Aug
27

The History of the Country Checklist / Laundry List Song

August 27, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  55 Comments

These days you can’t go a few minutes listening to modern mainstream country radio without hearing a “Laundry List” song in the rotation. Usually with little or no plot or story, they simply spew out easily-identifyable elements of country culture (ice cold beer, pickup trucks, dirt roads, etc.) in an attempt to appeal to mostly non-country demographics that can live the country life vicariously through the shallow lyrics.

Another common thread through country checklist songs is how they are used to convey country pride, and help their listeners identify with their side of the urban vs. rural, liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. non-religious culture war. Nostalgia is also a big player.

Like most of the overused song formulas employed by Music Row songwriters, the laundry list likely started with some good, creative, innovative tunes. But once something works, it is called upon again and again by Music Row until all creativity is spent and it becomes cliche. Such is the evolution (or devolution) of the country checklist song.

What is the “first” country music laundry list song?

Though there were others before it, David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” comes in as a strong candidate from the way Coe lists out the things from his past that make him “country” and the continued popularity of the song today.

What is the first MODERN country music laundry list song?

Though Rebel Son, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and some other artists may have something to say about it, Rhett Akins “Kiss My Country Ass” is a solid contender for where songs about country pride went from conveying stories to simply being vapid lists of country artifacts and behaviors.

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Below is a list of songs that likely contributed or played an important role in the formation of the modern country checklist song from the legacy era, and a list of songs in the modern era that could be called the “first” laundry list song. I don’t pretend for this list to be complete, so if you feel there is an omission, please add your 2 cents in the comments.

THE LEGACY ERA

Merle Haggard – “Okie From Muskogee” – 1969

Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear. Beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen. Football’s still the roughest thing on campus. And the kids here still respect the college dean.

Unlike the modern laundry list song, Merle spends most of the time in “Okie From Muskogee” spelling out what people from the country (or Muskogee) don’t do, but the idea of country people using a song to delineate themselves from the other side of society in the culture war through lists of artifacts and behaviors was born. And so was the “Proud to be” lyric that is so prevalent in laundry list songs today.

Bob Seger – “Night Moves” – 1977

Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy. Out in the backseat of my ’60 Chevy.

Bob’s first breakout song, and Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Best Single of 1977″ (it was released in December of ’76), it has had huge reverberations in modern country despite being released in rock. The laundry list lyrics are clear, and so is the nostalgia that is an essential element to many modern laundry list compositions. I’ve said before that the majority of modern country songs can be traced back to “Night Moves”. Listen to the best-selling country song from 2011, the Brantley Gilbert/Colt Ford-penned “Dirt Road Anthem” and you will spy the nostalgia of “Night Moves” all throughout it.

David Allan Coe – “If That Ain’t Country” – 1977

With 13 kids and a bunch of dogs, a house full of chickens and a yard full of hogs. Spent the summertime cutting up logs for the winter.

If you’re looking for the first true laundry list country song that started the whole trend, this might be the most solid candidate. But unlike the modern laundry list song, this one actually has a story and theme to convey, and is truly autobiographical. “If That Ain’t Country” was Coe attempting to prove his country cred to critics who said his music wasn’t, which is what many modern male pop country stars must do because they aren’t. It also features the lyric “Kiss my ass” that becomes a big player in the laundry list song’s evolution.

Hank Williams Jr. “Country Boy Can Survive” – 1982

“I live back in the woods you see, the woman and the kids and the dogs and me. I got a shotgun, a rifle, and a 4 wheel drive, and a country boy can survive.”

One of Hank Jr.’s seminal songs and all self-penned, it spells out the pride and resilience of people from the country like few others. But many elements of “Country Boy Can Survive” are misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misappropriated in the modern checklist song. Resilience is replaced by fear, self-reliance by materialism. Country and Southern pride are at the heart of many Hank Jr. compositions, but few resonate like this one still does today. “Country Boy Can Survive” and Hank Jr. are referenced specifically in many modern laundry list songs.

