronger song – and it proved its worth by shooting to #17. (A new recording of the song would reach the top ten in 1971 for Musicor, plus it would be covered by many other artists) . What better description can you have of despair than

Just when the suns shines the brightest
And the world looks alright again
Then the clouds fill the skies
You can’t believe your eyes
Sometimes you just can’t win

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When the dead roam the country charts: posthumous hits and manufactured “duets”

brad paisleyWhen Brad Paisley’s Wheelhouse was released last week, everybody was talking about “Accidental Racist”, the controversial duet with LL Cool J. Late night shows like Saturday Night Live and The Colbert Report were merciless in taking apart the song’s misguided message. And the discussion isn’t likely to be over anytime soon.

Another track on the album stood out to me too. “Outstanding In Our Field” features guest vocals from Dierks Bentley and the late Roger Miller, and Hunter Hayes on guitar. Miller’s contribution is used mostly to beef up the rhythm section of Paisley’s latest loud party anthem list song.  Paisley’s track rips off the entire ten-second opening of Miller’s “Dang Me” – the part where Roger sings  “boo doo boo ba ba bum bom” – but any similarities between the two songs ends with that sampling. If Paisley’s song charts, it could be Miller’s first showing on the Country Songs list since 1986.

Country music has a long history of singers hitting the charts after their deaths, with solo hits and with “duets” pieced together using studio master tapes. Hank Williams had 4 #1 hits and a handful of top 10’s after his death on New Year’s Day 1953. (Even though it was on the charts in 1952, because “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive” hit the top shortly after the singer’s death it is counted in Billboard as a posthumous hit.) In 1989, Hank Williams Jr. took a demo recording of his father singing “There’s a Tear In My Bear”, beefed up the production and added his own vocals to create a top 10 hit single, which would go on to win both Williamses a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration. The music video for that song featured old television footage of Hank Sr. performing merged with Hank Jr. and made for a cool illusion of the two singing together. It took home Video of the Year awards from the CMA and the ACM’s that year.

In May 1989, country music lost another great talent when Keith Whitley died. He too would hit the top spot after his death, with “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” and “It Ain’t Nothin'”. Whitley charted two more top 20 releases as a solo artist after his death, and two more in duets with wife Lorrie Morgan – “Til a Tear Becomes a Rose” – and with Earl Thomas Conley, on “Brotherly Love”. Unlike the duet with his widow, Whitley and Conley had recorded their song two years before, so it’s not an example of an electronic duet.

Gentleman Jim Reeves is country music’s biggest posthumous hit-maker. His string of hits after death is as impressive as what he charted during his lifetime. Reeves racked up 6 #1 country hits after he died in 1964, as well 13 top 10s, and over two dozen total country top 40 chart outings stretching to 1984 – two full decades later. He also consistently hit the top 10 on the charts in Norway and the U.K., Reeves even topped the U.K. singles chart with “Distant Drums” in 1966. Partly because of his continued popularity on the radio and in the record stores, Jim Reeves was also one of the first artists to have his vocals isolated and then remixed with another singer’s to form a duet. In 1979, Deborah Allen kickstarted her short solo career when she contributed to RCA’s unfinished master tapes of Reeves – which resulted in  3 consecutive top 10 hit duets. The Gentleman was then paired with his contemporary Patsy Cline – the two had recorded a number of the same songs – for a pair of albums on MCA and RCA, and they hit the top 5 with “Have You Ever Been Lonely” in 1982.

Those are just some highlights in country music’s history of posthumous duet creations. There are lots more, and some weren’t as well-received. Anita Cochran controversially added Conway Twitty to her “I Wanna Hear a Cheatin’ Song” in 2004. Several other artists and even the late singer’s family spoke out when Twitty’s vocals were spliced from former performances and interviews and added to the song, in what has correctly been called a case of “musical necrophilia“.

roger millerIs Paisley guilty of the same musical necrophilia? I say he is. Unlike all the hit duet creations I mentioned above, Conway Twitty and Roger Miller didn’t record a version of either “I Wanna Hear a Cheatin’ Song” or “Outstanding In Our Field”. These are songs that were written years after their deaths. And while Brad Paisley’s sampling of Roger Miller’s distinct and well-known song opening  works better as an homage than Anita Cochran’s creepy robotic-sounding creation, it still seems like a cutesy way of paying tribute to Miller. How about covering “England Swings” or “Old Toy Trains”? Or better yet, why not write an original song that sounds like it was inspired by Roger Miller?

