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If you’re a male performer in country music right now, you may no longer have a choice. If you want to see your singles and records reach the top of the charts, if you want your songs played on the radio, and if you want to be in contention for the big awards, you better add some hip hop elements into your music.
It seems almost inexplicable that this statement could be made about American country music, but when looking at the top performing songs, albums, and artists in the format, and how many of them have at least some form of the hip-hop culture embedded in their music, the statement isn’t controversial, it is conclusive. And Saving Country Music isn’t the only one pointing this out.
“You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit? Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?” says Toby Keith, who not only was the best-selling country artist from the 2000′s decade, but is the owner of the influential Show Dog Universal label, and the highest paid person in country music from his stake in multiple record companies.
Even as a top label executive, Toby is having trouble convincing his own people to push music that doesn’t include electronic beats or rapping. According to Keith, when he brings them country songs, they tell him, “Eh, it doesn’t sound like what’s going on the radio today.”
The two best-charting, biggest-selling songs of 2013 so far have been songs that lean heavily on hip-hop influences: Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night.” Both songs broke records in 2013, with “Cruise” breaking the all-time record for any country single with 23+ weeks at the #1 position, and “That’s My Kind Of Night” breaking a record for the most consecutive weeks at #1 for a solo male performer—a record held since 1966.
Currently, the #1, #2, #6, #7 songs on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart feature hip hop influences, while Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, and Tim McGraw at the #4, #5, #9 positions respectively have all had major country rap singles, including Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” that was the biggest-selling song in all of country in 2011. Three of the five nominees for both Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year for the upcoming CMA Awards have cut country rap songs.
But just because a song has hip hop influences, doesn’t make it bad. It has been the combination of country rap and the laundry list style of lyricism that has been the 1-2 punch to the integrity of the country genre, and especially the material emanating from male talent. This trend has caused a recent uproar, with many artists speaking out, including artists who have themselves participated in either the country rap or laundry list trend, including Jake Owen who recently said, “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that,” potentially dissing Toby Keith’s hit “Red Solo Cup.” Keith was also arguably responsible for the first country rap song in the modern era when he rapped the verses in his 2001 hit “I Wanna Talk About Me.”
It may not be as much that Jake Owen and Toby Keith are being hypocritical as much as they are big stars that are expected to deliver hit singles, and they are sick and tired of chasing the current trends where there is little or no room for substance. When Keith spoke about his recent single “Hope On The Rocks” that stalled at #18 on the Country Airplay chart, he said, “…you start playing it to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and shit.’”
So does that mean we can expect Toby Keith to go the country rap route? “I don’t know how to do that,” Keith explains. “I’m not going to change much. And when it quits working, I’ve got other stuff to do.” But if he doesn’t, Keith runs the risk of losing his relevancy as a mainstream country artist. That is why we’ve seen middle-aged country performers like Tim McGraw and Ronnie Dunn cut country rap songs recently, and why most of the up-and-coming country males that are making their mark are doing it through country rap.
Peer and financial pressures are making it mandatory for male country artists to start off their songs with a hip hop beat, or rap the verses to their songs, even if it is just a verse or two. Forget the stigma of trying to bring hip hop into the country format. If you’re a male country star in 2013, you can’t afford not to.
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, I’ll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. We’ll see where the fuck you’re at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, “fuck you if you’re gonna rip us off like that on your first release.”
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I don’t even comment on these things, really. I don’t even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I don’t know. It’s, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and I’m like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: No, he’s not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture—and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, ““None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.” According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, ““They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’” (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” “‘Dierks’ has officially ripped off my song ‘In A Razor Town.’” Isbell fired off. “Dierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called ‘Home.’” Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about things—I don’t really believe in lawsuits or threats—I took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God’s answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF “OLD FART” & JACKASS”) ” P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
I like Will Hoge. I think he’s a good songwriter. A few months ago I wrote an article about 7 Men Who Could Immediately Make Country Music Better, and I included Will Hoge on that list.
Will Hoge is a man who could make a difference. While delving into the business of Saving Country Music, folks can get baited into falling into the routine of lampooning anything construable as pop country, and championing anything independent or traditional. But in the end it may be artists like Will Hoge who reside between these two worlds—who have both commercial appeal and artistic substance—that have the greatest chance of making fundamental change in the mainstream music world.
When Will Hoge scored a #1 as a songwriter for Eli Young Band, he was destined to become a hot Nashville commodity, and that is exactly what has happened. His latest release is a song called “Strong,” and like so many of Will’s compositions, it demonstrates heart, depth, soul, and taste. There’s a lot of emotion in this song. It’s weighty. But in the immortal words of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, it’s….
That’s right. The song itself is not a commercial per se. It was written to stand on its own. But just like Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock,” and John Mellencamp’s “Our Country,” it has been tapped to become the official song of the Chevy Silverado—destined to be played half a dozen times during every single football game for the next two years at least, and maybe longer. You may love this song now, but let’s see how you feel about it after the Super Bowl in 2015.
Unlike the other Silverado songs, “Strong” was never released on its own before being assigned this distinct position. Here in 2013, the official song of the Chevy Silverado feels just as much like an indelible American institution as anything. You can guess someone’s age by asking them what song they heard in Chevy commercials growing up. Does it make it somewhat shady, or blur the lines even more between commercial and artistic content that the song was never given its own legs before being released in this way?
I say no, and yes. By definition, this is a sellout move by Will Hoge, whether we like him as an artist, or not. Would it be fair to give him any less criticism than some people give an artist like, let’s say, Toby Keith, who’s made many appearances in Ford commercials over the years, and calls himself “The Ford Truck Man”? Does it make any difference that, unlike Toby’s Ford jingles, “Strong” actually has substance, and that it’s from an artist whose built a career on sincerity?
And then we get to the whole business of trucks, commercials, and country music to begin with, and my little semi-conspiracy that auto companies have been targeting the country music demographic with their marketing, and that is why there are so many truck songs in country music these days. And this leads to the conversation about the blurring of lines between what is music, and what is marketing. Jay-Z releases an album for free to people who buy a certain phone. Will Hoge releases a song through a Chevy commercial. At some point, it may become commonplace for artists and labels may use commercials and promotional product giveaways to release music in lieu of radio. But then again, who can blame them when corporate radio has become so collusive?
In the end, is the song good? Yes. For certain fans that worry about such things, is it unfortunate that it was released in a commercial? Of course. It’s a new paradigm that were likely to be faced with increasingly as music revenue continues to dwindle and artists and labels continue to try and discover new avenues to get their music to the masses. In the end, it was probably better that it was Will Hoge getting the payday for his truck song (that only mentions a truck once), instead of Jason Aldean or Tim McGraw, and that we will all be subjected to “Strong” over and over through the NFL season, and not McGraw’s “Truck Yeah.”
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
(the 1 1/4 for a good song, the 3/4′s for releasing it as a commercial)
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Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the LIVE blog for the 2013 broadcast of CMA’s Fan Fest, dubbed over the last few years as “Country’s Night to Rock.” Since our live blogs for mainstream country’s big awards shows have been so successful over the years, and because we had many requests to also create a platform for commiseration as what they call “country” music will dominate ABC’s airwaves for the next 3 hours, it was decided we’ll give it a shot for this event too.
This is not a live event. It is culled from footage taken during the CMA’s Fan Fest in downtown Nashville June 6th through the 9th at LP Field. As the night progresses, we will post our observations in an attempt to give voice to the other side of the country music spectrum. You are invited to join in through the comment section below. All times Central time.
Here we go!
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10:05 PM: Welp, that sucked. The show, most of the performances, the fact that my online stream crapped out twice, throwing me off my game considerably. But thanks anyway for everyone showing up, and to all those that participated in the comments (positively and negatively).
Now let’s cleanse our palettes with some true Nashville rising stars that exude soul and true country artistry.
9:59 PM: So hard to pick the most evil pop country star right now, but it certainly is a male performer, and Luke Bryan makes a real good case for himself.
And yes, you have NO idea how hard it is for me right to not make a certain off-color remark about a portion of Luke Bryan;s anatomy. But I made a promise not to revisit that line of humor….
9:57 PM: Just don’t understand The Band Perry appeal.
9:49 PM: Kip Moore would get his bung hole bleached on stage if he thought it would make him a star. No scruples.
9:48 PM: From SCM’s rant on “Wagon Wheel”:
As if legions of college town string bands full of anthropology majors mercilessly regurgitation “Wagon Wheel” over and over to try and score hummers from undergrads after the show in their Volvos with the back windows tattooed with political stickers wasn’t enough, now Hootie has lent his back to the collective toil of the Western World to do everything humanly possible to run this song into the proverbial ever-loving ground so hard that it taps the mantle of the earth and causes a catastrophic volcanic and tectonic event that wipes out the entire human fucking race.
9:45 PM: Who is Old Crow Medicine Show? Huh, never heard of them.
9:39 PM: Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood will host the CMA Awards again in November. Are we surprised? They have pretty good chemistry when the writers give them decent material.
9:36 PM: And yes, we sort of found a new online stream, though it’s kind of like trying to find a nipple through 1980′s cable filter fuzz.
9:33 PM: Kid Rock is like the accidental anchovie on my Zac Brown / Blackberry Smoke Hawaiian pizza right now. The reason his nickname is the “Wet Cigarette of Country Music” is because he can take anything and make it trashy.
9:26 PM: Yes, you absolutely positively can’t have any single music event in the English-speaking world regardless of genre or context without a washed up Sheryl Crow showing up and wheezing into a microphone at some point.
9:24 PM: A lot of people observing that Will Hoge’s Chevy Truck commercial is the most country thing on this presentation.
9:20 PM: If Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” didn’t mention “motorbotin’,” and “motorbotin’” didn’t have an adolescent sexual connotation, the song would have never made it out of ASCAP’s songwriting cubicles.
9:17 PM: Just remember folks as you’re watching Lenny Kravitz, he later flipped off this same crowd when they wouldn’t get into his 12-year-old rock anthem.
9:15 PM: Carrie Mess on Twitter:
“Hey Miranda, your boobs are on fire.”
“Are those vegan leather boots Carrie [Underwood]is wearing? Is she vegan pocahontas?
9:13 PM: Alright , so as we work to re-connect to the broadcast, well share some observances from other folks on Twitter and from around the web…
9:10 PM: Still trying to find a good online stream of the program folks! Looks like the CMA’s are shutting all the live online feeds down like the creativity in a Music Row recording studio. We’ll keep trying!
8:58 PM: Sorry folks, still trying to re-connect. All of our fail safe online TV watching outlets are not working at the moment. If anyone can procure a good link, please share in the comments section.
8:48 PM: Sorry folks, we are on the West Coast, and the only way to watch live is online, and our stream just got yanked. We’re working on getting re-connected!
8:43 PM: Aaaaaannndd, there goes our live feed. Working to re-connect!
8:42 PM: Got no problem with Zac Brown, though he’s not really my bag. Interesting footnote: Shooter Jennings, an artist that struggles to pack 350-person venues is charging $85 for meet and greet packages at his shows. Zac Brown band who regularly sells out 15,000-20,000 person shows at arenas, has an “eat and greet” where you eat a meal with Zac Brown and the band…. $55.
8:38 PM: Eric Church is not Outlaw, just ask him……but he’ll sell you an Outlaw T-shirt.
