The Hodgepodge: Truly Listen To The Music

When the uptick of bro-country music invaded our radios and country music rocketed to peak popularity, hit mainstream country songs simply became a soundtrack to parties. More and more, people stopped listening to the lyrics. No one actually cares what Tyler Hubbard sings until he says things like “All I want to do today is wear my favorite shades and get stoned.” The rest of the song doesn’t matter as long as there’s a few sing along lines for people to belt out in terrible, off pitch unison.

The constant hammering of the same rehashed lyrics and themes brought in an audience that only cares for the aforementioned lines. The demand was there and supply increased. There was success, money, number one singles, radio play, etc. It’s a working formula, brilliantly brought to light with this 6 song mashup. We’ve now graduated from bro lyrics set to generic pop rock melodies to hip-hop inspired club beats set to similar lyrics. The point being, within the mainstream light, no one actually listens to the music anymore.

I’d bet that most of the mainstream country demographic simply takes the song on the surface, accepting the noise head-on, not necessarily taking in the various instrumentation and intricate melodies that make up the song. It’s the instruments that can truly add some magic to a song. Using a recent example of Cam’s “Burning House,” the song begins with a simple acoustic guitar strum that carries through the first verse. The moment Cam begins the chorus with “I’ve been sleepwalking” a piano key chimes in which further emphasizes the impact the chorus has to the rest of the song.

I recently attended a concert of an indie Latin American band called Las Cafeteras. Most of the set was in Spanish, which I do not speak or understand much of. But the 7-piece band had some great melodies and were mixed together well. Our seats were far away, but I did my best to try to identify which band member was playing which solo; I tried to take in each instrument by itself. But even though I didn’t understand one word of what they said, the concert was enjoyable because their melodies were great. I was able to enjoy the concert by listening to their music and appreciating the skills and gifts they share with their audiences.

Listening to the lyrics seems to be a forgotten pastime of music too. Lyrics can tell beautiful, heartbreaking stories, but you have to listen to the lyrics to get the full grasp of the songs. If you’re only half-listening to a song, you can’t fully appreciate the story the writer has crafted. When you have listen to a song, you miss the sentiment, and key lines from songs don’t bring as much meaning to you. Take for instance Jason Isbell’s “Children of Children.” I’d argue this song has one of the most heartbreaking lyrics, especially considering the song is autobiographical of Isbell’s own life. But if you don’t actually listen to the verses and take in their meaning, you miss the emotional impact of the closing line to the chorus: “All the years you took from her just by being born.” That line should punch everyone in the gut, if you ask me.

In this past year, especially, as I’ve listened to and discovered more and more brilliant, independent country songwriters, I’ve learned to appreciate how the pieces of the songs work together for full impact. I’ve paid more attention to the poetry of the lyrics, the word choices, the inclusion or exclusion of a certain instrument at a certain point in the song. All these aspects work together to make songs special. The mainstream party atmosphere songs take that away from the casual listener. Not only are people being exposed to lazy lyrics and production, but they’re being denied the opportunity an experience in listening to how melodies and lyrics can come together to make beautiful music.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

Just tomorrow (September 25) alone, we have these albums being released:

Today in Country Music History

  • Clint Black’s debut album Killin’ Time is certified gold in 1989.
  • Deena Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” wins both Single and Song of the Year at the 1997 CMA Awards.
  • Sara Evans has the number one song in 2005 with “A Real Fine Place To Start.”

Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Why Not Me” The Judds. The Judds are one of those acts I continually over look, but this mother-daughter duo of Naomi and Wynonna tore up the late 80s with consecutive Vocal Duo or Vocal Group awards from the Grammy’s, CMAs and ACMs. This particular single was awarded the CMA Single of the Year in 1985.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Ryan Adams’ 1989. This cover album has drawn quite a bit of extreme praise and criticism. Personally, I like Adams’ take on Taylor Swift’s pop album. Some of his re-workings actually sound better to me than Swift’s original recordings. “All You Had To Do Was Stay” sounds like it came straight from a John Hughes movie. “Style” “Blank Space” and “I Wish You Would” were the other covers I felt worked well with Adams’ voice and arrangements.