 

THE MODERN ERA

 

Marcus Hummon “God’s Country USA” – 1995

Looking back at my one cop town, skinny dipping drinking Royal Crown. And thinking about year long days, and rowdy ways, and best friends lost and found. Remembering my half back moves, night games and backseat blues.

This song may be somewhat obscure, but may be the missing link between the old-school and modern-day laundry list country songs. Marcus Hummon is a big, behind-the-scenes songwriter in Nashville that has written #1 hits for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, The Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, and has numerous Top 40 hits to his name. Hummon was 14 years ahead of his time with this song that sounds just like the checklist songs of today.

Lynyrd Skynyrd – “That’s How I Like It” – 2003

Like my women hot and my beer ice cold. A real fast car and my whiskey old. Like a slow drive down and old dirt road. That’s how I like it.

Even more surprising than how similar the lyrics to “That’s How I Like It” are to today’s laundry list songs is how similar the sonic structure is. Lynyrd Skynyrd is a Southern rock band, meaning they could get away with rock beats and overdriven guitars in 2003 when this would have been crossing a line in country. Of course today in country, anything goes. From the unplugged intro, to the rhythmic power chords, to the almost rapping style of lyrics in the chorus, “That’s How I Like It” is the sonic template many present-day laundry list songs are derived from.

Rebel Son – “Redneck Piece of White Trash”¬† – May 2005

I like to dip, I like to spit. I like talking on the phone when I’m taking a shit. I’m proud to be a redneck piece of white trash. If you don’t like that pucker up motherfucker you can kiss my ass.

This song from a relatively-obscure, but well-loved band with a very loyal fan base virtually writes, trumps, exposes, and lampoons all modern pop country laundry list songs all at once, even though it was written way before most of them. Aside from the “kiss my ass” lyric from David Allan Coe, if you want to find the truly “first” original modern checklist country song, look no further. Rebel Son relies on humor, while at the same time portraying cold-faced reality in songs meant to be hysterical and completely serious at the same time.

Rhett Akins – “Kiss My Country Ass” – October 2005

Tearing down a dirt road, Rebel flag flying, coon dog in the back. Truck bed loaded down with beer and a cold one in my lap.

Probably the more obvious and more-accepted advent of the modern laundry list country song (as opposed to Rebel Son), “Kiss My Country Ass” appeared on Rhett’s 2007 album People Like Me, but was released as a single in October of 2005. The song mentions Hank Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” directly, and was re-recorded by Blake Shelton for his 2010 Hillbilly Bone EP. If you’re looking for the smoking gun, the primary culprit for the modern laundry list song’s popularity and its move from telling stories to simply conveying lists of countryisms, “Kiss My Country Ass” is the probably strongest candidate.

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Thanks to frequent SCM commenter “tontoisdrunk” for asking about the evolution of the laundry list song.

55 Comments to “The History of the Country Checklist / Laundry List Song”

  • 1. Haggard’s song was written to parody the rednecks of Muskogee; unfortunately, most of the country didn’t see it that way…It’s also well written

    2. “Night Moves” is more coming-of-age song than anything; Also well written..

    3. “If That Ain’t Country” IS autobiographical, it’s real…Also well written

    4. “A Country Boy Can Survive” is probably more likely the place where it started, HOWEVER, it’s well written..

    The “laundry lists” that are so prevalent on today’s country radio do have another thing in common that sets them apart from the above: They are all POORLY WRITTEN, and sound like they were dashed off in 5 minutes, and most have a confrontational tone instead of celebratory…

    Just my $ 0.02…….

       6 likes

    • I’ve always respectfully disagreed with the idea that “Okie From Muskogee” was parody, and I know, Merle himself has helped this theory along. If that’s the case, then “Fighting Side Of Me,” “I’m A White Boy”, and others from that early Merle era must have been parody too, and that would have made Merle America’s first hipster/ironic artist. Saying Merle was pandering to demographics may be a little unfair and take away from some great songs, but I think those songs were written knowing who the audience would be, and how it would be received.