8:35 PM: Wait a second, did this asshole in Little Big Town really compare Eric Church with Willie, Waylon, and Cash ?!?! Blasphemy!
8:32 PM: There’s something especially sad a desperate about idolizing Luke Bryan and trying to craft your career around learning from his success, but falling short. That’s where Jake Owen is.
8:28 PM: “Double wide trailer back in the holler on a country road”? Jake Owen lives in an antiseptic penthouse suite and spent $800 on a fung shway expert to align his modernist couch and nouveau coffee table with his Tao.
8:25 PM: Hillary Scott is wondering why her man doesn’t take her downtown anymore? Because she’s got one 8 months in the oven. We don’t need anyone’s water breaking on the subway.
8:23 PM:Um, music?
Actually screw that, I’d rather see this chick school these dudes in ping pong than a Lady Antebellum live performance any day.
8:22 PM: How stereotypical is it that they got an Asian to be the super ping pong shill in this stupid bit?
8:15 PM: The name of this song is “Highway Don’t Care (hot pop star saves struggling has-been star’s dwindling career in label-forced collaboration)”.
8:12 PM: Who knows how much they cleaned this up for the tele, but this is the most on-pitch live performance I’ve seen from Taylor Swift in a while.
8:08 PM: Watching Taylor Swift 2013 is like watching the awkward girl next door nearly breaking her ankle trying to walk around in high heels. Just be yourself.
8:06 PM: Someone ask Taylor Swift what Max Martin, Shellback, and Scott Borchetta did with her soul after they stole it.
8:01 PM: What the hell is this? It ain’t even at the CMA Fan Fest. Jason Aldean is such a tool, and “1994″ was a total dud.
8:00 PM: They edited out the part when Jason Aldean got his various wallet chains stuck in the braces of one jubilant 14-year-old fan in the front row.
7:56 PM: I just don’t get these country music groups like Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum. It’s hard to identify with the various players. It all seems so arbitrary and random. One of the reasons we love music is through identifying with individuals. These groups are simply designed to take advantage of award show nominations.
7:51 PM: Working to confirm that Blake Shelton’s drummer was indeed injured before the performance, and was replaced by a Chippendale’s dancer, complete with sleeveless tuxedo and white tie.
7:49 PM: Yes, here’s the reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year….to sing a rap song. Beam me up.
7:47 PM: Leave it to pop star Kelly Clarkson to be the first performer to feature some traditional country instrumentation.
7:46 PM: SECURITY! There’s a banjo on stage!
7:44 PM: Man, that opening riff of Kelly Clarkson was straight up ripped off from Led Zepplin’s “Heartbreaker.”
7:42 PM: This show teases work like disclaimers. “WARNING: Coming up, Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, and Taylor Swift collaborating with Tim McGraw.”
7:39 PM: Interesting factoid, it took 7 Hobbits using shoehorns to squeeze Luke Bryan into his skinny jeans.
7:37 PM: Interesting factoid, The Perry Brothers’ hair was used by Peter Jackson to model the hair of the Hobbits in his latest movie.
7:35 PM: Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry needs to focus more on delivering an inspiring vocal performance instead of her pop-inspired stage gesticulations. They make her performances annoyingly breathy, though this is admittedly better than her AWFUL ACM performance.
7:32 PM: And “Ho-Hey” by the Lumineers is now officially the most ubiquitous song in the history of music.
7:30 PM: Going back to Carrie Underwood opening with a Guns & Roses song—this is par for the course for primetime country broadcasts. They feel the need to apologize for being country, so they always start off with a off-genre song.
7:25 PM: Of course we couldn’t get the performance of Brad Paisley with Charlie Daniels from Fan Fest. That would be against their “no gray hair” policy.
7:23 PM: The thing is Hunter Hayes is a good musician, who apparently can play anything. But he uses his talents for the forces of pop evil.
7:21 PM: Hunter Hayes on the Ellen Show, courtesy of Farce The Music:
7:20 PM: Hunter Hayes is the Justin Bieber of country music. Eternally pre-pubescent.
7:18 PM: So apparently I missed Carrie Underwood channeling Axl Rose?
7:16 PM: What??? They allowed Brian Kelley to sing??? That 7 seconds right before the commercial was the first peep I’ve heard from that dude during a performance in 2 years.
7:14 PM: Sorry folks, our online stream crapped out, but we got a good one now! Right in time for….oh, Florida Georgia Line.
7:00 PM: Here we go!
6:58 PM: In the spirit of full disclosure, I am currently located on the West Coast, so I am trying to hop 2 time zones away so that I can pick up the live feed. This may result in some broadcast interruptions as our feed has already gone down numerous times.
6:55 PM: One performance we will probably not be seeing is the one put on by Lenny Kravitz. During CMA Fan Fest, he went 15 minutes over his appointed set time, trying to get the crowd engaged into chanting a 12-year-old rock song. They would have none of it, and eventually Kravitz chided the crowd for not being able to “get with love,” and then ironically, flipped them the double bird as he walked off stage. So much for his upcoming “gone country” career.
6:52 PM: So according to Saving Country Music intel, the event is going to be hosted by Little Big Town, and will feature performances by Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Eric Church, Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz, Lady Antebellum, Jason Mraz, Kacey Musgraves, Jake Owen, Kellie Pickler and Darius Rucker.
It was November of 2008 at the annual Country Music Association Awards, and Kid Rock came out on stage to perform “All Summer Long,” a remixed rap rock song that borrows from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Warren Zevon. Never before had such a non-country genre-bending song been performed on the CMA stage, but considering Kid Rock’s strong ties to the country music industry, the performance seemed par for country’s course of slowly contemporizing away from its traditions….except for one curious thing.
Trailing Kid Rock out on the stage was hip-hop icon Lil’ Wayne. It was curious that Lil’ Wayne was there, but not completely surprising. Lil’ Wayne had performed “All Summer Long” with Kid Rock only 2 months before at MTV’s VMA Awards. But instead of rapping like he did at the VMA’s, Lil’ Wayne just sort of stood there, pretending to strum a guitar that clearly was not in the mix.
Why was Lil’ Wayne there? Nobody was quite sure, but at the time Saving Country Music surmised that this was an act of desensitization from Music Row in Nashville. Facing nearly a decade of declining sales and needing something to shake up the landscape, allowing rap to infiltrate country’s inner sanctum could be a way to grow country’s fan base, entice younger listeners, and maintain the commercial viability of the industry. The country music industry would have to warm the country fan base up to the idea first. So bring Kid Rock out, and Lil’ Wayne with him, but don’t allow anyone to rap just yet. There would be time for that down the road.
Just 2 weeks after the 2008 CMA’s, country rap king Colt Ford released his first major album Ride Through The Country, and soon small but well-supported independent country rap outfits like the LoCash Cowboys and Moonshine Bandits began to emerge, creating a substantial country rap underground that saw significant success in the YouTube realm, garnering 5 and 6 million hits on some videos despite having no initial label support, and no radio play. Country rap had already been around way before 2008, with Cowboy Troy releasing his debut album Loco Motive back in 2005, and many other independent artists dabbling with the genre blending concept years before. But Colt Ford began to open the door of acceptance for country rap in the mainstream by collaborating with country artists like Jamey Johnson, John Michael Montgomery, and Brantley Gilbert. Country rap songs were still not receiving radio play or award show accolades though. The country rap commodity was just too risque for mainstream labels and radio programmers to get behind, and it remained a very small sliver of the greater country music pie.
Then came Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” a song that initially appeared on Colt Ford’s first album and co-written with Brantley Gilbert, and everything changed. A mild-mannered song compared to most country rap, and coming from a polished Caucasian performer that the mainstream country community was already comfortable with, country rap was able to finally find it’s acceptance on the popular country radio format. In early June of 2011 at the CMT Awards hosted by Kid Rock, Jason Aldean came out to perform the quickly-rising single, and hip-hop artist Ludacris joined Aldean on stage, this time to actually rap. “History has been made baby!” Ludacris declared from the stage, and it had been. Mainstream country now had its country rap cherry officially popped, and rap was now a viable, accepted art form in country music.
And it would become a commercially successful one too when “Dirt Road Anthem” eventually hit #1 on the Billboard charts in late July of 2011. The effects of “Dirt Road Anthem” hitting #1 were significant. Radio programmers who had been reluctant to bring country rap to the airwaves for years had officially waved the white flag. At the time Saving Country Music also predicted:
Just like how you can blame a blizzard on a rash of births nine moths later, the Music Row machine undoubtedly is being retooled to meet the burgeoning country rap demand, and we will be seeing the results in the upcoming months. The only question is, in what form will it be? Will we see established artists adopting the new style? Or will it be the popularization of the Colt Fords and Moonshine Bandits of the world?
The prediction of Music Row retooling to become a assembly line for country rap was correct. What was not correct was the timeline. Apparently 9 months lead time was a little too optimistic, and after “Dirt Road Anthem” dominated the charts, country rap went somewhat dormant in mainstream country for nearly 1 1/2 years. “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best selling single in all of country in 2011. But in 2012, country rap was virtually absent from the mainstream country scene. As Saving Country Music explained looking at 2012 end-of-year sales numbers:
Rap sales were significantly down in 2012, bucking the trend of being one of the few areas of strength during music’s decade-long decline. Similarly, unlike 2011 when Jason Aldean’s country-rap “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling single in all of country, 2012 did not see a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.
Then came 2013, and “1994,” Jason Aldean’s follow-up country rap to “Dirt Road Anthem.” Though the song was a little too fey for mainstream country ears and topped out at #10 on the Billboard charts, it was the spearhead to what would become a massive and historic influx of country rap songs and influences flooding the country music format heading into the summer of 2013.
Blake Shelton, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year and influential personality from his work on the popular reality TV show The Voice, released his own country rap song “Boys ‘Round Here” that quickly became a #1. Country duo Florida Georgia Line who regularly incorporates Ebonic verbiage in their songs achieved a #1 single with “Cruise” that is currently poised to become the best selling song of 2013. When the duo remixed the smash hit with hip-hop star Nelly, it created yet another chart-topping country rap collaboration.
All of a sudden, hip-hop influences were, and currently are dominating the top of the country music charts, asserting just as much influence, if not more than indigenous country influences, with a bevy of new country rap tunes from numerous artists ready to be released, and mainstream artists lining up to try and be a part of the trend. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J made waves by collaborating on the country rap song “Accidental Racist.” 90′s country star Joe Diffie, the muse for Jason Aldean’s country rap “1994,” has released an “answer” song called “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” with the Jawga Boyz to attempt to exploit the renewed attention for his career. And Luke Bryan has recorded a country rap song with Auto-Tune maestro T Pain to be released soon.
But the infiltration of country rap is not just confined to underground circles and mainstream collaborations, it has touched the very foundations of country’s traditions and history. In May of 2013, the rapping grandson-in-law of Waylon Jennings named “Struggle” released an album with 7 of the 9 songs being Waylon tunes with Struggle rapping over them. The country rapping LoCash Cowboys have a song called “Best Seat in the House” from their new self-titled album that includes a collaboration with the recently-deceased George Jones—an icon of traditional country fans who traditionally do not favor the influx of rap influences in country music. The country rap collaboration is possibly the final track George Jones ever recorded.
