New Sherwood

What’s Right About Country Music

I listen to a lot of country music, as does most everyone out here. Some of it is immoral and awful, most of it is sappy and mediocre, but some of it really gives me hope for this country. Music can tell you a lot about a people and their culture. As it happens, country music is the only mainstream genre left in America in which fatherhood, motherhood, married love, faith, family, tradition, patriotism, gratitude, and other wholesome themes are not only featured regularly, but are essential to the style itself. Take the scandalously resentment-free, angst-deprived, grievance-challenged ballad “Lucky Man” by Montgomery Gentry:

Got some friends that would be here fast
I could call ’em any time of day
Got a brother who’s got my back
Got a momma who I swear’s a saint
Got a brand new rod and reel
Got a full week off this year
Dad had a close call last spring
It’s a miracle he’s still here.

I know I’m a lucky man
God’s given me a pretty fair hand
Got a house and peice of land
A few dollars in a coffee can.
My old truck’s still runnin good
My ticker’s tickin’ like they say it should
I’ve got supper in the oven, a good woman’s lovin’
And one more day to be my little kids’ dad
Lord knows I’m a lucky man.

There’s also music that should warm the heart of any American traditionalist, such as “A Different World” by Bucky Covington:

No child-proof lids, no seat belts in cars
Rode bikes with no helmets and still here we are,
Still here we are
We got daddy’s belt when we misbehaved
Had three TV channels you got up to change
No video games and no satellite
All we had were friends and they were outside,
Playin’ outside

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

School always started the same every day
The pledge of allegiance then someone would pray
Not every kid made the team when they tried
We got disappointed and that was all right,
We turned out all right

No bottled water, we drank from a garden hose
And every Sunday, all the stores were closed …

And it gets even better. The words to “Little Man” by Alan Jackson will resonate with Catholic supporters of distributism:

He pumped your gas and he cleaned your glass
And one cold rainy night he fixed your flat
The new stores came where you do it yourself
You buy a lotto ticket and food off the shelf
Forget the little man
Forget about that little man

He hung on there for a few more years
But he couldn’t sell slurpees
And he wouldn’t sell beer
Now the bank rents the station
To a man down the road
And sells velvet Elvis’ and
Second-hand clothes
There goes the little man
There goes another little man

Now the stores are lined up in a concrete strip
You can buy the whole world with just one trip
And save a penny cause it’s jumbo size
They don’t even realize
They’re killin’ the little man
Oh the little man

But the best thing about country music, for me, are the great songs about fatherhood. Of course the most gut-wrenching of the new fatherhood songs – a piece that makes you want to simultaneously hug your kids and beat the living hell out of someone – is “Alyssa Lies” by Jason Michael Carroll. The song is about a man, his daughter, and his daughter’s young classmate who eventually dies at the hands of abusive parents. A close second in the same department is “The Little Girl” by John Michael Montgomery which, fortunately, has a happier ending:

Her first day of Sunday school the teacher walked in
And a small little girl stared a picture of Him
She said I know that man up there on that cross
I don’t know His name but I know He got off
He was there in my old house and held me close to His side
As I hid there behind our couch the night that my parents died.


There are many other notable country songs about fatherhood, including “My Little Girl” by Tim McGraw, “Watching You” by Rodney Atkins, “A Father’s Love” by George Strait, “There Goes My Life” by Kenny Chesney, and “I Wish I Could Have Been There” by John Anderson. I think my all-time favorite, though, has to be “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn:

I remember Daddy´s hands, folded silently in prayer.
And reaching out to hold me, when I had a nightmare.
You could read quite a story, in the callouses and lines.
Years of work and worry had left their mark behind.
I remember Daddy´s hands, how they held my Mama tight,
And patted my back, for something done right.
There are things that I´ve forgotten, that I loved about the man,
But I´ll always remember the love in Daddy´s hands.

Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin´.
Daddy´s hands, were hard as steel when I´d done wrong.
Daddy´s hands, weren´t always gentle
But I´ve come to understand.
There was always love in Daddy´s hands.

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April 17, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

15 Comments »

  1. A good round-up of good country songs. I think the most counter-cultural songs in America are songs of gratitude. Their rarity is startling. By the way, Martina McBride has some pretty explicitly Christian songs, like “Love’s the Only House” (for best results, substitute “God” for “love”):

    I was standing in the grocery store line
    The one they marked express
    When this woman came through with about 25 things
    And I said “don’t you know that more is less”
    She said “This world is moving so fast
    I just get more behind every day
    And every morning when I make my coffee
    I can’t believe my life’s turned out this way”
    All I could say was…

    Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world
    Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain