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      • agreed

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      • Merle has said himself that Okie was a song that was supposed to represent what his dad would have thought about the political and social movements happening in the 60′s. Not really a parody or laundry list song in my opinion, it was really just a way for the voice of rural America to be heard and respected.

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      • Merle’s pretty complicated to assess in that he is such a great songwriter, he can take a variety of voices and make them sound authentic. There’s a song on his 90s box set Capitol refused to release, from the “Okie” period. It’s an amazing song, about a white man in love with a black woman. Can’t recall the title off the top of my head, but it is an almost insanely daring song for the times. Or take “Huntsville,” by far the most frightening of his prison songs. In both cases, Capitol got cold feet, feeling they were too outside of the persona set by other songs, and perhaps to offensive to his audience. Like Ronnie Van Zant, Merle can’t be pegged down too easy– they’re both the best kind of artist.

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        • I have that box set. I think Irma Jackson is the song. There’s another one called Go Home about a man who falls in love with a Mexican woman but his friends and family won’t accept her.

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        • … and good point on Merle and Ronnie Van Zant.

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      • Agreed. You can also add I Wonder If They Think of Me and Working Man Blues as songs that have some conservative sentiments (though not as overt as Okie)

        To the best of my knowledge, Haggard never said anything about Okie being a parody or from his dad’s perspective for a long time after he wrote the song. And it seems that it is only in the last 20 years or so that he has started saying that’s the reason. Still, he occasionally says it was seriously aimed to criticize spoiled anti-war activists. See this interview from 2006.
        —-
        http://www.theboot.com/2010/10/11/merle-haggard-okie-from-muskogee-lyrics/

        “When I was in prison, I knew what it was like to have freedom taken away. Freedom is everything.

        During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests. Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause — we don’t even know what it was really all about. And here are these young kids, that were free, b—-ing about it. There’s something wrong with that and with [disparaging] those poor guys. We were in a wonderful time in America and music was in a wonderful place. America was at its peak and what the hell did these kids have to complain about? These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free. I wrote the song to support those soldiers.”
        —-

        My guess is that Haggard had some general conservative sentiments that made him write the song, but was not very political, and never really wanted to become “The Voice of the Silent Majority.” Especially as his views have probably become more liberal as time went on, and that Okie is what he is best known for to many non-country fans, he tries to distance himself from it.

           2 likes

      • i’ve always heard that ‘okie’ was written from the perspective of Mere’s father. I don’t think that necessarily makes it a parody.

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  • Tom T Hall’s “Country Is” was one of the first, and IMO the best.

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    • Good one! Though I would put this in the category of the “anti-laundry list” songs like Willy “Tea” Taylor’s “Life Is Beautiful” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wv6Lfr-Mf20) where as opposed to being derived from pride and sometimes arrogance, they work from simplicity, almost humility. “Country Is” is the antidote to the modern day laundry list song, the perfect thing to wash the nasty taste out of your mouth after you hear one.

      Here’s a cool version from Scott Avett from The Avett Brothers

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  • Another “legacy era” checklist type song was Little Jimmy Dickens’ song – Country boy:

    ” I’m a plain, old country boy
    A corn-bread lovin’ country boy
    I raise cain on Saturday
    But I go to church on Sunday
    I’m a plain, old country boy
    A corn-bread lovin’ country boy
    I’ll be lookin’ over that old grey mule
    When the sun comes up on Monday. ”

    http://youtu.be/kUH8Bi3QSzs

       1 likes

    • Another good one.

      Out of all the laundry list lyrics coming from douchers in backwards baseball caps, “cornbread” is the one that most makes me go “Really?”

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      • I agree. One thing though, for these legacy acts, I actually believe that a good amount of them DID grow up in a very rural “country” environment.

        This is definitely not the case with the Luke Bryan’s and Justin Moore’s of the world.