Other artists that are traditionally seen as respites from the commercial trends in Nashville like Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and their mutual band The Pistol Annies have participated in the country rap craze, leaving mainstream country fans that are looking to avoid the trend few options. The Pistol Annies appeared in Blake Shelton’s country rap song and video “Boys ‘Round Here,” and Miranda Lambert participated in the “celebrity remix” of the song, even though at one point she took to Twitter to proclaim that remixes “pissed her off.”
Ashley Monroe appears in a just released acoustic version of the Macklemore rap song “Thrift Shop.” June of 2013 has been jam packed with new country rap song and video releases, with new collaborations rumored seemingly every day as artists and labels scramble to figure out how to capitalize on the country rap phenomenon.
Which begs the next question, is this a craze that will show a predictable lightning-fast life span and quickly fizzle, or are we seeing the long-forecasted dramatic, wholesale, long-term change in the traditional genre formats of American music, where all genres coalesce into one big mono-genre where contrast and diversity between disparate art forms will be resolved, leaving no true regionalism and no cultural separation, just one homogeneous corporate American music culture?
That remains to be seen. But wherever country rap goes, we can say with confidence that the way country music sounds in the summer of 2013 is very similar to the way the mono-genre would sound like if it is realized in the long-term.
Potential Ramifications of Rap’s Infiltration of Country
The benefits of the emerging mono-genre can be the breakdown of musical prejudices across genre lines, but the main impetus is the broadening of markets of music consumers for record labels to take advantage of. Though traditional genres can be helpful to consumers by classifying the style of the music so they can choose if it is worth their time, genres limit the scale of potential consumers for a given music franchise.
The problem with the mono-genre, especially for country music is the potential loss of autonomy and control over the music by the genre, both sonically and through the genre’s infrastructure and institutions. During music’s lost decade of the 2000′s when the industry bobbled the move to digitization, country music weathered the storm much better than other genres because it had its own built-in institutions like the CMA and ACM Awards shows, and the Country Music Association itself which unites US radio broadcasters around the country format. And unlike hip-hop or rock and roll, country music is heavily steeped in tradition, with legacy institutions like The Grand Ole Opry acting as pillars for the music. But if the term “country” can’t define a well-recognized sound, it risks diminishing the effectiveness and viability of these country music institutions in the long term.
Since the beginning, country has taken a submissive role to hip-hop in the formation of the mono-genre. Though you may find some small exceptions, country influences have not encroached on the mainstream hip-hop format virtually at all, and certainly haven’t risen to the point of dominating the hip-hop charts, like hip-hop influences are now dominating the country charts. Helping this trend along is Billboard’s new chart rules that take into consideration sales and plays of music from other genres in rating country artists. So country artists whose songs cross over to the pop or hip-hop formats gain extra points compared to their pure country counterparts.
Hip-hop is in the cat bird’s seat in the mixing of the two genres. Artists like Ludacris, Nelly, and Lil’ Wayne can benefit from the exposure the country format gives them, but hip-hop doesn’t have to return the favor. The reason there are no country-influenced songs at the top of the hip-hop chart is because the hip-hop community would not allow it.
Hip-hop as a genre is secure and confident in its standing with young demographics, and in its future, while country seems to be constantly wanting to apologize for itself and find new ways to attract younger listeners. Hip-hop artists are just sitting back, waiting for the managers of mainstream country artist to call looking for collaborations, and all of a sudden the hip-hop artists’ name and music are exposed to an entirely new crowd.
Some mainstream country artists like Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift have participated in hip-hop collaborations not featured in the country format, but the collaborations are almost always done on hip-hop’s terms, with the purpose of exposing hip-hop artists to a wider audience primarily, instead of vice versa.
The debate about the encroachment of rap and other hip-hop influences into country is much broader than disagreements based on taste. To maintain the autonomy and integrity of country music’s institutions, the genre music keep in check influences from other mediums. The argument regularly made for allowing hip-hop influences to infiltrate the format is that country music needs something new to continue to grow and appeal to new audiences and younger people. What this argument fails to recognize is that rap in itself is an over 30-year-old art form, and that it has a dubious history when mixing with other genres at the mainstream level.
When rap mixed with mainstream rock in the mid 90′s with acts like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, it was seen as the beginning of the mainstream rock format losing its identity, and the diminishing of rock music’s control over its radio format and institutions. This gave rise to “indie” rock, and punk and metal undergrounds that purposely avoided mainstream rock avenues and robbed talent from the mainstream ranks. Soon rock ceased to be the catch-all term for guitar-based American music, and country and hip-hop emerged as the more dominant and influential genres. Eventually rock artists like Darius Rucker, Sheryl Crow, Aaron Lewis of Staind, Kid Rock, and many more had to solicit country for support in the aftermath of mainstream rock’s implosion.
It is unfair to completely hypothesize what will happen with the mixing of country and hip-hop by what happened in the past because of the tremendous flux the music industry is experiencing due to the ever-evolving technology quotient. Everything an educated guess at best these days in music. But what we do know is that we will discover what the effects of the mono-genre will be because it is unquestionably upon us. The next question is, will it stick around, or will the mono-genre break back down into its traditional genres in the future? How country music as an institution will endure the changes remains to be seen, but country would be wise to keep open a debate on influence, tradition, and autonomy, with a very long-term perspective always in mind. Because if not, country artists could be finding themselves searching for another genre for support, just as rock artists did in the aftermath of hip-hop infiltrating its genre.
Every time the topic of country rap is broached, accusations fly that people who oppose the emerging sub-genre are simply opposed to country music evolving. But songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” and Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” would be bad even if the verses were sung instead of rapped. The vast majority of country rap is garbage to begin with because its aim is either strictly commercial, or it is a cry for relevancy from an aging artist. Trying to mix two forms of music that are naturally foreign to each other just makes the offense that much worse.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to mix elements of American roots music with elements of hip-hop and end up with something that is an honest artistic expression, full of creativity and respect for both art forms; something that can entertain a wide audience not by appealing to the lowest common denominator, but by offering an inspiring demonstration of talent.
Enter Adam Matta, an extraordinary and gifted old-school beat boxer who skills downright defy comprehension. Even better, Adam Matta is enthralled by the art of collaboration, including working with roots musicians. Over the years, Matta has lent his talents to the Grammy-nominated Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Wiyos, and the rootsy sound composer Sxip Shirey to name a few.
Adam Matta is just one example of a positive collaboration between the country and hip hop world. Others like to cite the bluegrass and dance beat-melding Ganstagrass. Beck has done some interesting things in the genre-bending realm that still treat the music with respect. And the Carolina Chocolate Drops even without Adam Matta have dabbled in blending music from the traditionally black and white worlds for years.
So when someone accuses you of being closed-minded to country rap or to country music evolving, give them a snoot full of Adam Matta as an example of cross-genre collaboration done right.
We all know them and we all hate them, those ubiquitous and ridiculous pop country songs that make us hang our heads in shame, embarrassed to call ourselves country fans, constantly making us having to explain that no, we don’t listen to that type of country. They pursue us doggedly, on the radio, over the speakers at the grocery store, blaring from a car full of high school kids at a red light.
Please note that this list has a few ground rules, namely that a song must have been released as a single to qualify (i.e. no Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist”). Also, songs that may have been classified by radio as “country” but were classified by artists or their labels as pop (principally Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) will not be dignified by being included on this “country” list either.
Positively nothing more than a pop dance song with a banjo, Luke Bryan commands country girls to “shake it” for the birds, the bees, for the crickets and the critters and the catfish swimming down deep in the creek, for the gerbils crawling way up his rectum to massage his prostate… oh wait, he left that line out, but you get the point. This song is like a frozen sledge hammer to the balls of anybody who has any sort of musical taste or dignity.
Yes my friends, this song actually exists, and was even released as a single. How do you out cornpone your corny competition? Make a pun about corn and insert into a sexually-charged urbanism, aka the Honky Tonk Badonkadonk songwriting formula. The writers of this song Jeffrey Steele and Shane Minor are not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you for buying into this worthless piece of drivel. If you think “Corn Star” is funny, then the joke’s on you.
13. Stuck Like Glue – Sugarland
This song sounds like it was made with a bubble machine. I don’t know what I hate worse in this song, the reggae breakdown, or the way Jennifer Nettles sings way on top of every note making this song especially unbearable to listen to. At least Sugarland’s cries for relevancy were answered by the song reaching #2 on the country charts, and eventually being certified double platinum. However since then, they have yet to have another hit single, and both Sugarland members are pursuing solo careers.
Florida Georgia Line is a horrible combination of Rascal Flatts pretty boy hyper-pop, and designer jeans Jason Aldean “backroad” laundry list pap. They are everything bad about quotation mark “country” combined into one big stuffed crotch sandwich. Punctuating how pathetic “Cruise” is, is the fact that these two dudes apparently don’t know how to use punctuation. The first line of the song goes, “Baby you a song,” instead of, “Baby you’re a song.” But what else can you expect when the title of their first EP was It’z Just What We Do. Yes, it’s one of those albums, blurring the lines between Ebonics and idiocracy. (read song review)
11. Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy) – Big & Rich
Big & Rich may think they’re saving horses with their fringe-lined parasols, dandy top hats and prancing midgets, but it is at the expense of our hearing. “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” acts like a good healthy turn of a corkscrew right after it’s been inserted in one’s earhole. “Save A Hose” has the the shelf life of a knock knock joke. Hear it once and maybe it makes you smile. Hear it twice and you can’t reach for the radio dial quick enough. This song is the reason fans of other genres think all country music sucks.
Boy, little did we know back in 1999 that this machination of mixing sex and farm machinery would become such a prevailing trend in country music. Chesney should’ve just stuck to figuring out what to rhyme “coconut” and “flip flops” with in his idiotic and incessant beach songs. What Kenny and his sexy tractor cohorts lost sight of is that the beauty of country living is in its simplicity.
9. Brown Chicken Brown Cow – Trace Adkins
Some songs we call “a joke” figuratively. This one is a joke, literally. No really, they took a punch line and figured out how to build a song out of it. “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” mentions corn fields and slopping pigs, but since these days less than 2% of Americans actually live this type of traditional farm lifestyle, he is not using these things to relate to people, but to disguise the fact that this really is a hip-hopish rock song, and that he isn’t singing to country folks, he’s singing to suburbanites that like to listen to this kind of smut as a form of escapism. Trace Adkins has become one of the kings of gimmick songs, with his super hit “Honky Tonk Bandonkadonk” being his most well-recognized hit. But even Trace had to admit later that”Brown Chicken Brown Cow” went too far, saying, “I guess I went to that well one too many times.”
8. Red Solo Cup – Toby Keith
That’s right ladies and gentleman, raise your red solo cups high, and let’s all toast the onset of idiocracy! This is not only one of country’s worst songs ever, it was possibly the first song written to be a video first and foremost. Make a stupid viral video for an even more stupid song and you have the spoon fed public eating out of his hands. And just because Toby Keith admits this song is stupid, doesn’t mean it’s still not in fact stupid.
A creatively-repressed Tim McGraw finally breaks free from the 20-year-old bounds of Curb Records, and like an out-of-control Catholic schoolgirl unsupervised, releases this scandalously ill-advised attempt at country rap, forever soiling his reputation. Realistically speaking, this may be one of the worst, if not the worst song on this list. But since it’s creative depravity is so heinous and obvious, it petered in the charts, and its impact was marginal compared to the Frankenstein-like super hit McGraw and new label partner Scott Borchetta were hoping to score.
