It has become an all too tempting sport to ridicule how superficial country music has become. I honestly try not to engage in that negativity. The mistake I always seem to make though is giving radio a fair chance. I did that again today. I listened to a dozen songs on the two major Nashville stations and I was just really appalled by the mediocrity of it. I tried. I really tried to hear what the “hit makers” heard. I failed. Miserably. I know it seems mean-spirited and maybe even a little “sour grapes” to narrate the demise of great country lyrics, melodies and grooves. I hear myself say it and I read these words as I type them and I say to myself, “shut up, you bitter old songwriter. Quit living the 90’s Nashville dream.” Bitching about it is only part of the temptation; the other part comes from a very genuine disgust and sadness for an industry and genre very well-loved by my friends and myself.
Many of you have probably seen the damning YouTube breakdown of country song lyrics. In fact, “Why Country Music Was Awful in 2013” now has over 3.5 million views. Commercial country is addicted to singing about “trucks,” “dirt roads,” “girls climbing up in the truck,” “tight jeans,” “girls drunk and ready,” “river banks and lakes,” “sunset and moonlight,” and of course any type of “alcohol.” Before I am accused of being too preachy or too out of touch, let me set part of the record straight! A Friday night drive in my Jeep Cherokee down on old dirt road, along a sun-burnt river giving way to a silvery moon, pulling a beautifully tanned and short-short wearing brunette woman closer to my seat, while drinking a cold beer really does sound like an awesome night to be had (even if it is a run on sentence.) Lucky for me, I do know from experience that it is, in fact, an awesome night to be had. Here’s the catch though. When you are actually in that enviable vehicle, with that one in a million girl, driving through that heaven on earth place, all the while quenching your thirst – you want to hear melodies and lyrics that live up to that amazing moment. Hearing a dumb down, play-by-play version of what you’re doing in real life anyway just doesn’t seem to cut it. Even worse, it demeans it.
Before I leap voluntarily, if not gleefully off the critical cliff (I know – too late), I thought I’d turn the tables on Runaway Home for this blog. Runaway Home certainly has its favorite and much used topics in its music. Maybe a semi-fair comparison is called for. I’ve narrowed down three topics that Runaway Home will (hopefully with some degree of skill) beat you about the head with. The prime suspects are “Love Lost & Love Gained,” “The Road,” and “Nature.” To show that we are well aware of the saying about throwing stones while living in a glass house, I have put together a similar video exposing our own collection of song topics. What goes around comes around I guess. Plus, I’m hoping this will allow me to comment on the state of country music at a later date. Good intentions are one thing, but I don’t trust myself to stay quiet for long!
In the end, I have to admit that all singers and bands have their go-to topics and safe subjects. As an artist though, you have to make sure that you are writing them because they are truly your topics and not someone else’s, or worse yet – everyone else’s. Yes, I know that universality in songwriting is critical to a larger listening audience connecting with our music. Universality though, without at least some degree of individuality seems closer to regurgitation than art. Seems like the final litmus test may come down to two questions. “Is your song as influential on the sober as it is the intoxicated?” And, “Will someone search your song out of their bloated iTunes playlist in 10, 20 or 30 years? Runaway Home has its own record of hit and miss on this litmus test, but mostly I think we live up to it. You can be the judge now though. I’ve been judgmental enough for one day.