As long as I've been listening to country music, which includes my pre-country music period (my mom and dad's music) as well as my three-decade obsession, from approximately 1967 to 1999; I've heard two criticisms: country music is soooo corny and country music is too depressing.
I never found country music depressing. A track by Little Texas never once made me consider killing myself. Of course there are sad country songs -- country music is just like life; sometimes we're happy; other times wistful. Sometimes we feel giddy and silly; ready to break into a dork dance. And sometimes our hearts are broken.
The times when I've been sad, I wanted music to wallow in. Crying is sorely underrated. Right after my dad died, I sat in my room and played Ray Price's "Soft Rain" over and over and over. The grief I couldn't put into words, Ray did, and perfectly.
I don't know what those judgmental people are listening to, but obviously not the country music I know. In the eighties and nineties country music was glorious, even the sad songs.
This is ostensibly a sad song. Does it sound sad?
If it's got a good beat and one can two-step to it, sad or not, it's happy. At least it makes me feel happy.
And, you know, everyone in country music is not heartbroken:
Sometimes they are falling in love and it's just now hit them:
As a country music historian, I know there are (old) songs that are frankly, maudlin, or at least cheesy. Do you like every rock song every recorded? Don't judge a whole genre of music by "I Wish I Was A Teddy Bear" and "Honey". In my teens and pre-teens, I felt obliged to defend the bad country songs, because people were so vociferous in their hatred. "Folsom Prison Blues? Yea, really great with that chunka-chunka guitar." Guess what? I didn't like that song, either. I also didn't like Rose Garden, but had I named a good country song, I would have gotten quizzical stares, because all those people knew was what was played on Top 40 radio.
I wasn't a top forty kind of gal. I had taste; not that it mattered one whit to anyone but me. But that's okay, actually. When it comes to music, I only need to be true to myself.
And, no. Country music is not depressing. Unless you want it to be.
I had swallowed my meager pride and forced myself to genuflect before her eminence in a last-ditch attempt to hold onto my job, which was the best-paying job I'd ever had and would ever have in Bismarck, North Dakota -- a city bereft of presentable positions. My deceit worked -- Evil Connie wasn't too perceptive. In actuality, she was such a megalomaniac, she believed that I'd suddenly fallen in love with her. She, in turn, came to see me as one of her dutiful soldiers. I was ON BOARD! In truth, I hated -- despised -- her very existence.
I played that painful game for three long (l-o-n-g) years, before I got my chance; a chance I didn't seek out, but one that fell in my lap. One I hadn't planned for; an opportunity that was thrust upon me.
I didn't waste it.
I take pride (and credit) for getting that miserable piece of human existence fired. (All you other USHC supervisors -- you're welcome. Except for you, LeeAnn and Linda, because you were the ultimate ass-kissers and you two will just need to live with yourselves.)
Nearly a quarter of a century later, corporate culture has progressed to the point at which managers can no longer abuse their subordinates with impunity. Human Resource departments are eager to justify their value, and they cherish nothing more than culling the herd. In '94, the little people needed to simply shut up. Like I said, I didn't seek out the opportunity to spill my guts. Somebody asked me and I didn't waste the opportunity. I had three years of vile hatred choking my intestines.
Once Savior Replacement Manager had moved on to brighter vistas or soothing retirement, our VP, Dave Kolton, recruited a guy he'd worked with at Mutual of Omaha in Lincoln, Nebraska, to make the slippery move to Bismarck and be in charge.
Phil was an easy mark. We all pegged him immediately as a lazy guy who'd much rather page through the local phone book than actually manage. I was surprised I didn't pop into his office one day and catch him clipping his toenails.
My unit was situated right outside Phil's office, so he focused on me preternaturally. I didn't purposefully dress provocatively -- short skirts were the order of the day -- but Phil wasn't shy about commenting on the fact that he saw my legs "all the way up" as I was bending over, peering at my employee's CRT, helping her with her question.
Phil was a pervert.
A lackadaisical pervert.
Phil and I had our go-rounds. He was an Aries to my Taurus.
One day, as I was erasing words from my whiteboard, during one of our "Goal and Go" days, he sauntered up and said, "Your unit is always the first to leave." I whirled around, fuzzy eraser in hand and hissed, "My people do more than their share and YOU KNOW IT." Little Phil skulked away and for a second I thought, "You've blown it...again".