Roger Miller is not here today to say whether or not he’d like to add his trademark scatting to a song all about a party in a field, with a tractor tire as a cooler for the beer and a bonfire to light up the night. A song with all the subtlety and charm of a drill sergeant at six a.m.  Roger Miller – a man renowned for his quick wit and quips like “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” – would likely object to it. But that’s not really my call to make. None of us – music blogger or platinum-selling country star – should be making that call for Roger Miller.  Dang you, Brad Paisley. Dang you.

U.S. Supreme Court strikes a victory for the used music market

copyrightFor the past few months, I’ve been reading about Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thailand-born student at Cornell University, and how his idea to offset the costs of college tuition led him to the United States Supreme Court. Kirtsaeng made over $100,000 by selling used textbooks online. These textbooks were purchased by his relatives in Thailand at cut-rate prices, much cheaper than they can be bought for in the U.S.  He bought books that were printed and sold legally overseas. He resold them in the States for a profit. The publisher of the textbooks, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., sued and won a $600,000 judgment against Kirtsaeng, arguing he violated fair use since the copyrighted material was sold outside the U.S. The college student and his lawyer held he did not violate fair use because he bought the books through a third-party – to whom Wiley and Sons had licensed the low-cost copyright – and appealed to the high court.

And it all sounded to me like that old first-sale doctrine argument we heard back when some recording artists got their breeches twisted over the sale of used CDs and vinyl records.

Those old enough to remember know the issued of reselling used media caused a stir in the mid-’90s when used CDs started saturating the market and caused a panic at the labels, who quickly issued cease and desist letters to the record stores, ordering them to stop selling used products. The Federal Trade Commission got involved and the labels backed off, but not before some recording artists – most notably Garth Brooks – could weigh in on the subject. Garth went so far as refuse to release new music to record store chains that sold used CDs. What I’m sure was meant to be his championing of the underdog – the “little guy” – turned out to be one of the first of many times Garth made a jackass of himself in the media, especially since he was railing against what was already a nearly nine decades-old precedent settling the argument of “licensing” versus “sale” of a copyright when you buy a book, vinyl record, DVD, or mp3.

Which is why I was surprised at first to learn that the Supreme Court would even be hearing yet another case about this. But there was a difference here. The big issue regarding The Textbook Case is that the product was manufactured outside the United States. Did U.S. copyright law – particularly the first sale doctrine – apply to works made outside U.S. jurisdiction? The justices say so, in a 6-3 vote last week, overturning the district court’s decision. And while their opinions hinged more on giant retailers like Costco and their ability to sell goods made outside the country, it trickles down to the used music marketplace.

If the high court had upheld Mr. Kirtsaeng’s conviction and fines, the availability of and our ability to purchase used (read: reasonably priced) copies of older and out-of-print albums would dramatically drop. Rejecting third-party copyrights from first-sales exemptions wouldn’t completely shut down amazon.com’s used CD market for U.S. customers – providing we were buying American-bred products. But Bear Family and some other great independent labels could have faced an embargo. So I say the court’s ruling is a victory for the audiophiles even more than the general consumer.

Maybe this will be the final say on the matter, with the court extending the first-sale doctrine’s reach to globally-produced products. Or maybe just until there are extraterrestrial copyrights to legislate.

The fine print giveth

There’s a line in Thomas Rhett’s new single “Beer With Jesus” where the singer is asking “tell me how’d you turn the other cheek, to save a sorry soul like me” that didn’t even register when I first listened to the song. While it was playing in the background the other day my ears zoned in on that line and my reaction was to arch an eyebrow in admiration at the songwriters’ simple and direct way of communicating. In the setting of the song – modern-day Southern Baptist fundamentalism  – it would have been easy to reach for a hackneyed phrase straight out of the hymnal and my ear is still half-expecting “wretched soul” or something equally pretentious when I hear it. But they’ve kept it direct – even conversational – enough to effectively personify the narrator in the process, and that plainspoken bit of talk is why I want to hear the rest of what he’s got to say. So I say good on Rhett and co-writers Rick Huckaby and Lance Miller. They’re paying attention to the details.

So I got to thinking about other songs and the importance of just one word or line. Would “Sunday Morning Coming Down” be as important in the annals of country music history if Johnny Cash hadn’t bucked network television executives’ suggestion to substitute Kris Kristofferson’s lyric, and sing “home” instead of “stoned”? Likely it would have still become a hit. And as long as people still find themselves feeling hung over from a Saturday night, the song itself is strong enough to stand alone as a vivid retelling of such mornings. Still, “wishing Lord that I was stoned” reveals a grit and hair-of-the-dog pluck in the singer where wishing to be home sounds like he’s just given up. It changes the entire perspective. Kristofferson is of course a master of imagery, due in part to his attention to the details.

