The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [March 2008]

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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!

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.

The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country’s Lack of Artistic Integrity

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More and more every day, country music finds another artist to release a pop song to pass off as the next country hit. Honestly, ever since the official departure of Taylor Swift from country into pop, it seems that mainstream country is simply trying to chase after her in their own world. Curiously, it’s the pop world that seems to find women with sustainable music careers with the likes of Katy Perry, Nikki Minaj, and Swift herself releasing hit after hit. Whereas in country music, it’s the male acts who have that same sustainability.

Seemingly, in order to fight the controversy of TomatoGate and compete with the pop world, country music has severely tainted itself by turning towards pop music. While the slew of EDM-inspired music from acts like Sam Hunt, Chase Rice, Luke Bryan, etc. can’t be ignored, it seems to be the female acts and female led groups who most notably deliver pop songs in the shadow of stars like Perry, Minaj and Swift.

It was Danielle Bradbery’s newest single, “Friend Zone” that fueled this post. In the comments below the review, a conversation began of who’s to blame for a country act churning out a single like this. To some extent, I believe labels, executives, and producers need to be held accountable. Music is a business, and a business first when it comes to Music Row in Nashville. As evidenced by the bro-country onslaught and recent pop garbage, mainstream label executives are chasing the dollar signs. And that means molding singers into whatever style allows for the biggest audience.

Now I don’t know how songs on music shows like The Voice are selected, but look at some of the titles Danielle Bradbery sang while on the show: “Wasted” (Carrie Underwood), “Maybe It Was Memphis” (Pam Tillis), “Heads Carolina, Tails California” (Jo Dee Messina), and “Born To Fly” (Sara Evans). Now if you listen to those songs in comparison with Bradbery’s first singles of “Heart of Dixie” or “Young In America” you’ll hear a common theme of pop country that still sounds very much country. If I had to guess, I’d say this is the kind of music Bradbery would prefer to sing, especially if she was allowed to choose said songs while competing. This sort of pop country mold is where I think her musical wheelhouse resides and where she shines as a singer. And I think the only reason we’re seeing the terrible pop song “Friend Zone” is due to the fact that she was strongly encouraged by Big Machine to be more appealing to younger pop fans.

And if we move further and look at the musical arcs of The Band Perry and Dustin Lynch, we can see similar shifts. From the folky self-titled debut album with songs like “If I Die Young” and “Postcard from Paris” to singles like “DONE!” “Chainsaw” and now “Live Forever”, The Band Perry are all over the place musically. We’ve talked about evolution a lot this year, and there’s no natural evolution of The Band Perry’s sound from their first album to the second, to now. My theory is that they were pushed to make a more pop rock type album for Pioneer, and now they’ve essentially been molded to be a crossover act with “Live Forever.” And Dustin Lynch has moved from the excellent pure country sound of “Cowboys and Angels” to bro-country and R&B inspired songs. A recent interview even reveals Lynch’s admiration for Luke Bryan’s career and how Lynch would like to emulate that with his own music.

All this begs the question of do these acts have any artistic say in these decisions and directions? Does Danielle Bradbery really, truly want to be the “female Thomas Rhett” or does she want to release music that carries the spirit of Dixie? Does Dustin Lynch want to be a pretty boy pop singer in a cowboy hat, or want to sing country songs like his lead single or album cuts like “She Wants A Cowboy”?

One theory proposed in the “Friend Zone” comments suggests that these younger singers simply don’t know who they are and who they want to be. And I think that has some traction. But I think Bradbery, Lynch, and The Band Perry all know what they want: to be famous, successful singers and musical acts. However, the way they’re accomplishing that life mission is through a willingness to sing whatever their label suggests they sing. There’s no artistic integrity to the music; they’re just singing whatever will bring in the money, even if that means releasing a new album that’s a 180 degree difference from the one before it. Music is a business first, and these are just some examples of the puppets that help labels become successful businesses.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

Today in Country Music History

  • Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried is released in 1968.
  • In 1995, Littlefield, Texas celebrates Waylon Jennings Day with Johnny Cash joining Jennings in concert during the day.
  • Faith Hill has the number one country song on Billboard with “Mississippi Girl” in 2005.

