“Going Country” is a phrase that’s been around for a while. Rock music and country music have similar roots, with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and even Dwight Yoakam treading the lines of country and rock all while keeping the same sound for the most part. Hank Williams had some influence on rock music too. Not only was Hank’s “Move It On Over” a big influence for rock’s first big hit single “Rock Around The Clock”, but George Thorogood recorded the song and popularized it for rock radio. Embarrassing admission: I didn’t know Thorogood’s “Move It On Over” was a Hank Williams cover, no less a cover song, until I really started listening to Hank almost 2 years ago. Even some of rock’s biggest acts have blurred the lines of rock and country with some of their hits. “Honky Tonk Woman” was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and covered by many rock and country artists including Waylon, Hank Jr., Tesla and Def Leppard.
Those examples are just a few of music history’s country and rock crossovers. Rock versions of the songs more or less had a rock feel and inspiration to them. Country versions had a country feel to them. They were blended and no one really batted an eye because the roots were there. The problem with so many rock acts “going country” these days is because mainstream country has lost its roots. There aren’t many today who care or respect the roots of country music, and yet those are the bands and act that claim to make country music. This is why we can get washed up 90s pop rock acts joining forces to give us “B.Y.H.B.” or Bret Michael’s train wreck of a “country” song. No one cares to make an actual country song because these types of trashy pop anthems get played on radio all the time by the likes of Florida Georgia Line. Instead of making a song with any artistic value, they make sellout anthems for 15 minutes of fame.
Uncle Ezra Ray and Bret Michaels represent the worst of the gone country acts. The singers and band who make sellout music for the sake of trying to earn a quick buck. They don’t care what the song actually sounds like as long as the sound makes money. Another kind of “going country” act are the middle of the road bands. These are the acts that make country music that is somewhat rooted in country, but still dangle their feet in a populous area because money is still the first priority. Darius Rucker is the best example of this. For the most part, Rucker’s turn to country has resulted in some decent to good pop country songs. Learn to Live isn’t that bad of an album and showed serious commitment to Rucker’s turn to country. Since then, his quality as slowly declined with each subsequent album, but Rucker still keeps his sound country despite some terrible lyrics. Even Bon Jovi’s short turn to country with their album Lost Highway showed some country influence within their pop rock sound. The album yielded a beautiful duet with LeAnn Rimes, but mostly the album was still mostly generic pop rock. We’ll just try to forget that awful collaboration with Big & Rich.
Then we have the serious country moves: the artists who say they’re going country and then make real, honest country music. Don Henley of the Eagles is the best current example of this. The Eagles are a classic rock mainstay, yet they’ve always had some country influence to them. But Don Henley’s Cass County is nothing but country music. Henley brings in the likes of Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard for collaborations and features many classic country sounds through and through. When artists and bands announce that they are “going country” this is the expectation and standard that should be met.
If any artist jumps genres for an album or an entire career move, that artist should approach that move with respect for the roots and history of that genre. Merle Haggard would never take “Mama Tried” the way it is and try to convince Jay Z that it’s the next big rap song. In the same way, a “talk-sing” R&B groove shouldn’t be called country. A pop rock bro anthem shouldn’t be called country. Country music has lost its gatekeepers and most people who make a move to country know that and take advantage of it. Instead we need more crossovers into country where the artists make real country music that shows respect and appreciation for the history and roots of the genre. We need more Don Henley and less Bret Michaels.
Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases
- Jason Boland & The Stragglers will release their next album, Squelch, on October 7.
- Corb Lund‘s newest album, Things That Can’t Be Undone, will come out on October 9.
- After a delay, Toby Keith’s 35 MPH Town will be released on October 9.
- Eric Church has announced his newest single will be “Roller Coaster Ride.”
- Jana Kramer will release her newest album, Thirty One, on October 9.
Today in Country Music History
- In 1969, Loretta Lynn records three songs at Bradley’s Barn in Mr. Juliet, Tennessee. Among the three recordings is Lynn’s well-known hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
- Garth Brooks’ debut album goes platinum in 1990.
- In 2005, Dierks Bentley is inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.
Throwback Thursday Song
“Highway’s Home” by Will Hoge. This song closed out Will’s 2007 album Draw the Curtains. In my opinion, Draw the Curtains is Hoge’s most country album of his collection and it’s worth a listen if you haven’t heard it yet. The steel guitar on this track is excellent and the vocals are great. When Will sings this one at his concerts he moves into a short segment of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” to conclude the performance.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” – Since I talked about “Honky Tonk Woman” earlier, I’ll suggest the Stones for my non-country listen of the week. Primarily, I suggest “Gimme Shelter” because this is one of my all time favorite songs.
Tweet of the Week
The upside to ‘country’ being meaningless is that I can call anything I want ‘country’ too.
— Grady Smith (@gradywsmith) September 29, 2015
Everyone is calling their music country so I’m going to call all my favorite music acts country so I can simplify my favorites into one genre. Led Zeppelin, Springsteen, John Williams’ Star Wars Score…all country.
iTunes Review That Makes Me Happy
This was left on Don Henley’s Cass County. Bringing today’s column full circle with a review that I agree with 100%. I also find it funny that it’s a rock star who brings us one of the many great, real country albums this year.
(Note from Josh: You’ll see my review of Don Henley’s Cass County tomorrow)