The 6 Cookie Cutter Pop Country Song Formulas

February 28, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  50 Comments

A while back we showcased the 6 Pop Country Archetypes, now it’s time to showcase the song formulas that Music Row employs to appeal to them. The cheesy love song goes without saying, these are the other templates that professional songwriters in BMI’s and ASCAP’s cubicle farms slave away at fleshing out in various forms. Any “creativity” comes in the form of mixing an mingling these various formulas. One thing’s for sure, when you crack the cellophane on a Music Row CD, you can almost be guaranteed you will see most, if not all of the formulas used as a rule.

The Country Checklist / Laundry List Song

In a machine gun fashion, with little care for creativity, these songs spew out a string of easily-identifiable countryisms and artifacts in an idioitc attempt to prove how “country” the singer and song are. Cornbread, biscuits, fried chicken, dirt roads, ice-cold beer, pickup trucks, hay fields, over and over they beat you over the head with their backroad, barbed wire, Budweiser barbarism of authentic country culture.

Since all of these “checklist” items are inane and commonplace to real cowboys and country folk, they’re not meant to be heard by them, but by the corporate country “CMT” culture who attempt to escape their mundane suburban or urban lives by living vicariously through these idiotic anthems and shallow portrayals of country living. The Laundry List formula can work by itself, but can also be found as an element in many, if not the majority of mainstream country songs today. The Country Checklist defines today’s pop country landscape.

The Nostalgia Ballad

Remember back when? Those were the good old days. Your first car, your first kiss. She was young. You were dumb. Y’all got handsey in the back seat. Let’s go back and relive it all and remind us how our lives suck now.

Using Bob Seger’s song “Night Moves” as a template, many times these songs feed the unhealthy obsession with youth, and the idea that anything meaningful ends after high school. They’re also a vehicle to bitch about economics and the changing world, how gas used to be 99 cents and small towns are drying up. But you won’t see The Nostalgia Ballad’s listeners moving out of their suburban mansions and ditching their iPhones for the simple life; they’d rather memorialize the death of rural culture in a cheesy pop song played on a $700 car stereo.

Tears From Heaven

In a radio-friendly 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, they shoehorn in the hokiest of over-sentimental sob stories that the Music Row songwriting monkeys can conjure, that usually culminate in the tragic death of some dear loved one. But that’s okay, because we’re gonna be strong. Together. Because that’s the way that little Timmy who got his head lopped off by a combine, or grandpa who slipped in the shower would have wanted it. Instead of helping you process the pain of personal loss by breeding the understanding that death is a natural process, these songs prey on making you relive your grief over and over and over again. Cancer is a big player in these songs as well. And as you begin to sob and the rain begins to pour down, the pop country crooner illuminates how that’s not rain. No. It’s the tears of your loved one falling down from heaven.

The Booty Anthem

With positively no redeeming artistic value or ties to country music’s roots, this is Music Row’s overt homage to idiotically-simplistic droning dance music, and is the soundtrack to the formation of the mono-genre. Sure, maybe there’s an overdubbed banjo in there, somewhere, way in the back, but they’ll edit that out when they use it in the Axe body spray commercial. Booty Anthems turn our daughters into whores and our sons into rapists; apparently a fair tradeoff for Music Row to keep country commercially viable…at the expense of anybody with any taste or class.

Lake Party / Weekend Warrior / Summer Song

A mix of The Nostalgia Ballad and The Laundry List formulas, this is the weekend warrior’s magnum opus. It’s okay if for 50 years and five days a week we’re slaves to our jobs, as long as we get 48 hours to develop crotch rot and drive our ski boats drunk. The beach, and vacations in Mexico and South America are big players in this formula too. These songs perpetuate the unhealthy perspective that as long as we get two days a week to act stupid, it’s okay to live unfulfilled lives and be a slave to consumerism and the corporate work week.

The Flag Waving Anthem

All of America’s service men and women deserve our highest salute, respect, and gratitude, but instead of doing it with sincerity, many times these songs take the salute too far in the sappy direction to commercialize the sentiment. Since less that 1% of the US population actually serves, these songs are a play at political demographics that instead of solidifying support behind service members, while creating a polarizing environment domestically, and sometimes painting an unhealthy picture that America wants to bomb every country full of brown skins back to the Stone Age. For many pop country stars, their Flag Waving Anthem is a rite of passage, or a requirement for their track list demanded by Music Row executives. No Toby, putting a boot in your ass is not the American way, making you think the boot is cool and then selling you the boot is the American way.