“Achy Breaky Heart” is country music’s version of waterborading. The song itself was not as awful as the machine gun frequency and pandemic-like omnipresence it terrorized society with throughout 1992, until it and Billy Ray Cyrus’s atomic mullet rose to the level of becoming a national embarrassment that America will likely never absolve.
5. I Wanna Talk About Me – Toby Keith
Yes, you forgot about this little bit of mullet-era Toby Keith awfulness, didn’t you? Before there was “1994″ and before there was “Dirt Road Anthem,” there was this wretched piece of pseudo country rapping released in 2001, written by Bobby Braddock of all people. The song was supposed to be a hit for a young, emerging Blake Shelton, but his label turned it down as too risky. “I Wanna Talk About Me” wasn’t even Toby Keith’s first country rap. He had another single “Getcha Some” in 1998. But it isn’t just the rapping that makes this song awful, it is the self-centered arrogance of the lyrics.
4. Honky Tonk Badonkadonk – Trace Adkins
The title says it all. No really, it does.
3. Boys ‘Round Here – Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” is songwriting by algorithm and analytics, fashioning together words and sounds known to have the widest impact on mainstream radio’s weak-of-mind demo. It is the worst combination of both mainstream country rap and laundry list songwriting. The “boys” in the title of “Boys ‘Round Here” is fitting, because this song is rank immaturity. It’s the audio equivalent of sneaking out of your mom’s house to smoke pot behind a Pizza Hut. Though Jason Aldean’s “1994″ may be a worse song, “Boys ‘Round Here” might be more dangerous as because it is a chart-topper.
This song seems rather innocuous now compared to the newest wave of country rap that has given rise to songs like “1994,” “Boys ‘Round Here,” and “Truck Yeah.” But at the time, “Dirt Road Anthem” was the edifice of awful, the one that broke the doors open for country rap. As the best-selling song in country music in 2011, the impact of “Dirt Road Anthem” cannot be understated.
1. 1994 – Jason Aldean
Jason Aldean and his crack team of producers and songwriters were exhaustive in their efforts to compile only the absolute worst elements from every corner and crevice of popular music and then assemble them together to compose this ode to the decay of Western Civilization. At their dispose are hip-pop, wiener rock, laundry list country, Auto-Tune, and the general douchebaggery awfulness caused by a complete lack of self-awareness that Jason Aldean is a exemplary specimen of. These ingredients are then extruded into a feces-like industrial slurry that is injected into the hollow, mulleted, cop-mustached corpse of 90′s country semi-star Joe Diffie’s dwindling career.
In Music Row’s everlasting quest to train all of its resources on scouring America to unearth only the finest, most purest form of audio diarrhea, they have struck the mother of all motherloads originating from Jason Aldean’s unholy bowels. Yes Nashville, pat yourself on the back, let all of the Auto-Tuned stars sing out in unison as Stratocasters bray out a cacophony of stadium rock riffs in unified celebration–you have officially discovered the shittiest country music song to ever touch the human ear drum. (read full review)
In yet another landmark deal, Big Machine Records founder and CEO Scott Borchetta has commenced a joint venture in the songwriting realm with the pop world’s Dr. Luke. A songwriter and producer, Dr. Luke’s publishing company boasts 30-40 big names in the pop world–names like Katy Perry and Ke$ha. The objective of the joint venture is “to allow the two companies to co-publish songwriters with the goal of bringing country and pop writers into each other’s realm.” In other words, the deal will likely mean even more pop on country radio, as pop songwriters and producers collaborate more intimately with Big Machine’s growing roster of country talent.
The seeds of the deal were planted when Scott Borchetta suggested Big Machine artist Taylor Swift collaborate with songwriting producers Max Martin and Shellback on her latest release Red. The relationship resulted in two multi-platinum mega hits: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” As Billboard states about the deal:
The goal for both teams is to keep an eye open for the other, sending writers to L.A. from Nashville and vice-versa to fit the needs of the two teams. Naturally, both sides see the current landscape in pop music as receptive to the merging of the two cultures, evidenced by Swift’s use of various non-Nashville experts to assist with her music on her latest Big Machine release ‘Red.’
The new deal will mean that at the very inception of the creative process–the writing of songs–pop writers and producers will have more input in country music. It will also mean that since Dr. Luke’s pop songwriters will be working under the same corporate umbrella as their country counterparts, the collaborations will be more financially lucrative for the parent companies. The deal could also erode the genre integrity of the pop world, as country producers and songwriters from Nashville swap their tastes with LA-based pop acts. Similar to Clear Channel monopolizing radio markets and offering less choice to consumers, the Borchetta/Dr. Luke deal could mean the erosion of choice and contrast between country and pop.
The reason Saving Country Music often refers to Scott Borchetta as the “Country Music Anti-Christ” is not because of the way he handles his Big Machine roster. Compared to many Music Row CEO’s, Borchetta offers incredible creative latitude and financial fairness to his talent bin; a bin that now includes names like Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, Reba McEntire, and The Band Perry. But Borchetta might also be the most responsible party for the erosion of the term “country” in the history of the genre, as he continues to market songs and artists that are either pop or mostly pop through country channels.
Most of all, the new deal reaffirms Scott Borchetta as one of the leading minds in the music business. Country fans can hate on him all they want, but Borchetta has proven himself to be smarter and more shrewd than his Music Row brethren time and time again.
Last Sunday night’s Academy of Country Music Awards were set up to be Taylor Swift’s night. She was the artist with the most-dominant, most commercially-successful release in country music, and in the entire music world overall. But Taylor didn’t even win one award on the night, not even the fan-voted Entertainer of the Year that she’s taken home the last two years from the support of her massive fan base. Taylor Swift is arguably the most-popular artist in all of music, yet she didn’t even perform at the ACM’s except in an accompaniment role with her record label’s new toy Tim McGraw. The most significant development from the 2013 ACM Awards might not be Luke Bryan’s Entertainer of the Year win or the country rap performances, but Taylor Swift’s 0-fer with the awards and lack of significant participation in the presentation.
So what is going on with Taylor Swift and country music in 2013? For years the droning, tiresome argument of whether Taylor Swift is country or not has raged on incessantly, with the obvious answer from an observance of her music being “no,” but with country radio, country awards shows, and the country media and industry welcoming Taylor and her huge fan base in with open arms. But something has changed since the release of her last album Red in October of 2012, hinting that Taylor Swift herself may be wanting rid of the rigid country format that has firmly ensconced her in the crosshairs of country criticism for years.
Taylor Swift did not feel the need for a solo performance at the ACM Awards, but she scored the opening performance at this year’s Grammy Awards in early February. At the Grammy Awards the year previous, Taylor Swift won two Grammy’s for her song “Mean,” arguably the most country song she’s ever cut. She also performed the song on the Grammy presentation in a very country setting with shards of old wood as her backdrop, wearing a simple country dress and playing a banjo.
At the Grammy Awards this year, one whose underlying theme was the dominance for roots music with Mumford & Sons taking home Album of the Year honors, Taylor performed one of her most pop song to date–”We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” that included the most grandiose, ultra-pop live production possible. And even though Taylor Swift didn’t bother with a solo performance at the ACM Awards that were held in Las Vegas, she’s announced she will be back in Vegas for the Billboard Music Awards in May, where she will be contributing a full performance.
And then there’s the business of all of these Taylor Swift pop singles she’s been releasing one after another to Top 40 radio, while country radio goes virtually ignored. During the production process of Taylor’s album Red, at the prodding Big Machine label head and executive producer Scott Borchetta, Taylor Swift brought in pop hit producers Max Martin and Shellback to co-write and produce songs for the album. The collaboration resulted in only three tracks, but the three most pop tracks out of Red‘s 16 total songs. And despite being a small percentage of Red‘s content, the Max Martin / Shellback songs have comprised all of the album’s first major singles–”We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and “22.”
The tepid “Begin Again” was released to country radio, but it felt like a token afterthought to the more dominant “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” whose primary mix was purposely labeled “pop.” The “country” version of the song was the remix instead of the primary mix–an unusual reversal for a country artist–and was only available to radio upon request, not to consumers. 7 months into Red‘s album cycle, and country radio has yet to see a substantive single from Taylor Swift, even though the 16 tracks of the album include many songs in the same vein that Swift has found success with on country radio before.
And as to be expected, those pop songs have been massive commercial successes. “We Are Never…” has been certified triple platinum, and “I Knew You Were Trouble” quadruple platinum. And Taylor Swift is said to already be recording new material for a new album. With the overwhelming commercial success from the Max Martin / Shellback collaboration and the virtual ignoring of Red‘s more substantive, more country-palatable tracks, what are the odds of what the direction of her new material will be? Taylor does have a single with her name on it climbing the country charts, but once again it is the “Highway Don’t Care” song of Tim McGraw’s that she appears on.
Sure, as the album cycle of Taylor Swift’s Red continues to elongate, she may make a move back to the more country side of the world, but at this point, why would she? Though a wide view of Red still reveals Taylor’s propensity to be a pop star with substance, the way she’s navigated releasing the singles and handling the award show performances for the album seems to hint that she’s no longer concerned with participating, or even paying homage to either the country format that gave rise to her stardom, or the singer/songwriter depth that created not just a big fan base, but a loyal one; one that would never let a fan-voted award go by without a Taylor Swift win.
So if Taylor Swift is truly attempting to extricate herself from country, when will the country charts catch on and quit including her in their country rankings? And when will the country award shows quit nominating her? And however big of a fish Taylor Swift is, will she be gobbled up by the much bigger pop scene that doesn’t offer as much grass roots support as country? And how does Taylor’s move of not wanting to be perceived as a role model anymore factor in?
The tiresome arguments back and forth of whether Taylor Swift is country or not may soon be coming to an end, but not because one side or the other will win. It’s because Taylor Swift herself seems to be wanting to tell the world she’s no longer wants to be considered a country music artist.
Okay look. Let’s establish something here right off the bat. Brad Paisley is the best guitar player in country music right now, hands down. He’s a cunning, brilliant lyricist, and a funny, creative guy and a naturally entertaining character who has put together a great country music career from his universal likeability that extends beyond the lemmings of the mainstream country format to reach many traditional and independent country fans.
But Brad Paisley is bored. And he’s been bored with country music for years now. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love country. Brad is the savant of country music, but like the gifted kid in elementary school who when not challenged begins to lose focus or even lash out, Brad has fallen deeper into joke songs and gimmickry to keep himself engaged with country as time has gone by. He’s been boxed in by the rigid borders of the mainstream format. That’s not to say that “Accidental Racist” is a joke song. It is far from it except for the title. But aside from the obvious country rap arguments or the social commentary this song has already stimulated, this is Brad Paisley trying to keep his own music world interesting–a world where he’s mastered his instrument, won a CMA for Entertainer of the Year, and amassed as much wealth as any one man could need.
Listen to me. I don’t care what the intentions of this song are. And I’ll give you that some of its lines are well-written, including some of LL Cool J’s rapping parts. And I’m not just saying that as a positioning point. Lines like “Caught between Southern pride, and Southern blame” are hard not to feel. Brad does somewhat of a good job painting the dichotomy of the Southern experience, and the struggles and frustrations it embodies. But instead of mending wounds, “Accidental Racist” picks at scabs. And no, this is not a music opinion, this is simply an observation based on the reaction to this song that I’ve seen from various country fans and hip hop fans of many stripes and from many locales.
