Song Review – Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans”
Forget that now the last six Toby Keith singles in a row very heavily involve drinking— that’s “Beers Ago,” “Red Solo Cup,” “Hope on the Rocks,” “I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” and “Drinks After Work” for those of you counting at home—this is a song with a message dammit!
I can just hear this thing playing in the background as superimposed stomping Budweiser Clydesdales go trailing off into the ether, while the foreground fills with a Dallas Cowboys fan and a Washington Redskins fan hugging it out in slo mo while their brats burn on the tailgate-sized barbecue during an instant replay television timeout. Because no matter what our differences, no matter our disparate backgrounds, our differing beliefs, our skin color, sexual persuasion, or even our choice of headgear, we can all come together and enjoy the splendid beauty of American over-consumption and the chronic addictions it breeds.
“Drunk Americans” from a musical standpoint is a swaying sea chanty of a pub singalong whose catchiness and anthemic nature is questionable enough to make you wonder if its desired effect of getting an entire bar room singing in unison will ever be realized, let alone if radio programmers will give it any more than a strong sniff simply because of whose name is attached to it. Hats off for the inclusion of banjo and even accordion in this song, but “Drunk Americans” is still songwriting by committee and formula, relying on the often-trodden out trope of juxtaposed opposites shoved together to create contrast that however witty in places, still feels a bit tired, to where not even a key change 2/3rds of the way through really gives you hope that this song will stick in any significant way in the craw of the American zeitgeist. Then again this is America, and as has been proven time and time again, success can be bought.
This song is not bad. There’s certainly worse. But what makes it a little difficult to stomach is this idyllic, hopeful picture it paints of the American reality that is so far off the mark, it is the equivalent of taking your bar dart, aiming for the bullseye, but landing it in the eye of some unlucky patron stumbling out of the men’s room. Sorry, but America is as polarized, untrusting, and closed-minded of its fellow citizens as it has ever been in its history save for The Civil War, especially when disturbed minds become even more lubricated by the aid of alcoholic libations. America in the fall of 2014 is the virtual equivalent to a bar brawl—from the suburbs of St. Louis, to state houses, to football stadiums, to country music concerts. We’re all pissed off at people who are different from us.
I understand that the hope is a song like this will open people’s eyes and inspire them to set aside differences, but the deep problem here is that this song is acting like this is the current reality, as opposed what should be yearned for. Yes, reactionary polarization is tearing the American ideal apart at the seams, and anyone who attempts to take up a contrary position to this trend should be commended. But attempting to veil this message in alcohol, like the spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down, is both transparent and ineffective. We hate each other, and instead of truly working to resolving this issue, “Drunk Americans” simply reminds us of the fact that we’re a 50/50 nation scribbling Hitler mustaches on any one who may disagree with us, and seeking out media that simply reinforces our one-sided reality-tunneled perspectives. And let’s not forget our raging alcohol problem.
“Drunk Americans” was written by hot independent/traditional songwriting commodity Brandy Clark, and her regular sidekick and songwriting genius Shane McAnally, along with Bob DiPiero. Brandy says about the song, “You see that title and you think, ‘Oh, it’s a drinking song,’ which it is, but I hope that people can listen to it and see that it’s really an American song.” That is, unless you’re an American that doesn’t drink, which is roughly 1/3 of the population, many of which had previous problems with the sauce, or are banned from doing so by edict from the bench. That is what’s so great about the classic version of the country drinking song. By looking at both sides of the drinking coin, not just the party time aspect, country music truly built a universal consensus in the listener through shared experiences. Now country music has become a vehicle for the same polarization this song attempts to decry.
The approach of this song feels somewhat like “Follow Your Arrow” 2.0, or a different version of Garth’s misguided “People Loving People.” It is trying to save the world through song, so it’s hard to fault it too harshly. But how about simply feeling a human emotion, and then expressing that through song without the taint of rewrites and tweaks over Skype sessions to craft a song into something commercially accessible? Whatever soul this song has feels drained, the chorus and melody feel a little flat, and unfortunately I’m just not hearing the catchiness it would take to even be a big commercial hit.
“Drunk Americans” tries to be sobering, but it’s kind of just a drunken mess.
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1 1/4 of 2 Guns Down.
October 14, 2014 @ 12:45 pm
A new addition to the checklist songs. Only instead of narrowing down a very tiny, tiny demographic that’s more fantasy than reality, we’ll just include EVERY FRIGGIN’ THING UNDER THE SUN!!! Can’t wait for FGL’s version!!!