Honorable Mention:

The Jilted Female In Rage Song: Highlighted by a pop country starlet in knee-high boots starting shit on fire and perpetrating other felonies to get back at a bad lover or his new bride. Miranda Lambert started it, Carrie Underwood and many others have followed.

The Cornpone Joke Song: Run into the ground by Brad Paisley, done one worse by Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup.”

50 Comments to “The 6 Cookie Cutter Pop Country Song Formulas”

  • The Nostalgia Ballad and the Lake Party/Weekend Warrior/Summer Songs are the worst ones to me. The only people who enjoyed high school were the dickhead jocks and prissy cheerleaders who made everyone else’s lives miserable. That’s who I think of when I hear those songs…well, at least in the millisecond that it takes for me to turn the dial.

    • That’s how I feel when I hear those songs. I didn’t go to backwoods bonfires and drink whiskey with all my buddies or go skinnydipping in the old swimming hole with the farmer’s daughter. I did homework and went to work. I guess being studious and hardworking isn’t good subject matter for a song though.

  • The thing about the “patriotic” Toby Keith is that he’s always playing Takamine guitars. What, a Gibson, Martin, Santa, Cruz, Collings, or Guild isn’t good enough? “Made in America”….yeah, right.

  • it’s a good thing i wasn’t drinking anything at the time i read, “…that’s the way that little Timmy who got his head lopped off by a combine…,”
    because it would’ve spray-painted my walls.

    great article, Trigg.

  • Jesus, take the wheel.

    • Mom , can I have this new Carrie Underwood cd ? Yes , honey . ‘Cause she talks about Jesus .

    • That’s another good one. Couldn’t decide if it was a subset of “Tears From Heaven” or a religious version of “The Flag Waving Anthem”.

  • I like those dance moves Aldean pulls off in that video. LOL, together with those tight pants it looks a little bit like he’s going for, ya know, the disco crowd or something.

    • I have a friend who never venues from the mainstream. When that video came out he told me he lost all respect for Jason Aldean. Seriously though, I don’t know how I would live with myself if that was my music video.

  • My brother is a combat infantryman that’s seen action in both Afghanistan and Iraq . He’s always told me that the only people in uniform that lap-up the ” Uhmurka’s Gon’ Kick Yer Ass ” pablum are supply clerks and officers that are out of touch with the real grunts .

    As for the summertime of yore-pansy beer w/fruit slice on beach shit , my wife’s a huge fan… the more cliche-laden the better . To avoid fighting over music , we’ve made a pact . On long trips she can’t bring her Chesney/Aldean cds , and I can’t bring my Gov’t Mule/Vern Gosdin stuff .

    Awesome things do happen in life on occasion though , our 9 yr. old daughter recently quipped : ” Mama , how come they always talk about the same stuff in that music you like ? ”

    Here are my questions : Will the dummies ever tire of the subject matter that they’ve been so enthralled with for the better part of a decade ? What will take the place of the lovechildren of Kid Rock and Ricky Lynn Gregg ?

    I mean , NASCAR tee shirts/bumper stickers , dream catchers , and teal colored Chevy Cavaliers once had a stranglehold on the feeble minded in my neck of the woods , ( South Georgia ) but they seem to have moved on to other brain cell killing forms of entertainment . What if anything comes next , or do we wanna know ?

    • What comes next? Homosexuals and jailhouse punks. Watch black music and culture coming from Hollywood. Most major African American male actors have played a comic gay character or have appeared in drag. The whole “saggin” pants thing is a signal for being somebody’s bitch in prison. It’s not hard to predict what we’ll get. John Wayne and Rambo have to be taken down and replaced with the dude from Twilight and the frosty tipped pop country porcupine archetype. If you’re not a bitch in the free world, you’ll be conditioned to act like one in prison. It’s already playing out in Hip Hop. In Country, it’s the wave of the future.

      • Wow, you really worry a lot about “the gays” don’t you?

        • Not so much. just pointing it out.

        • Really, i am against being somebody’s prison bitch. That’s not cool.