On John Hiatt’s superb “When We Ran”, Linda Rondstadt spends the first three minutes of the song wailing and gnashing her teeth about a lover that got away. She finally concludes “the mind is just a loose cannon and the memories are rollin’ dice“, letting the listener in on the fact that she’s acutely aware of the absurdity of her obsession with the past.  Otherwise, we’d expect to see her walking Main Street, carrying a suitcase, faded rose in her hair.  It’s also near the end of Lori McKenna’s voyeuristic “Your Next Lover” that the singer’s cool sentience is told when she sings in the bridge “I hope she reminds you nothing of me and as crazy as it sounds I hope she’s beautiful“, with no discernible amount of either sadness or bitterness. These are details that round out their song’s characters. If they were one-sided, would we care about these misfits and their lives? Would we relate their situations as easily to our own? I don’t think so. We relate to them because Hiatt and McKenna didn’t shirk their responsibility to the details.

All of these songs are favorites because they give the listener a glimpse inside the psyche of the song’s characters. I believe it’s that attention to detail that separates the good songs from the really great songs. TV Bishop Fulton Sheen’s famous quote “the big print giveth and the fine print taketh away” runs opposite to these and many other great songs in which the fine print giveth.

I bet you’re in a bar, listening to a country song …

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved country music. I’ll admit that I wandered into the genre in the 1990s, like most, a fairweather fan of hugely popular acts, and didn’t know anything about its past. It wasn’t long before country music, with its charm, simplicity, and oh-so-relatable themes had won me over completely. I’ve since spent a great amount of my time listening to and learning the makings of and history of country music. Likewise, I’ve began to love every cliche’ image commonly found in the country song, and I’ve made it a point to familiarize myself, at least to some degree, with everything from the neon signs of the smoke-filled barrooms to the wide open fields and even the prison cells.

Luckily, I’ve had no experience with prison cells (except what I see on Lockdown), and though I have enjoyed the view, I’ve not spent any great amount of time in corn fields either. No, my time under the country music atmosphere has mostly been spent at any number of watering holes on the east side of the Mississippi River. I can honestly say I know just how great it feels to plant your tired ass on a bar stool and order up a remedy for your broken heart. As any of my friends will tell you, the first thing I like to do upon arrival in a new city is to go visit their various restaurants and pubs. And then, after some sight-seeing or event-going, I’m usually the first one ready to sample the liquor at a different establishment the next night. I enjoy people, I enjoy socializing, and without sounding too god-awful pretentious, the modern-day bar scene is really the last bastion of the kind of face-to-face networking and general person to person contact that has all but vanished from society. How much of your contact with other people is limited to your time behind a screen, be it computer or cell phone?

For that reason alone, the occasion of listening to a great song with a room full of friends and strangers is a satisfying feeling. At least it is to me. But I’ve also found that atmosphere affects your listening experience, sometimes to the point that it can color your like or dislike for certain sounds and lyric combinations. Some songs just sounds better in different places. This is why I always stay put in those clubs that have elected to provide one of those dandy TouchTunes jukeboxes, instead of the now-standard karaoke deejay. Lately I’ve noticed there’s usually only a handful of us brave enough to risk alienating themselves to the entire room by taking the long walk over to that screen and choosing a handful of songs. I could categorize us, but I won’t. Depending on where we’ve stumbled into, I’m still likely to find another protege of Alan Jackson’s instructions to not rock the jukebox.

The American Legion’s Post 471 in Portsmouth, OH has an excellent club right downstairs from their meeting house. Now, most weekends, you’ll find the locals belting out the hits themselves, but if you go in on a weekday, you’re likely to find a nice little lady playing country sounds on that digital jukebox. And you’re just as likely to see me standing in line, dollar bills in hand, behind her waiting my turn to fill the room with my own favorite country songs, and even a few that aren’t so country. But they fit my mood at the time, so they work just as well as my country standards. On my most recent outing, I decided to jot down the songs I was playing on the old jukebox and wondered if everybody has pet songs to play on the jukebox, or just to a room full of people in general. I know I like to show off what I consider my own good taste in music, and I’ll bet you do too. Here’s what I played this week:

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Hurting and healing

The postman delivered a past-due bill notice
And the alarm clock rang two hours late.
The garbage man left all the trash on the sidewalk,
And the hinges fell off of the gate.
And this morning at breakfast, I spilled all the coffee,
And I opened the door on my knee
But the last thing I needed, the first thing this morning
Was to have you walk out on me
.