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        • Actually, Justin Moore did grow up in a rural environment. He grew up in the small town of Poyen, Arkansas. His songs, though quite bad, are actually genuine in my opinion. He co-writes almost all of his songs and you can see from the emotion that he shows in his videos that he really means it. In fact, the one song on “Outlaws like Me” that is not a laundry list song (“If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”) was the only song on that album that he did not co-write. Besides, no major label on Music Row would release an album with a song as immature and cocky as “Bait a Hook” or as political as “Guns” unless the artist himself pushed to have those songs put in the album. In addition, keep in mind that he is signed with Big Machine Records, a label which is famous for giving their artists an unprecedented level of artistic freedom.

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  • I love laundry list music.

       1 likes

  • nice write. here’s one from spade cooley circa 1951. numerous other versions of the tune out there as well. not a complete list but it does cover one of the more important
    aspects of ‘the list’, chewing tobacco.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkLeQRzzXpY

       0 likes

  • I’ve always thought one of the best laundry list songs is Bocephus’ “Country State of Mind” – written by Roger Alan Wade.

       1 likes

  • i know its just one verse of laundry list and definately not the first example but still one of my favorites is “you never even call me by my name” written by steve goodman + john prine in 1974.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAOVRkSCWmg

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  • What I find annoying about how these songs (particularly the recent ones, from guys like Justin Moore, Hank Jr’s recent album and so on) is the fact that it makes a fired up war between liberals and democrats. The thing that I wonder Is why the heck isn’t that broken? A few artists have done so, particularly in Brad Paisley’s ”Welcome to the Future”, but I guess that it’s something that is missing in today’s country. We have to stop bashing each other and realizing that we should be voting for right or wrong, not Republican or Democrat.

       4 likes

    • The reason laundry list songs are so prevalent is because they work, and the reason they work is because they pander to demographics. You can see how divided and angry the country is politically by spending 30 seconds on Facebook. Music Row is attempting to cash in on that energy and hatred with these songs.

         3 likes

  • One of my all-time favorite country lines:

    “Last night I went to bed with a buzz, dreamed I was drinking, woke up and I was.”

       3 likes

  • Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys put out “That’s What I Like About the South” in 1939, that can rightly be considered a laundry list song. I’m not sure if they wrote the song, but they definitely popularized it. It has since been covered many times, most notably by Asleep at the Wheel:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X37xnM3VYH0

       4 likes

    • Good one! I hear mention of cornbread, so it counts!

         2 likes

  • Eric Church’s (I actually quite like most of his songs) “Guys Like Me” and “How ‘Bout You” are the type of laundry list drivel that can be written in 10 minutes. Contrastingly, I think ZBB’s “Chicken Fried” is a pretty good listen despite its formulaic list approach–well, except for the last verse about Patriotism, which was clearly added solely for commercial appeal and sticks out from the rest of the song like a sore thumb.

       1 likes

    • That last verse is why I hate that song. Took it from something enjoyable to pandering crap.

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  • One that I noticed that was missing is Johnny Cash’s “Country Trash” which is one of my favorite songs of his. “A Country Boy Can Survive” is also a fantastic song but it’s disappointing that it inspired so many garbage songs like Aaron Lewis’s “Country Boy” and basically any song Justin Moore has ever recorded.

       1 likes

  • I’ve always thought most, if not all, of Alabama’s music is laundry list music, especially “When it All Goes South”.

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  • I don’t understand how this parade of laundry list songs makes any business sense for Music Row. From what I observe, there are two main types of mainstream country songs: adult contemporary soft rock songs (in the mold of Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Faith Hill, etc.) and laundry list hard rock songs. The country music establishment’s attempt to broaden their appeal by showcasing the adult contemporary music worked out very well over the last decade, introducing vast new demographics (especially suburban women and girls) into country music. I have to admit that I myself am quite fond of that type of pop-country music. It greatly resembles the adult contemporary music of the 80s and early 90s that I loved, and after all, Taylor Swift’s music is what introduced me to country radio in the first place!