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

Throwback Thursday Song

“Gone Country” by Alan Jackson. I love this Alan Jackson song; it’s one of my favorites from him. The song almost acts a critique of how everyone wants to come to country music because that’s where the money is. Funny, this song was released 21 years ago and is still relevant today. “The whole world’s gone country”….. most in name only, though. Perhaps the best thing about this song, though, was Jackson’s performance of the song on the ACMs as a protest to singing along to pre-recorded tracks. Keep your eye on the drummer in the video above.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


T. Hardy Morris Hardy & The Hardknocks: Drownin on a Mountaintop. This is one of the more interesting albums I’ve heard this year. Farce the Music tweeted about this album and described it as “grunge country” which seems to be the most fitting description. There is some undeniable country influence in a few of the songs, with a steel guitar being a prominent instrument throughout the album. Most of the album, though, sounds like hard rock with a steel guitar. However you decided to look at it, it’s an entertaining album to listen to with some unique production you won’t find in many other artists.

Tweet of the Week

I think this has been mentioned numerous times on the site, but hits and #1s are not the only way success can be achieved. There are many ways singers can be successful without having a radio hit. I think if a singer follows the assumption that #1s is the only way to be successful, than that singer has missed the point of music entirely.

An iTunes Review That Makes Me Shake My Head

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This was left under Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up. While “Crash and Burn” and “Vacation” are the only songs available for download from iTunes currently, reviews and comments are already swarming in. Apparently Thomas Rhett’s music is magical and evokes a lot of emotion to this listener and reviewer. Therefore, we must be open-minded about what country music is because the music of “Vacation” and “Crash and Burn” is magical (the absurdity of that felt necessary to repeat). But I disagree with this reviewer, so that must mean I’m a hater.

Album Review – Zac Brown Band’s Experimental ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ Is All Over The Place

ZBB Jekyll + Hyde

Complex. Diverse. Different. These are the words that most aptly describe the new album, Jekyll + Hyde, from Zac Brown Band. Never before have I heard a country album so diverse in sound. Thankfully it came early in the mail for me, which allowed me extra time to wrap my head around it. If I had to wait until today to hear, you probably wouldn’t have read this review until next week. I’m not going to waste time on an intro and jump right in, as this is the longest review I’ve ever written on Country Perspective (I probably could have written even more). I will say this before I begin: this is most difficult review I’ve ever taken on, for many different reasons. So grab a drink and sit in a comfy chair as I take you through this album.

This wild album begins with “Beautiful Drug,” where right away you hear something you thought you never would from Zac Brown Band. They’ve gone electric, as this is a straight up folktronica song. The song itself is about being in love with a girl. While these electronic sounds are upbeat and fun, what is the point of this? There was no reason for Zac Brown Band to do this other than chase radio play. While it will be a fun song to play this upcoming summer, nobody is going to remember it. Next is their new single, “Loving You Easy.” It’s again a song about being in love with a girl. Once again it’s also a new sound for the band, as it’s decidedly a Motown/country fusion. The instrumentation is upbeat and fun. The fiddle play throughout is nice too. But these lyrics are straight up fluff and in no way original. I can see why this is a single.

“Remedy” has the classic Zac Brown Band sound for the most part. Brown co-wrote this with Americana artist Keb Mo, Niko Moon and Wyatt Durrette. It’s a song about loving each other and how it’s the remedy to solving problems in the world. It’s a nice sentiment, but the opening lyrics are a tad hypocritical after hearing the first two songs. The opening lyrics:

I’ve been looking for a sound

That makes my heart sing

Been looking for a melody

That makes the church bells ring

Not looking for the fame

Or the fortune it might bring

In love, in music, in life

With the first three albums this seems to be true. But when you’re adding Motown and folktronica sounds to your arsenal on a country album I find this hard to believe. You’re admitting that you’re chasing trends, which leads to fame and fortune with these types of songs. Just thought I would point this out. I know they’ve been upfront about not being your prototypical country band, but this is still labeled a country album. The drums and gospel choir at the end of the song are also unnecessary, but don’t hurt the song too much.