  • i couldn’t watch any of the videos. though nice write again. i do on occasion wax nostalgic about my years before i got drafted and all the crazed shit myself and a few friends did at the time. some things better left unsaid even if the statute of limitations has expired on all of them. i’m just happy i never got caught or i would never have gotten that security clearance while in the army. at any rate, ‘night moves’ was ok back then. now? no thanks. vapid consumerism is what the world is built upon. sadly. thing is it does provide jobs. sorta. if you live in china and a few other places.
    not here. without it we’d all have to be self sufficient and most folks couldn’t manage that even if they tried. most folks would end up dead or in some group of thugs stealing from those that could manage to scrape by. the elites among us would just band together and make sure we, the unwashed, ended up dead or a thug on the run. that you can count on, pilgrim. a phrase comes to mind…life sucks then you die.

  • I can tell you for a fact that, unless they just joined up last week, very few soldiers buy into that cheesy, flag waving bullshit country ballad.

  • Aaron Lewis has combined the laundry list and summer song…


    • You would think with Aaron Lewis coming from a rock background that he would be more of a unique character in country, but there may be nobody who enacts the formulas above more overtly and with such impunity. With this song, and “Country Boy”, which is about the best example of combining the Laundry List and Flag Waving formulas you can find.

  • For the record: it is not hard to bait a fish-hook. Seriously, you stick it through whatever poor lower-food-chain resident you bought at Gander Mountain and then through it in the water. It requires no explanation.

    • Summer sausage works great for bluegill. Not sure if its a higher or lower life form than Jason Aldean.

  • “Throw.” Lord.

  • I loved this article. I linked to it on facebook and now I’m in a discussion with some friends. If only they would actually think about it and realize that it’s true instead of saying that country music doesn’t need saving. My response was that there’s a place for pop country and I don’t really have a problem with it as long as it doesn’t crowd out real country music like it does.

    • Pop country will always be part of the country landscape, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t. It’s hard to admit, and sometimes even harder to see, but there is talent there. As I always say, someone needs to give 14-year-old girls a reason to sing into their shampoo bottles. All Saving Country Music has ever asked for is equality, and the cream of the country music talent to rise to the top.

      • Well said. I understand some things not being very accessible to a mainstream audience (some things just will just never have mass appeal), but there is definitley room for artists like Hellbound Glory and Whitey Morgan who write music that is definitley accessible to a wide audience but don’t receive any play in those wide markets.

        Oh and trigger you forgot to include the ode to farming, tractors, etc… I mean if my tractor can’t pull up to her house and pick her up for the latest line dancing get together then I don’t think it will be a successful date.

        • I think the funniest thing about it is that pop country fans can’t take criticism at all. I’ve had a “friend” delete me off facebook because I told him that Luke Bryan wasn’t real country music. They’re allowed to bash underground country for being wannabes and jealous because they don’t get airplay, but as soon as you say something about the formulaic songs, they can’t take it.
          I mean I can take it when you criticize my music, if it’s not for you that’s fine we all have our own taste, but why can’t I criticize theirs? It doesn’t make sense to me. Unless they know that we’re right and they just don’t want to admit it lol.

          • Oh lord, lol, that Luke Bryan cd “Tailgates and Tanlines”. I stock electronics at Target during the night and we got like 400 of that cd the other day. What a stupid looking album cover. It is so hokey looking.

          • Right now Luke Bryan is just about as bad as it gets.

  • That Luke Bryan song is totally a jewel lollll and it blends at least 2 categories Booty anthem and country checklist……so glad that I got into the underground scene haha

  • I thought of two more last night:

    Song About My Kids
    Written by someone in a Nashville cubicle about their kids, sung by someone better looking, rocked by soccer moms and dads everywhere.

    The Jimmy Buffett Wannabe Song (featuring Jimmy Buffett)
    Jimmy Buffett is getting up there in age. He has a big touring audience. Business opportunity!

    • Hey now, you can’t go knocking Jimmy Buffett. It’s not like he lies about what he is. He’s a mash-up of everything. Of course he does have a lot of people copying his style (Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown come to mind) but Jimmy hasn’t changed his style since White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, which was recorded at Hillbilly Central for those interested in a little history.
      Although I will say he is all about making some money. He just released a live album Volcano Live that was a collection of his Volcano album using live songs from his 2011 shows.

    • Ah yes, the sippy cup songs.

      Jimmy Buffett’s very early stuff is excellent. Remember he also hung out in Austin for a while with the Jerry Jeff Walker, Armadillo World Headquarters crowd.