    I just can’t see, though, how these laundry list songs wouldn’t turn off that new demographic. Every time a hard-rock laundry list country song comes on the radio, I change the station immediately. The music itself, with its loud combination of electric guitar and lap steel guitar, is annoying enough even without the vapid lyrics. How in the world will this type of music even remotely appeal to those who fled to country radio specifically to escape the loud and flat music that dominates pop radio today?

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  • I think “Truck Yeah” is the greatest mortal sin in country music ever committed in recent years. I do not understand why it is now sitting pretty at #13 at Mediabase.

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    • oh god…I heard that on the radio recently..it was just such a terrible song…my head still hurts.

         3 likes

  • Redneck Mother anyone? I believe RWHubbard wrote it, but that there is almost literally a laundry list song and just might be my favorite country song ever.

    Here is a gift for anyone not familiar…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTRHIVScAXE

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    • You beat me to it, I was going to mention it the song as well. I’m not sure when he wrote it, but Jerry Jeff Walker recorded it in 1973, so it predates If that Ain’t Country.

         0 likes

    • … and for the story behind the song:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E24C4NY0ga8&feature=related

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  • I like “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” by Barbara Mandrell and George Jones in 1981.

    I am agnostic about her, because she was a country pop singer whose work was designed for maximum airplay, but this song pretty much says it all and I think that it is authentic even if she was a Music Row artist.

    These kind of songs have been largely downhill since that time, with some exceptions.

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  • “Whiskey, Weed, And Women” by Hank III is an example of a recent one that barrows from the likes of DAC, but I think Hank makes it his own.

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  • So…any song that half way mentions anything associated with the rural South is automatically a “laundry list” song? What about “Waitin Around to Die” by Townes Van Zandt? It mentions Tuscaloosa, booze, gambling, trains. Seems to have all the qualifications…
    There is a difference between spitting out lyrics about ice old beer and corn bread and singing about being desperate and mired in rural poverty; not every song about the country or the South is automatically a “laundry list” song.

       8 likes

    • Agreed. I think the main difference between a song that mentions Southern artifacts and a “laundry list” song is the presence of a plot. “Waiting Around To Die” has a huge plot, and the Southern lyrics are there to just add color to the story. Rhett Akins’ song has no plot whatsoever, it’s simply a list.

      It would be unfair to inaccurately label or criticize a song simply because it mentions dirt roads or cornbread.

         2 likes

  • Waylon and Willie’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” fits the mold. Good song, though. A list doesn’t make a song bad. It’s just that it’s often used as a shortcut to writing something good.

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    • “Rednecks, White Socks, & Blue Ribbon Beer” is one of the earliest ones I can think of

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  • I think Redneck Woman and quite a bit of Gretchen Wilson’s persona (which seems genuine enough) helped fuel the fire. The genre of Female Laundry List songs might have sprouted and withered just with her, but that song definitely made it cool for women to proclaim their redneckness.

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  • Kristofferson’s If You Don’t Like Hank Williams.
    A laundry list of singers and bands that he was a fan of. Not quite highlighting the country lifestyle, but another example of the checklist format. Also maybe the first major song to throw out the “kiss my ass” ultimatum?

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  • Here’s one to add to your list. New song by Toby Keith “I Like Girls Who Drink Beer” http://youtu.be/3z4eCPAuTAM

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  • Laundry list lyrics….with depth:

    an old pickup truck
    means you’re down on your luck anymore
    and boots and straw hats
    are just a thing of the past anymore
    and ever since waylon i cant find no one
    to buy into sad country songs
    and tell me whos gonna ride us away
    when the last cowboy is gone

    is there a place i can find
    any three quarter time anymore
    is there a dirty jukebox
    that spins on a dime anymore
    they changed all the words
    and the cowgirls they all sing along
    but tell me whos gonna ride them away
    when the last cowboy is gone

    if john wayne gene and roy
    are now just some cowboys
    that yesterday stampeded on
    and tell me whos gonna ride us away
    whos gonna do it that way
    does everything good have to change
    til the last cowboy is gone