We’ve all had days like the one Willie sang about, days where nothing seems to go right. I’ve just experienced an entire week of one bad thing happening after another that has left me feeling a little more self-indulgent than usual. Some of the events were somewhat inconsequential but were bothersome because they happened in close to succession to other annoyances. All of them paled in comparison to the loss of a beloved family member who left us in the early hours of Saturday, July 3, 2010.

Ronan didn’t live with me; he lived with my parents, but he was best friends with my two dogs and was a frequent visitor to our home. His sudden departure was a devastating blow, one with which we are still struggling to come to terms. He hadn’t been himself lately, but none of us realized how seriously ill he was.
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Random playlist

I’ve been listening to different songs lately. We’ve all got our evergreen favorites that we always come back to. These are not them.  They’re also not new releases or recent discoveries. These are just 8 songs that have been giving me a lot of satisfaction lately. So I wanted to share them.

Mark Chesnutt – ‘Thank God For Believers’ … This is one of my favorites from our June Spotlight Artist.  Years into a rocky relationship, this guy is still making mistakes, but he’s sure grateful for his good-hearted woman who just ‘wipes her tears away and puts the coffee on’.

Wynonna – ‘Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis’ … Pressures build up and even the best of us feel a little overwhelmed sometimes.  This ‘song about having everything and nothing at all’ features a pair of smart, revealing verses that give way to a soaring chorus.

Reba McEntire – ‘Never Had a Reason To’ … The closing track on Reba’s acclaimed What If It’s You album finds the narrator chasing her own dreams, having never been tied down to any one person, place, or thing – until now, that is.  The bass-line intro, which frames much of the song, recalls classic country songs like George Jones’ ‘Her Name Is…’

Dixie Chicks -‘If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me’ … Natalie Maines rips into this track with a funky vibe in her timbre, complimented by strange but pleasant harmonies throughout the song by her band mates.  She’s on the edge of falling in, but not letting go of his hand.  Nobody wants to be the only one in love.

Reba – ‘Have I Got a Deal For You’ … This is just a fun song, with Reba in full New Traditionalist mode – this time with a western swing number as good as any George Strait has given us.  Reba talks about her heart like it’s a used car, hinting at a bit of wear and tear, but quickly pointing out that ‘it’s a one time only offer’ and she’s letting this one-of-a-kind, life-time guaranteed heart go at basement prices.

Linda Ronstadt – ‘Tracks Of My Tears’ … The Miracles had the first hit with this oft-covered gem.  Ronstadt’s California Rock-inspired recording of the Motown classic went top 5 in 1976 on the pop charts, and just missed the country top 10.

Elton John – ‘Turn The Lights Out When You Leave’ … In 2004, Elton John released Peachtree Road, an album of songs he had recorded in Atlanta.  While it wasn’t billed as a country album, nor should it be, much of the press surrounding it called it country, and an appearance with Dolly Parton on the CMA Awards that year helped cement that classification.  The CMA performance of this song lead me to buy the CD, and I still find myself spinning the lead single – which doesn’t feature Dolly’s magnificent harmonies – quite often.

Patty Loveless – ‘When The Fallen Angels Fly’ … The (almost) title track to Patty’s CMA Album of the Year features one of the singer’s finest vocals, set to a pure country backdrop, while lines like ‘I near drowned myself in freedom, just to feed my foolish pride’ elevate it from other similar-themed songs like Patty’s own ‘Lonely Too Long’ and Trisha Yearwood’s ‘Like We Never Had a Broken Heart’.

What’s new in heavy rotation in your library these days?

10 things I hate about CD liner notes

The CD may be a dying format, but it’s still my personal preferred way to buy music. Partly that’s because I like having proper printed liner notes to refer to and keep physically with the music they refer to. But I often have cause to complain. Here are my top ten peeves with unsatisfactory liner notes:

10. Songs not listed in the correct order (most recently I found this on Marty Raybon’s religious album from 2008). This is deeply confusing when you’re listening for the first time and aren’t yet familiar with the material. You wonder why a song has the apparently dissasociated title it appears to, before you realize they’ve had a last minute change in the sequencing, after the liner notes were printed. Not a frequent error, but really annoying when it happens. It’s more common for the songs to be listed in order, but only if you unfold the paper in just the right way.

