Spilling Out of a Sippy Cup
In my last article I dared to name five songs that I think ruined country music. They are by no means the only five, they just happen to be the five I despise the most. The article was re-posted on several sites and spawned hundreds of responses both in agreement and disagreement with not necessarily the songs themselves but rather, the idea that most of the music coming out of Nashville sucks.
The angriest response came from — surprise — a Nashville songwriter who called me a depressing no-talent who is no authority on the subject. He may be right about the depressing no-talent part but I would have to vehemently disagree with the authority part.
What makes me an authority? I’ve been a passionate country music fan for more than thirty years. That alone should be enough but in case it’s not then how about the fact that I majored in music business in college while living in Nashville? Or how about the fact that I worked for Country Music Television (CMT) and The Nashville Network (TNN) where my job was to watch the programming forty hours a week? How about the fact that I have programmed an internet country radio station for more than three years. You’re right dude, I’m not familiar with the genre one little bit.
Through his and the posts of others I gained some insight into the mindset that goes creating Nashville pop country. The thing that was probably most disturbing was one response to my objection to the line, “There’s a carrot top who can barely walk with a sippy cup of milk,” from Lonestar’s Front Porch Looking In. He stated, “For parents of 2-5 year olds, the sippy cup line gave them something they could relate to WAY BETTER than hearing about how lonesome some frickin bird sounds when he sings!” To me that’s pretty disrespectful to Hank Williams who, by the way, helped pave the way for him to have a career in the first place. Is that the problem? Do some of these songwriters have little or no regard for the people who came before them? Just because you were lucky enough to stumble into some popular singer’s inner circle does not mean your stuff is good, it just means someone with power likes it. I know a lot of talented writers who were not lucky enough to meet the right person at the right time. Just because you’ve got the Nashville songwriting template down and you’re making a living at it doesn’t mean you should be.
Regarding Achy Breaky Heart another post stated, “That song sold over 10 million copies … that IS the object of a company that sells records, right? My bet is the A&R guy looked like a genius.” Let’s not confuse popular with good. So 10 million people bought Achy Breaky Heart, I just call that pandering to the lowest common denominator. Hey, I bought Achy Breaky Heart and the Shania Twain stuff too but it’s just like someone who looks at an old photo of themselves, sees the hairstyle or the clothes and thinks, what the hell was I thinking? The music seemed good at the time but looking back now, not so much. To me those songs and artists were just stepping stones for me to discover other, possibly better and more meaningful things.
I heard a line in a song by someone I just discovered named Lindi Ortega that goes, “I don’t write these songs for you, I write songs to help me through…” And that right there is what makes a great tune, not sitting in room trying to figure out what is going to sell.
But blaming the songwriter for all of Nashville’s ills is unfair. The people who produce this crap are just as much, if not more, to blame. Putting fiddle, steel and banjo into a soft rock, adult contemporary song and calling it country is blatantly hijacking a once-proud genre.
A friend of mine has an internet radio station that plays pretty much every type of country EXCEPT pop country. She recently was able to get her station listed on iTunes. As soon as she did her listenership skyrocketed out of the stratosphere. That tells me that if good ol’ traditional country music was given better access it absolutely would sell. Any argument to the contrary is just a waste of time.
To wrap this up I want to clarify one thing. I stated that I’d heard an unsubstantiated rumor about what Lee Roy Parnell had to say when passing on Achy Breaky Heart. I was correct about him passing on it, in fact, he passed three times. According to Lee Roy he actually said, “It may BE a hit but I damn sure don’t want to have sing THAT song every night for the rest of my life!!!”
And there you have it. Amen, Lee Roy.