Country Checklist Songs Causing an Erosion of Values

August 7, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  39 Comments

Before you read this article, first read the quote at the very top of the page. I can’t think of a better example of music eroding culture than what some think these country checklist songs that are all the rage in country music right now are doing to the mainstream country environment.

On July 24th, a 19-year-old named Michael Skehill was heavily assaulted at a Tim McGraw concert in Mansfield, Mass, resulting in him having to undergo surgery and having his spleen removed. The Mansfield Police Chief when talking to CMT had a very interesting take on what is going on in country these days, and how it’s effecting behavior.

Country used to be an easy night for us. Now it’s anything but. Country’s just changed. I’m a country fan, but the music and the singers have a party motif about them now. It’s all about drinking.

And about fighting. These are two very important elements to the country checklist songwriting formula. As these country checklist songs have grown, so have fights and assaults at mainstream country concerts, according to my meticulously unscientific and wholly anecdotal findings. Look at the #1 song in country music right now, Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem”:

Yeah, I’m chillin’ on a dirt road, Laid back swervin’ like I’m George Jones.
Smoke rollin’ out the window, An’ ice cold beer sittin’ in the console.

Where ya learned how to kiss and cuss and fight too, Better watch out for the boys in blue.

Ya better mind your business, man, watch your mouth, Before I have to knock that loud mouth out.

“Dirt Road Anthem” was co-written by Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert, the latter being one of the performer’s on Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour this summer. Apparently it was not unusual for fights to break out between Brantley Gilbert fans during his turn on the Throwdown stage. When I interviewed fellow Country Throwdown performer Austin Lucas, he was complimentary of Brantley himself, but remarked on the trend of some of Gilbert’s fans to get rowdy during his set.

He’s one of the most popular people on this tour. He’s really doing well for himself, but the thing is, his fans, they cause, they have a lot of fights. And this is nothing against Brantley Gilbert, who I think is a really nice guy. All the guys in his band are amazing people, and a lot of his fans are really cool. But there’s also this element, that country pissing contest, that checklist of things that make you more country, and one of them is fighting.

Brantley Gilbert has a song called “Take It Outside”:

And if you think you’ve got the guts, Then lets take it outside
If you think your man enough, You really wanna knuckle up
If you wanna shed a little blood then lets, Take it outside
Now brother I don’t mind, I’ll be glad to stomp your ass
But if both of us walk out that door, One of us ain’t comin’ back

If you think the next thing I am about to say is that these songs should be banned, or that someone should pass a law, you are way off my scent. That would be worse than these songs themselves, but what is important to note is that when people consume bad culture, they can have a tendency to perpetuate bad culture. This is not just about taste. Usually the argument that people act out what they hear in popular music is a weak one, but maybe Music Row has finally figured out the formula.

Violence and bawdy language is nothing new in country music. Hell, Johnny Cash sang about shooting a man in Reno and snorting cocaine. But those were blues songs, and Cash was singing about the tragedy that was the result of committing those crimes. The country checklist songs are rap songs, and not just “Dirt Road Anthem”. They take the hardline machismo that is pervasive in many elements of hip-hop and have adapted them to country themes; a symptom of the the mono-genre and the coagulation of culture. These aren’t sorrowful songs about the outcomes of high crimes and hard living, they glorify the stupidity of youthful indiscretion.

To be fair, many underground country songs have these machismo elements. Hank3 has a song called “Punch, Fight, Fuck”. But these songs are also not being offered up as family entertainment, being played on public airwaves, or inhabiting the #1 song spot in the charts. Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” does not require a Parental Advisory sticker, though it condones drunk driving, underage drinking, and fighting for fighting’s sake. Yet songs that may preach about the consequences of such actions instead of glorifying them many times do because they contain dirty little words.

And I wonder if all this testosterone driving country’s checklist songs is the reason that the Top 30 country songs chart has no solo women artists for the first time in recent recorded history.

I always find it ironic when I find myself on the right side of a values argument here, since I consume and sometimes promote some pretty filthy, subversive content through this site, but there’s a difference in the context of the material, and who it is being marketed to. Certainly drinking, and even fighting have a certain place in our society that if it isn’t justifiable, it is at least acceptable.

