As a little kid, I spent my hours in the backseat of the family van listening to 8 track tapes of George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Marty Robbins. It was Colorado in the 1970's, so it was pretty much the law. My sister and I bitched and moaned about it but we didn't have a choice so we began to learn and even sort of enjoy those songs. To this day, I can't remember if that van even had seat belts but you know I can remember all the lyrics to "Mama Tried" and "When Country Wasn't Cool". Other than an obsession with Dolly Parton and a love for Patsy Cline, those days were the extent of my country music education.
In an effort to extend my knowledge of the genre, I decided to listen to Billboard's Hot Country Singles.
Here's what I came up with:
Country was little shinier the last time I paid attention to it. Pretty people like Faith Hill and Shania Twain whose videos looked like perfume commercials were all the rage. Now it's cool again to be a little heavy set and not very attractive, well as long as your a man like James Otto who's "Just Got Started Loving You" is currently number 1. And the music is a little more basic too, shedding the gloss in favor of the old country sounds and subject matter. Honestly, I was expecting to hate a lot more than I did but it wasn't terrible. It's kind of bluesy without getting all Black Crows. The video is pretty ridiculous as it perpetuates the myth that fat white guys who look like Meatloaf can land a supermodel but all in all it's not too bad.
Further proving that today's country music is very much a man's world, is "I'm Still A Guy" by Brad Paisely at number 2. A tongue-in-cheek ode to masculinity, this song unabashedly exploits every country music cliche. Like "My eyebrows ain't plucked, there's a gun in my truck. Oh thank God, I'm still a guy". Given the fact that Paisley himself looks like a male model, the song could be interpreted as a "No really. I'm a badass even though I wore a sparkly shirt to the CMA's" defensive tactic. No matter he's hot and the song is destined to be a beer drinking classic for years to come. Personally, the lyrics were clever but I have trouble identifying with the "it rules to be a straight white dude" message.
Somebody in Nashville was really thinking when the went out searching for a cross between Avril Lavinge and Carrie Underwood. They hit the jackpot with Taylor Swift, the only woman in the top five with "Picture to Burn". Whoa. What a flaming pile of crap this song is! The ex-girlfriend scorned lyrics were done better in Underwood's "Before he Cheats" and the less said about her singing the better. Oh and her acting in the video is atrocious. This whole pre-packaged tween sensation thing has trickled over to country music and I fear the wrath of Tammy Wynette will envelope Nashville and suck the entire city into the depths of hell. Really. The song is that bad.
Elsewhere on the list was something with God in the title and something performed by a guys with blond highlights that I couldn't make it through so I assumed this little experiment of mine was pretty much over. But then I found "Love Don't Live Here" by Lady Antebellum. Sadly, it wasn't a ho-down version of the Rose Royce classic. From what I was able to gather from the video, this group is kind of like country's version of the Black Eyed Peas but without the scary ninja guy. The girl even has a Fergie-esque quality about her. The guys have hip hairstyles and perfectly trimmed beards. The song itself was pretty good. I don't know if I'd buy it but it did entice me to listen other songs by the group some of which I really enjoyed.
So what did I learn? Well, country is no different than anything else in American pop culture right now. It's energy has been zapped by consumerism and it's creativity is hanging on to a thread due to over-saturation. But sifting through the mainstream garbage is rewarding and the messages of country music are still relevant, regardless of how silly they may seem. Granted, I'm not uploading any of these tunes on my Ipod but I can appreciate them for what they are. Most of them, anyway. Yeah I'm talking to you, Taylor Swift.