The Hodgepodge: It’s Impossible to Choose One Defining Song for a Genre

I stumbled upon a New York Times article this week that made a big claim about rock music. The author basically says that when our grandchildren’s grandchildren look at rock music, the only name that’ll matter is Chuck Berry. Not Springsteen, Zeppelin, the Stones, or The Beatles, but Chuck Berry. I’m not saying he’s wrong about Berry being a figurehead and representative of rock music, but rock’s different styles don’t warrant such a narrow-minded claim. Yes, “Johnny B. Goode” is an excellent song and Chuck Berry fathered rock music like Hank fathered country. The author says Berry made simple, direct, rhythm based music, which best exemplifies rock music. He’s not wrong, but I think it’s wrong to pigeon-hole the genre into one song.

The big part of his claim comes from the fact that when NASA sent Voyager I into space, they included a mix record which included “Johnny B. Goode” on the track list – the only rock song on the list. So this got me thinking, is it possible to narrow down country music into one song that best represents the genre over the 70+ years of artists and songs who’ve done so much? I’ll argue that you need a Mount Rushmore of songs, not just one, because even country’s best songs and artists had different styles that are all country music.

Take “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” arguably the best country song of all time. Listening to the song with its grand crescendo and a faint steel guitar, it’s vastly different from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” a song electric guitars and simple percussion beat, also argued to be the best country song. Both songs sound way different, yet they’re both country music, and they’re both great representations of the genre. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings couldn’t be more different in their sounds, yet both artists not only exemplified the Outlaw movement, but country music as a whole. Waylon’s rock sound is more in line with Cash’s style, but even then, the two artists are distinctly different.

The Bakersfield Sound has its own unique flair different from the aforementioned artists, yet Merle Haggard and Buck Owens are just as influential to country music. Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette don’t exactly sound like Kitty Wells, but all of their music is a big part of country’s history. Many of these styles stem from Hank Williams, and all these styles are equally important to country’s roots. These are the styles that have influenced many of today’s Americana and Country stars. The early generation brought out singers like George Strait, Reba, and Alan Jackson, who have gone on to influence the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, and pretty much everyone we’ve reviewed here.

The point is I think it’s impossible to simply try to find one song or artist to represent a music genre rich with history and talent. Country, Rock, Rap, and every other genre has their top-tier of artists who’ve gone onto to influence the genre. At the end of the day, one can always trace the history back to the root of the genre, which is never a bad option to choose as a genre head. But dismissing Waylon or Merle as a defining artist of country music because their sound was not Hank’s country sound is blasphemous, as is dismissing rock’s eclectic history because it’s not as simple and rhythmic as Chuck Berry.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • On July 8, Mark Chesnutt’s new album, Tradition Lives will be released.
  • David Nail’s Fighter will be released the following week on the 15th.
  • At the end of the month on July 29, Lori McKenna’s The Bird & The Rifle will be released.
  • Shovels and Rope recently released a new single called “I Know.” Their new album Little Seeds will be out October 7.
  • Southern rockers/Texas Country band Whiskey Myers are working with producer Dave Cobb on their new album, Mud. The first single from the album is “Lightning Bugs and Rain.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“False Accuser’s Lament” by Jason Boland and the Stragglers. I’ve been listening to a lot of Boland lately, and this song has jumped up my list of favorites from him. “False Accuser’s Lament” can be found on Rancho Alto, one of Boland’s best albums in my opinion.

Non-Country Suggestion

Velvet Portraits by Terrace Martin – an album mixed with Jazz, Hip Hop, and R&B, Velvet Portraits is a diverse album. It’s a fun listen though, with the relaxing Jazz instrumentals and hip hop lyrical deliveries on the others. It’s different, but worth the listen.

Tweet of the Week

Wheeler Walker, Jr. is a great follow on twitter if you don’t mind some profanity on your timeline. As streaming continues to rise, labels getting songs on “featured playlists” on Spotify or Apple Music will be the new way of getting on the charts.

A Chase Rice iTunes Review

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.06.13 PM

Chase Rice’s new single, “Everybody We Knows Does,” is the same generic BS from every other generic bro before him. After his letter apologizing for “Whisper,” I expected at least something that shows a little effort in a follow-up single, but I was mistaken.

4 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: It’s Impossible to Choose One Defining Song for a Genre

  1. Zackary Kephart June 30, 2016 / 11:12 am

    Interesting to think about. I’m not quite sure what I really consider to be country’s (or any genre’s) defining song. On the other side of the coin I’m sure you could argue about the defining album as well, coincidentally from the same artists mentioned for the defining song.

    I think we can argue about defining artists a little better but even that is very subjective. Is it about the founders or the ones who have made the most impact? Who knows. I’d rather just leave it be and acknowledge multiple artists for their contributions to their respective genre.

    I’m honestly glad the releases have slowed down until the 8th. It gives me a great chance to catch up with everything I’ve been meaning to. Great Boland song btw. He’s an artist I need to get more acquainted with.

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  2. Scotty J June 30, 2016 / 11:21 am

    I think the older a genre gets the harder it is to pick a defining song as the sounds and times change genres sometimes drastically. In this way country music had probably changed the least compared to rock and pop until the last few years and that is one reason why the true fans of the genre have been so distressed by the developments.

    Compare early Beatles songs with Guns N’ Roses yet they are/were both considered rock then compare Hank Williams to George Strait. Not really that different in sound and instrumentation. Now do Hank to Sam Hunt…

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  3. OlaR June 30, 2016 / 12:57 pm

    I asked my mom. Her favourite country song of all time is “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold) by Dan Seals. The best genre song / defining song of all time: “Crazy”.
    My favourite country songs are: “Diamonds & Tears” (The Thing Called Love Soundtrack) by Matraca Berg & “Outta Here” by Kaylens Rain. The genre defining song: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”.

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  4. Jason July 1, 2016 / 12:14 am

    In other news, Chris Young announced he was making a Christmas album via his Instagram. Hopefully it’ll bring him back to his original sound, as he did say the album was “10 years in the making”.

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