Because despite the optimism this song attempts to convey, “Accidental Racist” also conveys a level of judgementalism and reaffirmation of stereotypes that many people don’t appreciate. It seems to imply that if you’re a white man from The South, you have to work at not being racist. Just like if you’re a black Yankee, you have to work at not judging white Southerners. Even the title “Accidental Racist” comes across as an accusation. The term implies that you’re racist simply for being white and being born in the South. What an irresponsible accusation. And whatever happened to the idea of ignoring skin color? I thought that was the way we would end racism.
“Accidental Racist” is outside of what is relevant in music right now. Sappy racism songs went out of vogue in the 90′s. And it’s an oversimplification of the issue. Race in the United States is in a very fluid state at the moment. We have a black President. One of the largest concentrations of black Americans is in the South. If you’re white and living in Texas, you’re a minority. This is not 1991, and we’re not living in the shadow of the Rodney King trial. It doesn’t mean racism is dead, but in no way does it help to revert back to old platitudes and plays for emotionalism.
And frankly, I’m not sure I fully trust the intentions of this song. Why the gimmicky title if this is supposed to be such a ballad of complexity? Are we really trying to solve racism, or are we making a big splash to get people talking? And am I feeding this beast myself by writing these very words?
“Accidental Racist” is not just a country rap mix with controversial themes, this song is a play for an emotional reaction from the listener. Like Brad himself says in his song “This is Country Music,” “You’re not supposed to say the word Cancer in a song. But this is country music and we do.” And why does mainstream country music mention Cancer, children dying, troops dying, patriotic anthems, and other generic themes of emotional grandstanding? Because they’re easy, shallow tools to evoke an emotional response from the unguarded listener. They are the lyrical equivalent of the droning, catchy hip-hop dance club beat that can also be found in “Accidental Racist.” They are an easy, shameless, and shallow way to grab the attention of the teeming masses and their money.
And then we get to the whole country rap thing. After Jason Aldean’s huge country rap hit “Dirt Road Anthem” in 2011, 2012 was virtually void of country rap in the mainstream, and it seemed like it had been relegated to a small underground subset of country. But here in 2013 it has come roaring back to where you can now make the case it is the most dominant influence for male country music stars: Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and now even Brad Paisley–the last name on the tip of many traditional country fan’s tongues when they were asked to offer up a male radio star they could still respect. And “Accidental Racist” has done something no other country rap has done up to this point, not “Dirt Road Anthem,” not “1994;” it has awakened the ire of the hip hop community as well. Outside of country, this is the world’s first real interfacing with country rap, and as could be expected, they are appalled.
The way “Accidental Racist” is constructed, if you oppose it, then you’re a racist. This is the same accusation if you oppose any country rap. It also means you don’t want country music to progress, regardless of your true intentions, or how bad the song is you’re criticizing. “Accidental Racist” takes this dynamic to a whole new level. Brad Paisley wanted to make a country rap, and possibly to shield himself from criticism he added a theme tackling racism directly. But instead of shielding this song, the racism thread is where it went wrong. If Brad Paisley wanted a country rap hit, he should have just cut one. The walls separating country and rap have already been torn down, and he would just be keeping up with his mainstream country music brethren.
Do I think deep down in Brad Paisley’s heart he sees this all as marketing and that he doesn’t care about the whole racist theme at all? No, no I don’t. Anyone who tells you there’s no depth or wit in the lyricism is not listening to this song, or is too hung up with the whole mixing of country and rap to give it a real chance. I think in the genesis of this song was the heart of a good intention. But as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and it’s down that road that “Accidental Racist” steers country music, while having no effect on race relations in America.
1 3/4 of 2 guns down.
I know a lot of folks are going to roll up on this review hoping to see a crime scene unfold, hoping that I show no mercy and draw blood on this embarrassment of American country music. But the truth is, I don’t have much to say about it. I’ve got no dry powder here. What could be said that hasn’t been said many times before to the point of being redundant, or that isn’t obvious to the clear-minded listener? And the truth is this song is bad, but it’s not awful. There’s nothing really offensive here. It’s more par for the course for today’s country music. It’s this, or Taylor Swift. That is what passes for variety for mainstream country music fans these days.
“The Only Way I Know” is the self-coronation of Jason Aldean, Eric Church, and Luke Bryan as the new male country music superstar triumvirate. Not entirely off base considering popularity, influence, and commercial success (though Blake Shelton might have something to say about that), this songs and these artists are a fairly spot-on illustration of where corporate country music is today. It’s hard to think that Jason Aldean could loosen his standards any more, but that’s the way his decision feels to include Luke Bryan in this collaboration. Meanwhile what happened to Eric Church being an Outlaw and a rebel? Wasn’t it folks like Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan he was calling out in his song “Lotta Boot Left To Fill?”
Get-ups, gimmicks… Pretty boys acting tough… And if it looks good on TV. It’ll look good on a CD. Shape it up, trim it down. Who gives a damn ’bout how it sounds? You say you’re the real deal. But you play what nobody feels.
Yep, pretty much sounds like what we’ve got here.
Some have been accusing this of being a country rap song. I’m inclined to respectfully disagree. The verses feature talking and not singing, but they don’t feature the type of cadence that usually connotes rap. As I’ve pointed out before, spoken word and rap are not always the same. You also don’t hear the same hip-hop references to things like booming speakers, or the Ebonic/urban jargon or purposeful mis-speaking like in Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah,” Blake Shelton’s “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” or Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” This song is simply the generic arena rock approach to popular country music that happens to include speaking parts, possibly to benefit from the popularity of the country rap trend, but technically not part of it.
It’s not really a typical “laundry list” country song either, where countryisms are rattled off like rounds from a Howitzer. It has some of those elements, and make no mistake, the lyric “full throttle” is no less cliché these days than “pickup trucks” and “ice cold beer.”
Some critics have tried to glean a message from this song and Jason Aldean’s music as a whole, but they’re missing the point. Aldean isn’t trying to say anything here, he’s simply trying to release a song that will be commercially successful. It happens to be that the message of the song itself is a pretty straightforward story of people from the country working hard and pushing themselves. Aldean doesn’t deserve praise for this because he didn’t write the song. Nonetheless, the lyrics are not terrible.
Jason Aldean has been successful enough now that he doesn’t have to chase the trends, the trends chase him. He’s been making the same generic arena rock and calling it country for many years now, and just happens to find himself as the beneficiary of the flight from substance in popular country music. He’s a shallow man, and this appeals to a shallow world. But “The Only Way I Know” is not Jason Aldean’s worst, nor is it country’s.
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
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If you’ve found you’re eyeballs affixed to these very words, you’ve likely found yourself at some point trying to explain that you like country, but not that type of country. Once certain artists get to the very top of country pop, they seem to lose all self-awareness and begin to make fools of themselves, and by proxy, the genre that holds the same name as the music we love. It never ceases that when quotation mark “country” takes center stage, true country fans get embarrassed. He are some of the worst offenses.
Ironically, KISS is still the most country band on the stage. And where is that one dude’s hand? (with Lady Antebellum at the 2012 ACM Awards).
Don’t panic folks! No endangered cheetah’s were injured in the making of Shania’s outfit, just the integrity of country music!
A hip-hop artist rapping with Jason Aldean at the 2011 CMT Awards? That’s Ludacris! (hardy har, har!!)
Nothing says country like suspending yourself over a stadium of 70,000 people. Eat your heart out Sandy Duncan! (Garth at Texas Stadium circa 1993).
Just take a moment to sit back and really contemplate what the dude on the left is wearing. (Taylor Swift)
Does it really matter if Tim McGraw was trying to be funny or serious? (for the launching of “McGraw” cologne)
I have no idea what is going on here, or what is supposed to be going on. And frankly, I’m not sure I want to know. (Sugarland)
Yeah, there were no warning signs before Blake Shelton’s recent quotes. None!
Saving Country Music started in the spring of 2008 as an organization called “Free Hank III” meant to help Hank Williams III who was suffering at the time from the repressive business practices of Mike Curb and Curb Records. From its inception, many perceived Free Hank III as a bunch of foul-mouthed yobs attempting to prop up a punk artist by over-zealously portraying Curb’s deceptive and dangerous business practices.
Now Mike Curb’s repressive stance towards artists and his sharky dealings with other labels is a given amongst the informed country music community, with his latest ploy being the release of a duets album from Tim McGraw two weeks before the former Curb artist is slated to make his debut on Big Machine Records.
But Hank3 and Tim McGraw are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mike Curb’s draconian business dealings. Mike Curb’s rap sheet is long, so let’s take look at some of the most memorable Mike Curb wrong steps over the years.
Mike Curb Fires Frank Zappa
Mike Curb started his first record label Sidewalk Records in 1963 when he was 18. In 1969, Sidewalk merged with the ailing MGM Records, giving Mike a 20% stake in MGM and appointing him president. One of Curb’s first orders of business was to fire any artist that he felt advocated drug use, including Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground. However neither Frank Zappa nor his music promoted drugs. He was one of the few clean artists in southern California in the late 60′s, often referring to drug users as “assholes in action.”
Mike Curb Abuses Political Power, Pisses off California Gov. Jerry Brown
After working on the political campaigns for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford in the late 70′s, Mike Curb decided to enter politics and ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1978, winning despite no political experience and not even regularly voting in elections. While then California Governor Jerry Brown was out of the state running for President, Mike Curb used his executive powers to fiat through legislation and judicial appointments that Jerry Brown flatly disapproved of. Curb signed anti-crime legislation and appointed a controversial, ultra-conservative judge to the influential California Court of Appeals. Jerry Brown was a liberal Democrat, and had to rush back to California to rescind Curb’s actions. Mike Curb became so controversial, the California legislature created the “Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission” to keep Mike from making any new judicial appointments. The Sacramento Bee editorialized that Mike “tried to take advantage of [the] situation by making a controversial judicial appointment, but mostly succeeded in making an ass of himself.”
Mike Curb ran for Governor later, and lost.
Mike Curb vs. The Beat Farmers
Way before Mike Curb would bombard the country music public with incessant “Greatest Hits” releases from Tim McGraw (see below), or release albums with out the consent or knowledge of Leann Rimes (see below), he would pull the same stunts with San Diego’s offbeat country rock outfit The Beat Farmers. Signing a 7 album deal with Curb in 1986, the band first got sideways with the label when they found out Mike Curb authorized the release of a live album Loud and Plowed…And Live!! without the bands knowledge or consent. Then in 1993, after the band signed to Sector 2 Records in Austin, TX, Curb released Best of the Beat Farmers without the band’s knowledge or consent. The release nearly coincided with the band’s release of the album Manifold on their new label.