I thought I'd have to begin scouring the want-ads once more, and I beat myself up the entire weekend I'd ridden Evil Connie from our existence, and now I'd overplayed my hand. But damn, my people didn't deserve the flick of his hand!
(You would find me somewhere behind the sign, near those windows, smoking.)
A funny thing happened, though: Bespectacled Phil was actually cowed. He avoided me for about a week. Eventually he and I came to an unspoken understanding. He would no longer make half-assed comments and I would address him with a modicum of respect. Sometimes he'd stop into my glass-encased "office" and plop down in my second chair, shoot the breeze; try to be funny. I always laughed. I wanted detente. I wanted to keep my job. I'd experienced much worse managers. So Phil was a lazy sloth; at least he did little harm. In hindsight, I think he was supremely insecure and puffed himself up to mitigate his vulnerability. That's the difference between men and women. Women castigate themselves for failures. Men over-compensate.
My unit was comprised of over-achievers. No claims unit in the history of US Healthcare had ever achieved 100% quality for a full month. It was unheard of. Until my unit came along and smashed it; not just once, but over and over again. I had some really smart employees -- really smart. Take care of your people and they'll make you look good. My people made me look good. That would lead to something completely unexpected the next year; something I was sure I didn't want, but that Good Ol' Phil told me to "think about and then come back and say yes".
However, before that day arrived, there was music. Maybe small towns breed homogeneity. Maybe we're supposed to disdain that; but maybe we like having people around us who share our tastes. We all liked country in 1996. Those who didn't rarely brought it up in conversation. There was the rare Mariah Carey fan, and I was okay with that, although I admit I tried to steer that wayward wanderer toward George Strait -- as a public service.
My theory is that the music that resonates with us is from a time when we felt good. I've had those eras. I felt good in the mid-eighties, when I had two shining, growing boys and I really liked my hospital job. I felt good in the mid-sixties, when music was new and glistening and life held endless potential. I felt pretty good in the mid-nineties. I'd discovered that I had a voice and I could use it and I wouldn't necessarily get fired.
This music made me feel good:
There was this new girl. I wasn't completely sold on her. Female country artists had a certain protocol they needed to follow, plus she didn't sound like or present herself like any female country artists I knew. The thing was, one couldn't ignore her. I secretly loved her, but publicly dismissed her. I was a rather rigid music aficionado then:
I was never on board the Garth Brooks train. I thought his songs were mostly maudlin and frankly, not country. I think Garth might admit as much. I never understood the Garth Mania, but I guess he was a cross-over and that meant...something. I bought approximately four Garth Brooks CD's and was able to winnow out two...three at the most...decent songs. I did like this one, though, but alas, Garth didn't see fit to film an official video for it. I guess if you don't have a piano and red splotches of blood, it's just not worth one's time:
Clearly, the best country song of 1996 was one that Patsy could have recorded in the sixties. My old DJ friend Bill Mack (not an actual friend, but a lion of country radio who I cherished) wrote this song. Too bad LeAnn Rimes apparently couldn't live up to her hype. She is a phenomenal singer, but she chose to go a different way, which is okay. She'll always have this:
Speaking of Cheyenne, here's George again:
1996 will always be mine and George's year. Professionally speaking.
It would not be long before country became sewer waste and my life would be turned upside down. Music and I soon would take a break.
Some guy, apparently a "programming consultant", recently made waves when he proclaimed that if one wants to build a successful radio station, one needs to stop playing women, dammit!
Naturally that got some feathers ruffled (ooh, is that sexist? I guess male chickens have feathers, too.) But aside from the predictable outrage, this man's proclamation is just asinine. Is he at all familiar with country music?
Now, I'm not really "hip" to the latest in country warblings - my husband flipped the channel to the CMT Music Awards the other night, and I didn't recognize anyone except the two guys from the TV show, Nashville, and Reba. And I still don't know who the dude was who was dressed as a hospital orderly. But I do know the history of country music - the soul of country music. And you and I can thank the women for that soul. Need I remind everybody?
Did you forget:
What a wimp:
Oh, I forgot:
Damn those women singers!
Ridiculous to think that women could...
OMG, not two women!
I still remember this:
Well, I could go on...and on...but you get my drift.
So, radio programmer guy, I think you know where you can stick your "bro" records. You can stick 'em on the turntable, if you want, but c'mon. Let's not pretend.
