Cookie-Cutter Country?

An aspiring NNPRlogoashville songwriter named Gregg Todd noticed obvious similarities in music, structure, and lyrics among six ‘bro-country’ radio tunes, took them to Pro Tools audio software on his computer, and ‘mashed up’ all six, to create a sort of ‘ur-‘ pop-country song:

NPR reporter Melissa Block interviewed Gregg Todd in a brief (4.5 minute) piece; go here, and click on Listen Now.

Remember when the “Lovesick Blues” typified the dominant themes in country music? These days it’s “Howlin’ at the Moon.”  From the NPR page:

“It was only when I started really listening to the lyrics that six out of the six songs talked about moonlight or the sun going down or the sunset,” Todd tells NPR’s Melissa Block. “All six had to do with picking up a girl who wasn’t yet their girlfriend or the love of their life or something like that. It was just a summer thing. And almost all of them had a girl that was either in the truck or was going to be in the truck at some point during the song if all went accordingly.”

If you go to that page, read down for the Comments, which are entertaining and occasionally insightful, but some confusion whether other genres of music are just as imitative and trashy as a lot of pop-country.  I posted a comment myself:

Ninety percent of all the music created in every genre is either derivative or junk, or both. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to listen to, or that there isn’t a modicum of creativity involved at the moment. But given time the good stuff tends to survive, and the dreck sinks to the bottom, unless resurrected by specialists and nostalgia mongers. Pick a specialty blues or dixieland or Tin Pan Alley show and you’ll hear a lot of forgotten tunes, most of which were lost to history because they were unmemorable.

Radio tends to settle on predictable formulae, especially these days when it is mainly background in cars and shops, and a certain sameness keeps the dial in one place, which in turn attracts advertisers. As it happens, country music is going through a period that is anathema to many of its older fans and devotees, but as others have pointed out, there a lot of variety on the fringes of independent music-making, under rubrics like bluegrass, alt-country, and Americana. Periodically ‘neo-traditional’ styles reinvigorate Nashville—I think we are about due for another ‘outlaw’ movement.

I should add that there are a thousand three-chord country songs from the ’50s with essentially the same melody and similar lyrics on which you could also pull a similar Pro Tools trick.  But that’s OK.  Most of the stuff on today’s pop-country radio is pretty crappy, and deserves making fun of.

Somewhat off-topic, Commenter ‘Gar Car’ complained about all the drinking on country radio:

As a lover of some of all music I’ve been complaining about ‘new country’ for years. Almost every currently played song will have lyrics that emphasize the importance of drinking alcohol. They want to drink it, sip it slow, shoot it fast and chase a disco ball around. They want to have their feet in the sand a cold beer in hand and yes, this is what makes life good today. It’s five o’clock somewhere! … So let’s do some day drinking!!! It’s got to stop . . .

Commenter ‘Crim Fan’ responded with a link to Merle Haggard‘s “Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”:

Booze has always been a substantial part of country music. Here’s Merle:

Now the songs are all about hanging out with the bros with corporate product placement.

Is Bud Lite really paying Nashville labels for produce placement?  In any case, choosing that song was a stroke of genius, as I pointed out:

The lyrics may be a tad banal, but the track features some of the hottest pickin’ and singin’ this side of swing, jazz, and honky-tonk. It’s timeless, and if pop-country radio won’t play it, it’s their loss.

Big hat-tip to west-coast listener Michael McCann for emailing and pointing me to that NPR piece. /CL

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One Response to Cookie-Cutter Country?

  1. Steve Bartlett commented on the Paper and Pen page here.

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