Mike Curb vs. MCA over “How Do I Live” Single
No, Big Machine was not the first label to be in a competing radio war with Mike Curb. That distinction falls to MCA. In 1997, MCA wanted to record the song “How Do I Live” for the soundtrack of the movie Con Air. LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood were the two artists tapped to contribute versions of the song, with Yearwood’s version eventually winning out because LeAnn Rimes’ voice was considered “too young” and her version “too pop.” When MCA released the Yearwood version on May 27th, 1997, Mike Curb in retaliation released Rimes’ version on the same exact day–a total contradiction of one of Music Row’s most hard and fast unwritten rules. Rimes was a Curb artist, and Mike Curb had a long-standing beef with MCA. The result? Neither version ended up making it on the soundtrack. Yearwood’s version did well on the country chart while LeAnne’s version stalled. So Mike Curb released LeAnne’s version to pop radio, where it set a record 69 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
Mike Curb Releases Ill-Conceived LeAnn Rimes Album I Need You
LeAnn Rimes was also in the middle of Mike Curb’s first major record dispute. In 2001, Rimes was working heavily on the movie Coyote Ugly, both playing herself in the film and contributing to the soundtrack. Instead of the current Curb practice of delaying the release of albums to keep artists under contract indefinitely, Curb had a stipulation that LeAnn Rimes had to release at least one album per year. Since LeAnn hadn’t recorded an album yet in 2001, Curb cobbled together various B sides and alternate versions to songs and released it as an album called I Need You. Curb then booked LeAnn on a nationwide tour to promote an album neither LeAnn nor her management being asked for permission to make or even notified about until right before the release. So LeAnn decided to fight fire with fire, using the nationwide tour to instead let the public know she did not support the release, including a very public admonishment of I Need You on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Hank Williams III’s This Ain’t Country & Thrown Out of the Bar
Hank3′s entire 14-year career with Curb Records was filled with tumoil. The first major conflict arose over an album called This Ain’t Country. Hank3 turned it into Curb, just to have Mike Curb deem it was not fit for release. Curb shelved the album, and then released it after Shelton left the label and after he’d fulfilled his contractual obligation for the number of releases. It was a way for Curb to squeeze another album out of Hank3′s contract, the same move Mike Curb attempted with Tim McGraw’s Emotional Traffic.
Hank3′s 3rd album Thrown Out of the Bar was slated to be released in late 2004, but Curb refused to issue it. This prompted Hank3 to start a “Fuck Curb” campaign that included T-Shirts, stickers, and the words “Fuck Curb” written prominently on Hank3′s guitar. Hank3 also took Curb to court, and like so many other artists with Mike Curb grievances, the court found in favor of Hank3 and made Curb issue the album that was later reworked into the album Straight to Hell. Curb also delayed the release of Hank3′s 4th album Damn Right, Rebel Proud for undetermined reasons, and since Hank had signed a non-defamation clause to his contract to get Straight to Hell released, he couldn’t even speak out against Curb’s actions.
Mike Curb Loses Long-Time Friend Hank Jr.
When Hank Williams III was born, there were two men in the hospital: Hank Williams Jr. and Mike Curb. For years Mike and Hank Jr. were very good friends and close confidants, until once again Mike’s oppressive business practices got in the way. In July of 2009, Hank Jr. announced his album 127 Rose Ave. would be his last with Curb after a 25 year partnership, and he did so with some choice words. ““You want to know the bottom line? This is my last album, and he’s (Mike Curb) history. . . We will move onward and upward, You just wait. We’ll have a lot to talk about. I’ve had some recording ideas that they didn’t care for. Well, there’s a lot of other labels that do care about it. We’re going to get off this old, dead sinking ship.”
By losing both Hank Jr. and Hank3, Mike Curb had officially squandered the Williams family legacy.
Mike Curb Jobs Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee Messina signed with Curb as a teenager and released 3 albums in the first 4 years of her contract. But then Mike Curb, like he’s done with so many of his artists, put the brakes on Messina’s output. Her last full-length release was 8 years ago, 2005′s Delicious Surprise. In the fall of 2006 she recorded the album Unmistakable that was originally scheduled to be released on November 6th, 2007. But Curb shelved the album, slowly releasing a number of singles from it in 2008 and 2009, but waiting 3 years after the album’s original release date to make it public, and then it was released it as an “EP Trilogy” with two of the extended plays only made available in MP3 format. ““For me, my fans just want to hear the music,” Jo Dee says. “They just want to be able to get it. And it’s been such a struggle for the last… eighteen years. I signed when I got out of high school. So for eighteen years I’ve been just kind of struggling with the label and having them release stuff or not release stuff.”
In December 2012 Messina became the latest artist to finally be released from her Curb contract.
Mike Curb Ticks Off Tim McGraw
Of all of Mike Curb’s transgressions over the years, his treatment of Tim McGraw must be the most comical, unless you’re Tim McGraw and his fans. Mike Curb released no less than 7 “Greatest Hits” compilations as a filibustering tactic to keep McGraw on the label indefinitely. This was followed by a protracted legal battle over his album Emotional Traffic that the courts finally ruled was McGraw’s final album on Curb, even though Mike Curb insisted Tim owed him yet another. And then when Tim went to release his first post-Curb album, Mike reared his ugly head again by licensing material from other labels and releasing a duets album two weeks before Tim’s Big Machine Records debut.
And this doesn’t take into account the countless other grievances artist and music entities have had with Mike Curb and Curb Records over the years. Lyle Lovett, a 20-year Curb prisoner, entitled his final album with the label Release Me with an image of himself tied up on the cover, symbolizing the binds of his Curb stint. Clay Walker also had public issues with Curb and how the label releases music, or doesen’t. His album She Won’t Be Lonely Long was released both as a full length, and an EP, both with two completely different track lists. “There can only be one boss,” Clay said, “and we know who that is.”
The last artist to leave Curb Records, please turn the lights out.
The Mono-Genre Theory in short states that all popular music is coalescing into one big genre where influences and styles from country, rap, rock, blues etc. coexist without any true lines defining their differences. As the mono-genre forms, micro-genres pop up, and the popularity of independent music rises as disenfranchised consumers seek out choice. The good thing about the formation of the mono-genre is the breakdown of musical prejudices. The bad thing is the death of contrast and diversity in popular music, a lack of choice, and the bleeding of regional influence out of popular music.
In recent years when the end-of-year sales numbers are released by Nielsen Soundscan, it has revealed evidence of this mono-genre coagulation. 2012 was no different. NPR even got in on the game, calling 2012 The Return of the “Monoculture.” Every genre except for the two super-genres of rock and country saw sales decreases in 2012.
- Alternative – down 4.3%
- Christian/Gospel – down 3.4%
- Classical – down 20.5%
- Dance/Electronic – down 12.0%
- Jazz – down 26.2%
- Latin – down 17.6%
- Metal – down 0.3%
- New Age – down 12.9%
- R&B – down 10.2%
- Rap – down 11.4%
- Soundtracks – down 5.2%
Rock sales were up 2%, and country sales were up 4.2%.
With all these declining numbers, it may seem like the music industry is still in the tailspin that plagued it in music’s lost decade of the 2000′s, but overall music sales were only down a very moderate 1.8% in 2012. 2011 will go down as the year the music industry finally righted the ship and stabilized from the fluidity the move to digitization caused. 2012 may go down as the year that a lack of substance stalled this upward trend.
(chart from Glorious Noise)
Rock has always been the most dominant American genre in regards to sales because it is America’s “catch-all” term for music. But as time goes on, country is acquiring some “catch-all” attributes as well, accounting for sales from artists that sonically are much more akin to mainstream arena rock than country. Meanwhile looking into the sales numbers for rock, many bands at the very top could just as well be called country, and are considered country, Americana, or “roots” by many fans and industry types. Babel by Mumford & Sons was 2012′s 4th best-selling album and artist, with 1,463,000 units sold. Sales by other Americana artists like The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers also accounted for rock sales despite their heavy roots influence.
Within the mono-genre theory is the idea that aside from rock, the two most dominant sonic influences in its formation would be country and rap. However rap sales were significantly down in 2012, bucking the trend of being one of the few areas of strength during music’s decade-long decline. Similarly, unlike 2011 when Jason Aldean’s country-rap “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling single in all of country, 2012 did not see either a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.
Meanwhile country dominated the top tiles and artists for 2012, with Taylor Swift coming in as the 2nd-highest selling album and artist, and Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Carrie Underwood all securing top 10 spots; the first time country has accounted for 5 of the top 10 spots in the history of SoundScan tracking. It’s also worth noting that Taylor Swift’s blockbuster Red was only given 10 weeks at the end of 2012 to tally up sales for the genre.
|2012 Top Ten Selling Albums||2012 Top Ten Selling Artists|
(Combines All Album Sales)
|Title/Artist||Units Sold||Artist||Units Sold|
|1||21 / ADELE||4,414,000||1||ADELE||5,167,000|
|2||RED / TAYLOR SWIFT||3,107,000||2||TAYLOR SWIFT||4,062,000|
|3||UP ALL NIGHT / ONE DIRECTION||1,616,000||3||ONE DIRECTION||2,978,000|
|4||BABEL / MUMFORD & SONS||1,463,000||4||MUMFORD & SONS||2,149,000|
|5||TAKE ME HOME / ONE DIRECTION||1,340,000||5||JUSTIN BIEBER||1,897,000|
|6||BELIEVE / JUSTIN BIEBER||1,324,000||6||JASON ALDEAN||1,855,000|
|7||BLOWN AWAY / CARRIE UNDERWOOD||1,203,000||7||WHITNEY HOUSTON||1,789,000|
|8||TAILGATES & TANLINES / LUKE BRYAN||1,105,000||8||MAROON 5||1,540,000|
|9||TUSKEGEE / LIONEL RICHIE||1,071,000||9||CARRIE UNDERWOOD||1,497,000|
|10||NIGHT TRAIN / JASON ALDEAN||1,024,000||10||LUKE BRYAN||1,432,000|
Once again the sales numbers hint that the mainstream music public seems to be yearning for substance. While super hits like Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dominated the download numbers, Adele’s 21 was the best-selling album in 2012. That’s right, an album that was released in February of 2011, and was 2011′s best-selling album, retains its crown in 2012 as the industry continues to labor to find legitimate titles and artists that can deliver both substance and commercial viability.
Of course physical sales were down once again, with CD sales declining 13%. But vinyl continued its upswing, accounting for 4.6 million in sales, breaking the previous record of 3.9 million in 2011. Even more interesting, 67% of that vinyl was purchased at independent music stores. These numbers parallel the point that the mono-genre’s formation will cause a flight to independent music by independently-minded consumers seeing choice.
Looking from a broad perspective, the 2012 music sales numbers continue to corroborate the theory of the formation of a mono-genre, with the one important addendum being the possible decline of the rap influence, and the rising dominance of the country and roots influence; a trend that promises to be carried in part into 2013 by the continued commercial success of Taylor Swift’s Red.
One of the most remarkable music events of 2012 must be how Nashville and some of its biggest, most bloated and notorious corporate citizens did the inexplicable: they began to tackle the issue of the massive talent glut in American roots music. As big record labels continue to tighten their ships, and radio companies like Clear Channel continue to buy up radio stations all around the country and nationalize programming, the ability for America’s major media companies to offer true choices in content continues to diminish. And when it comes to radio, the issue is likely effecting rural areas and country listeners disproportionately.
T Bone Burnett, renown music producer and the music director for ABC’s new television drama Nashville spelled out the problem in October, right before the Nashville series started.
Because the bottleneck of commercial country radio is so profound, there’s a wealth of incredible material laying around town. This is a big surprise to me, how many extraordinary songs we’ve been able to find. An industrial amount of bad songs, to be sure, but a surprising amount of really good, handcrafted, personal songs that people are willing to share with us because there’s no longer a platform for them to share their music at all. I hope that we become the platform for the people who are writing from their whole hearts.