Of course, not counting the sloppy “I love you MAAAAN” drunks, I’ve seen way more stupid arguments due to booze. I actually watched a couple of people have an evening-long argument over artificial turf. Somewhere along the evening both sides of the debate traded sides and carried on like they had been on that side all evening long.
October 14, 2014 @ 12:47 pm
Much of the political polarization is driven by the politically active, who are a minority of the population. At the community level, there remains a high level of social harmony.
Also, America’s alcohol consumption rate is lower than pretty much every European country.
October 15, 2014 @ 10:53 am
While the raw alcohol consumption rate may very well be higher in Europe than in the US, that’s not really the point. And Trigger even points out that 1/3 of Americans don’t drink at all.
In Europe, drinking doesn’t carry the moral stigma that it does in the US. So everyone drinks, including clergymen, teenagers, and blue-haired grandmothers.
But I would be willing to bet that the rate of drinking to excess is much higher in the US, and that’s what causes the problem.
October 15, 2014 @ 11:39 am
Even in terms of drinking to excess, Eastern Europe has a much higher rate than America.
October 15, 2014 @ 12:28 pm
Not true, binge drinking is much more common in the US than Europe. And the European countries with the highest rates of binge drinking, England and Ireland, are in Western Europe.
October 15, 2014 @ 1:07 pm
Interesting. I had read somewhere that Eastern Europe has the world’s most serious problem with drunkenness. Maybe they do not binge drink, but instead drink multiple times a day…
October 14, 2014 @ 12:49 pm
I checked out this tune after reading about Brandy’s involvement — cute in parts, but certainly not one of her finer moments. :p
You raise a lot of good points here. My chief hangup about the song was simply how much it speaks to the sheer pervasiveness of alcohol in country music nowadays, and I can’t help thinking, “Come on, people, isn’t there more to life than just drinking anymore?”
October 14, 2014 @ 1:05 pm
Not in this Genre.
October 14, 2014 @ 2:15 pm
Hey, drinking is definitely a part of life, and country music has certainly contributed its fair share of songs about it over the years. But at this point it has become the sole focus of a one track mind. And since everything in drinking songs is positive, there’s not even any contrast within the subject matter itself. It’s just like checklist songs: the checklists are not the problem, just like drinking songs are not the problem. But when that’s all that there is, it makes it almost an immediate turnoff to a self-aware music listener.
October 14, 2014 @ 3:18 pm
And more reviews are reflecting just that http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2014/10/13/florida-georgia-line-anything-goes-listen-up-album-of-the-week/17171155/
October 15, 2014 @ 11:00 am
Drinking songs of the past for the most part put it in a negative light; either the subject was drinking to ease the pain of some loss, or the subject’s drinking caused the loss, or both in some cases. There were exceptions – Tom T. Hall’s “I Like Beer” for one – and some were whimsical rather than serious, like “Swingin’ Doors”; but I don’t know the last time I heard a new country song addressed drinking as anything but an essential life enhancer that leads to all great things.
October 14, 2014 @ 6:30 pm
oh but there is so much more Gena, let’s see, we got: tailgates,truck, dirt road, and “girl”
October 14, 2014 @ 1:07 pm
I think Brandy knows this song is not one of her better ones and that is why she spun it off to Toby Keith instead of keeping it for herself or giving it to Kacey Musgraves.
October 14, 2014 @ 1:10 pm
I haven’t seen alcohol glamorized this much since “I Dream of Jeannie”, when Darin came home to hard whiskey everyday and “Andy of Mayberry” when Otis, the town drunk, was portrayed as an affable, as opposed to pitiable, character.
Getting bombed on booze and smoking dope everyday do not consititute a desirable lifestyle.
If that’s what one has to do to stomach this tripe, I understand, but it ain’t me.
The song should be “Shallow, Boring Americans”.
I go to a lot of college football and basketball games, NASCAR races and concerts, and I know (from experience as a young man) that I enjoy these activities more than the folks who choose to get blown away.
October 14, 2014 @ 6:12 pm
You may be confusing “I Dream of Jeannie” with “Bewitched”.
October 15, 2014 @ 8:03 am
Good catch, amigo.
October 14, 2014 @ 1:30 pm
This song’s one and only purpose is to get the entire crowd to sing along to it at his concerts.
October 14, 2014 @ 2:05 pm
Well they have to sing along together because who knows if Toby shows up sober enough to sing 🙂
October 14, 2014 @ 2:57 pm
Sounds like he was drunk when he recorded it.