9. Print too small to read without a magnifying glass or a torch. What’s the point of printing it if no-one can read it?

8. Text and background in a color combination too faint/dark to read ever.

7. Mis-spelling songwriters’ or musicians’ names. This looks embarrassingly amateur as well as being disrespectful to the person in question. On Brandon Rickman’s very good album last year, for instance, fiddle player Jenee Fleenor’s name was spelt correctly twice and incorrectly three times. Misspelt sogwriters’ names are even more common.

6. Mis-spelt words on printed song lyrics or in commentary. There is no excuse for this on a high-budget release. If the person responsible for putting the notes together can’t spell, employ a proofreader.

5. No lyrics at all.

4. No songwriter credits – not common these days, but some low-budget releases do omit them; this is an economy too far for me. I want to know who wrote the songs.

3. Your liner notes are printed on a glossy, multi-page brochure with room for dozens of fetching pictures of the artist in various outfits, holding instruments, posing with pets, etc, but somehow they still have no room for the lyrics. (Okay, I like the odd picture of a dog. I’d stil rather have the lyrics, though.)

2. You can’t be bothered to print the lyrics in the liner notes, but tell buyers you can see them on the label or artist website. Websites are transitory. I hope to still be listening to your album in 10, 20 or more years’ time: is your website still going to be there?

1. A note saying lyrics (or credits) are available on the label website, when they aren’t, at least when the album is released (Anita Cochran’s Serenity and Randy Kohrs’ Quicksand are recent guilty parties here). This is extremely frustrating.

What are your pet peeves?

Nothing novel?

I recently stumbled on this Roger Miller medley on The Muppet Show.  Songs include ‘Do-Wacka-Do’, ‘Dang Me’, ‘My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died’, and ‘You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd’.  These are real novelty songs.  If you like these shortened versions, be sure to check out the entire songs at Roger’s Last FM page.

Certainly, in every era of country music since Miller’s hey day, there have been those artists whose catalogs have been chock-full of humor and irreverence.  Tom T. Hall was a master a conveying pathos with humor in a lyric.  Listen to ‘The Year That Clayton Delaney Died’ or ‘Ballad of Forty Dollars’.  And then others made entire careers out of comedic music, such as Ray Stevens and Cledus T. Judd.

The 1990s saw the rise of the likes of Joe Diffie and Tracy Byrd, who still injected humor into traditional country music, but gone were the sad overtones, and any sign of irreverence. I don’t blame Diffie, or other of his ilk, but it just seems to me that the shift in the usage of the novelty song in country music sparked forth the desire for more and more artists to venture into the comical side of their music in order to hit on the charts.  Humor began to exist as a commodity rather than an extension of the art, and essentially it began to take on a larger role in the genre’s form.  Now we’re to the point that the term novelty song doesn’t really describe the attempts at humor, mostly because there’s nothing novel about most of them.  But I digress.

For me, the best way to enjoy the real wealth of country music’s novelty songs is in its past, and not the ditties of today.

What do you think?  And what are some of your favorite novelty songs?

P.S.  I didn’t realize it – or had forgotten about reading it – until I googled ‘novelty songs in country music’ to do a little research for this post, that Country California already asked you what your favorite novelty song was back in January, so be sure to check out their post too.

A few thoughts on the CMA awards

shockedWe didn’t do too well with our predictions of this year’s CMA Award winners. In part, that’s probably because we gave the CMA way too much credit for artistic integrity. Next year, I’m going to take a look at the nominees and predict the very worst person in each category, and I suspect I’ll do better than I did this year.

None of us expected Taylor Swift to walk away with four awards, including Entertainer and Female Vocalist. After she delivered yet another poor live performance on the telecast, the Association looks like a set of idiots whose critical faculties have been drowned out by the jangle of cold hard cash. Yes, commercial success has always had an impact on CMA and other award voting, and that’s probably fair enough – it’s one of the factors that measures any artist’s impact on the genre. Carrie Underwood’s three wins as Female Vocalist were largely based on her high sales and radio play rather than her vocal prowess per se, but never, in my experience, to the degree that someone as poor a technical singer as Taylor, who doesn’t even sound good with ProTools, and whose vocals are truly horrific without them, is rewarded quite so generously with so little artistic merit. I wouldn’t have given her Album of the Year myself, especially when Jamey Johnson’s near-masterpiece was on the ballot, but at least there was some possible logic underpinning that decision. It is fairly widely agreed that Taylor’s main strength is in writing songs that appeal to young girls, rather than actually singing them, and this at least rewarded her for her body of work. And in this category, rewarding sales figures does make some sense. But Entertainer for a teenager who has only been recording for a few years and Female Vocalist for someone who manifestly has trouble singing in tune both bring the Association into disrepute. I said, “making her Female Vocalist would rightly attract derision, especially if she sings live on the telecast,” and after watching her performances on this year’s show, I feel I was absolutely right.