And that is exactly what the Nashville show has become, pushing independent music from artists as varying as The Civil Wars, Lindi Ortega, and Shovels & Rope. In a recent article in The Tennessean, musician and writer Peter Cooper asked about Nashville, “How come the country music in a soap opera, sung by actors, is better than what I hear on mainstream country radio?”
When talking about Nashville, I often have to explain that I don’t “like” the show, and don’t even recommend people watch it. But that’s different from understanding the importance and power of an outlet like Nashville, and how its opening up tremendous opportunities for some independent artists.
And who owns ABC? Disney does, the largest media conglomerate in the world. Who is helping fund Nashville? Ryman Hospitality (previously Gaylord Entertainment), which owns The Grand Ole Opry and has been notorious for ignoring aging and emerging talent over the last few years.
And not to be outdone, another subsidiary of a massive media conglomerate based in Nashville, Viacom’s CMT, has figured out how to get on the independent music bandwagon by launching their new outlet with an emphasis on the legendary and the unknown, CMT Edge. 6 months ago, it would have been unfathomable to see an artist like Rachel Brooke featured on anything related to CMT. Now CMT Edge is digging deep, and doing what they can to shine a bigger light on music from the Americana world to aging greats.
Sony ATV, Nashville’s biggest music publisher, just announced a new program called Nashville Guitars and Bars meant to showcase budding talent coming up in the singer/songwriter ranks.
All of a sudden the big boys in the media business are playing a part in re-populating the country and roots music farm system that for years has been anemic and ignored. Why?
Because as I and others have asserted for years, there is commercial viability in independent music. No, of course it is not as financially lucrative as artists like Tim McGraw or Toby Keith, but that doesn’t mean that companies cannot create revenue by either helping to manufacture this music, or promote it or cover it. And as time goes on and the ranks of listeners disenfranchised with corporate music and its inherent lack of choice continues to grow, the trends favor independent music becoming even more popular in the coming years.
There is money in independent music, no matter how much independent fans might want to grovel over its monetization. Fans and artists have a right to be speculative of the intentions of some of these Nashville institutions wanting a piece of the action, seeing how their closed doors and derelict attitudes towards artistic expression and creative freedom is part of the reason an independent movement in music exists in the first place.
For years people have thought of Nashville as the home of corporate music, and that’s still true. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a rapidly-growing independent scene on Nashville’s east side and in other spots around the city. The word from many of the folks on the inside looking out is that Nashville has long surpassed Austin as the epicenter for independent roots music, despite Music City still being the home of Music Row and many other trappings of the mainstream music business.
I was as speculative as anyone about the intentions and viability of outlets like ABC’s Nashville or CMT Edge, and will probably continue to keep one suspicious eye turned in their direction. But for now, they appear to be working from a sincere approach of broadening musical perspectives and choices.
I’ve always said that all that independent, up-and-coming artists need is a chance. You put the good stuff right next to the stuff people are force fed through Clear Channel radio and they will begin to make better choices. Finally here in 2012, those choices are being made available through mainstream outlets, and the glut of viable artists and credible content pushing at the edges of Nashville like a balloon ready to burst is finally being alleviated by new outlets channeling real music to hungry ears. Without question more needs to be done, but this is a good start.
Garth Brooks was the man responsible from breaking the stigma in country music of signing up for a Las Vegas residency when he announced in 2009 he would start a string of weekend shows at Encore on the Las Vegas Strip. But to the surprise of many critics and fans, Garth, who officially came out of retirement to play the shows, did not re-ignite the wild pyrotechnic, flying harness days that allowed country music to reclaim the stadiums in the early 90′s. Instead he delivered a stripped down show featuring acoustic numbers and surprising substance.
Since then the barn doors have been flung wide, and the flow of country music talent to the theaters of Sin City has been steady. Shania Twain recently opened up her residency at Caesars Palace by driving a herd of horses down the Las Vegas Strip. Twain’s show is anything but stripped down, featuring flying motorcycles, dancing violinists, and prancing horses.
Last night Tim McGraw and Faith Hill began their stint of shows at Vegas’s Venetian, and apparently the show opens with an unveiled shot at country music’s traditionalists and two artists they hold dear: Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams. Tim and Faith’s “Soul2Soul” show opens up to Waylon’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” playing mockingly, to make light of the irony that a country duo is engaging in a full blown, ubiquitous and garish Las Vegas spectacle that attendees said was no different than Tim or Faith’s arena shows save for being shown in an 1,800-person theater.
From CMT’s Chris Willman:
The new Tim McGraw and Faith Hill show in Las Vegas gets underway with a fairly riotous joke before the headliners even make their entrance. As the lights dim inside the Venetian Theatre, the sound system blasts “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” Waylon Jennings’ gently lacerating 1975 hit decrying the glitz-ification of country.
The implicit gag is that both Hank Sr. and Waylon would keel over again if they could see just what sort of extravaganzas are being done in country’s name in Sin City 2012.
Waylon’s terse, two-chord commentary on the state of country music has become a battle cry for country music fans disenfranchised with the state of mainstream country music since its debut. The title of the song has found its way into many other songs over the years giving voice to the slow erosion of country’s roots and values. Using this song in this manner crosses and even more critical line than Tim McGraw’s country-rap cry for attention and relevancy, “Truck Yeah”.
If Tim McGraw and Faith Hill had any taste, they would pull this unveiled shot at Hank, Waylon, and millions of country music fans that believe Waylon Jennings made an important point with “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”; a point that is still relevant today, if not more relevant than ever.
Curb Records’ talent roster continues to contract. The latest defector is Jo Dee Messina, whose charted 9 #1 hits and sold more than 5 million records worldwide during her 18-year career. The reason? Just like Tim McGraw, Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams III, Clay Walker, Lyle Lovett, and LeAnn Rimes to name a few, Jo Dee Messina is fed up with Curb refusing to release her music.
After releasing 3 records in the first 4 years of her contract, the big Nashville-based music label put on the brakes on releasing new music like they’ve done to so many of their artists. Messina’s last full-length release was 8 years ago, 2005′s Delicious Surprise. In the fall of 2006 she recorded the album Unmistakable that was originally scheduled to be released on November 6th, 2007. But Curb shelved the album, slowly releasing a number of singles from it in 2008 and 2009, but waiting 3 years after the album’s original release date to make it public, and then it was released it as an “EP Trilogy” with two of the extended plays only made available in MP3 format.
“For me, my fans just want to hear the music,” Jo Dee told Chicago Now. “Do you know what I mean? They just want to be able to get it. And it’s been such a struggle for the last… eighteen years. I signed when I got out of high school. So for eighteen years I’ve been just kind of struggling with the label and having them release stuff or not release stuff. Now, we’re pretty much just free to do whatever we want with this new project so I’m very excited.”
Both Hank Williams III and Tim McGraw went through high profile fights with Curb near the end of their respective contracts. Curb’s modus operandi for the last few years seems to be to refuse to release artists’ last contractually obligated album to keep the artist signed to the label virtually indefinitely. Though Curb has lost most all of the court battles they’ve fought with artists trying to leave the label, their “catch and not release” program seems to still be in practice.
Many believe the character Marshall Evans, the controlling and manipulative record executive from the new ABC drama “Nashville” is based on Mike Curb. Marshall Evans continuously threatens actor Connie Britton’s character Rayna Jaymes with releasing a “Greatest Hits” album. Mike Curb famously released no less than 7 Greatest Hits albums for Tim McGraw while he was trying to keep McGraw under Curb contract.
Jo Dee Messina will be releasing a new album in 2013 on a new label.
So here are some specific thoughts on the songs of Taylor Swift’s album Red. This is meant to be an addendum to the more broad album review posted, so please read that first or in addition to this for the context of these reviews. I reserve the right to write more in-depth song reviews of any of these songs, especially if/when they are released as singles, but these are some general thoughts.
As a general thought on the songs overall, I thought there were too many of them. If you are going to release an album of 16 tracks (and there’s even more bonus tracks), they need to be solid. Instead, Red has some fat, diminishing attention from the stronger tracks. The 3 songs produced by the super pop duo of Max Martin and Shellback (“22″, “I Knew You Were Trouble”, and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) could have been eliminated all together, and this in itself could have elevated Red dramatically.
And yes, for those too lazy to navigate over to the main review, it goes without saying that none of this is “country.”
1. State of Grace
Excellent beginning track, well picked and placed. As I said in my broader review of Red, the album’s best asset is its ability to set mood, and this song is an excellent example of that, and does an excellent job setting the mood for the entire album. “State of Grace”, along with the song “Sad Beautiful Tragic” later on are the best pieces of evidence that Taylor Swift is not your standard pop fare. You would never hear anything like this from Katy Perry. Parts of the song are downright chordy (musician’s jargon for chord changes that aren’t intuitive).
Two guns up.
For a pop song, “Red” regales the listener with tremendous depth of composition. The structure of the song gives Taylor’s verses freedom from rhyme so she can pick the most potent words instead of worrying with pentameter. At times the lines of the verses are too long for the music, meaning Taylor must start singing early. But instead of sounding like a mistake, the uniqueness of this structure draws you in, makes you pay closer attention to the lyrics. There’s a guitar solo folks! And it it’s not half bad. Not technically impressive, but tasteful and appropriate to the mood, which leads you into a half-timed chorus which is where if this song hasn’t reeled you in yet, hook pierces flesh.
The vocal/electronico “la da da da” parts in the chorus are a little too obvious, but do their job of making this song catchy throughout. Lyrically “Red” is more mature than the pre-schoolish “ok class let’s match colors with moods” theme that presents itself on the surface. That is the base, but from there the song evolves to be about the biting pain of wanted love not allowed to progress to its fruition. For the first time from Swift, there’s a sexual dynamic to a song, however mild and veiled.
The goal of any songwriter is to make you feel the same emotions they were when they were in the throes of the inspiration of the song, and this is what Taylor does in “Red.”
Two guns up.
This is probably the song on Red that I’m most interested in hearing the back story on or an explanation for, though we’ll probably never get it, or at least never get it in an honest form. It’s a fairly sexual song, or at least as sexual as Taylor Swift is willing to get to this point. Your imagination can run wild with “Treacherous”, and that’s what makes it work. The drug-like shot of endorphins the body emits when it knows it is about to do something either wrong or dangerous is where this song dwells, and Swift puts you right back there in that experience we’ve all felt at one point. Once again, her ability to conjure up mood is a strong suit.
Two guns up.
This is the worst song Taylor Swift has ever released in her career, and unlike some of her early songs that reeked of immaturity (because she was young at the time she wrote them), this one has no excuse. Taylor Swift knows better now, and she still did it. Just like with the 2nd worse track on this album, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” that she says she wrote it to be purposefully annoying, Taylor Swift may try to play off this track (and the other ultra pop tracks on the album) as irony, but don’t buy it. This is an obvious attempt and pop and R&B radio play.
The greatest sin of this song is Taylor is not being herself. We all know Taylor isn’t a party girl. She’s gone out of her way to make that point about herself many times. If she wanted to do a song just for fun, like say “Stay, Stay, Stay” or even possibly “Starlight” it would be one thing. But we know Taylor Swift and she’s not some club jumper. This song is out of her element, and honestly, embarrassing. And unfortunately, this is one of these tracks where the awfulness bleeds over to the other tracks, diminishing them and the whole Red project by proxy. This song might make her lots of money, but in the long run it will be an albatross around her neck, weighing down her attempts to appeal to both commercial viability and substance, and certainly will be a huge turnoff to the traditional, and even moderate country crowd.