October 27, 2014 @ 1:38 pm
“And we all sing it wrong but we all sing along”
October 14, 2014 @ 1:42 pm
I was driving the other day when “He Aint Worth Missing” came on the radio and I had not heard it in a while. Because of the cheesy crap Toby peddles as his music these days, I’d honestly forgotten that he had some really good and well written songs in the early and mid ’90’s. Too bad “Drunk Americans” is where he career is now. Like Nate said, nothing more than sing along music with no heart or even an inkling of actual substance.
October 14, 2014 @ 3:04 pm
The chorus sounds a lot like Billy Joel’s Piano Man.
October 14, 2014 @ 5:24 pm
What the hell? That’s not even a finished song. Did Toby get a hold of the writer’s rough idea sheets and record that on accident? This is just a bunch of random ideas that seem like they were intended to get reworked into a song eventually.
October 14, 2014 @ 6:42 pm
Yeh, this is a bad Budweiser ad for the Super Bowl. All those drunk Americans
spending all their dough at Toby’s Bar. A truly dreadful song.
You want a drinking song? George Jones’ “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me, Her Memory Will”.
That is the real deal, not this pollyanna pablum that Keith is singing here.
October 14, 2014 @ 6:43 pm
Actually, before he released “Drunk Americans” Toby issued “Shut Up and Hold On” as the second and final single from Drinks After Work. It wasn’t about drinking and stalled on the charts at 48.
As for this song, it sounds unlike his usual output. I think we’re beginning to see Keith enter into the phase of his career in which he’ll make some desperate plays for attention in the face of becoming a legacy artist. Hopefully he’ll know when enough’s enough, accept it and age gracefully like Alan Jackson as opposed to becoming an embarrassment like Hank Jr. can be.
October 14, 2014 @ 6:50 pm
I feel like the song title really does the actual song a disservice. You hear the title and you automatically think “oh great, another dumb Toby Keith song about drinking”. Whereas in reality, this song isn’t anywhere near as bad as that first thought. More toward “Hope on the Rocks” and less toward “Red Solo Cup”, which isn’t something to be too disappointed about in my mind.
Hey Trigger – off topic, did you notice completely independent Aaron Watson taking his new single “That Look” up to #3 on the iTunes downloads charts today? It probably won’t last very long, but it’s nice to see an independent, grassroots supported artist taking out the big label boys none the less…
October 14, 2014 @ 7:12 pm
I did notice the song was getting good buzz in the Texas scene, but I don’t really pay attention to iTunes charts.
October 14, 2014 @ 6:57 pm
Okay, I am the last person to even bother to listen to Toby Keith. I’ve never been a fan and I think he wastes his once pretty decent voice on crap songs.
As for encouraging drunkenness, I abhor it. My brother was killed at age 19 by a drunk driver.
However, if one attempts to see through what may be a bit of sarcasm and get to the fact that we ARE all Americans and maybe “Drunk Americans” is referring to the political stupor that so many are in and that we all really can get along because we are all the same in so many ways.
Someone above mentioned that on the local community levels, we are getting along and we truly are just as we always were, just Americans. If we weren’t being battered and divided by politics constantly, we all would get along better. We are rightfully stressed and worried. Pub songs have been around for a long time chasing our cares away with songs we can sing along with and forget about things for a while.
It might not be the best attempt at a pub song, but I didn’t hate it.
October 14, 2014 @ 7:10 pm
As I hit post, I was thinking that the song also could be a parody of the fact that too many Americans are too drunk to know what the heck is going on and just don’t care. Or they are watching the Entertainment channel & ESPN thinking that’s real life. Lol.
October 14, 2014 @ 9:25 pm
I heard this song on the radio this morning driving into work. My first thought is that this song portrays Americans as drunk, idiots, that fight with each other. I can’t say I expected more from Toby Keith. This song has already been done in so many different ways, the whole “we may be different but we can get along”.
Toby Keith is really becoming irrelevant (and I used to like him a lot).
October 15, 2014 @ 12:34 am
My first thought is that this song portrays Americans as drunk, idiots, that fight with each other.
Exactly, even though it’s supposed to be portraying the opposite. I think this is a definite sign it’s ineffective at delivering its desired message.
October 14, 2014 @ 10:20 pm
Wait!….This is a real song?!?!? I thought this was just a farce the music joke,
October 14, 2014 @ 10:57 pm
Excellent observations Trigger . IMHO one of your best reviews ..honest , factual , fair and informed .
I’m giving Toby points for not recording some bro sh#@ . I’m giving him a few more for TRYING to find something that appeals to folks across the board and not just 16 year old girls . I’m giving him a couple more because he COULD have released one of his own tunes and didn’t . Obviously he feels THIS one is something that he can get behind ..image-wise and , I’d bet , philosophically , as well as being , perhaps , more radio-friendly or timely than one of his own , Don’t know that for sure , of course …..just surmising .
