Showing posts with label nineties country music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nineties country music. Show all posts

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Anatomy Of A Great Country Song

I'm not a stickler for profundity in music. In fact, to me the message is beside the point. That's why it's called music; not poetry. It's such a simple concept, I am befuddled why so many "experts" miss it. The message is in how the song makes you feel in the pit of your gut. Really, the words are superfluous. If a good singer with a good band sang, "bah bah bahhhhh" with just the right chord progression and change-ups, I'd proclaim that it deeply touched my heart. And I'd be right.

Granted, a meaningful message paired with soulful singing and the right melody is an added plus. That's country's aspiration. And that's what also makes a great country song gossamer.

There are a ton of country songs that people consider classics, but the majority of them make you feel the words but not that punch. Sometimes it's soaring violins that do it ~ think "He Stopped Loving Her Today". Or the duh-duh-duh-DUM of the steel guitar in "Stand By Your Man". Or the searing harmonies in "Sing Me Back Home".

There are no step-by-step guidelines for creating a classic country song. If there were, we'd be gulping water in a roiling sea of perfection; and then what would we have to compare? It's not even the truly bad songs that allow us to recognize a great one; it's the banal ones. A thousand different artists went into the studio and recorded songs that they thought were, "Hey, pretty good!" Except they weren't. Those are the songs we hear, but don't really hear, on the radio. They're static at best.

The worst conceit is a song the artist wrote him/herself. There's nothing worse than a self-absorbed songwriter (take it from one who knows). Songwriters equate the sweat that went into creating a song to its relative quality. Not many can carry that off ~ Kristofferson can; Yoakam can. Haggard could.

When I was writing my retrospective of country in the nineties as a companion (or counterpoint) to Ken Burns' documentary series, I re-found "Sticks and Stones", and remembered how much I'd loved it. Silly me; I'd always thought Tracy Lawrence had written the song. That's wrong, wrong. The songwriters were Elbert West and Roger Dillon.

Maybe it's just me; maybe it's not. I categorize Sticks and Stones as a classic country song. It's not static. And it provides that gut-punch that a great country song requires.

You can take the house and everything in it
Keep the diamond ring 'cause that's how I meant it
Sticks and stones are all they ever were to me
This material life with all it's value
Don't mean a thing to me without you
The love that we once had is all I need
So take everything we have if it makes you happy
But darling let me say before I leave
These sticks and stones ain't all that makes a home
They don't have arms to hold you when love goes wrong
Now you say we are through
Those sticks and stones may break me
But the words you said just tore my heart in two
Remember when we didn't have a dime between us
You took my hand and said we don't need much
Just as long as we're together we would be fine
Now we've acquired all I thought would please you
I gave everything you know that I could
And still you're telling me you're not satisfied
So take everything we have if it makes you happy
But darling let me say before I leave
These sticks and stones ain't all that makes a home
They don't have arms to hold you when love goes wrong
Now you say we are through
Those sticks and stones may break me
But the words you said just tore my heart in two
These sticks and stones may break me
But the words you said just tore my heart in two

Tracy Lawrence became one of those "disposables", when Nashville again decided that real country was passe. "Bro country, man! That's where it's at!", said the fifty-year-old label exec whose Wranglers were a bit too snug when he tried to pull them on for an industry event. You will be pleased to know that Tracy is still out there and recording music. He doesn't have a label, of course, like Mark Chesnutt doesn't have a label, and Clay Walker doesn't have a label. Apparently all the classic artists have transcended labels.

The nineteen nineties was the last time that country music was country music. Country is mostly gone now; a tyrannosaurus rex in a world that subsists on EDM and synthesizers. Static in the extreme.

But that's why I'm here ~ to memorialize true country before everyone forgets.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Little Reminiscing About Nineties Country

(And didn't they all have hair like this?)

Maybe it was the place I lived, and the time I lived there, but it seemed like everywhere in my home town; at work, out with friends, hanging out with relatives; everybody listened to country.