This is club music parody that will even piss off the club music crowd. It feels like her answer to country rap.
Two guns way down.
5. All Too Well
Swift teams back up with co-writer Liz Rose–the woman who co-wrote many of Swift’s early hits from her first two albums–for the longest song on Red, and one I can’t find much fault in, but one I just couldn’t get in to. We’ll see if this song grows on you, but for the moment it’s pretty nondescript. I do like how Swift’s story builds out from a scarf still kept by an ex-lover.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
Of the Max Martin/Shellback-produced songs, this is probably the one that is most palatable, and the one that probably started out as something much better in raw song form than the dance club Frankenstein it turned into. Swift has gone out of her way to say that she is not a party girl. I’m sure we’ll get an explanation about how this song is supposed to be ironic at some point, but I’m getting tired of that being the stock excuse every time an artist that wants to be known for substance releases a cash cow song.
I may catch hell for saying this, but I think this song has a little something. What does it have? I don’t know because I can’t quite put my finger on it through the awful production. But I think Taylor might be trying to speak about the shallowness of the young 20′s party life we’re all sold as being so glamorous through popular culture. But instead, Martin/Shellback make “22″ a purveyor of it.
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
7. I Almost Do
A good song, though probably a filler track on the album. Not from a sonic standpoint, but from a songwriting standpoint, this is one of the more “country” songs on Red in the way it works out from a lyrical hook. The problem is the “I Almost Do” hook really doesn’t bite like it needs to to make the song memorable on an album the contains such wild mood swings and contrast, and the music isn’t much help. But there’s nothing wrong with “I Almost Do”, and Taylor does a good job communicating that unsettled frame of mind when you’re not quite over a lover, but you’re beyond the point of knowing it will never work.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
The 2nd-worse song of the Shellback/Max Martin-produced tracks, and probably the 2nd-worse song Taylor has released in her career. Don’t buy into the idea that this song is bad to be ironic, it’s just bad. And releasing it as the lead single was another unfortunate miscue.
“We Are Never Getting Back Together” is as saccharine as any Taylor Swift selection, and rivals any of her songs for being the most pop. From an artist that has shied away from voice enhancements and digital treatments, there’s something automated going on here, though I’m not confident enough to level the charge of Auto-tune. “We Are Never…” is ultra-catchy, I mean I was humming this dumb thing hours after Taylor’s fluffy presser had gone off air; so catchy that any type of redeeming creative content in the song is rendered benign.”
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
9. Stay Stay Stay
See now, if this was Red‘s fun foray into the pop world, what a completely different feel the whole project would have had. This is a silly song, but that’s okay. Taylor is 22-years-old and doesn’t want her music to be all doom and gloom. This is the first of two songs (Starlight being the 2nd) that I hear a lot of 80′s pop influence in. I was under the impression that the ship had sailed on the whole 80′s resurgence, but either apparently I am wrong, or apparently Taylor is keeping it alive. Some people will complain that there’s nothing country about it, and that goes without saying. The bass guitar and song structure are fun.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
10. The Last Time
There is a long-standing tradition of duets in country music, and I think it is very telling that for both the duets on Red, Taylor reached out to the rock world, and to the British Isles; about as far away as you can get from country without being obvious. This may be just as solid as a piece of evidence that Swift’s heart is truly not into country as anything. This is what she listens to, Snow Patrol and other bands like them, not the contributions from country, or the greater American roots world. Nothing against Gary Lightbody, or even this song. It’s a solid contribution to Red, and a great duet. Lightbody is tasteful in the way he comes in and compliments Swift’s style and her ability to set mood instead of trying to make his own mark. It may be a little bit too emotional and moody, but it’s one of the better tracks on the album.
It’s also fair to point out that Swift has a pretty good track record when touring to pick openers from the 3rd, or even 4th tiers of musical acts on their way up the ranks, instead of trying to find acts just below her that may bolster the ticket. I think that came into play with her duet pairings as well. A duet with Jason Aldean, or Big Machine’s new toy Tim McGraw may have garnered more American interest in this track. But instead she went with a dark horse, though it may be one that will help her open up new commercial avenues in the European market.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
11. Holy Ground
This is a pretty innocuous track with an obvious background vocal track meant to make the song catchy, but instead it just comes across as rehashed from another popular songs whose name is on the tip of your tongue. Another filler track that could have been left off, but certainly not as evil as some of Red‘s other offerings.
One gun up, one gun down.
12. Sad Beautiful Tragic
Possibly the best song on the album, and possibly the best song ever by Taylor Swift.
Two guns up!
13. The Lucky One
Songs on the emptiness of the celebrity lifestyle like this have been done so many times before, but this is not a bad version of it, and a song outside of the regular Swift grooves of writing about love.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
14. Everything Has Changed
A mild track that relies too much on catchy phrasing in the chorus and doesn’t really do the duet concept justice. Near the end Taylor is forced to go way above her comfortable singing register, and even though she pulls it off, it feels strained. With some exceptions, Taylor does a good job on Red–a better job than she did on Speak Now–of staying in her vocal comfort zone and not exposing her vocal weaknesses through composition. How many stories have you read recently about Taylor singing out-of-tune? This is a demon she’s mostly slayed, but with this song, she gives a slight reminder of her vocal limitations.
One gun up, one gun down.
Not as evil as the Shellback/Max Martin tracks on Red, but a close runner-up that is only saved by some of the retro elements and creative layering Swift and long-time producer Nathan Chapman cram into this confusing song that seems part dance club soundtrack, and part Pat Benatar 80′s revival routine (especially the way Swift inflects the way she says “moooved”). There seems to be a love story here, but the music sort of distracts you from it. You’re not sure if you’re supposed to just feel the groove and start dancing, or pay close attention to the words. It stars off sounding like pacifier-sucking glitter club music, until Taylor’s acoustic guitar comes in and she starts singing about the summer of ’45. Then you feel like you’re transported to a discotek circa 1984 blasting power pop. Did I hear a little Rush “Tom Sawyer” synth too?
I don’t know, it sure is catchy. I’m not sure if this is another instance of music producers run amuck, or if Taylor and the producers were as confused as the song sounds like they were to find a clear direction for her demo track. Just as the 2nd song on an album is almost always reserved for what the label believes to be the album’s best song, the next-to-last is usually reserved for the weakest, and that’s probably where “Starlight” belongs.
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
“Though on the surface this song is positive and about renewed love, Taylor Swift still gets her characteristic jabs in at old flames: “He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do.” “He always said he didn’t get this song, but I do.” “I think it’s strange that you think I’m funny cause he never did.” But overall, it portrays the seldom seen, other side of Taylor Swift in a sweet little song that works, but probably isn’t a world beater or a mega hit waiting in the weeds.
“Many are wanting to tout how country “Begin Again” is. But let’s be honest, it’s only country when compared to Taylor Swift’s other works. On that sliding scale yes, with some steel guitar and mandolin (though fairly down in the mix and dilluted with strings) this is the Johnny Paycheck of Taylor Swift’s lexicon. But in the grand scheme of things, it is still solidly pop country.”
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
Texas Country music star Aaron Watson just released his 11th album Real Good Time on October 9th, and on the album the Amarillo native makes a good, healthy jab at the “country rap” phenomenon infecting country music’s airwaves. Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, and the rest of the laundry list country rap crowd are lampooned by a song that is so well written in the country rap vein, the only way you know it’s not the real deal is the disclaimer in the song’s title that reads in total, “My Contribution To Ruining Country Music Country Song! Ha!”
Watson told the story behind the song when performing it live this summer as part of the Nutty Brown Cafe / KVET free concert series in Austin.
Something about a dirt road? Yeah. And then there was a trend where a few of them were rapping. And I said we need a spoof. I need a spoof song, you know what I’m saying? I recorded it with my good buddy Sam. And Sam said, “If you want to have a spoof, a little tongue and cheek, you’re gonna have to rap.” I said, “Sam, I don’t think I can do it.” But I rose to the occasion, or I lowered myself to the occasion. And this is not an honest to God attempt to ruin country music like everybody else. It’s the worst song I’ve ever written, I’m admitting that.
Or maybe it’s one of the best. When you’ve been writing real, heartfelt country music for the last dozen years, switching gears and going the other way and doing it with such wit and insight on how the other side of the music world works takes quite a measure of creativity and fortitude. Stupid bloggers like me can peck away at keyboards all day preaching to choirs, but the artists that fans look up to have the power to persuade, or in this case, point out the obvious that what is being sold to many country folks is a false bag of goods.
Aaron Watson is one of the good guys. Writing and performing a song like this takes guts.
Two guns up!
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On Tuesday (9-25-12), the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a lower Chancery Court ruling denying a request by Curb Records to block Tim McGraw signing and recording with another record label. Barring another appeal being accepted by the Tennessee Supreme Court, this means Tim McGraw is finally free from Curb Records, his label for 20 years who tried to keep him perpetually under contract by claiming the material from his final Curb album Emotional Traffic was recorded too soon after his previous album, and by releasing a comical parade of “Greatest Hits” compilations.
The court battle began in May of 2011 when Curb Records sued Tim McGraw for breach of contract. It got even muddier when during the litigation process, McGraw signed with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records on May 21st, 2012 and announced he’d recorded 20 songs with the label. Curb refused to acknowledge the new signing, asserting that McGraw was still under contract with them and the 20 songs were their intellectual property. Then in a battle of Music Row heavyweights, Curb and Big Machine began releasing competing singles. The courts have since ruled against Curb in a number of smaller decisions leading up to Tuesday’s big decision that should put McGraw’s label status mostly to rest.
“All recordings made after December 1, 2011, belong to McGraw,” the Tennessee Appeals Court ruled. “We find no error in the trial court’s preliminary determination regarding the ownership of masters…We affirm the judgment of the trial court and assess the costs of this appeal against the appellant, Curb Records.”
However Tim McGraw still must navigate the trial hurdle for the original breach of contract issue. Though the courts have ruled that McGraw can now make and release music with a new label, they still must determine if he indeed recorded the music for his last album Emotional Traffic to soon, and if so, what the penalty will be. Curb released a statement after the court ruling, saying in part:
The fundamental issue in this case is whether Tim McGraw fully performed under his contract with Curb Records. That issue has yet to be ruled on by any court, and will be the subject of a full trial on the merits scheduled for later this year.
We respectfully disagree with today’s ruling by the Court of Appeals on that issue, and we intend to continue to pursue this issue, including through the further appeals process as appropriate, in light of the significance of the underlying principles involved.
Those principles include our belief that contracts must be enforced as written, and in particular that exclusive personal services agreements with individuals, such as Mr. McGraw, who possess unique and extraordinary talent, must be subject to enforcement by injunctive relief.
- Tim on Circumstances of Wayne Mills’ Death Leave Many Questions
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- Matt on Spike TV Airs Episode Featuring Bar Where Wayne Mills Was Killed
- Tim on Wayne Mills & “The Last Honky Tonk” (Review & Eulogy)
- Pete Berwick on Spike TV Airs Episode Featuring Bar Where Wayne Mills Was Killed