On a happier note, there was one award I was thoroughly pleased by – ‘In Color’ winning Song of the Year. It should have won Single too, as it was by far the best record in that category. It appears that the industry really likes Lady Antebellum, though. It was good to see them winning Group of the Year, if only because they aren’t Rascal Flatts. Lady A aren’t really country to my ears, but their music is pleasantly inoffensive melodic pop or AC– that’s a major improvement over Rascal Flatts, who make my ears hurt. I wasn’t very familiar with the Zac Brown Band’s work but I think I could get interested in them.

It was also nice to see the voters weren’t swayed by the sentimental thought of Brooks & Dunn breaking up. Perhaps they too realized that in all likelihood they’ll still be on the ballot next year. In fact, with a big farewell tour planned, they would be eligible for Entertainer of the Year next time around, and they could even win it. Of course it will be even more overdue for Brad Paisley then, but I’m starting to wonder if he ever will win this award, having lost out to Taylor this year.

Back to our predictions, and I am happy to report that Chris was the best predictor among the MKOC staff, with six accurate picks. His faith in Lady Antebellum and Sugarland paid off there. Meg and I got four each, and J.R. and Razor only managed two each. Congratulations, Chris!

Mountain country magic: A tribute to Patty Loveless

Photo by Nicole Spaller, patty-loveless.net

Photo by Nicole Spaller, patty-loveless.net

When we announced Patty Loveless as our Spotlight Artist, all of us here at My Kind of Country were very excited about the opportunity to write about one of our favorites.  In past months, we’ve brought in Guest Contributors to help out with the reviews.  But this month, all the reviews were snatched up pretty quickly by the regular staff, so we didn’t have room for our guest writer friends to share their thoughts with you on Patty’s albums.  But we have one reader who is admittedly a bigger fan of Miss Patty Loveless than any of us and he came up with his own idea for an article, just so he could be part of October’s Patty coverage.  Stephen Fales, who you will all know as Steve from Boston, composed the following piece as a tribute to his favorite singer.  We’re glad to have him as a Guest Contributor here at My Kind of Country, and hope you enjoy his tribute to a peerless artist.

– J.R. Journey

No one has done more to bring the mountain sound to modern country music, and few with such compassion and grace as Patty Loveless. There have been accounts of fans trying to thank Patty for the profound impact that her music has wrought in their lives, and all they were able to manage were tears when they tried to speak. Patty, with genuine humility and understanding, attributes this transfomative effect to “the power of music”. Indeed, music is a divine gift, the language of the angels and of the heart. But this is not just any music, and Loveless is not just any singer.

Patty Loveless has been blessed with one of the purest, most authentic and profoundly resonant mountain-country voices in the music world. It is an echo of her own empathetic heart, and seems to emanate from the very depths of her Appalachian soul, and the voice of Patty Loveless touches people right to the core of their being.

Loveless’ warm Appalachian alto is rich and expressive, and her gentle Kentucky drawl and twangy mountain timbre come as naturally to her as breathing. Her skillful phrasing, measured melisma, and mature sense of nuance convey a depth of emotion that is extraordinary, almost otherworldly. She is a true vocal virtuoso and knows both restraint and abandon. Patty Loveless inhabits the heart of a song, and has no need to resort to histrionics or ostentatious vocal gymnastics. She is all about the music, and allows her music to speak for itself.

At times Patty’s musical pendulum swings deeply to the countryside, as with her album Sleepless Nights and at others, to the mountainside, with offerings such as her Mountain Soul albums, but she never settles for the middle road of mediocrity. On the contrary, Loveless has found her golden mean with a unique mountain blend that combines the best of both traditions. This is best exemplified on her On Your Way Home, and Dreamin’ My Dreams albums, but it is pervasive throughout her catalog. It is real mountain-country music, and Loveless is perhaps it’s most inspired and accomplished practitioner.

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Listening and learning

listeningI’ve been listening to country music since I was 9 years old.  When I was a kid listening to some of these songs, I just sang along, memorizing the melody and the lyric, never really knowing what the song meant.  It wasn’t until I got older that I realized Garth Brooks was singing about murder, Reba about prostitution, and what people meant Faith Hill was doing under those sheets. See, I’ve learned so much from the music I play.  I’ve learned to love, learned what heartache is, learned to forgive, and to hold on.

