April 1, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  35 Comments

Pardon me ladies and gentleman for the bravado and grandiosity, but apparently it has fallen to me to be the master of the obvious, and the voice of country music’s conscience and point out that . . .


So why then exactly is country music paying more attention, and pulling more resources towards promoting Lionel and his new duets album Tuskegee than any other project in its history? This supposed “tribute” album to his hometown in Alabama is no more than a rehash of his greatest hits LP interjecting pop country vocal talent as willing accomplices to help smooth out Lionel’s “go country” transition. What this “tribute” album is, is a tribute to Lionel himself, and even though this album is less than a week old, The Academy of Country Music Awards is planning a full blown “tribute” to Lionel Richie tonight on their 2012 awards show.

Country music’s complicit and overly submissive posture towards Lionel Richie has been nothing short of miraculous. The media coverage of Lionel has been second to none, at the expense of more deserving country artists. The dialogue of Lionel’s country move, or whether the music on Tuskegee is even country and what impact that might have on the genre long-term has been non-existent. On the 2011 CMA awards this last Fall, Lionel Richie, LIONEL RICHIE received more face time than any other artist that wasn’t a host; over 6 minutes, an awards show eternity.

But the truth of the matter is that Lionel Richie isn’t using country music, country music is using Lionel Richie. Just like Jason Aldean, an Entertainer of the Year contender for this years ACM Awards said to CMT, country music needs to erase “negative stereotypes” that country music is, well, indeed country, and he hopes the ACM Awards help do that.

 Country music still kind of fights the stereotypes a lot of times. And here we’re having a country music show, and it’s in one of the glitziest cities in the world, so it just shows you that were not still sitting on hay bales passing out awards at these shows.

So instead of using awards shows to show why country is country, and why that is something people should be proud of and thankful for and something they should be interested in, country is trying to prove why it is not country, and that is where Lionel Richie, the Tuskegee album, and his ACM tribute come in. They are an apology to the rest of music by country, a plea for relevancy and attention to the outside world, a submissive move by country music that elucidates that country music’s identity and traditions as weaknesses.

The amount of artists more worthy of an ACM tribute before Lionel Ritchie measure in the hundreds, maybe in the thousands. It will be interesting to see how the ACM’s handle their tribute to the recently passed Earl Scruggs, the man who performed the theme song to The Beverley Hillbillies, in relation to Lionel’s tribute and the idea that country needs to apologize for itself for being so country.

If Lionel Richie wants to do an album of duets with current country stars to re-ignite a career and open up his fan base to a new audience, then great. And hey, if that ends up turning Lionel Richie fans onto some new music they love, then even better. But let’s call a spade a spade, and instead of being conflicted and embarrassed about what country music is, a genre whose name will always define what it is and where it came from, let’s be proud of it, unapologetic, and instead of being submissive to the rest of music in an attempt to stay relevant, showcase our best and brightest talent to create our own relevancy and have the popularity trends shape around us.

Lionel Richie may help country music achieve some short term goals, but he will never save it, and may set it on shaky ground, because…



  • Wow.

  • So maybe Aldean, Moore, Bryan, etc. should stop recording songs that are specifically meant to make it sound – at least lyrically – like they’re sitting on hay bales.

    • Back in the day Potts farm was the place to go
      Load the truck up, hit the dirt road
      Jump the barbed wire, spread the word
      Light the bonfire then call the girls

      I sit back and think about them good old days
      The way we were raised in our southern ways
      And we like cornbread and biscuits
      And if it’s broke ’round here, we fix it

      —from Jason Aldean’s #1 Hit “Dirt Road Anthem”

  • I was reading from one of the Johnny Cash biographies earlier today and I found a quote I think is relevant here.
    “Country life as I knew it might really be a thing of the past and when music people today, performers and fans alike, talk about being ‘country,’ they don’t mean they know or even care about the land and the life it sustains and regulates. They’re talking more about choices–a way to look, a group to belong to, a kind of music to call their own. Which begs a question: Is there anything behind the symbols of modern ‘country,’ or are the symbols themselves the whole story? Are the hats, the boots, the pickup trucks, and the honkey-tonking poses all that’s left of a disintegrating culture?”
    Sorry that is kind of long, but I hope someone would appreciates it here. One thing you pointed out in the article is how Aldean said we need to erase the negative stereotypes in country music. I couldn’t agree more, but the negative stereotype is him. I hate how people I meet look at my boots and automatically assume I listen to the shit that is being marketed as country today. That’s the problem though, the damn “marketing,” aspect. Again, sorry for the rant, I’m done.

