The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [March 2008]

carnival_ride_-_album

This is the Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country  Airplay Chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top 30 songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9[+4], 8[+3], 7[+2], 6[+1], 5[0], 4[-1], 3[-2], 2[-3], 1[-4], 0[-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past pulse of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Country Airplay Chart from March 15th, 2008.

  1. Carrie Underwood – “All American Girl” +1 (Cliché, but the sound and vocals are good)
  2. Rodney Atkins – “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)” 0
  3. Alan Jackson – “Small Town Southern Man” +4 (One of his best in my opinion)
  4. Kenny Chesney & George Strait – “Shiftwork” 0
  5. Chuck Wicks – “Stealing Cinderella” +1 (cheesy as all hell, but it’s played with enough sincerity to work for me)
  6. Trace Adkins – “You’re Gonna Miss This” +4
  7. Gary Allan – “Watching Airplanes” +2
  8. George Strait – “I Saw God Today” +4
  9. Chris Cagle – “What Kinda Gone” +2
  10. Jason Aldean – “Laughed Until We Cried” +3 (Yeah, a positive Aldean score. I’m as shocked as you all are)
  11. Brooks & Dunn – “God Must be Busy” +2
  12. James Otto – “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” 0 (Eh…)
  13. Taylor Swift – “Picture To Burn” +1
  14. Phil Vassar – “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” +1 (Cheesy as all hell, but at least it sort of incorporates a story)
  15. Bucky Covington – “It’s Good To Be Us” -1
  16. Lady Antebellum – “Love Don’t Live Here” +3
  17. Kellie Pickler – “Things That Never Cross A Man’s Mind” +1
  18. Joe Nichols – “It Ain’t No Crime” +1
  19. Jewel – “Stronger Woman” -1 [Worst Song] (Man, never heard a song by here before. Don’t care for her voice at all. Plus the song is too preachy for me. Sorry)
  20. Jake Owen – “Somethin’ Bout A Woman” 0
  21. Dierks Bentley – “Trying To Stop Your Leaving” +3
  22. Josh Turner & Trisha Yearwood – “Another Try” +4 [Best Song]
  23. Garth Brooks & Huey Lewis – “Workin’ For A Livin'” +2 (Yes, I’ve heard this Garth song)
  24. Ashton Shepherd – “Takin’ Off This Pain” +2
  25. Jack Ingram – “Maybe She’ll Get Lonely” 0
  26. Rascal Flatts – “Every Day” -1
  27. Brad Paisley – “I’m Still A Guy” +2
  28. Montgomery Gentry – “Back When I Knew It All” +3
  29. Josh Gracin – “We Weren’t Crazy” +2 (Yes, people on country radio used to sing from the perspective of ONCE being young instead of pretending they’re still young…)
  30. The Eagles – “Busy Being Fabulous” 0

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +45

So yeah this kind of a weird week. On one hand, there’s a plethora of great songs. Even compared to some charts in the 90’s I’d say there’s more good songs here. In other words, quantity versus quality. In fact, picking the best song was absolutely brutal.

The problem is that there’s also a lot of mediocrity here. Nothing inherently terrible or anything, but there are too many songs that play it safe here and don’t really stand out that much. Still this is a damn good week. I’m happy with the results.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

Review – Chris Janson’s “Holdin’ Her”

Chris Janson Buy Me A Boat

One of the breakout artists in popular country music in 2015 you undoubtedly heard was Chris Janson. After spending the last few years mostly popping up as a songwriter in Nashville, he released the summer-themed single “Buy Me A Boat.” Thanks to Bobby Bones playing it on his radio show, the song blew up and became a hit. It netted him a major label deal with Warner Brothers Nashville and the single went on to reach #2 at country radio. The sales were even better, as the RIAA certified it platinum in December 2015. Janson followed this up with “Power of Positive Drinkin’,” which had a disappointing run at radio, only peaking at #35 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. Putting the success and lack of success of these singles aside, I didn’t care for either song. I found “Buy Me A Boat” to be opportunistic and clichéd. I thought “Power of Positive Drinkin'” was worse and came off as hypocritical considering Janson has been sober for a while. So now he returns with his third single from his self-titled album from 2015, “Holdin’ Her.” So do I like this one? Well as the old saying goes, the third time’s the charm.