I really don’t have any answers or solutions here. I’m actually sitting back and grinning at the beautiful little mess Music Row has made for itself. First it sold its taste, then its heritage to keep the dinosaur corporations that run country music afloat. Now it has sold it’s greatest asset, the very backbone from which the music stems from, and the asset that has always given country music a distinction from the rest of popular music. Country music has sold its values, and is creating a generation of knuckle-chucking assholes in Affliction T-Shirts, and the girls who love them.




39 Comments to “Country Checklist Songs Causing an Erosion of Values”

  • Justin Moore’s “I Could Kick Your Ass” and Brantley Gilbert’s “Kick it in the Sticks” (Music Video @3:17 further prove your point. It’s just another dragged out, overused theme in mainstream country music today.

    When I think of the complete opposite of these types of songs I think of Justin Townes Earle, particularly his first three albums. Calm, great music.

  • I wasn’t aware that a a higher elevation of rowdiness was permeating the Country Music industry. Could be said that it’s a return to it’s honky-tonk roots where Hank Williams and his band breaking their instruments over some of the more onry attendees. Music City is notorious for chasing the charts from the Nashville Sound ripping off Sinatra ad Bennett and the 80′s pop/rock torn it took. Now they’ve followed it into hip-hop machismo and found themselves right back where it all started.

  • It’s the “culture of poverty,” which you can boil down to taking pride in being stupid. Not just for inner city minorities anymore (not that it ever was).

    A common country cliché used to be the seemingly simple country bumpkin outsmarting the city slicker. Now, it’s just being dumb and taking pride in that dumbness. Why outsmart the city slicker when you can just kick his ass because he looks at you wrong? Or anybody else, for that matter?

  • Not to say that it does not happen but I have never heard of any fighting at a Hank3 show….and that is got to be one of the most diverse groups of fans there is!

    • There is a black and white youtube video of III playing “Punch Fight Fuck”, where he stops the song half way through because of people fighting and getting out of hand.

    • Mike, come to his show in Santa Cruz next month, we famously have the most rowdy H3 on the west coast. There will be blood. But the deal with that is pretty much everyone knows what to expect.

  • It doesn’t matter, the more of this crap Nashville makes the more special and unique our music becomes. As soon as people get sick of all the fighting songs they’ll move on to something else and the public will lap it up again, no need to pay too much attention to it.

  • When Johnny Cash sang about murder and cocaine, it was meant as a cautionary tale. There was an element of regret and a hope for redemption in his songs. When Hank III sings about taking unknown pills and drinking moonshine, it’s not a glorification of that behavior when the songs also include lyrics like “the mirrors are all busted and someone’s crying.”

    That’s the difference between artists who sing what they know, and artists who sing what they think is cool. Johnny sang about it as a warning. Hank sings about it because he knows his fans either recognize it as “just a song,” or know enough about Hank to know he’s not glorifying that type of behavior, he’s merely saying “I lived it.”

    Guys like Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert are in the same boat and mindset as their Affliction t-shirt-wearing fans. They act tough, they talk tough, they wear the same t-shirts as ultimate fighters cuz it makes them feel tough. You cram enough misplaced testosterone and Axe body spray in one room and host sing-alongs to lyrics like “Ya better mind your business, man, watch your mouth, Before I have to knock that loud mouth out,” and sure enough someone’s gonna get a Jager Bomb spilled on his Tapout shirt. Before you know it chests are puffed out and chins are held high and someone’s getting in a slap fight.

    • I like Hank III, but he’s got plenty of lyrics glorifying that same behavior. Take Little Bit of Smoke or Crazed Country Rebel for example.

      • Perhaps “glorify” wasn’t the correct word. He may glorify that behavior at times, but he doesn’t “encourage” it, not when you look at his entire catalog and songs like “Number 5.”

  • Are those really lyrics? I cannot even imagine a harmony to fit those pitiful words. Oh my goodness what has Nashville become? Greed and pride have overtook heart and soul. It doesn’t take a strong man to use his fists. A songwriter should write what they know. With these kinds of lyrics, I don’t want to know what a laundry list songwriter has been through, as I have doubt that they’ve been through much at all. They write these words for money, not truth. I need real soul to be moved. Here’s a bit of advice, in song form, for these Music Row young guns who think they’re so tough . . .