I wrote a whole long thesis a few days ago about how 1994 was a bad year in country music, and lo and behold, as I found various music videos from that year, I realized I was completely insane. 1994 was actually a good year. What I meant was, 1995.
As the picture above shows, 1995 was apparently the year of "Friends", and some other things, but the pictures are too small to really identify. Looks like maybe Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock, so I guess we're still partying like it's 1995.
But country music in 1995 was not a party.
And I can prove it.
In scanning the list of hit songs from 1995, the first thing that strikes me is, I don't even recognize most of these titles. And let me tell you, I was still a pretty big country fan during that time. So, because most of my memory is still quite intact, the fact is that there were very few memorable hit singles released in 1995.
And even the old standbys, you know, the good guys, were releasing some pretty awful songs.
For example, Collin Raye. I love Collin Raye as a balladeer. As they say, stick with what you know. Because I really dislike this song:
Then there was this next song that was a big hit, and I just hated it. I don't necessarily have a rational reason for hating it, but music is like that. I will say, however, that the lyrics seem to be about some old guy leering at a young girl, and really?? Well, that's very family-friendly.
David Lee Murphy:
And here's ol' Tim McGraw again. I will say that, unlike 1994, at least ol' Tim emerged from the pity party that was "Don't Take The Girl", and amped things up a bit. However, this song, although catchy! Is still rather grating, after about 100 10 listens.
John Michael Montgomery had "I Can Love You Like That". Poor John Michael. Tagged with the unfortunate reputation of not being able to sing on-key without autotune. I'm not reporting that to be mean. I can't sing on-key most of the time, either. But I'm not a recording artist, now, am I?
This next video is not "I Can Love You Like That", because I can't find it, but it really doesn't matter. All his songs were pretty much the same; covers of boy band hits, and why he felt this was a good career move, I do not know.
Remember Tracy Byrd? That's okay. That's why I'm here ~ to remind you.
Like the David Lee Murphy song, I always had a distaste for Tracy. That sounds mean. And it's nothing I can put my finger on, actually. I'm sure he's a great guy, and he's a good friend of Mark Chesnutt, and I love Mark Chesnutt. I guess it is that he always came across to me as disingenuous. He recorded these songs that he thought would make him a star (and they did for awhile), but it was so fakey; artificial. Hence, "The Keeper of the Stars":
Alan Jackson is better than this. Better than this corny novelty song. That's what I mean about 1995. These guys weren't playing their "A" game. Nobody remembers this song, nor should they:
So, that's about it. I do slightly remember some of the other titles, but I'm not really interested enough to search out videos for them. 1995 was rather a blase year.
Some hokey ballads, some hokey novelty songs. Some boy-band covers. Kind of shameful, for country music.
But, you know, all is not lost.
Because there were some good songs.
And I could always rely on George Strait:
From the ridiculous to the sublime; that was Alan Jackson in 1995. Bless you, Bob McDill. I love the sarcasm; or is it irony? And now were are in 2012, and be careful what you predict.........
What's not to love about Diamond Rio?
Not sure what became of the Mavericks, but they should still be around, making music. Although now, it wouldn't be considered "country" music, of course.
One could pretty much share any video from Mark Chesnutt, and not go wrong. Let me tell you, Mark ranks right up there. I don't know why he's been pushed aside, but I also don't know why Gene Watson was pushed aside, either. It's an enduring mystery. We live in a disposable society? We throw away the good stuff in order to experience a new crop of crap?
You may not remember George Ducas; he had one, maybe two albums. Again, there is no accounting for taste, because this guy should still be a big star. Watch and listen to "Lipstick Promises":
If you think David Ball was just about thinkin' problems, well, he wasn't. He also had a follow-up hit, and I like it, because it's country, and I miss country:
I say, thank goodness for CMT in the nineties. Because, without CMT, I would never find these songs, and they're worth finding. Lari White had another good song, this time in 1995, and it was this one:
And now we get to the superstar of the 1990's. No, it wasn't Garth Brooks. And you thought it was! Ah, but you forget! I doubt that Garth sits home at night, at his kitchen table, nursing an iced tea, ruminating about how some woman outshone him in the 1990's. But there it is.
And here it is:
And, oh, did I forget to mention her name? It's Shania Twain:
I leave 1995 behind, but not without this song, by Vince Gill.
In summation, 1995 had its bad, and it had its really, really good. As do all years.