This song hooks me from the very beginning with its earthy, acoustic guitar play before giving away to some steel guitar. “Holdin’ Her” tells the story of how Janson grew up from his early days, fell in love and became the man he is now. Janson recalls in his younger days how he used to party and wake up in places with strangers he didn’t know and wondered how he even got there. He goes onto meet the woman he would one day call his wife in an underground pool hall and from that day on his life changed. Janson feels peace and happiness when he’s holding her in his arms and knows his life is so much better with her in it. So he goes on to propose to her, with tears in his eyes he says, and she says yes. They marry and have a daughter, which is the day Janson realized he’s a brand new man with a much better life than his old one. The lyrics, which were written by Janson and James Otto, are personal, touching, honest and I’m so glad it’s a single. This is the type of country music the world needs. Not to mention the pedal steel guitar is present throughout. It has everything you want in a country song.

“Holdin’ Her” is a fantastic song and shows off how great of a country artist Chris Janson can be. This is the type of music I hope to keep hearing from Janson for years to come. When I hear a song like this it still gives me hope that all of popular country music will follow suit and make music like this song. Whatever doubts you had about Janson after hearing his first two singles, this single should erase them. If Janson keeps releasing singles like “Holdin’ Her,” he will establish himself as one of the best country artists on a major label. We can sit here and wring our hands over whether or not country radio will give this a shot, but it’s not worth it. Just listen and be happy that songs like this are being released and promoted by a major label country artist. “Holdin’ Her” will go down as one of the best singles you’ll hear in 2016.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – Chris Janson’s ‘Buy Me A Boat’

Chris Janson Buy Me A Boat

Mainstream country music in 2015 has seen the rise of several new artists dominating the top of the charts. Some of the most prominent that come to mind are A Thousand Horses’ “Smoke,” Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It,” Cam’s “Burning House” and Chris Janson’s “Buy Me A Boat.” While many of mainstream country’s mainstay artists have had their fair share of success in the charts and at radio, I feel like it’s been the year of the new artist. This has yielded mixed results in terms of quality. While I don’t expect to ever be won over by Ballerini’s style of “country” music, the others have or I think can. I was hoping for this with Chris Janson by now, but both of his singles this year have disappointed me. Despite the disappointment, I could see potential in him and knew he was capable of delivering good music. I was hoping this would finally show in his debut album under Warner Music Nashville, Buy Me A Boat. Fortunately, it finally does in several spots throughout the album.

The album’s title track, lead single and the song that launched Janson into mainstream fame starts this record off. I reviewed this song months ago and my feelings remain unchanged. I’ve tried to warm up to this song, but it just isn’t likable at all to my ears. From my review: This song is a dream come true for corporations looking for a hokey country song to put in their boat commercials this summer. “Buy Me A Boat” is what it says it is. It’s a song about wanting to buy a boat. Janson sings throughout about all of the clichés about money not being the most important thing in the world, but immediately dismisses by saying he wish he had money to buy a boat. The lesson he’s sending out is that money is everything and that the only way to move up on the social ladder is buying expensive stuff like this. See what I meant about corporate America loving this song? 

Janson’s current single “Power of Positive Drinkin’” is next. This song is slightly better than “Buy Me A Boat” I guess. Here’s the gist of my thoughts from my review on it: The song is about a man whose truck has broken down, his air conditioning has broken and his woman has left him. So what does he do? He goes down to the bar and drinks his problems away. And that’s pretty much it. He doesn’t allude to why she left him nor does he learn his lesson. Nope. The moral of this song is basically all of your problems can be solved by drinking excessively. So there’s hardly any meaning behind this song.