    He was walking by the other day and I said
    “Hey baby how you been?
    Yeah, I got me a little girl now and she’s 4 years old and she’s got her daddy’s little grin
    You only wanted what you can’t have
    And baby you can’t have me now
    I gave me heart to another
    Yeah I’m a mother and he’s a father
    And we’re a family
    And we’ve got each other
    And I found out the hard way that…”

    Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world
    Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain

    You drive three miles from all this prosperity, down across the river and you see a ghetto there
    And we got children walking around with guns
    And they got knives and drugs and pain to spare
    And here I am in my clean, white shirt
    With a little money in my pocket and a nice warm home
    And we got teenagers walkin’ around in a culture of darkness, livin’ together alone
    All I can say is…

    Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world
    Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain

    And I can’t explain it and I can’t understand
    But I’ll come down and get my hands dirty and together we’ll make a stand

    Somewhere cross the parking lot some bands playin out of tune
    City streets are gonna burn if we don’t do somethin soon
    And senorita can’t quit cryin, baby’s due now any day
    Don Juan left, got sick of tryin
    No one there to show him the way

    She came down to the grocery store
    She said “I, I wanna buy a little carton of milk but I don’t have any money”
    I said “hey I’ll cover you honey, cause the pain’s gotta go somewhere”
    Yeah the pain’s gotta go someplace
    So come on down to my house

    Like

    Comment by TSO | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  2. I haven’t heard that Martina McBride song, but the lyrics are good. Thanks for posting them here.

    And you’re absolutely right about gratitude, which Paul Cella says is the primary sentiment of conservatives. I like the last verse of Alan Jackson’s “Remember When”:

    Remember when
    We said when we turn gray
    When the children
    Grow up and move away
    We won’t be sad
    We’ll be glad
    For all the life we’ve had
    And we’ll remember when.

    Like

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  3. What do you think of Johnny Cash?

    Like

    Comment by Adrian Martin | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  4. I listen to country music as well, but I have noticed a few things about it: first of all, it seems to me to have a tendancy to produce near-identical songs…for instance, compare “Alyssa Lies” with Martina McBride’s “Concrete Angels”. Though the form of the songs is different, it is difficult to imagine that the one wasn’t inspired by the other. Furthermore, it seems to me that more and more country songs are immoral, and especially focus on the alleged ease of immoral sexual relations in rural areas.

    Also, I am not sure about songs such as “A Different World”. I would like to like that song…but every time I hear it I find myself somewhat disliking it. I think it is the fact that the song seems not to make a “value judgment”…it talks about what things were like in the past, and then attributes this to it having been a “different world”, completely unaccesible except through memory. Well, it was not a different world, it was the same world we live in now, before we and others set about wrecking it. We COULD have the same world, or a better one, than is spoken of in the song, if only the vast majority of people were not, half out of ignorance and half out of indulgence, content to wallow in our modern-day filth.

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    Comment by Daniel A. | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  5. Once I read my post I realized it sounds rather harsh…I like country music, especially when it feels original and discusses good themes. I would rather listen to it than to most anything else on the mainstream radio. I’m just pointing out the seemingly non-traditional undertones of that song, which I have in fact been thinking about lately. I do like most of the other songs posted though.

    Like

    Comment by Daniel A. | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  6. Adrian: I like Johnny Cash.

    Daniel: Oh, you’re absolutely right about the increasing immorality in country music. Interestingly, though, this is happening along with the opposite trend I am discussing here. The faith-and-family ballads weren’t anywhere near as strong in the ’70s or ’80s. The polarization is heating up. Your crticism of “A Different World” is certainly valid, but it is still a naked invitation to contrast the good of the old with the bad of the new. I welcome that.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  7. Jeff,

    Thanks for replying to my comment. I think you’re right about the two competing trends…I am not old enough to REMEMBER country music, or any music, in the seventies, but from what I have heard, it seems that you are right. I would say there’s probably three trends…it seems to me there are the “faith and family” songs, the “stereotypical hillbillies indulging in immorality” songs, and the “pop-ish romantic songs with vaguely country sound to them”. Of course there are some songs that do not fit any of those, but those are the trends I see.

    Of course, I have the habit of “Catholicizing” country music: when they say anything about a “preacher” I assume they mean a Dominican, and so on. My girlfriend tells me that she assumes, when a song mentions a couple doing anything that ought to be reserved for married people, that the couple is validly married in the Catholic church. Probably not exactly the spirit in which the songs were intended :-D.

    Like

    Comment by Daniel A. | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  8. Jeff,

    Thank you for a wonderful post!

    I listen to old country and bluegrass. The new stuff sounds too overproduced for my tastes, but every once and a while I hear something good.

    For the sake of discussion, here’s an article by an evangelical in which he touches on “the culture of resentment” he sees at the origin of country music: American Idolatry.

    I seldom agree with this author’s conculsions, but I enjoy his columns.