I enjoy reliving those times, and while I am quick to disparage, I always come back to the really, really good. Because that's just me. I like the good.
Okay, I heard ("read") that the CMT Video Awards were broadcast this past week. Ho-hum?
Yes, as far as I know, CMT is a video channel. So, I'm certainly not going to hold it against them that they hold awards to self-promote. Where would this great land of ours be without self-promotion?
I'm so on the periphery of this phenomenon that I only learn about it from reading Entertainment Weekly, the arbiter of all things that really need to be known.
That said, EW really hooks you. They rave about something, or some video, or some incident that occurred that you really, if you want to remain relevant in this world, really need to see, or else you're just useless.
So, yes, I did search out some videos, based upon EW's recommendations.
The first thing that caught my attention was, Shania and that girl, Taylor, doing a take-off of Thelma and Louise. Well, I'm always up for a good parody, so I was eager to find a clip of this one.
Not completely impressed, I have to say, but that's mainly due to the fact that they had some "odd" (in the kindest sense of the word) stand-in for Brad Pitt, and that scruffy Kid Rock was also in the scene. Nice touch on Kenny Rogers standing beside the road, but overall, not really up to par. Sorry.
And yea, I heard that Shania fell down, but really? Give the woman a break. Who wouldn't fall down in that circumstance? I know I would.
They also mentioned Sugarland having the best performance of the night. So, I searched out and found a video of that one, but frankly, when I saw some girls hoist themselves up upon the stage to start waving a white flag with some indiscernible writing on it, I clicked off. Ack! Political correctness on a so-called country music broadcast? Thanks, but no. I guess I'll never know if the performance was good or not good. Stop preaching to me! I'm really not in the mood, and if I want to know what the politically correct line of the moment is, I'll switch on cable news.
I also heard that some kid called Justin Bieber was there, for some ungodly reason. I don't know. I'm completely perplexed.
I really, really would like to watch these awards (no doubt found on Hulu, where I watch all my favorite shows), but my self-respect tells me, no. Don't do it.
Let me just soothe myself in the misguided notion that country music is still country music. No, I'm not stuck in the nineties (well, maybe I am, but I do know what's hot; what's happening now, to a very miniscule degree).
Let me ask, where the hell was Alan Jackson? Where was George Strait? I think those guys are still charting, or am I completely off the mark?
Fine, you guys. If you want to co-opt my music, have at it. But could you call it something else? I would like to remember country music when it was country music, without having to spew out the words like I had a mouthful of cotton constricting my airway.
Call it sort-of-country-if-you-really-squint-hard-and-imagine-what-it-would-sound-like-if-it-was-country-music. I'm fine with that.
Wynonna, why don't you show those buffoons (even Kid Rock got it eventually), what country music is:
I've learned over the years to trust my instincts.
Sure, back in the nineties, everyone was decrying Shania Twain as the downfall of country music. I don't know; I liked her songs.
Shania didn't steer country music down a wayward path. That feat had been accomplished years before, by the likes of Barbara Mandrell and Reba McEntire. In fact, I think Shania actually brought country back.
She certainly didn't deserve the disdain of music critics, any more than Dwight Yoakam did (not that Dwight was actually the recipient of any disdain; I'm just citing him as a comparison).
The reason that Shania is on my mind is that I'm currently reading her autobiography, and let me say, it is fascinating! What a crummy life she had, growing up. You think you had it bad? Read her story.
The first song I heard from Shania was this one. She got a lot of flak from the critics about "sexing up" her videos, but when you watch this, where exactly does the flaunting come in? The video is, in reality, humorous. And if this isn't country, at least my idea of country, what exactly is?
I was going to include a bunch of commentary here, but I think I'd rather just post Shania's videos.
There is no official video of this song that features both Shania and Bryan White, but that's the way I first heard the song, and that's the way I remember it, so here is a fan-created video, with Shania and Bryan:
Again, no official video, but I like this:
Sorry for the ad preceding this video, but it's the only one available:
Okay, if you love Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love" video, you gotta love this homage:
I admire Shania's artistry, and I don't really care what the critics say (or said, back then). I'm thinking they're eating their words right about now, as they contend with the glut of today's faux country acts.
I had the chance to see Shania in concert once, but I didn't go, and I've been kicking myself for that decision ever since.
I will say that I'm happy today to know that my instincts were correct. This is one class act, and if you have any doubts, buy her book.