  • People these days don’t understand the difference between standing up for themselves/protecting themselves and fighting for the sake of fighting because joe blow bumped into you in passing and is too drunk to walk a straight line. sure, people are going to fight, it’s one of those things that is bound to happen when you put a bunch of drunk people in close quarters with really loud music. there’s alot of factors in how people are acting at these concerts these days. I think most of the problem is a general lack of tolerance for other people and just plain lack of respect for those around you … if the people listening to country music were to start living a few more of the values that come with being country there would be less of this. Only problem with that idea is mainstream country is being listened to by more and more people who did NOT grow up in the country lifestyle but are in fact arrogant, self righteous, self entitled suburbanites. I don’t fault them for being from where they’re from, but walk down the sidewalk in a big city and i’ll bet $20 you get bumped by 10 people and only one of them takes the time to apologize…

    • True country people rarely if ever go to concerts. Country people work all day then come home and work on their car/house /farm/garden, fish, and hunt. They cook their own meals instead of going to McDonalds and getting a horse burger and kangaroo nuggets. Country people might drive ten miles to the local bar to hear some hillbillies play. Or go lisen to their neihbor pick their banjo; but they don’t pay $500. and fly acroos the country to see someone. The people who go to country concerts are rock fans that are open to different styles.

      • Im a rock fan. But im not open to other stuff besides old country. I do like some off the new guys who play a little more rock than country but mostly just 80s honky tonk and post grunge.

    • I grew up and live in the 7th-largest city in the nation, a metro area with over 2 million people. I’ve been downtown, on foot, during any number of very high foot traffic events–the New Year’s Eve celebration, Fiesta, a Tea Party event, the last Spurs championship celebration, etc. I’m seldom knocked into and always apologized to. Then again, this is Texas and the easiest way to recognize another Texan out of state is by their good manners.

  • for a good musical discription of these “fans” see Split Lip Rayfields – Redneck Tailgate Dream – on Should Have Seen It Coming -

  • Triggerman – thanks for continuing this discussion. I don’t believe anyone will debate whether what you say *is* happening. What I have not seen anyone discussing is how/why music is mirroring society. You wonder why Country and Rap are merging? It is because the ‘consumers’ of both types of music are facing the same harsh reality. There are no jobs, no hope, and no future for many of these folks. They listen to their music, go to these concerts, and get drunk/fight to escape these harsh realities. In my opinion, what you are witnessing is history – the same thing that happened with jazz during the Great Depression. The first Great Depression made Music Row. The second one will kill it.

    • That’s a very interesting point. I would point out though that the New South and the suburbs in general are where this music is being targeted, BOTH rap and country, and one of the reasons is because this is one of the few demographics of the country that is still pretty flush with expendable income. But you certainly might be on to something.

      • Agree that the New South is one of the few demographics with expendable income, but that is disappearing – the middle class is disappearing. And just as the bling in Rap culture typically comes from illegal activities, how much of that expendable income being spent by the New South comes from illegal means? These genres are simply reflecting the collapse of our society. They are glorifying the only means of getting ahead in their society; and that society is growing.

        • The downfall of society may very well be at hand but those with strong conviction and morals won’t fall with it. I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable and nothing says misery louder than someone getting drunk, going to a concert and ruining what could be a good time by starting a fight for no reason other than they think they’re tough. I don’t think all songs about the very subject is glorifying it at all. Music is supposed to be an expression of the artist’s inner soul. If the new south wants to write songs from a “list” to sell more songs, then I don’t have the time or the energy to listen to them. I’ll show you how easy it is . . .and how stupid.

          down yonder in the dixie land
          things get crazy y’all, get outtahand
          but I got a beer in one hand and i’m drivin’ my truck
          keep runnin’ your mouth and you’ll be outta luck
          cuz I’m a downhome good ole boy
          just out for a good time

          I’mma slap you silly if you think I might
          back down from a two fisted fight
          so get on up and move on out
          I’mma gonna knock your teeth out

          • Denise – the folks who consume formulaic music are about as deep as a kiddie pool in Texas during the current heatwave. They don’t think, contemplate, or reflect on an artist expressing his soul. Nor do they reflect on their own actions and how those actions affect others (e.g. fights at the concerts, making money illegally, etc.). Most folks who read this blog don’t fall into that category. Unfortunately, our segment of society is becoming the minority. Music Row is selling what sells; same as MTV, VH1, etc. as referenced by DownSouth.

