The past week I had the family dog, Quincy, with me in Charleston. He needed a little vacation from his puppy sister. She has so much energy and personality that I feel especially confident Quincy could be elevated to sainthood for only occasionally placing a well-placed paw on Sophie’s back to push her away from him. I dropped him back home on Sunday and drove back to Charleston on Monday. The Sunday drive was lovely. Bright, sunny, clear, with drivers confidently speeding down the highway in all lanes. Monday, however, was less enjoyable. 45 minutes into my journey the skies opened and poured down rain for 5 and a half hours of my journey. The stress of passing serious car wrecks caused by the weather and every lane clogged with people driving no more than 58 miles an hour made me irritable and not very excited to arrive back in the Charleston heat, sans Quincy. When I am stuck, like how I felt driving solo down a wet, gray highway, I turn to the one thing that pushes me through–country music from the 1990s and early 2000s.
20 year old country music? Really? If that’s what you first thought, you have likely been affected by the results of country music today on us. I’ll get to that in a minute. Right now, let me explain to you why old country music is the best country music.
The likelihood is very strong that the very first song to ever reach my ears was probably a country song, played on the radio of my parents’ black Nissan Maxima as they drove me home from the hospital in a snowstorm four days after my birth. Though my mother usually has controls over the radio, regardless of who is driving, I’m guessing my father already had the radio tuned into a country music station when they turned on the car. My mother, whose family has Mississippi roots extending before the Civil War, is no fan of the genre. She makes fun of the Rascal Flatts and their drippy emotional songs and Shania Twain’s energetic yelps in her songs that, according to my mom, sounds like a seal, with her usual amount of vigor when criticizing something that displeases her. My father, on the other hand, has listened to country at least as long as I can remember. His family hails from the northeast so I can’t say it was his environment growing up in the 60s and 70s involved any country singers on the radio. It remains a mystery to me why country is his favorite genre. As with pretty much anything else he explains, his reasons are vague and confusing enough that I can’t even recall them.
As soon as I put on Google Play’s “90s Gone Country” playlist, the warm, easy melody of Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria” played through my car’s speakers. This is promising! I told myself. My favorite country song of my childhood. I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but as a kid I didn’t know or care about song lyrics. It was the melodies of the guitars and violins, the harmonies of the singing voices, and the tempos of the songs that appealed to me. Put on any 80s song and ask me to sing along, I won’t get any of the lyrics right, but I will get the title and the name of the artist (“There’s a bad moose on the right” is a great one–such a classic!).
I still remember my British friend telling me the first country song she ever heard. Before she even mentioned the artist, I said “OH NO, DON’T tell me it was–” “WHISKEY LULLABY” we said simultaneously. Obviously, she never wanted to hear another country song as long as she lived. I don’t blame her! It’s beautiful, but that’s a good one to ease into once you’ve heard the happy songs by Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins. You made her cry, Brad Paisley!
Anyway, here’s a list of my favorite country songs. You really can’t expect me to limit this list to one Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, or George Strait song, so they’ve got several listed here.
Trisha Yearwood–She’s in Love with the Boy
John Anderson–Seminole Wind
John Michael Montgomery–Sold
Patty Loveless–I’m That Kind of Girl
Hal Ketchum–Small Town Saturday Night
Diamond Rio–Meet Me in the Middle
Tim McGraw–Something Like That
Mary Chapin Carpenter–Passionate Kisses
Kenny Chesney–How Forever Feels
Garth Brooks–The Thunder Rolls
Tim McGraw–Down on the Farm
Faith Hill–This Kiss
Martina McBride–Wild Angels
Travis Tritt–It’s a Great Day to Be Alive
Brooks & Dunn–My Maria
Garth Brooks–Friends in Low Places
Trisha Yearwood–XXX’s and OOO’s
Toby Keith–Should’ve Been a Cowboy
Tim McGraw–Just to See You Smile
Dwight Yoakam–Fast As You
Brooks & Dunn–Play Something Country
Jo Dee Messina–Heads Carolina, Tails California
Brad Paisley–We Danced
Tim McGraw–I like It, I Love It
George Strait–Check Yes or No
Sammy Kershaw–She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful
Garth Brooks–That Summer
Lonestar–Front Porch Looking In
Tim McGraw–Where the Green Grass Grows
Alan Jackson–Gone Country
Dixie Chicks–Wide Open Spaces
Shania Twain–Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?