The introverted and heavy-hearted lyrical stylings of Mary Chapin Carpenter have kept me sane during the craziest times and they still feed my brain regularly.  This is in contrast to Alan Jackson, who takes a straight-forward and bare-bones approach to his songwriting and his music feeds the simple soul in me, the country boy that remembers catching crawdads in the creek and how great it felt to come home muddy and dirty.  And while Alan doesn’t directly sing about those things much – or I’d have already gotten bored with him – he just gives off a good ol’ boy energy in whatever he does.  I need reminded there are still good ol’ boys in the world now and then.

I couldn’t begin to tell you everything country music has taught me.  But I can tell you about some of my favorite albums, and what I learned from them, and how they shaped me into who I am today.

Alan Jackson – Here In The Real World … Alan’s debut album is the best example of his simple and universal appeal. Maybe it’s because it was my introduction to Alan Jackson, so I have a soft spot for it.  I learned all about Music Row and ‘how the wheels turn slow’ from ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’, I’ll never forget there’s no place like ‘Home’, and that love can still be just as strong after a decade – from this record.

Randy Travis – Storms of Life …  If nothing else, it taught me to appreciate traditional country music, especially in this neo-classic form.  These songs were already country standards by the time I got to them, and were still relevant.  This album told me about the reasons to cheat, broken-hearted madness, and assured me there’ll always be a honky tonk somewhere.  God knows we need one after all that.

Mary Chapin Carpenter – Come On Come On … I call this album my ‘school of hard knocks’.  Mary Chapin Carpenter is a deep soul and also one that has stumbled more than once on the road of life, and it comes across in her songs.  ‘The Hard Way’ and ‘I Take My Chances’ were lessons in the real world for me, pointing out all the grim realities.  Other songs like ‘Passionate Kisses’ and ‘I Feel Lucky’ keep the album from being too abysmal.

Reba McEntire – Rumor Has It … This one taught me just how great a country album really can be, from start to finish.  Reba mixes some stone country numbers with a few snappy tunes and also a few soaring ballads.  Maybe just playing these songs so much embedded them into my consciousness and because of that, their lyrics are closely tied with my own intuition.  I find myself assuming the bitter character in ‘You Remember Me’ or the indecisiveness of ‘Now You Tell Me’ too often.  And I’m constantly ‘waiting for the deal to go down’.

Trisha Yearwood – Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love … This album was released just when life went a little nuts for me.  I found myself right in the middle of each of these songs.  It taught me about losing and letting go.

What albums  and song have shaped your life?  Tell us what they are and what you learned from them …

Song power and lead

Reba performing at the 2009 ACM Awards in Las Vegas.   

Reba performing at the 2009 ACM Awards in Las Vegas.

They say confession is good for the soul, right? I have to confess that I’m a bit of a lead foot. It’s one of my few vices. I like to push it somewhere between 5 and 10 miles over the limit. You probably understand if you live in a state like Nebraska with a lot of wide open spaces, or you live in a smaller town or in the country and need to drive somewhere to get any place.

Fortunately, I seem to have a nice face and a clean driving record so I haven’t gotten an actual ticket in close to ten years. But lately, since I’ve started listening to mostly country music, I’ve gotten a lot of warnings. Just gets my toe tapping I guess.

I got stopped twice while playing Reba CDs all the way to a Reba concert in Minnesota (once in Nebraska and once only 30 minutes from the venue). It was understandable to be speeding toward that concert, right? I mean, it was Reba! I got stopped here in town coming off the interstate while listening to the “Fast Song Friday” request program on our local country station. They were playing my request, Reba again.

And just this week I got pulled over while listening to George Strait’s Beyond the Blue Neon CD going a bit too fast in a construction zone. I think it was ‘Angel, Angelina’ that got me in trouble. (Took the cruise control off for the construction zone and my speed crept up.)

I usually turn the radio down, but not off when talking to the officer. Perhaps that’s the real reason I only get warnings – they’re country fans, too – or at least Reba and George fans.

So, if you were caught speeding what might you be listening to? You can either speak from experience or hypothetically.

Is it guilty in here?

