Before we get to the mix, let me just urge anyone who hasn’t yet had the chance to see Once to run to their nearest independent theater and watch this beautiful film. It’s one of the best movies of the year (maybe the best?) that features an aching love story and some amazing music. Here’s a song from the film.
If You Want Me – Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova
Now, what all you came here for—country music! Yes, yes, I know. But I think country has gotten a terrible name in recent years, mainly from horrible mainstream country radio stations. Disco country in the seventies didn’t sound as bad as today’s slickly produced schlock about “real” rednecks, faux-American patriotism, and beach bums. Not long ago, in the 80s and 90s, country music was actually about something. Most of my favorites from this movement could best be described as Neotraditionalist Country, a movement in country that harkened back on the musical and fashion stylings of the 1940s and 1950s.
In fact, for about six or so years of my adolescence, I only listened to country music. Believe me, it’s taken me a while to admit this (thanks Jake!). Over the past week, I’ve been working on an essay about this experience. Hopefully in a few months, you’ll be able to read it in a magazine. But until then, here’s a few of the songs I discuss in the article.
Seminole Wind – John Anderson
Before global warming and environmental concerns became a political issue (yes, there was a time when it was a human, not corporate, concern), John Anderson sang his ode preserve the Florida Everglades. The song was a smash, reaching #2 on the country charts in 1992. Anderson, who just released a great album of new material, possesses one of those voices you can never forget and impossible to describe. A plaintive piano opens the song before the drums and fiddles kick in. Ironically, in the novel I’m writing, one of the plots involves the main character joining a band that covers country songs from this period. One of the first songs they perform is Seminole Wind.
Ships That Don’t Come In – Joe Diffie
There was a time when country artists looked like country artists—Joe Diffie exemplifies this. With a beer-gut and a mullet, Diffie was the type of guy who knew how to sell a haunting ballad like this one or a rocker that you wanted to hear at a juke joint on Saturday night. In later years, he verged too much into novelty songs, but “Ships That Don’t Come In” remains one of his masterpieces.
Set ‘Em Up Joe – Vern Gosdin
A direct reference to Ernest Tubb’s “Walking the Floor Over You,” Gosdin loved the classics. Known as “The Voice,” Gosdin scored a huge hit with this song in 1988. (Check out the very good Some Velvet Blog, who coincidentally posted Tubb’s original today.)
Ain’t Nothing Wrong with the Radio – Aaron Tippin
Much of that essay I’m writing is about this song—at the time, my mother and I felt as if the radio was the only thing in our lives that actually worked. Tippin’s nasally drawl is distinctive and unique, propelling him through a string of hits in the 90s. How unfortunate that he chose to cash-in on the 9/11 music of his lesser, younger peers.
I’m No Stranger to the Rain – Keith Whitley
For me, Whitley’s voice the pinnacle of country music, just as Roy Orbison is one of the pinnacles of rock. Tragically, Whitley battled alcoholism for years. In 1989, he drank himself to death. This song was a number one hit that year, and is maybe the best country song of the 1980s. Sure, perhaps the lyrics are bit clichéd, but when delivered by Whitley’s aching vocals, it hardly matters.
Past the Point of Rescue – Hal Ketchum
Ketchum’s crisp vocals and that untypical electric guitar made this song reached number two on the charts in 1992.
Famous In a Small Town – Miranda Lambert
In the past few years, country has seen hope by way of Shooter Jennings (his album, Let’s Put the O Back In Country is dead-on about the genre’s current state), Hank Williams III, and Miranda Lambert, the only one of the three who really gets much radio airplay. Lambert, only 24, writes many of her songs and swerves all over the map, pulling from traditional country, rock, and folk. She’s got a distinctive voice and a point of view, something so many artists today lack.
See you back here next week. I’m willing to bet that this is the least viewed post ever. People just don’t like country anymore. But I’m not ashamed.