Some time ago I mentioned I’m listening to contemporary country music. At first I was doing it ironically but now I kind of like it. It is interesting – that’s what it is. For a while I’ve waved off all present-day music except for a very narrow sliver of the spectrum – alternative stuff and most of which was coming from artists that I’d known about for a good decade or more.
Commercial FM is full of new stuff that I don’t connect with at all. So anyway, this country music, while very much on the commercial edge of what is called country these days, is coming at lyrics and narrative from a different angle. This first one is probably the best example of that, that I’ve heard in the last couple of months. I was driving along, listening to this song and realised, Whoah – is this guy talking about broaching the subject with his SO of moving back in with his mum? Now that’s country!
As it turned out, this guy Tim McGraw is one of the biggest selling country musicians of all time. So I supposed it wasn’t just luck that he hit on a whacky topic, but is in fact speaking the thoughts of a whole generation of disaffected working class.
OMG! The pathos!
The conversate continues:
I love the fact that this next one, Toby Keith’s ‘Drinks after work’ contains the line, Let’s conversate for a little while. I can remember years ago J-e used to say “I want to conversate with you!” when she was frustrated with using English.
I really like the chord changes in the song too. The sound really nails that mild, AOR sound that tickles my funny bone in a perverse kind of way. (Reminds me a little of the theme from WKRP in Cincinnati.) This song also introduces one of the big themes of country music: alcohol. Listening to the radio, you’d be forgiven for thinking that most of the south of the US is permanently drunk. Many, many songs revolve around getting to Friday night, it being Friday night and now we are going to drink. This is where Toby Keith shows his mastermindedness in that he wrote a song about having drinks in the middle of the week.
I also discovered that Toby Keith is a multi-millionaire and owns a chain of bar-restaurants across the US - mainly in the south and midwest. When he tours, he does gigs in these places. No doubt he sings this song, everybody drinks up and buys another beer.
The first thing this reminded me of was I’m On A Boat but it’s different in a way that illustrates the difference between the hip-hop dominated pop scene and this commercial country genre. Even though the on a boat song is a send-up it’s that ‘hey look at me, I am very good!’ strutting that pop is all about these days. And then there’s Dierks Bentley getting drunk on a plane—why? because he’s having relationship problems. That’s the second theme of country. Sure, most popular music is about boy-girl problems, but a lot of pop seems to come at it from the angle of ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’. Country songs like drunk on a plane tend more to the bluesy sorrow and woe is me feeling.
Intertextuality with Taylor Swift
Even though it’s 9 or so years old, some of the songs from Taylor Swift’s first album still get played on this particular station I listen to. The station has a very narrow range of songs they play and you can often hear the same song twice in one day even if you’re only listening to the radio for 15 minutes total, but Taylor’s so damn popular they make exceptions of the age of the album.
This song is definitely right on the edge of pop and contemporary country but I can appreciate the craft in the songwriting and if the wickerpedia page is to believed she wrote that whole album pretty much by herself when she was 16 or 17. It’s ballsy to write a song called Tim Mcgraw when you’re just a newb on the country scene – very clever to pay homage but also hitch a little ride on someone who’s guaranteed to sell platinum.