    • I agree LostInNYC. Long before our country’s credit was downgraded, our society as a whole was downgraded. Maybe it’s just me, but everything in pop culture seems to revolve around sex or violence these days. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m old fashioned. These elements have always been involved in our culture/society, but today they seem to rule the roost. And the youth today just gobble this stuff up. And of course it has invaded country music. There’s nothing anyone of us could’ve done to stop it. I think you’re dead on Trig, when you talk about the big mono-genre of music.

      As B.P. stated below, we are on the lost highway. The majority of the country has lost any of the values/morals(go ahead, call me old fashioned) that once made our country and our people great.

      Another great article here Trig, unfortunately the “erosion of values” goes beyond country music and can be used to describe our society as a whole.

  • “take my advice, or you’ll curse the day
    you started rolling down that lost highway”
    - Hiram
    As cautionary as it gets.

  • Trig, I personally come from Massachusetts and stuff like this couldn’t piss me off more. Before I get to fighting it is the entire culture of country that needs a make over. My father turned me on to Willie and Waylon when I was 13 and I have loved old country ever since. Now I can’t step outside without seeing some prick in a cowboy hat listening to Brad Paisley and claiming he is the biggest country music fan around. All of this has gone too far. Since when do these corporate pussys decide what’s country? Fighting for fighting’s sake isn’t country, that’s what low lifes do. However, kids have been drinking for generations, it’s one thing teenage boys do. That being said when I was a kid being country was sitting on my porch with some friends and listening to Waylon, apparently now its wearing a cowboy hat and acting like a dumbass.

  • funny to read this after telling you the story from the show we played just before pickathon man…a great example of the intermix of fan cultures where i got a confrontational moment from a guy wearing a fake prison shirt due to my long hair and beard…the general crowd was good, but, the “affliction crowd” grows
    and then the next day to be revived by pickathon was a great thing. a great group of music fans that festival was an great time to perform there…in front of people who came there to hear new music…wish there was more like it.

  • A big part of the problem is the younger generation and the “entertainment” they have consumed growing up. Their favorite shows are Jersey Shore where dimwitted macho goons fight with each other and brawl for no reason. Or they could be watching VH1 where they have no less than 17 programs which feature various groups of women (basketball wives, housewives, hip hop wives, etc….) fighting and pulling hair at the drop of a hat because someone feels “disrespected”. I am 35 and far from a saint but I have been in exactly one fight in my life when I was in 3rd grade. The younger generation seem to enjoy reliving what they see everyday and beat each other up so they can post it on youtube and compete to see who gets the most views.

  • I know what you mean, DownSouth, I was only in one fight, too….also in the third grade! Another thing is, it’s cool to be stupid, now. My grandpa’s family grew up poor in the hills of southeastern Ohio, no electric, no running water, nothing. However, they didn’t act like a bunch of dumb rednecks. They had their problems with drinking, and all, but they didn’t glorify it and they certainly didn’t go out and look for fights. Real country people live their lives with dignity and try to be good people. You’ll have your bad apples, of course, but I think it’s a far cry from the laundry list songs that you hear on the radio. My worry is that people will think that is really how country people are supposed to act, and then start applying the lyrics to their lives.

  • Down South pretty much hit it on the head I think. It’s today’s society that is the problem.The youth of today are exposed to non-stop filth and trash on TV, and on top 40 pop radio.(parents think it’s “cute” to see their little 10 yr old daughters singing S&M by Rhianna on youtube for shit sakes) So these kids consume nothing but trash songs starting at a very young age,watch fights on damn near EVERY reality show (not just on VH1.although they ARE the leader) and they grow up thinking that’s the way you’re supposed to act untill they get knocked on their ass a few times..

    There has been fighting songs for years in country music,yet you wouldn’t hear about near riots in the crowds.It’s today’s society,period.

  • Good article, Trigger, as usual. But I think the fighting you referenced has more to do with Mass. than it does pop-country. That said, you are correct in that the lyrics are inane. As such, it stands to reason that they are attracting a more inane audience. Once in a blue moon I’ll go to a concert. But it’s a PIA: long drive, drawing straws for DD, and dealing with amped up city cops. The few I’ve been to, folks are still fairly polite. But I’m no authority. If the audiences are changing, it wouldn’t surprise me.

