Anti-Nashville, anti-Music Row, and anti-pop country songs have a long and proud tradition in country music that stretches almost all the way back to the beginning of the genre. As long as there’s been country music, there’s been folks arguing about how to define it, what it should sound like, and speaking out when they think it’s going in the wrong direction.
The amount and the approach of protest songs seems to parallel the trends in country music. When the genre begins to move more in a pop direction, country’s traditional artists pipe up in song. After compiling this list, it was clear the majority of them were written around the early 2000’s. This was the heyday for anti-Nashville sentiment, though there’s been a recent rash of new anti songs here recently.
Let’s look back at some of the most memorable country music protest songs, and below that is a semi-complete list of all of the protest songs we could aggregate from around the web in no certain order. If you see one that is left off, please pipe up in the comments section, and if it is a song whose existence can be verified, we’ll add it to the list. And the song needs to be at least somewhat “country,” and needs to be mostly about speaking out; not just a line or two in a song. And no, this doesn’t include parodies.
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Dale Watson – Country My Ass, Nashville Rash, Real Country Song
Maybe the king of the country protest warrior poets, Dale Watson’s arsenal of anti-Nashville songs rivals anyone’s. All three of his big ones appear on his 2002 album Live in London…England. He’s since moved on somewhat from his early 2000’s orneriness, though you can still hear light jabs at Music Row in most all of Dale’s 20+ albums.
Larry Cordle – Murder on Music Row
Arguably the most successful country protest song of all time, it was written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell, and originally appeared on an album of the same name with Cordle’s band Lonesome Standard Time in 1999. It was made popular as a duet between Alan Jackson and George Strait, first being performed on the 1999 CMA Awards, then awarded the 2000 Vocal Event of the Year award by the CMA, and then winning the CMA Song of the Year in 2001. “Murder On Music Row” was never officially released as a single, but still charted #38 on Billboard’s country chart. In 2006, Dierks Bentley and George Jones recorded a version of the song only made available on a Cracker Barrel compilation.
Hank Williams III – Trashville, Dick in Dixie, The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand)
Probably the loudest and the most foul-mouthed of the anti-Nashville bunch, the grandson of Hank Williams pulls no punches. No, “Dick in Dixie” ain’t about a guy named Richard, nor is that what Hank3 suggests Jimmy Martin would tell the current Opry managers all to “suck” if he were still around in the song “The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand).” Immature or not, Hank3 made tremendous strides in raising awareness about many of the issues arising in Music City.
Waylon Jennings – Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?
One of the earliest country protest songs and possibly the most potent. With two chords and the truth, Waylon lays the wisdom down thick about how country music had lost its way in 1975 while in the midst of the “Nashville Sound” era. The song became a #1 hit, and spent 16 weeks on the Billboard country chart. It remains one of Waylon’s most signature songs, and the standard bearer for country protest songs, with the lyrical theme being reworked many times (and many replacing Hank’s name with Waylon’s) in modern songs of protest. Waylon was not known as a prolific songwriter, but he wrote this one himself.
Other Waylon Protest Songs: If Ol’ Hank Could Only See Us Now, Nashville Bum, Nashville Rebel
Darrell Scott / The Dixie Chicks – Long Time Gone
Everyone got so swept up in the political blowup surrounding The Dixie Chicks, they forgot they were a serious, substantive country roots group. Their excellent album Home included the most commercially successful country protest song of all time, and the 2nd best in chart performance, only rivaled by Waylon’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” Written by Darrell Scott and originally appearing on the album Real Time with Tim O’Brien, the song tells the story of a farm boy that moves to Nashville, become disenfranchised, and moves back. It became a #2 hit on Billboard’s country chart, and #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The bridge begins the protest portion of the song, followed by the pointed 3rd verse: “Listen to the radio, they hear what’s cooking, but the music ain’t got no soul. Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard. They’ve got money but they don’t have Cash. They’ve got Jr. but they don’t have Hank…”
George Jones- Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?
The most subtle of the protest songs, George Jones asks who will fill the shoes of all the country greats of the past. It was the title track on his 1985 release from Epic Records, and reached #3 on the Billboard country charts, written by Max D. Barnes and Troy Harold Seals. The song was also accompanied by a great video.