Unfortunately, however , I’m now going to take all those points back because ,although I know it works , I’M SICK OF DRINKING SONGS and FLAG-WAVING .
October 15, 2014 @ 7:01 am
Gotta admit, I don’t hate it. It’s catchy enough. Forgive me for I have sinned…
TX Music Jim
October 15, 2014 @ 7:01 am
Never been a Toby Keith fan. Trig, I like the sea chantey take on this song musically. It reminds me of Billy Joel s piano man minus the insight. Not a horrible song not a great song. However, if you owned a bar chain and wanted a new sing along song for gigs and at the bar this is the one. Maybe he cut this for purely these reasons ? Would love to hear Brandy Clark to an acoustic version of it live. I bet it would come off as a much better song.
October 15, 2014 @ 7:08 am
That’s definitely some of the most inane lyrics I’ve ever heard. It’s just a poor, lazy attempt to follow the current trend (downward spiral?) of mainstream country music. In stark contrast, J.P. Harris’ “Home is Where the Hurt Is” has been burning up my ipod lately. That’s some real country that even addresses drinking, but unfortunately will never be heard on any “country music” radio station.
October 15, 2014 @ 7:45 am
For whatever reason most of his more recent music reminds me of the more recent Bocephus albums (jingoistic etc) in that they both pretty much jumped the shark quite some time ago.
I was just reading the James McMurtry article linked at the top, and he sums up the mono-genre concept pretty well
“Of course, the gun industry is not the only industry contributing to our cultural divisions. Entertainment is all over it. And we seem to be mimicking the entertainment industry, devolving into a nation of stereotypes, one big reality show with a country/hip hop soundtrack, scripted and sculpted to resemble some Hollywood dream of every white man”™s America, where rednecks are proud of the moniker, though their cotton farming great grandparents are spinning in their graves at the very notion, because they worked like hell to elevate their descendants from the mere suggestion of the term “redneck.”
Sort of off topic sort of not…
October 15, 2014 @ 11:42 am
Nothing wrong with taking pride in the term “redneck”. Outlaw country music, for example, was often called “redneck rock”.
October 15, 2014 @ 10:59 am
Ahhh, but you didn’t mention it’s a waltz!!!! Since I like doing couples dances a lot more than line dances, this is actually a song I’d be able to dance to if I went out. For that I give it some extra points!
October 15, 2014 @ 5:21 pm
i gave the song a spin on spotfiy and ewwwwwwwwwww. (for the record i was once a fan to).
October 16, 2014 @ 9:42 am
As Homer Simpson said, “Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” This dichotomy is something people can relate to. But endless songs about endless partying and drinking with none of the consequences are not only irresponsible, they’re boring. Like scenery that never changes.
I was once a Toby Keith fan and I still listen to his 90s stuff a lot. But I’m not buying the “unifying” message from Mr. Boot in Your Ass, one of the most polarizing figures in modern country. I’ll take Garth’s song over this. It’s not the best, but at least the message sounds genuine coming from him.
October 27, 2014 @ 5:22 am
This gives me the chance to start a new drinking game–everybody has to take a drink every time Trigger uses the word ‘zeitgeist’.
December 8, 2014 @ 6:48 pm
Hi Trigger! I don’t know if you’ll read this or not being this article has been out a couple months but I just came across the song. I liked your review and it made me giggle a few times. but I don’t completely agree with it. I found the melody catchy. and being that I’m a liberal who was raised in and loves a genre of music (country) that unfairly or not, seems to be associated with being as hard right wing as possible, I find the this song comforting and kind of funny. as in meant to not be so serious while also pointing out at the end of the day we’re all americans and cannot aside our disagreements and have a pint. right now I kind of feel like an outcast. among all the country fans I know personally, Obama is Satan incarnate. Everybody I know who agrees with me on politics hates country music with a passion. So when a song like this comes along I feel like rooting for it that just maybe fellow country fans who hear it, will if nothing else at least stop seeing us liberals as the antichrist. that way I won’t feel like the only country fan who isn’t in the tea party. I know that isn’t true by a long shot, (even after the Dixie chicks comments they still sold out tickets for instance, that means there must be plenty of democratic country fans out there) but I sure feel like I’m the only one sometimes and at least with people I personally know the stereotype holds true.
December 8, 2014 @ 7:13 pm
I did read this. Thanks for your perspective John.
December 8, 2014 @ 7:26 pm
you’re welcome! thanks for reading. and keep writing. From what I’ve seen so far, I love this blog.