“Under The Sun” is any easy-going song with a surprising amount of steel guitar. The song is about how you should enjoy the simpler things in life instead of running out to buy the newest gadget (which Janson admits he’s guilty of too). It’s a good message and leaves me wondering why this hasn’t been released as a single yet because I think it would appeal to many listeners and do well on the charts. Janson follows this with another great song in “Holdin’ Her.” It’s a sentimental love ballad with smart lyrics and plenty of pedal steel throughout. Not to mention there’s also some organ play towards the bridge, so this song definitely hit a home run in the instrumentation department. Janson wrote this song with James Otto and it might just be the best written on the album. A song like this shows Janson has the talent to be a good country singer and hopefully more songs like this continue to be produced by him.

Tim McGraw joins Chris Janson on “Messin’ With Jesus.” It’s a perfect pairing, as their voices go together well. Both sing about how they want to stay on Jesus’ good side until they reach the other side, so they have no plans of “messin’ with Jesus.” The production goes a tad overboard, but it doesn’t hurt the song. This is a solid duet I could see released to radio. “Right In The Middle” is a return to Janson’s “bad side.” Sure there’s pedal steel guitar and it’s one of the few good things about this song. But Janson’s spoken word delivery is grating to the ears and the lyrics are just dumb. If you take the unnecessary electric guitars blaring through this song it would be easier to hear too. When it comes down to it this is just a generic and forgettable song. I didn’t think Janson could get worse than “Buy Me A Boat” or “Power of Positive Drinkin’,” but he does on “Save A Little Sugar.” It’s hands down the worst of the album and maybe one of the worst songs I’ve heard this year. This is straight up bro country, but with that era being a bygone one now this makes the song more laughable than anything. This should have just been axed from the album.

After sending a single to radio that promotes drinking, Janson acknowledges his sobriety in “Back in My Drinkin’ Days.” The lyrics aren’t bad, but Janson’s spoken word delivery rears it’s ugly head again and it’s most certainly bad. Great instrumentation in the form of steel guitar, harmonica and piano can’t even save this song from being drug down by it. It’s a shame that it gets wasted because Janson thinks he needs to imitate Jake Owen. “Where You Come In” is another song where Janson shines bright. This sounds like something straight off the good part of 90s country radio. That shouldn’t be a big surprise considering Janson wrote this love ballad with Ed Hill, who helped write many hits of 90s country. This is another solid ballad that would make for a nice single.

Janson follows this with another quality single in “Yeah It Is.” Based on the title, you wouldn’t think this song is very deep, but it’s the deepest on the album. The song is about a single guy coming across a lonely mother in the bar who’s crying and only gets out one night a week because she’s stuck raising her kids by herself. And I love how Janson brings up right away that this isn’t what you think it is and that it isn’t some “single guy trying to catch a buzz.” Instead the single guy buys her a drink and comforts her. This is the kind of meaningful storytelling that mainstream country has lacked and I applaud Janson for bringing substance like this to his album.

Buy Me A Boat comes to a close with “White Trash.” It’s a Jason Aldean-type song about an uppity girl who falls in love with a boy who is considered white trash. Despite her parents telling her to stay away from him, eventually they fall in love, get married and have kids. This is basically anthem for people who are considered white trash and should strive to rise above what people label them. I wish the lyrics would have been more poignant about it and also using the term “white trash” is a little iffy. Some are fine with it, while others are offended by it. The term can take on many definitions. Overall this song is just sort of there and its kind of ho-hum to end the album. “Yeah It Is” would have been the better closer in my mind.

To be honest I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed listening to Buy Me A Boat at times. Janson’s voice is pleasant and your ideal voice for a country artist. Well when he isn’t butchering spoken word delivery and laying on too much twang. His songwriting can be really high quality. But it can also be vague and clichéd too. It’s tale of two sides when it comes to Janson. When it all comes together on songs like “Yeah It Is,” I can really get behind him. Without a doubt he’s talented and capable of producing quality music. But then you hear songs like “Save A Little Sugar” and it’s a cold reminder that he’s on a major label with major label people around him talking in his ears. Buy Me A Boat does more right than wrong and it’s a worth a listen in my mind. There are many problematic artists in mainstream country, but Chris Janson certainly isn’t one of them. In fact he could be an artist that helps rebuild mainstream country music in the future. Let’s just hope his next singles are the quality songs off this album and not the bad ones.

Grade: 6/10