    Yours,
    Joshua

    Like

    Comment by The Western Confucian | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  9. My wife’s taken a shine to country of late. He gets an insane amount of airplay, but Toby Keith has good songs in the same vein:

    Heart to Heart, where he watches his wife and son

    I watched him throw his oatmeal bowl
    Halfway across the kitchen floor
    His momma said don’t let me see you do that anymore

    And he let loose with a cup of orange juice
    Right down the back of her dress
    Without a doubt she lined him out
    Then cleaned up the mess

    Now he is just a chip off of the old block
    Just like me we keep her on her toes a lot

    But when he cries she’ll match him tear for tear
    When he laughs she’ll grin from ear to ear
    When he’s wrong they’ll stand there face to face
    She can put him in his place
    Side by side and hand in hand
    She’ll talk with daddy’s little man
    He knows that she’s done her part
    I’m watching God’s love grow
    Heart to heart

    He’ll grow to be six foot three
    Yeah he’s gonna be just like me
    He’ll be tall and play football
    But he’ll always be a momma’s boy

    And when he cries she’ll match him tear for tear
    When he laughs she’ll grin from ear to ear
    When he’s wrong they’ll stand there face to face
    She can put him in his place
    Side by side and hand in hand
    She’ll talk with daddy’s little man
    He knows that she’s done her part
    I’m watching God’s love grow
    Heart to heart

    And Huckleberry, about settling in with the love of your life:

    Just off of the two-lane where the school bus used to stop
    Was a little wooden A-frame with a yellow tin roof top
    One day it was raining on this world
    She said ‘have you ever really, really ever kissed a girl?’

    Baby I’ll be your Huckleberry, you don’t have to double dare me
    If the storm gets wild and scary count on me to be right there
    You’re so extra ordinary sweet like maraschino cherries
    We’ll grow up and we’ll get married
    I’m gonna be your Huckleberry

    Later on that summer we went to the county fair
    They had a brand new roller coaster and everyone was scared
    It was two bucks to experience the thrill
    She said ‘come on boy let’s get in line I’ll ride it if you will’

    Baby I’ll be your Huckleberry, you don’t have to double dare me
    If the ride gets wild and scary count on me to be right there
    You’re so extra ordinary sweet like maraschino cherries
    We’ll grow up and we’ll get married
    I’m gonna be your Huckleberry

    Snuck off on a slow dance at the junior/senior prom
    Went lookin’ for some romance before I had to get her home
    Steamin’ up the windows of my car
    She said ‘until I get my wedding ring boy we can’t go that far’

    Baby I’ll be your Huckleberry, you don’t have to double dare me
    If the world gets wild and scary count on me to be right there
    You’re so extra ordinary sweet like maraschino cherries
    We grew up and we got married
    Now look at those three little Huckleberries

    Like

    Comment by Dale Price | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  10. Italics off. Sorry ’bout that.

    Like

    Comment by Dale Price | April 17, 2007 | Reply

  11. Joshua: Yes, I read the article when you posted the link on TWC. Lots of food for thought there. Undoubtedly there is some truth to his criticism, but he reaches a bit too far and ignores the authentic folk element. Country music is lowbrow – there’s no getting around it – but it has it’s place.

    Dale: I like the lyrics of your selections: thanks for posting them. But I cringe at the name of Toby Keith. He’s crossed the line so many times it is clear which side he prefers to wallow in. That’s probably true of other artists I enjoy but don’t know enough about.

    Like

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 18, 2007 | Reply

  12. I listen to the contemporary country radio station once in awhile, but it rarely satisfies. Alan Jackson, yes, but most of the stuff is barely country. The other day we were riding in the car and I had that station on. Amalia (five and a half) listens for a moment, then makes a face, saying, “this isn’t country music. This is rock and roll.”

    She was right. We went to the classical station, which gave me the treat of listening to her say, “oh no….harpsichord!” with a funny look. My own flesh and blood betrays me like that?

    Like

    Comment by Erik Keilholtz | April 19, 2007 | Reply

  13. I wish I could get into country. I’ve been resisting it for over a decade, and I still can’t do it for more than a couple of songs.

    My wife, on the other hand…

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    Comment by Steve | April 19, 2007 | Reply

  14. Erik: I agree, contemporary country is at least 65% noise. We have four or five country stations within earshot – just enough to hear 1 or maybe 2 decent songs in 30 minutes if you surf them hard.

    Steve: If you don’t already have the habit, I really don’t recommend picking it up. (Unless you’re trying to kick rock music or something worse.)

    Like

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 19, 2007 | Reply

  15. […] closest thing we Americans have to genuine folk music is bluegrass and country music. Bluegrass is certainly authentic enough, but due to historical circumstances it isn’t often […]

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    Pingback by America Needs a Huong Lan « Stony Creek Digest | September 11, 2007 | Reply


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