The E.N.D., by The Black Eyed Peas

The E.N.D., by The Black Eyed Peas

I have a confession to make- it may destroy any credibility I might have had here and it may drive away readers, but here it is: I’m addicted to the song “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. On Tuesday a friend of mine sang two lines of the song, before I had even heard it, and when I heard the whole song, I got hooked. I know it’s a nonsensical and terrible song, but it’s so infectious that I can’t stop, I even know all the words…

So it’s weird, but I like having it stuck in my head, no matter how embarrassing, I actually love the song! This hasn’t happened since Sugarland released “All I Want To Do” over the summer. After the song came out, I went on a 10 day backpacking trip and that song was constantly playing over and over. At one point I whistled the song, and it actually started getting stuck in other people’s heads- even when they’d never heard it before! Then I looked around on the internet to see this song getting lambasted, so I felt like I couldn’t say that I liked it because so many others hated it!

Want to hear some more of mine? “Feel That Fire” by Dierks Bentley, “Lucky 4 U (Tonight I’m Just Me)” by SHeDAISY, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” by Beyoncé and “Love Story” by Taylor Swift. Obviously these songs tend to be not very country, but still, I want to know:

What songs are your guilty pleasures?

If you really want to hear it, here’s a link to see the music video for “Boom Boom Pow”. I sire hope none of you like it…

Missing from radio?

randytravis2A comment made by Kevin at Country Universe got me to thinking more about the minuscule playlists of today’s country radio stations.  Satellite radio almost seemed like a savior for the format at one point, but since that idea didn’t really catch on with the mainstream even enough to affect the Top 40, hope for the classic country stations that popped up on subscriber radio has since been lost.  It’s always been beyond me why so many radio stations have consistently-shrinking playlists.

Every station (even the one in your town) will have a list (albeit undersized) of recurrents from the past 15-20 years they still play regularly.  But this list is usually limited to artists who are still making waves or are favorites of the program director for that station.  Much has been said about the small playlists at radio – across all genres.  And the consensus always seems to be the same: the listeners want a wider variety.  So why aren’t program directors and music consultants listening?  And why can’t we hear hits from the 1950s and 60s mixed in with today’s hits?

The first question is the hardest to answer.  Radio is obviously a business and their goal is to acquire – and keep – as many listeners as possible.  More listeners mean the commercials are worth more money.  So it’s understandable that radio chooses to play it safe.  However, there are several downsides to this, not the least of which being the shrinking playlists.  But this play-it-safe approach also makes it harder for new artists to break through and for veteran artists to take many risks.  A good example of this is Alan Jackson’s Like Red On A Rose album.  Jackson has been a radio staple since his debut album, but  the two singles released performed poorly, with neither reaching the top spot at radio, and a third single not being released.  As a result the album became Alan’s first not to reach platinum status.

Now, even though some stations still play selected classic country songs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a station playing anything recorded before 1980.  I think the main reason for this is that the sounds of country music have evolved so much over the past 3 decades that there’s a huge schism between classic and contemporary.  The classics that do hold up alongside today’s hits don’t sound as vastly different from their contemporary counterparts.  Those that do are relegated to the classic stations.

On one hand, you have artists like Randy Travis and Dolly Parton, both of whom delivered excellent albums last year and both had songs as good or better than the current Top 40.  Neither Travis or Parton were able to score a significant radio hit from their latest releases.  Then we have artists like Tanya Tucker and Hank Williams Jr. whose hit-making days are also past and aren’t releasing singles to radio with the consistency they used to.  Still, Tanya and Bocephus made the kind of records that stand the test of time.  Their music should still be played today alongside the latest hits.   

What artists do you think should still be played on the radio that are being ignored right now?  And why do you think their music can stand the test of time?

A fearless look at lists

So among critics and bloggers alike, it’s usually cool to blast “list songs” as being lazy excuses for songwriting right? I’m sure by now you guys have heard the song “It’s America” by Rodney Atkins (I envy those that have not heard it yet…)? Well songs like that give list songs a bad name- it’s lazy and uncoordinated pandering. However, I want to talk about list songs in general- but I’ll start with “It’s America” as an example.

 

It's America

It's America by Rodney Atkins

Let’s look at this song, because it really is lazy. What really annoys me about this song is how almost every thing listed in the song could be about any country on Earth. A rock and roll band? Kids selling lemonade? Cities and farms? Fireflies in June? God‽ I find it incredibly hard to believe that these things solely define America and no other country can have them- especially the last one. It’s that kind of arrogant attitude that Americans have sometimes that annoys people from other countries and Atkins’ incoherent list perpetuates that stereotype in every way- and it’s a terribly annoying song. The objects mentioned have nothing to do with each other, let alone even making any sense. They literally made a song trying to pull at all the heartstrings possible in their audience and it seems people are taking the bait, seeing as the song is currently at #5 on the charts. Read more of this post