    • The answer to your question depends on where in America are you standing. There are places in the Great Nation where folks drive pickup trucks because they NEED pickup trucks. There are also places where F-150s sell to folks that wouldn’t know come hear from sick ‘em. The same goes for many of the other cliche’s of the country lifestyle.

      • OK, my boss is gone, I can get back to my response.

        But beyond pickup trucks and hound dogs, we should examine what it is that makes music “country.” Country music has-until recently-relied on themes of broken romance, drinkin’, hard times and God and family. Lately, it seems the singers are all trying to out-country each other with girls dancin’ on tractors, bon fires swerving down a back road and driving until you hear a banjo. IMHO, if you’re true country, folks will know it and there will be no need to brag.

  • As Lionel Richie markets himself as ‘country’, should we expect to see Kenny Rogers on BET?

    • I wanna see Lionel ritchie bait a hook. Then ask him if he knows who “Jack Daniels” is.
      When he’s Tearin’ down a dirt road, rebel flag flyin’, coon dog in the back
      Truck bed loaded down with beer and a cold one in his lap
      Earnhart sticker behind his head and his woman by his side
      Tail-pipe’s poppin’, the radio’s rockin’, “Country boy can survive”
      … then I’ll believe it.
      THAT is real cuntry.

      • A coon that owns a coon dog, that’s hilarious.

        • Whoaaaaaa chill out on the racist remarks.

          • Relax black people can call us cracker, honky, and white trash, but white people can’t be politically incorrect?

          • Alright folks, let’s please stay on topic! Any further comments on this thread will be deleted!

        • I was waiting for the racism in thus blog, just because Lionel Richie is black. I’m no fan of his, (except when he was with the Commodores), but country music caters to racists. Never changed.

  • middle of the road
    man it stanks
    lets run over lionel ritchie
    with a tank
    – Billy and the Boingers

  • was it on the news feed here that I read Elton John and T Bone Burnett are getting together to make a record? So yeah…we got that to look forward to also. I think rap might be the least of country music’s worries.

  • Lionel Ritchie being country is so comedic, I just wish it was funny.

    • Ditto, Carla. Lol, when did a country singer ever dance on the ceiling? And Lionel probably never played his piano on the front porch or drove his Chevy truck through the mud on the way to the swimmin hole. Hahaha, and his daughter is a fine example of a down home gal.

  • this whole state of the industry is disgusting

  • This is why no one listens to the radio anymore. They shut down my favorite classic country station where I live, and finally replaced it with this type of garbage. Now I dont have shit to listen to when I’m fixing fence.

  • Don’t Worry Country fans I’ll be leading the way and standing up for Country Music.

    • Warren Silvers,

      Seriously? I went to your website and listened to your samples.

      It’s hard to take you seriously when you have Jason Aldeanesque guitar solos peppering your songs along with tired “country” cliches for song titles/lyrics.

    • Silvers,

      “For the steel guitars no longer cry
      And the fiddles barely play
      But drums and rock ‘n’ roll guitars
      Are mixed up in your face
      Ol’ Hank wouldn’t have a chance
      On today’s radio
      Since they committed murder
      Down on music row”

      I listened to your songs and these two men are talking about you too

  • They need to bring back country music like it was in the 90’s…not too twangy and not too pop. 90’s country music was AWESOME!!

    • Just how drunk were you during the 1990s?

  • he is now,,,everyone’s fuckin country

  • I was also surprised to see how Lionel Richie is being embraced so much by both the CMA and the ACM. Is the country music industry selling less CDs these days?? (I think pop is). I thought with the way Jewel, Darius Rucker, Kelli Clarkson, Bon Jovi and some others have moved over to country that it was the hot place to be. Or maybe they are getting pushed out of pop music which has gone to a very young style that is more “beat and rap oriented”.