I remember we did some kind of stupid team building exercise in my workplace once; in which we had everyone fill out a survey; and subsequently, everyone had to mingle about to try to find people whose answers matched the ones on the card in their hand.  I guess it was Employee Bingo.

One of the questions I offered, as we supervisors were wasting time devising this little game, was, What's Your Favorite Song?

Out of the one hundred or so people completing the survey, perhaps one or two listed a non-country song as their favorite.  And the people responding weren't senior citizens or even demented people (well, generally).  They were for the most part younger than me.

That's not how it is now.  Today, if I ever have an opportunity to listen to music at work, I feel like I'm a teenager again; hiding the fact that the songs wafting through my ear buds are country songs.  (I don't actually hide it anymore.  I'm frankly too old to care what people think of my taste in music.)

I miss the old times; perhaps the camaraderie; maybe simply the superiority of the music.

Today, being a Friday, and thus blissfully more laid back, I surfed on over to my Amazon cloud and set my playlist to "shuffle".  It's fun to be surprised by the next song; which is never actually a song that one would choose from the list.

And I heard Joe Diffie.  Remember him?  What do you mean, no?

This guy is a hell of a singer.  I mean, a singer.  Not a vocal stylist, a la guys whose names start with a K(enny) or a T(im) ~ you know; the guys from which measly little sounds manage to squeak out of their pie holes, helped along with generous doses of auto tune..Guys who sing from their throats; and not from their diaphragms, which is why they squeak.

Joe Diffie was pretty big in the nineties.  Sure, he recorded some mediocre stuff.  Whenever he strayed from his strengths (ballads) into territory best covered by the Billy Ray Cyrus types, he mostly failed (at least with me).  Any clown could do those songs.  But when he let it all hang out, wow!  

Sometimes you didn't even know what the song was about, but you knew it was sad, because he sang it so sad; it hit you in the gut.

"Is it cold in here, or is it just you?"  Great line.

I generally don't like novelty songs, but this one is so sweet.  And it's not really a novelty; rather, just catchy.  I used to go to the Fourth of July parade with my dad and a bunch of my family; and one year, as the farm implements passed by (my dad loved those); a John Deere float appeared, with this song blaring out of the speakers (I can't believe Joe never made a music video of this song).  You know, this record allowed all of us to rejoice in our rural roots, and stop being so embarrassed by them. People today would kill to live on a farm (although, I must disclose that my dad hated John Deeres and loved his IH's):

Joe could honky tonk with the best of 'em, too.  Pull somebody (anybody) out on the dance floor in the nineteen nineties, and you could wear yourself out steppin' to this song:


Joe's star started to twinkle out toward the end of the decade (oh sure, he's still performing!)  The times, though, were changing, and not for the better.

Yet, he had this song in 1999 that still hit number six on the charts; and listening to it, sitting on the floor next to my CD player in the basement, made me gulp back tears.  He just sang it so damn sad!  My youngest son would saunter through the room to head upstairs and out the door, and give me a pitying look; same as the time I was playing Alan Jackson's Christmas CD, and he asked me if this was "the saddest Christmas ever".  He didn't get country music. Sometimes we just want to be sad!

This is "A Night To Remember":

I guess some artists have their time; and when that time is over, well, everybody moves on.  There's other guys like Joe; guys (and girls) who were red hot in their day.  They were good; and they didn't change.  Sure, they got older, which is some sort of crime, you know.  No, the music changed.   Music became disposable; it became a "package".  

Now, guys sing about pickups a lot.  But the pickups they drive are those sleek four-by-fours; not the beat-up farm trucks that actually haul things in their beds.   

They don't sing about John Deere tractors.  The biggest tractors these guys drive are lawn tractors, whenever they feel like "getting back to nature" and giving their grounds crew the day off.

Ah well.  

All I'm saying is, don't forget the good stuff.  You can like the stuff of today.  Just don't forget.  You know, George Jones only died a couple of weeks ago.

Don't forget.