I have such distinct memories for these songs. Alabama’s “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” resurrects an image of my father mowing the bottom of the front lawn on a a summer day, his usual Saturday afternoon routine. Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That” played on the speakers in our family room every weekend–it was a sign that my family would take things easy, of t-ball and soccer games I’d watch my brother play, and a break from school.
I still don’t know the lyrics to Diamond Rio’s “Meet Me in the Middle.” I just liked the beat. It was fun, happy, and it sounded good when played in the car. People getting along! Yay!
A major problem with country music today (and music in general) is that the image of the artist is more important than their voice. That’s disappointing.
Oh gosh. This wouldn’t fly today. But it didn’t matter then, because his songs were really great.
I look at the pictures of people I went to school with who went to college at very southern schools. They shed our school uniforms for another, less creative, more socially acceptable one. Country culture today requires girls wearing cut off jean shorts with fake cowboy boots because real ones are way too expensive and functional to dance in beer-soaked mud at frat parties and country music festivals at their schools. They curl their hair out to here and wear plaid, like plaid is really the only uniform of “country people.” The guys basically wear t-shirts and jeans with boots too, and a baseball cap turned backwards. Everyone looks the same. The. Same. I turned away from country music around 2004, when my best friend who previously made fun of the genre incessantly, preferring hip-hop and “Now 10,005” albums, enthusiastically began listening to our local country stations. She and all of her friends agreed it was great music to listen to at parties and sleepovers. That was when I knew country had migrated into the music that appealed to teenage girls because everyone else listened to it. So I stopped. Sugarland gave me headaches anyway.
Country music today lacks sophistication, cleverness, truth, relatableness, and nostalgia. Instead it encompassed everything I didn’t experience, agree with, believe in, or understand. Yeah, I can get that feeling of complete love and pride when I hear Lonestar’s “My Front Porch Looking In,” even though I’m not a father and I don’t have a red-headed child (or a house I own). No, I don’t want anything memorable to have started with a beer, thanks though, Frankie Ballard. I also don’t think it’s cool to key my ex’s car. And No! I don’t have long tanned legs and I don’t want to be a song to somebody! Don’t roll your windows down and cruise because of me! What does that even mean? It’s not relatable! Like 2% of the population may have popped out of the Georgia water with a bikini on and made a guy roll down his window. Ugh. I’d rather have wished somebody would have sent me a love note in elementary school with the directions “check yes or no” and not have it happened (lol, boys didn’t know who I was in third grade), than wishing to lie “nekked” in a bed with Luke Bryan (him saying that line gives me shivers, and not in a good way). And you know, my extreme un-impulsive nature growing up didn’t keep me from finding “Heads California, Tails Carolina” a thrilling idea (to maybe try in the far off future). I LIVED for the day when “She’s in Love with the Boy” would be applicable in my own life. Still hasn’t happened, but at least it was something I could think might happen! Country songs today don’t do that. My friends who have sworn off country feel that way because the songs they’ve heard are the songs today. It’s just a disappointment.
If you’re still unconvinced, listen to county artists active from the 1990s to now–I’d suggest Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley.
Maybe I’ve just grown old. Maybe the songs today don’t resonate with me because I didn’t hear them for the first time as a kid, who, for all intents and purposes, was still a relatively blank slate. Regardless, I’ll keep listening to the old country songs that resurrect some of the best days of my life.