    Anyway, Lionel doesn’t sing his songs on Tuskegee any differently than he did when he originally recorded them. So it is a little questionable as to whether it should be on the pop chart or the country charts. Is it Lionel Richie “going country” or country stars “going pop”? Seems like Lionel doesn’t go anywhere. The instruments arrangement do go somewhat more country.

    I would have preferred it if Tuskegee was “country artists sing Lionel Richie songs” rather than “country artists duet with Lionel Richie on his songs”.

    But one thing that does seem real – the country artists did seem to really like Richie and his songs.

  • Lionel is a fake country singer. Country music today isn’t country. It his pop. And mor like 80’s pop. Travis Tritt. Mark Cesnut, etc. John Anderson are country. Today’s country is junk.

  • Why do we, country fan base, have to listen to Lionel Richie ruin songs for other artists. Singing a duet with him always sounds so awful. He was great at what he sung. In the 80’s he was good, but putting him with superior talent is just wrong. I am tired of seeing him on awards shows and everywhere else.
    Tired od Hearing Him. Counrty is pure, don’t taint it.

  • Wikipedia may be the only reference material many here read, but at least it’s accurate on some things. Lionel Richie is from the country. One can’t get more country than Tuskegee, Alabama, even if he’s from a comfortable middle-class background. Before he was performing with the Commodores, Richie was writing and selling music to country artists. This was back in the 1970s. Lady, anyone??? Close your eyes and LISTEN to Sail On, Easy, and Still. The man has a twang in his voice that no amount of funk and soul have been able to erase.

    THINK about the lyrics you’re hearing. Country isn’t about being any specific color or demanding that the artist LACK a specific color. It doesn’t matter that he lives in Beverly Hills (or whatever tony town). Richie wrote some of the best music in many a generation, and the fact that it’s been re-released to such esteem means his music is classic and will last longer than any of these bigoted rants ever will.

    • “THINK about the lyrics you’re hearing. Country isn’t about being any specific color or demanding that the artist LACK a specific color.”

      There is some serious presumption in that statement.

    • I don’t appreciate you calling me a bigot. The only thing I am a bigot against is bad music and someone taking previously-released songs and re-marketing them, taking away the spotlight from original material.

      You assumed my hatred had to do with race, and then you assumed that I think Lionel Richie is a bad songwriter. In my review of Tuskegee I said this:


      “This music is not bad for what it is. Lionel Richie wrote or co-wrote most of these songs, and in their time and place, they are well-written, heartfelt songs that speak to everyday people and their emotional struggles and lives. I can see where this album would find appeal…Lionel came to his success by talent, not by mistake or subversion.

      And I also said…

      “However now in an attempt to rekindle his success, Lionel is resorting to subversion. Do we really need almost identical compositions of the same songs in a music world already beyond glutted with material? Why not try to make these songs country by introducing some waltz beats for example? Add some contrast and creativity to this album. At this point, the popularity of Tuskegee‘s previously-released material can only keep other artists and projects more deserving of attention farther down.

      • I reread the chain of comments and acknowledge that most of you did not make any bigoted comments. It was an unfortunate comment from one that started a nasty slide which you promptly clamped down on. Triggerman, you and your thoughtful posters have my apology.

        Whether or not you believe Richie is country is an individual decision, and I can see that Richie’s belated crossover attempt is capitalism at its best–or worst, but no one forced a single artist to sing his music. Richie has the right to pursue his happiness all the way to the bank.

        I actually didn’t buy Tuskegee because frankly, I wasn’t impressed by the duets. But Tonyrama has it right: the country artists and audience really seemed to enjoy Richie and his music.


  • Here’s the deal: make me believe Lionel is good. To heck with country. Lionel specializes in a sort of romantic and overdone pap I find completely unpalatable. Some people gnaw it up. Not me. Here’s two ways that are not going to convince me:

    1) Claiming you’re a songwriter and know lots of songwriters who agree with you. So what? Diane Warren is a songwriter many respect, and I can’t stand what I hear. Why are they good? explain it to me. I am cynical and do not accept record sales or hit records as evidence, but I can be convinced and know I have been wrong in the past about musical artists.