      • I think Lonestar was the first band that I remember having a “sippy cup” song. Something like “There’s a carrot-top that can barely walk, with a sippy cup of milk”. I had to choke back vomit whenever I heard that the first time.

        • That’s the one. First time I ever heard of that song was when a blogger named Hony Tonk Junkie posted an article on No Depression on the 5 songs that ruined country music. That song was #1. He wrote a follow up where he described how he got some grief from some Music Row songwriters about the first piece. One of them said something like the Lonestar songs gives parents of 2 to 5 year olds a lot more to relate to than “the way some fricking bird sings.” So much for Ol’ Hank, I guess.

  • “…they’d rather memorialize the death of rural culture in a cheesy pop song played on a $700 car stereo.” So true. Great article.

  • I agree with this 100% but I think that there’s one really good “Nostalgia Ballad” which is No. 29 by Steve Earle.


  • 7. The stupid love story in the sticks (t swift, farmer’s daughter, etc)
    And the occasional “look I listened to hank Jr and George jones
    so i am a true country boy song”

    • Ain’t it the truth ? Mr. Jones and Hank Jr. are the go-to guys when a punk-ass wants to name drop .

  • Nice work! I’d say Loretta Lynn started the jilted raging female angle though.

  • This might be the cookie cutter songs, but Lukas Nelson and POTR are dropping an album in April that is rediculous and will blow you over. Not sure if it will shake up the scene, but it is some heavy heavy stuff.
    It is clear the talent is being realized and who Lukas has been hanging with the last year is bringing out some serious serious stuff.

    This cookie cutter stuff will be old/pointless news come April.

    Not to start a riot, but Lukas is by far the cream of the crop from Waylon/Willie/Hank Jr. 2nd generation.

  • WOW!you guys have to be the biggest losers ever crying cause your independent acts cant get notice.

    probably cause they only appeal to losers like you.

  • Generally Agree, but I think the problem is not so much the cliches, but the fact that the music and lyrics behind them are terrible.

    This is just a few I thought of off hand. I know some people will quibble that___ song is more “nuanced” but that really is just that it doesn’t suck.

    Countryisms: Hank Jr-If Heaven Ain’t a Lot like Dixie, Country Boy Can Survive. Kevin Fowler–Beer Bait and Ammo; Whiskey Myers: Ballad of a Southern Man. Ray Wylie Hubbard–Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother

    Nostolgia: Stoney Larue-Oklahoma Breakdown, Cory Morrow-Angela

    Tears from Heaven: Vince Gill/Allison Krauss-Go Rest on that High Mountain

    Bootie Shaking: OK these all suck

    Lake Party: Hank Jr – All my Rowdy Friends; Robert Earl Keen-I’m Coming Home

    Flag Waving: Waylon Jennings-America; Johnny Cash-Ragged Ol Flag etc. (The only things that make these “nuanced” is they have a more left wing version of patriotism) Charlie Daniel’s In America.

  • I really think the “Overtly Religious Song” is its own formula. Jesus gets name-dropped more than George Jones and Johnny Cash put together, and what’s more it’s an enduring theme in country music. Some are good, some make me want to slap Carrie Underwood.

  • […] All so true.  […]

  • Got my copy of the new Carolina Chocolate Drops album (Leaving Eden) yesterday. There’s an original song called Country Girl where Rhiannon Giddons sings about her country home. Very nice.

  • Fucking great. I laughed my ass off and now so will many others as I send this to people who will appreciate it.

  • When i hear that shitty sounding rock guitar, i knows for sure i’m hearing some
    cookie cutter pop country shit (gag gag).

  • In brad paisley’s defense

    He is one helluva a guitar player.
    That guy has more skill playing the guitar in his
    pinkie, than most guitar players do in their whole body.

  • Urgh! There is a word I’m trying to think of to describe how hokey modern country music is but for the life of me I can’t. It’s on the tip of my tounge…so please help if you know what word I’m trying to think of.

    It’s a word that pretty much sums up these words:
    cookie cutter

    Any thoughts anybody?

    • Trite?

  • Dance music turns our “daughters into whores and sons into rapists”? Are you the biggest idiot who has ever lived or are you somehow so entrenched in the old world that you honestly believe the shit you write. My god that line reminds me of Footloose.
    “Oh dear Lordy my son rapeded my daughter after listenin to some of that devils dance music! It’s the devil I tells ya! THE DEVIL!”

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