       1 likes

  • Where I come From By Alan is a Laundry List but its done in a good fashion some laundry songs are alot recently aren’t good

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  • The “Laundry List” is a country music tradition, and I see nothing wrong with it on the surface. Hank Jr. and David Allan Coe did it amazingly well, Don Williams did a couple, Alan Jackson has done at least two of them. Chris LeDoux did what might be the best one ever (Western Skies). There are truly great “laundry list” songs out there.

    I share your hatred of the modern Abercrombie-and-Fitch wearing, fake worn ball-cap sporting, shirt un-tucked but shoved behind the belt buckle douche-nuggets singing them though. (Craig Morgan, Rodney Atkins, etc.)

       3 likes

    • Great catch on “Western Skies.” A very well-executed song.

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  • Luke Bryan’s “What Country Is” I actually like this song, it was kind of the Luke before he turned into a skinny-jean wearing little girl

       1 likes

  • Sorry to go off-topic, Triggerman, but this recent news that Kelly Clarkson has been nominated for CMA female vocalist is just too shocking. What’s next, a nomination for Lady Gaga or Katy Perry? I thought the CMA is the most prestigious award show for country music? Well I don’t see anything prestigious about this now.

       2 likes

    • Gonna have my thoughts and predictions of the 2012 CMAs as soon as I can get up my recap of Muddy Roots.

         1 likes

      • Thanks, looking forward to it. Oh, and someone tweeted me that Snoop also got a nomination I think for musical event. The CMAs are becoming more and more……interesting…..as the years go by. lol

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        • Actually, you should be happy about the Snoop nomination. He got nominated for a musical event in which he partnered with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Jamey Johnson.

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  • Yep. That is about the list I expected trig. Im struggling I come up with something not already mentioned by you or the comments

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  • Thanks for this post! I’ve been so turned off by modern “country” music, and you really nailed why. This “laundry list” stuff isn’t a throwback to good country music, it’s a throwback to being stubbornly proud of ideology. When somebody says “kiss my country ass” just because they’re “country”, that implies that they feel they’re better than me. I’m much more inclined to kick their ass. I grew up in a family of watermen, pulling peelers out of the bay. I don’t want to get into a “who’s more country” pissing match, I want to hear a good song.

    That’s something the industry has forgotten. The old guys weren’t out to “write a country song”, the old guys were out to write a good song, and they happened to be genuinely country enough that they didn’t need to try and convince us. They were country musicians writing good songs. Willie Nelson never had to brag about how “country” he is.

    I’m also glad you posted the Avett Bro song. Seems like they’re among the closest to good country music, mostly because they make good music.

    The old “laundry list” songs were partially a reaction to the people who looked down on country people. The new ones are country people looking down on everyone else. Can David Allen Coe please write a song called “i don’t care how country you are, you suck”?

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  • I would say that Lynyrd Skynyrd had a much bigger impact on the eventual laundry list mechanic that you’re implying here. It seems that the main reason that many remember them fondly (obviously I mean the original lineup) is because they were true blue Southern boys that made it big and kept in touch with their roots (and on that note, apparently nobody ever told these people that they were playing Rock, not Country). They symbolized the “redneck and proud” motif in their day, as evidenced by their opus, “Sweet Home Alabama” and the fact that they bore the rebel flag with pride. They also had the benefit of commercial appeal given that, despite their fashion sense and tendencies, they really just wanted to be a typical Rock & Roll band. This attitude, I would say, has influenced the laundry list song more than any other individual song has. How many times have you heard Skynyrd and “Sweet Home” name-dropped in Country songs over the years, especially recently? As you know, even Brad Paisley referenced this fad in “Accidental Racist,” though it wasn’t in a defiant manner.

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