Tweet of the Week

Chris King is another great follow on Twitter. Also, the Country Music Hall of Fame is an excellent place to visit, and I highly recommend it if you ever have the chance. I had the opportunity to visit a couple of years ago where they had a special exhibit for Reba among the rest of the Hall.

iTunes Review or Something

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These two reviews were left under Blake Shelton’s Loaded: The Best of Blake Shelton. I agree with many of the sentiments these two emulate.

8 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Truly Listen To The Music

  1. Cobra September 24, 2015 / 11:15 am

    Great Hodgepodge, Derek. I’ve always been a big fan of listening to lyrics, dissecting different parts and finding individual ones that speak to me in a powerful way.

    George Strait’s new album came as such as a surprise. It is unfortunately available exclusively through WalMart and iTunes, so I’ll have to pick up the CD at WalMart. My local record shop had Don Henley’s “Cass County” couple of days early and I have to say, I’m quite impressed. I may have to do a review on it (which I haven’t been doing lately due to working on other projects).

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  2. Megan Conley September 24, 2015 / 12:30 pm

    Great points Derek! The lyrics always hit me hardest in a song, but the instrumentation can make a great impact too. I especially like the part here about the Latin American band singing in Spanish, as I have been on the other side of this; in college, I was asked to sing in several different languages at different times, none of which I knew a word of, and when I asked why, I was told that talented singers and bands can make people feel something even if the listener cannot understand. There is so much truth in that–I cannot understand much of Selena’s discography, but the emotion in it crosses language barriers. Also, interesting suggestion with Ryan Adams…Trigger ripped this thing apart..maybe I will have to listen to this now.

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  3. jb September 24, 2015 / 1:08 pm

    Because of the way records are produced and mastered now, with all the dynamic range of the dialtone, you can barely hear the words anyhow. Something like “Burning House” stands out for many reasons, chief among them that you can actually understand it.

    Regarding the Don Henley album: it’s really, really good. It doesn’t sound like a cash-in move at all, and it’s a better fit for the man at this stage of his life than another rock record would be. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did.

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  4. Zack September 24, 2015 / 6:56 pm

    Great topic Derek! Reviewing songs really helps with discerning all of the various attributes that comprise it, at least it has with me.

    And Tami Neilson is releasing a new album tomorrow?!? Since when??? I’m going to be so broke tomorrow, but it’ll be worth it 🙂

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  5. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria September 24, 2015 / 7:22 pm

    Excellent points, Derek. Seems to me that all that mainstream fans want is a something shallow and non-thought-provoking to sing along to, and they don’t care about the melody or instrumentation as long as it’s upbeat and catchy. The Hag raised a good point when he said “nobody even attempts to write a melody” in mainstream country.

    I’ve really never seen such a crowded release date. Should be interesting to see how the Top Country Albums chart stacks up…although I have a bad feeling Rhett’s album will beat everyone out and debut at #1.

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  6. Raymond September 24, 2015 / 8:39 pm

    I will listen too lyrics when the tone of the song has you listen to it. Like in FGL musiic like Sun Daze Cruise and all that stuff I judge how catchy the production and how country it is also vocals. Like if the song is a ballad then yeah I will listen like that’s why songs like Whiskey Lullaby When I Get Where I’m Going I listen to the lyrics cause of the tone. Each song to me is graded differently like obviously I want all the songs too be country but I also take each song as it’s own.

    Derek what are your opinions on Deanna Carter’s song and Sara Evans one as well.

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    • Derek Hudgin September 24, 2015 / 9:19 pm

      I think lyrics are still important even with upbeat songs. But ballads are usually where I find the lyrics I like best.

      I do like “Strawberry Wine” and “A Real Fine Place to Start” both songs are nice pop country blends. I actually like most of Sara Evans’ music.

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      • Raymond September 25, 2015 / 9:23 am

        I think lyrics are more important in ballads than upbeat. I mean when judging songs if the lyrics are stupid beyond belief like Kick The Dust Up then yeah I will notice. But if it’s upbeat like songs like Mamas Broken Heart or All American Girl than those go over my head.

        Derek do you have a Top 5 Sara Evans singles.

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