So Really, What’s Up With All These Truck Songs in Country?
So what’s behind all of these truck songs? The simple, easy answer is that Music Row is a copycat world, and when one song works, the idea is run over and over again until a new frontier for the word “cliche” is found. But I’m not sure if Music Row is the genesis of this. Instead, it might be Madison Avenue.
I admit this is part conspiracy and conjecture, but I think there’s a very interesting nexus between the recovery of Detroit, and the truck-itization of Nashville.
Around the time of the end of President George W. Bush’s last term, the country’s economy went into a tailspin, with one of the biggest anchors pulling it down being the auto industry. Since then, Detroit has seen a massive, overwhelming recovery. And what has been at the heart of this recovery? Trucks. Not hybrids, not new designs or new models, not expensive imports or luxury cars. It’s been trucks. Medium and heavy duty trucks, and lots of them.
Trucks are the most profitable vehicles for all domestic automotive manufacturers, by both profit margin, and by sales volume. The most profitable and best-selling vehicles are 1) Ford F-Series Trucks 2) GM Full Size Pickups 3) Dodge Ram Series Pickups. Check the chart below, covering the last 20 years in sales from pickuptrucks.com:
Truck sales were also way up in 2012; the same year that the “truck” theme gripped Nashville in full force. Also from pickuptrucks.com.
|Rank||YTD Sales||YTD vs. 2011||Year-Over-Year||Monthly Sales||vs. month 2011|
|1||Ford F-Series||+10.3%||December 2012||68,787||+0.7%|
|2||Chevrolet Silverado||+0.8%||December 2012||50,699||+6.1%|
|3||Ram Trucks||+19.9%||December 2012||30,211||+16.1%|
|4||GMC Sierra||+5.4%||December 2012||18,710||+13.4%|
|5||Toyota Tacoma||+27.7%||December 2012||14,030||+15.6%|
|6||Toyota Tundra||+22.6%||December 2012||10,254||+13.4%|
What’s behind this huge spike in truck sales? Part of it is that truck sales were down in recent years because of the spike in gas prices. Since then, gas prices have moderated, at least a little, and people are used to the new reality of gas prices hovering over $3.00/gallon. Plus all of these new trucks come with better gas mileage; a selling point pushed in the commercials for these trucks. And that leads us to the heart of the truck matter: advertising.
Music, and country music specifically is a reflection of culture, and culture is influenced by many things, including economic conditions and popular advertising. Preceding Music Row’s fascination with the truck theme was a full-on advertising blitz by Detroit’s Big Three and Toyota to push their big, profitable, full-size trucks to the American consumer. And since truck owners and country music listeners fit in similar demographics, the bullseye for that advertising was aimed right at country.
Truck advertisers have always drummed up their “toughness,” but the latest generation of truck commercials have ratcheted it up another notch. Celebrity voices have been brought in to narrate these commercials, including Denis Leary for Ford (probably to the chagrin of “Ford Truck Man” Toby Keith), and famous cowboy actor and narrator of The Big Lebowski Sam Elliott for Ram commercials. So as Detroit’s PR firms are parading around the idea that the auto industry is pulling out of its tailspin with innovation and green technologies, in truth they’re going back to their old trusty cash cow of the full size pickup truck to bring revenue back to black; a much more savory savoir than the environmentally-maligned SUV.
Advertising by definition is subliminal. The whole “you’re not a man unless you have a big truck” is a whole other thread, but it’s not surprising that with the sheer volume of advertising by America’s auto industry–and with so many consumers buying new trucks–that this would create a spike in the mention of trucks in country songs. And just like many of these country truck songs don’t actually appeal to people in the country, statistics show that many of these truck drivers live in the suburbs and are using them simply as commuter vehicles instead of the heavy work they’re built for. They are called “never-nevers” by the industry according to the Economist, meaning they never take trucks off-road or use them for towing.
So does this all mean that Madison Ave. and Music Row are in cahoots and all of these trucks songs are just veiled advertisements for Detroit’s most-profitable vehicles? I wouldn’t go that far. Just as Music Row is full of copycats, they’re also notoriously a year or two behind the curve (see country’s fumbling of the move to digitalization). The professional songwriters working away in the BMI and ASCAP cubicle farms on Music Row are just trying to put songs together that will sell. Detroit does send a lot of money to Nashville in the form of advertising on radio and at awards shows and such, but despite how sexy a “truck” conspiracy would be, at this point there’s little evidence of that.
More realistically, all these truck songs are just a simple cultural hyper craze that will undoubtedly be looked back upon with embarrassment by future generations of country fans.