  • It really comes down to the age of the attendees at these concerts. Younger kids are always more up to starting a fight, tearing shit up, or just being disrespectful. I may be wrong but the majority of the people who go see country music legends or underground country artists are primarily older people. I’m not talking old as in 50+ but most of the people are no longer college age people. Whereas most of the people who go to see artists like Brantley Gilbert are in the 15-25 age range. You see that at any live concert. I don’t see it being anything different really. I live in a college town and you just know to stay away from those college bars because that’s what your going to run into whereas you go to the more hometown bars you don’t see that.

  • Another great article Triggerman, however I have to say I’ve actually enjoyed reading the comments more! It’s always interesting to me to hear about people’s lives and that country versus city debate is endlessly entertaining. As a born and bred city girl who craves a quieter country lifestyle I can always see both sides of the argument. With so much turmoil going on in the world I’m just grateful to have a good job, friends and family and my two little dogs. Can’t ask for much more.

  • Damn kids today and their hula hoops and pac-man video games!

  • triggerman,

    I completely agree with you. I however dont just see the violent aspect of todays country music. I also see this new aspect of it getting more and more sexual and outright perverted.
    It seems every other country song glorifies violence or has a male singer shooting his mouth off about getting laid.
    “Rain is a good thing” why? Because its easier to get in his old ladys pants. “shake it for me” now thats original. And my personal favorite, “My baby loves to fish” gosh, what is he talking about? As bad as these songs are, the videos really drive the point home. If you dont believe me, watch an hour of country videos.
    Is this how counry music really wants itself represented? The guys as perverted horndogs and the women as a five dollar piece of ass? For Christs sake there is absolutely nothing wrong with having some sense of taste or class.
    Im 40, and i remember when i was a younger guy my folks having no problem with me having a country album.Country had an earned trust with them. I wish i could say the same thing to my kids.
    If country wants to go down this violent road, fine. If they want to appeal to the pervert as a target audience group, fine. But THIS lowbrow form of country does not represent me, my family or what i believe. It will be some time before my trust is earned again.

  • Ive see Hank Jr. and David Allan Coe many times. Ive seen fights at a few of those shows. People have been getting drunk and rowdy at shows for years. Long Haired Redneck, Id love to knock the hell out of you, fighting songs have been done for years in country. Sometimes a crappy artist does them and sometimes its a good one. Nothing new is going on here.

  • We in th Hank Williams fan club believe in promoting the true country sounds of those who lived, loved, and cried during that era. As someone once said, country music is 3 chords and the truth. An old black blues artist said country music is the “White Mans Blues.” Call us ignorant, stupid, uneducated, redneck, or whatever. If you aint experienced what this kind of music is about, you don’t understand the feeling. It could also be called the “White Mans” soul. There are many Doctors, Lawyers, business men of all types that still enjoy traditional country music.

    John Wise
    Secretary and Former President
    Hank Williams International Fan Club

  • One girl dies after fighting on a party bus on the way back from a Brad Paisley concert…

  • If this is surprising and new to anyone I think you are just not paying attention.
    To me, this is more about current pop culture than it is about any particular country music scene. It’s about time for the popular radio “country” to divorce from this label. How about just calling it pop music?

    I grew up in the local punk and metal scene. Going to shows meant violent lyrics, violent behavior, but rarely resulted in fights. If you fall in a pit you are picked up immediately and guided to the back if you so desire. The only blood shed was from people having too much fun and maybe getting poked by some dumb teen with spiked bracelets.

  • I guess Billy Joe Shaver must’ve been listening to Jason Aldean when he shot that guy in the face.

  • Not quite sure what to make of it, I just shake my head like I do most days when I read the news. That said, there’s no disputing the lack of creativity in Music Row shit. In an attempt to be hard or heavy these guys just regurgitate the same old bullshit. This morning I got up and put on To the Wind and On To Heaven. I can’t think of a heavier country song than Never Go To Town again. That there is proof of two things:

    1. The fact that song, much less anything on that record doesn’t get any airplay shows how clueless Country radio is. That’s a damn hit record there.

    2. It is possible to write and record a hard song that speaks to nothing BUT country values.

    Two weeks ago I was in a bar, listening to Sunday Valley on the sound system, drinking whiskey, and shooting pool with the bartender. Unfortunately I had to come to China to do it.

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