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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I like Good Music. I don't like bad music

We all fall into that trap. We try to categorize things in life. We do this because we are conditioned to do this at a very early age. In many ways,  it helps us organize and make sense of things and can be a point.

Strangers are bad. Don't talk to strangers. Be careful.

Dogs that bark are dangerous. Don't approach them.

Country music is twangy,  and campy and hard to listen to.

Being that this happens as we mature and we really don't notice it, it becomes habit. We don't know we have formed this way until we have completely formed this way. And it is a very hard habit to break.

But is country music twangy and hard to listen to?
Well, some is, there is no doubt about that. Some is twangy, but it is not hard to listen to.

Even within country music, or what we categorize as country music,  the same artist can produce a wide variance of style.

What is country music?

To most, country music comprises a very distinct sound. A steel guitar, a certain guitar rift, a twangy singing style. That was country,  or what was called country and western, for a very, very long time. Hank Williams and some of the legends of country music certainly stuck to this style. And it worked well for them. That was then. Along came rock and roll and as time went on that seeped into what was known as country music. Not right away. There was still always that element of country, down home sound. That,  to some extent has never gone away and will always be there. But, that was the past. Even as we look at how the 1960's became the 1970's and 1980's, we see many very successful country music artists who crossed over to pop and 
were very successful at it. I will focus on three of them to make this point.
Nobody was more country than Dolly Parton. She started her rise to fame with Porter Wagoner. There was no better example of pure country than Porter Wagoner.

The above video was from a show in 1973. Just a year or two later, Dolly Parton crossed over to the mainstream in a song that could be considered country but was clearly a pop song and hit sung in a country voice. Dolly Parton will always sound country, no matter what song she sings.
That song was "Here You Come Again"

In that song, it is clear the steel guitar has been replaced by a straight electric guitar. 

After this song was a hit, Dolly appeared in quite a few movies, the most successful being Nine To Five, which she sang the title theme, another huge hit for her.

Kenny Rogers was a big country star long before he crossed over to the mainstream. "Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town" was a huge hit that saw some pop exposure early in his career. But clearly, it has that country beat,  the one Johnny Cash used to make his name and others have copied over the years.

Strangely enough, he did cross over later in the 1970's and he did  that mostly with pure country songs. "The Gambler" was one of those songs.

"Coward Of The County" was another.

While these three songs clearly have that country beat, Kenny Rogers never sang in the twangy voice that a Porter Wagoner or Hank Williams did.

At the close of the 1970's, there was no bigger star on the adult contemporary scene than Kenny Rogers. He had hit after hit. He switched from country flavored songs to love songs. The basics of those songs were still his country roots, as many country songs are love songs, but they were aimed more at a pop audience. As such, he began recording songs written by established pop artists such as Lionel Ritchie,

and he teamed up with Dolly Parton on this song written by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees.

As the years passed, Kenny Rogers established himself as a pop singing icon, and while he was still considered country by many, he was always a pop singer first.

Dottie West, on the other hand, was pure country from start to finish. Her first big hit, "Here Comes My Baby" was as traditional a country song as you will ever here. 

Most of her career was characterized by those types of songs. As the 1970's edged towards the 1980's however, she changed her image and sang many mainstream pop songs,  mostly in duet with Kenny Rogers.

"What are We Doing In Love" a duet by Kenny and Dottie was a top 10 hit on the pop charts and doesn't sound anything like a country song, but would still be considered country by most. In a lot of cases, it would be discounted by many right off the bat because Dottie West was involved in it.

"I don't like country music"

You hear these sort of statements all the time.

Of course, stereotyping and categorizing this music and these artists as pure "country" songs and artists means you miss out on some great songs.

 Since the new country wave in the late 1980's to the early 2000's many new artists have recorded under the country banner. In many cases, they have a weak country feel and are really just love songs or rock songs. 

Nobody is a better example of that than Collin Raye. While he sounds country, his songs are very far from traditional country. The above song "Love Me" is the most heartfelt love song you will ever hear.

His big hit "My Kind Of Girl" has a country feel, but it is really a rock song mixed with a rhythm and blues feel. Very few of his songs are pure country, but he is considered to be a country artist first, and as such many have never heard anything by him. He gets no airplay whatsoever on mainstream, Top 40 radio.

Brooks and Dunn are one of the biggest acts in any genre in the last 20 years. Their breakout first big hit was "Boot Scootin Boogie" which while it has rock elements was a very country sounding and feeling song. As such, while they are known worldwide by most,  and they recorded many non country type songs after that, they are strictly known as a new country act and as such also receive very little mainstream airplay.

For the most part, they are a very generous mix of rock and country, but they will never be viewed that way. If anything they are more dance and country, but again, they are not viewed that way.

One artist who came in under the new country banner but quickly became accepted in the mainstream was Shania Twain.

She was quickly followed by Faith Hill,  who also crossed over very quickly,  as did Carrie Underwood.

Are Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood country artists? Do they sing country songs? Many would say they do. Clearly, there is no defining them as one genre or the other. Of the three,  Carrie Underwood has tried the hardest to maintain her country sound and roots.

Was Tammy Wynette a country artist? Certainly she was. But her greatest hit was also a huge pop song,  and is played still on mainstream radio.

If you don't want to listen to these great songs,  that is your choice. But I say, you are missing out. 

I like good music.  I don't like bad music. Just like any other genre, Country music, or what we consider country music,  has its share of both.

 "I hated disco music, it was all crap"

Now,  don't get me started on disco. You don't want to go there. I will just remind you of two artists who are icons who recorded "disco style songs"


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