Now if you will excuse me, I need to go feed my pet rock.
January 16, 2013 @ 3:15 pm
Corb Lund made the best recent truck song out there
Truck Got Stuck
On another note, what happened to all the great truck driving songs of old? When did it go from truck driving to truck selling?
January 16, 2013 @ 5:47 pm
January 16, 2013 @ 5:48 pm
Also, his Hurtin’ Albertan is an enjoyable trucker song.
January 16, 2013 @ 5:12 pm
Excellent connection between the rise of truck songs and the fall and comeback of Detroit. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Definitely provides some food for thought!
January 16, 2013 @ 5:59 pm
countryisms… i like that . i think that’s what i will call that b.s. from now on.
January 16, 2013 @ 6:29 pm
Rusted up Old pickup trucks by Hellbound Glory will continue to be my favorite truck song. Love my POS ’74 Chevy.
January 16, 2013 @ 8:07 pm
John Rich “Shutting Detroit Down”
January 17, 2013 @ 1:08 am
Excellent song. It’s truly one of the best songs I’ve heard about the economic crisis. It perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong with our economic system today.
Citizen of Detoilet
January 16, 2013 @ 10:33 pm
Detroit recovery? surely you jest. Its a bigger shithole than ever, come on down buddy!
January 16, 2013 @ 11:50 pm
Eh, trucks have always had a place in country. Granted, the songs weren’t so centered around the trucks themselves until recently, but they”ve always been there.
If GM built a car like they build their trucks, they’d have never needed a bailout. I replaced my 500,000+ mile ’75 Chevy with a ’99 GMC that now has 220,000 miles on it. Those are trucks worth writing a damned song about!
January 17, 2013 @ 5:08 am
They just don’t build ’em like they use to. :’)
January 17, 2013 @ 6:48 am
You said it all . I’m a used car dealer ( No , grandma didn’t just drive it to church on Sundays ; and what in the hell are “road miles” ? ) . The biggest gap in quality between passenger cars and trucks is widest pertaining to Chrysler/Dodge . They both build long-lasting trucks , but their cars’ lack of quality is shameful . Most notably the 2.7L V6 powerplant . I’ve seen them literally pushed through auctions with 40-60,000 miles on the odometer .
January 17, 2013 @ 5:33 am
Say what you will, but “Some Gave All” is a great song. It gets me every time.
January 17, 2013 @ 9:05 am
Jeeps are better than trucks.
TX Music Jim
January 17, 2013 @ 9:46 am
I’ve driven nothing but a truck for 20 years because it’s useful day to day. Jerry Jeff Walker’s “pickup truck” song is my favorite. These new gen pickup truck songs are fairly lame for the most part though especially “truck yeah”.
January 17, 2013 @ 2:39 pm
Too many numbers about trucks. Too many songs about trucks. At first it may sounds good, but now after hundreds of them, singing about trucks is so uninspired, and reductive.
And now I want a pet rock too. Damn.
January 17, 2013 @ 5:57 pm
I just recently discoverd this site and have been pleasantly surprised but after the first paragraph of this article I WILL be checking in very regularly. Thanks for the great writing and sense of humor! Cheers! Long live the good stuff!
January 17, 2013 @ 9:17 pm
Wasn’t Randy’s naked self driving a Trans Am at the time? And I agree, with most things in “mainstream” country these days….. all the truck tunes are really getting annyoying.
January 18, 2013 @ 11:46 pm
To this day I can’t hear Alan Jackson’s “Mercury Blues” without mentally replacing Mercury with “Ford truck.” Though I also try to avoid hearing that song at all because I got so sick of it back when those commercials were running.
carrie left mike fisher for me
January 19, 2013 @ 4:33 am
that ani’t my truck by rhett akins is how i’m feeling right about now.
January 19, 2013 @ 12:45 pm
I like folks that call everything a TRUCK (Cars/Minivans/PT Cruisers/Prius’/Etc) that’s when you’re dealin with a real-dea,l old-school, country-sumbitch! JAJAJA
January 19, 2013 @ 2:05 pm
An interesting take, and one that I hadn’t thought of. Great article!
January 20, 2013 @ 2:56 pm
Songwriter Dan Wilson talks about the insistence in country circles on writing about trucks at the start of this video. (He’s introducing Treacherous, which he wrote with Taylor Swift)
January 20, 2013 @ 3:29 pm
Great find Grace!
January 24, 2013 @ 11:02 am
I just heard Lee Brice’s “I drive your truck” on my local pop country station. It’s not a bad one. I’ve always driven a truck. My dad drove a truck. I like trucks.