My car radio is preset to country music.
This has not always been true. When I was a teen, I listened to rock and roll, of course. I still like the Beatles and Eagles and Moody Blues and the nostalgia I feel when I hear their music. But country music back in my younger years was more country-western, and I didn’t like the twang of the steel guitar.
Today’s country music isn’t just a guitar and fiddle. Some country artists have full orchestras behind them. There’s a great beat, whether it’s for a slow dance or fun arm swinging, head bobbing, toe tapping energy.
What I really love about country music is the story. Most songs aren’t just pete and repeat. I know, if you play a country song backwards the singer gets his wife back, his pickup back, and his dog back, but there’s more to it than that.
Country songs identify some universal emotion. Heartbreak, hope, sorrow, joy. It’s in the words and the passion in the singer’s voice.
There’s some philosophy, too. The romantic regret of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is reflected in
“Even if I knew you’d be my best and worst mistake
Girl, I’d still make it with you
Over and over, again and again
Even though we break up in the end.”
(Songwriters: Chase McGill, Jessie Jo Dillon, Jon Nite)
“I don’t know about tomorrow
Right now the whole world is right
And the memory of a day like today
Can get you through the rest of your life.”
(Songwriters: Charles DuBois, Ashley Gorley, Brad Paisley)
Male points of view are heavy in country music; few female voices crack the top 10 charts. I have a theory about that. Romance novels are mostly read by women, and they are dense with women’s emotions. Country songs even the score by giving male feelings. The songs have their tropes—drinking, trucks, fishing, hookups—but there are reasons we have tropes and clichés. They strum a universal chord.
Country songwriters are clever poets playing with words. I’ve been listening to country as I write these thoughts. Heart Break is two words in a song about taking time out from love by Lady Antebellum (Songwriters: Jesse Frasure, Nicolle Anne Galyon, Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley). A man contemplating an affair sees his ring ‘on the other hand,’ as sung by Randy Travis (Songwriters: Don Schlitz, Paul Overstreet). “If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?” was written by David Bellamy.
A song that resonates with me right now has the line “When was the last time you tried something for the first time?” (Songwriters: Darius C. Rucker, Travis Hill, Derek George). I’m older than I was in my Beatle days, but I’m still curious about the world. Me? Wild and crazy? Unlikely… but willing to try something new? Why not?
I asked my sister, who also appreciates country music, to give me examples of fun lines she likes.
“The girls all get prettier at closing time.” (Songwriter: Baker Knight)
“…I’m the only hell my mama ever raised.” (Songwriters: Bobby Borchers, Mack Vickery, Wayne Kemp)
“Girl, you ain’t much fun since I stopped drinkin’.” (Songwriters: Carl Reber Goff Jr., Toby Keith)
“She’s got the rhythm and I’ve got the blues.” (Songwriters: Gary Stefan Harrison, Dennis W. Morgan, Randy Jackson, David Conrad)
Remember a humorous or poignant line of a country song?