    2) If some disagrees with you, don’t call them a bigot unless you have actual evidence. I can’t take the Chieftans for more than twenty seconds; it doesn’t mean I don’t like Irish people and think Cromwell didn’t go far enough. It means I don’t like the Chieftans. Unless I start spouting racial epithets or disparaging the entire Irish race, you don’t have much basis to call me a bigot based merely on my dislike for an overly technical group of musicians (please, give me the Dubliners or Dominic Behan any day of the next millenium).


    er… wait. That’s three.

    Seriously, write something to make us believe he’s not pap. I can think of dozens of soul artists I’d be quicker to call country than Lionel (Otis, anyone? Or how about Millie Jackson? I’m off to listen to “Caught Up” again. Pfunk even did a fairly hilarious “country” song).

    I don’t like pap. I don’t care what it calls itself. It can stick a flower in its arse and parade up and down the street calling itself Ethel Merman, and I still will not like it. Convince me. Mr. Triggerman at least tries to do so.

  • This is an interesting discussion because much of what you assume Lionel Ritchie hasn’t done; bait hooks, driving a Checy etc. are the things that have become cliches about the image of country music. And the problem with modern mainstream music in any genre is that the image has become more important than the music. Folks like Swift and Shelton write about what they think people who listen to country want to hear instead of their own authentic life experiences. Though that may be because their real life is kind of boring.

    I believe that Country music is music not an image. You could grow up in Oakland CA and make damn fine country music. It is about the sound, no matter what you sing about or where you come from. I mean people in Oakland get drunk, and have cheatin’ spouses too you know. All music sings about universal topics in their own way and all music can and has gotten trapped by it’s own cliches (i.e. Heavy, Metal being long haired, loud, and about death). Music should be defined by the music and it’s sound not by the image. I actually wrote a lengthy article on my blog about genres and their cliches.

    And what makes somebody like Lionel Ritchie not “country” pertains more to his image and his background than to the music he creates. And that reeks of a kind of prejudice that I am uncomfortable with. ‘Tuskegee’ may very well be a mediocre half-ass, attempt to make country music and stay relevant. And Lionel Ritchie may lack any context or knowledge of the legacy of country music outside his work with Alabama in the 80s. But his roots and how he grew up may be very similar to what people call “country” or :white-trash”.

    I completely agree the CMAs and those at the head of country music as a genre should be showing off what country does best instead of hiding them in the shadows like they are the creepy cousin no one talks about, or the drunk uncle that ruins every Thanksgiving. I LOVE most country music right up until about the time Shania Twain showed up and VH1 named her a diva before they even gave a nod to Dolly Parton or Emmylou Harris. And I think country music, real country music, is and will remain honest and authentic and if the media doesn’t want to show off our goods, then we as fans and musicians must do so.

    A yeah, The Scruggs tribute was tacky and lame mainly because it was just Scruggs, no Kitty Wells, or Doc Watson tribute. Like they knew they had to do an obligatory tribute so they just made it as short as possible to get on with their shenanigans.

    I recently reviewed Kathy Mattea’s ‘Coal’ and ‘Calling Me Home’ as two of the best albums I have heard bar none in years. And Lyle Lovett seems to maintain a standard of excellence so I know good stuff is being made. And I feature classic country music regularly on my blog. FYI I am not “old” and did not grow up listening to “real country”, my generation spat out Shania Twain and Faith Hill in the same choking breath. But I grew to discover and love Kitty Wells, Bob Wills, Merle, Buck Owens, Roe Maddox etc.

    Ritchie’s album reminded me of another similar album I thought was actually quite good and fun, ‘Rhythm, Country and Blues” that came out in 1994. It was GREAT melding of country and soul traditions, especially The Possum and BB on ‘Patches’.

    So my suggestion to the country music artists who see Shleton and Swift and want that fame but cringe at thought of being unfaithful to the tradition is SCREW the image and just make good music. Forget the checklist of boots, tractors, front porches, and lazy rivers. If you want to have pink hair and a nose ring I don’t care as long as the music is good and shows you know your music’s heritage, it’s roots, and who paved the way before you.

    And just remember, “If you wanna play in Texas you got to have a fiddle in the band.” – Alabama

Leave a comment

Del Maguey
Old Soul Radio Show
Hillgrass Bluebilly
Best Of Lists