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Harlan Howard, We Need You Again

April 6, 2009

Newsweek has an interesting story on the ‘evolution’ of country music.  As a fan of classic country, I often bemoan the demise of the golden era that produced the timeless music.  Modern country leaves me cold and wanting the to hear the real stuff.  Will there ever be another Harlan Howard?

In what the reactionary me considers the good old days of Nashville, Johnny Cash “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” In 1968’s “Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard “turned 21 in prison doin’ life without parole.” George Jones once sang, “If drinkin’ don’t kill me, her memory will” and lived what he sang, routinely missing concerts and earning the nickname “No Show” Jones. This was the country music that country people like me listened to when I was growing up in rural Virginia.

(Or how about what this blogger often mentions for laughs though it is a real lyric…..“I Just Cut Myself On a Piece of Her Broken Heart”?)

Here’s what I hear on the radio today when I’m driving my Jeep through the streets of Washington, D.C.: songs like “Watching You,” which tells the gritty tale of a little boy making a mess of his McDonald’s Happy Meal after his daddy hits the brakes too hard (“His fries went a-flyin’ and his orange drink covered his lap”). It makes me turn bright red with shame every time it comes on, which is often, because it was Billboard’s No. 1 country song of the year in 2007. The group Lonestar had a hit not too long ago with these hard-core lyrics: “There’s a carrot top who can barely walk, with a sippy cup of milk.” It had another big song called “Mr. Mom.”

How did we get to this strange, alien land where there’s a country-awards show that honors pop-music teeny-boppers and a lot of the songs aren’t really country by even the stretchiest definition? It didn’t happen overnight. Ever since the Carter Family made their famous Bristol recordings in 1927, people have been arguing about what country music is, was and should be. Traditionalists got bent out of shape in 1962 when Ray Charles recorded “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” which took the genre and transformed it into something more approachable for a mass audience. Now it’s considered a groundbreaking classic.

One Comment
  1. Thomas J Canton permalink
    April 6, 2009 2:46 PM

    I miss Johnny Cash like no one’s business. I have a 6 disc CD Player in my car and there are always at least 2 Johnny Cash CD’s in there at all times.

    Also miss Waylon Jennings. Recommend “Dreaming My Dreams” by him.

    How would it feel if the last thing you said to Buddy Holly was “I hope your plane crashes.”?

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