List of Songs of Country Protest
- Tom T. Hall – The Last Country Song
- Hank Williams Jr. – Old Nashville Cowboy
- Eleven Hundred Springs – Hank Williams Wouldn’t Make It Now in Nashville, Tennessee
- Josh Abbott Band – I’ll Sing About Mine
- Robbie Fulks – Fuck This Town
- Dough Sahm – Oh No, Not Another One
- John Hartford – Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry
- BR549 – Movin’ The Country, A-1 On The Jukebox
- Jesse Dayton – Hey Nashvegas!
- Alan Jackson – Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Up-Tempo Love Song
- Jason & The Scorchers – Greetings From Nashville
- Cory Morrow – Nashville Blues
- The Carter Family III – Maybelle’s Guitar
- Willie Nelson – Sad Songs & Waltzes, Write Your Own Songs
- Sturgill Simpson – Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean
- David Frizzell & Bobby Bare – Cowboy Hat
- Vince Gill – Young Man’s Town
- Jason Eady – AM Country Heaven
- Brad Paisley, Bill Anderson, Buck Owens, George Jones – Too Country
- Dallas Wayne – If That’s Country
- Marty Stuart – Tip Your Hat (not really a protest song, but very close)
- Brigitte London – Mr. Nashville
- Hellbound Glory – Waylon Never Done It Their Way
- Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon – Let’s Burn Ole Nashville Down
- Shooter Jennings – Outlaw You, Solid Country Gold, Put The ‘O’ Back In Country
- The Waco Brothers – Death of Country Music
- JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Dark Bar & A Juke Box
- Barbara Mandrell – I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool
- Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man
- Cross Canadian Ragweed – Anywhere But Here, Record Exec.
- The Geezenslaws – Bad Rock and Roll
- Austin Cunningham – 15 Songs
- Corey Smith – If That’s Country
- Houston Marchman – Viet Nashville
- Kenneth Brian – Something’s Wrong with the Juke Box, Nashville Line
- Laney Strickland – Ca$hville
- The Hackensaw Boys – Nashville
- Jamie Richards – I Guess They’ve Never Been to Texas
- Those Poor Bastards – Radio Country
- The Rounders – That Ole Jukebox
- Joey Allcorn – In Nashville, Tennessee; This Ain’t Montgomery
- Brent Amaker & The Rodeo – Sissy New Age Cowboy
- Joe Buck Yourself – Music City’s Dead
- Emily Herring & Henpecked – Has Country Gone To Hell
- Heather Myles – Nashville’s Gone Hollywood
- The Skeeters – Country Pop
- Erik Koskanen Band – Ain’t No Honky Tonks
- The Gin Palace Jesters – Nashville Penny
- Tommy Alverson – Purty Boys
- Ronnie Hymes – Dueling Kazoo (a Finger for Trashville)
- John D. Hale Band – Outlaw Groove
- Bobby Bare – Rough on the Living
- Marty Stuart – Sundown in Nashville
- Merle Haggard – Too Much Boogie Woogie
- Josh Thompson – Too Country
- Daryl Singletary – I Still Sing This Way
- Gary Gibson – I’ve Had All of Nashville I Can Stand
- John Anderson – Takin’ The Country Back
- Keith Whitley – Buck
- George Jones – Billy B. Bad
- Will Hoge & Wade Bowen – Song Nobody Will Hear
- Jackson Taylor & The Sinners – Country Song
- Jarrod Birmingham – Where’d You Go Country Music
- Reckless Kelly – New Moon Over Nashville
- Red Eye Junction – Living Proof
- Rebel Son- Stereo
- Lance Miller – The Beach
- Audrey Auld – The Next Big Nothing
- Pale Horse – Outlaw Breed
- Lummox – New Country
- Tim Hus – Country Music Lament
- Tex Schutz – Put The Country Back in the Music (and the Rock Back in the Ground)
- Roger Alan Wade – Jingle Jangle Angel
- The Deep Dark Woods – The Won’t Last Long
- Tom Russell – The Death of Jimmy Martin
- Jamey Johnson – The Last Cowboy
- Jerry Kilgore – Ain’t Got One Honky Tonk
- Whitey Morgan & The 78’s – If It Ain’t Broke
- The Divorcees – You Ain’t Gettin’ My Country
- Wesley Dennis – Country Enough
- Rodney Hayden – Goodbye Country Music
- Davey Smith – Country Went to Hell
- Ernie Clifton – Goodby Country Music Hall of Fame