Seven Basic Plots to a Country Song
Anyone who has been a writer of fiction for any length of time has probably heard the theory that there are only seven basic plots and all stories are derived from them. They are:
Man vs. Man
Man vs. The environment
Man vs. Machines/Technology
Man vs. The supernatural
Man vs. Self
Man vs. God/Religion
Recently I have written some things about country music that have caused some people to ask just what the hell is a country song anyway? I got to thinking about the seven plots theory and wondered if something similar could be applied to country music. Sure enough, it can and it’s my contention that all country songs are derived from the following seven categories that oddly enough all end with the letter “n” and an apostrophe.
Drinkin’–This covers all areas of substance use and abuse from beer, wine, whiskey and tequila to cocaine, pot, morphine and trucker speed.
Cheatin’–It’s not just about sleeping with people. This includes gambling songs because as long as there’s been gambling there’s been cheating. This would also include your robbing songs and stealing songs like Johnny Cash’s One Piece at a Time.
Fightin’–This is your anger-based category. I would stick bar fights, fights with your significant other, murder, prison and leavin’ songs in here. Aw hell, let’s even throw in pillow fights just for fun.
Lovin’–Just to keep this list from getting too depressing I’ll toss lovin’ in at this point. These are about your spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, kids, dogs, Papa and without a doubt, Mama. It might also include the occasional inanimate object like a gun, or a place like Texas.
Travelin’–We’re talking about truckin’, trains, cars, boats, bikes and any thing that rolls, floats or flies.
Workin’–Or not workin’, whatever the case may be.
Prayin’–Not just to God but to spirits of all kind.
Then, of course, there is the famous David Allan Coe song, You Never Even Called Me By My Name which claims to be the perfect country & western song. Let’s see if that’s true. He was drunk the day his mom got out of prison. Got three covered right there, Drinkin’, Lovin’, Fightin’. He went to pick her up in the rain but before he got to the station in his pick-up truck she got run over by a damned ol’ train. Lots of travelin’ there. He’s crying over this woman who never called him by his name and she left him standing in the rain. Sounds like there’s some cheatin’ of some sort going on there. He has seen his name on signs where he’s played so obviously he’s workin’, at least sometimes. And finally, the only time he KNOWS he’ll hear David Allan Coe is when Jesus has his final judgment day. Clearly there’s some prayin’ going on at some point.
So there you have it, it has all seven. You Never Even Called Me By My Name is, in fact, the perfect country & western song. Now I’m not saying every song has to have all seven elements, but I do say that all country songs come from one of those seven categories and many actually come from several. There you have it. I’ve done all the analysis and heavy lifting for you and the next time someone asks what a country song is supposed to be you can tell them.