I already discussed the lead single, “Homegrown,” which is one of the best tracks on the album. Check out my full review of that if you missed it. Moving on, the band tackles another completely new sound in “Mango Tree.” Err rather I should say Zac Brown, as the band feels completely missing on this song. This is a straight up big band song from the Sinatra era, which is cool and weird. Brown duets in the song with Sara Bareilles, a talented pop artist who has a great voice, as the song is pulled off well by the duo. It’s a good song, but why is it on the album? This will be okay if it stays an album cut I guess, but with the inclusion of Bareilles I don’t think this will be the case. Like I said this is a good song, but it doesn’t belong on this album and it doesn’t belong on country radio. The winding shifts of sounds in this album continues, as “Heavy Is The Head” is next. It’s a hard rock song and it’s the current #1 song on the Billboard Rock Airplay chart. Brown is joined on the song by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. It isn’t very surprising that Brown can pull off rock music, as the band has balanced between country music and southern fried rock their whole career. Once again though I feel like the band is missing and it’s a Brown solo project. This is another song while good, does not belong on the album. It would’ve fit in much better on The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1 EP.

Finally the group delivers a beautiful song that showcases their great talent in “Bittersweet.” It’s one of the best written songs on the album, as it’s about a man losing his wife to a disease and how he’s reflecting on the fact that tomorrow she won’t be there with him. The songwriting evokes great emotion in the listener and might even bring a tear to your eye. The instrumentation is equally good and I love the guitar and fiddles crashing in at the end of the song to really punctuate the song. This is the Zac Brown Band I know and love on this song. “Castaway” is a beach song and I don’t think I have to say anymore about what this song is about. I’ve said before that I feel Zac Brown Band pulls off these types of songs better than about anyone else out there, with maybe the exception of Jimmy Buffett. The instrumentation is a great blend of reggae and country. In addition Brown has enough charisma to make the song likable. But a part of me feels like the Zac Brown Band has outgrown this music. This song is also a perfect example of why some people can’t take them seriously. You’ll either love this song or hate it, depending on your outlook on beach songs.

Once again the group dives into folktronica on “Tomorrow Never Comes.” There’s also an acoustic version of the song at the end of the album. Listeners are going to automatically compare the two, but before I do I want to talk about the song itself. It’s pretty good and can paint of a variety of different images in the listeners’ heads. It has no specific theme, leaving the listener to decide. I enjoy these types of songs, as music is a subjective art. As for what version I think is better, it’s easily the acoustic version. While they pull off folktronica better on this song than on “Beautiful Drug,” it still feels too noisy and uncharacteristic of the group. The acoustic version is beautiful and maybe my favorite song on the album. It shouldn’t be the acoustic version. It should be the only version. There should never be an acoustic version of a song on a Zac Brown Band album, as acoustic is Zac Brown Band. They gave folktronica a shot, but ultimately I feel they should stay away from it. All country artists should stay away and leave it to the likes of Avicii in pop music.

“One Day” is the group’s spin on the R&B/funk influenced country. This is another song that is closer to the band’s true sound, as the R&B influence naturally blends with it. It’s a pleasant song about love, which at this point is starting to become a bit tiresome. This isn’t the great songwriting we’re used to hearing from Brown and the band. It might make for decent single on radio, but it’s honestly not very memorable. One of the first three songs released on the album, “Dress Blues,” is next. This Jason Isbell-penned song is the best on Jekyll + Hyde because of course it is. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song about the harsh reality of sending young soldiers to fight wars. I give kudos to Zac Brown Band for covering such a brilliant song and giving Isbell much deserved exposure (and some nice royalty checks). By the way if you’re wondering who the woman on backing vocals is, that’s the one and only Jewel. I thought she sounded pretty good. I enjoy both versions of the song, but if you must know which I prefer it’s Isbell’s version.

On “Young And Wild” I think I’m the most baffled at the production. There are production issues throughout this album, but it’s at its worst on this song. There are so many unnecessary sounds thrown in that bring the song down and make it hard to enjoy. This is on co-producer Jay Joyce, who I’m going to rant about here in a minute. The lyrics are once again too fluffy for my liking and are also too similar to other themes explored in the album. One of the most complex and intriguing songs on the album is “Junkyard.” It’s a gritty story about a child who lives with an abusive father, the junkyard man. This father is very abusive and controlling of not just the child, but the mother too. By the end of the song the child has had enough and murders the father with a knife. It’s an intense song and tells a great story. The part where the child has had enough in the song the electric guitars kicks it up a notch, signifying the shift in attitude brilliantly. This is one of the few moments on the album where Zac Brown Band tries something different and it works well.

“I’ll Be Your Man” (Song For A Daughter) is a song that is sung from the point of view of a father to his daughter. He sings about how he will always protect her and be there for her. For fathers listening to this song, you’ll connect really well with this song. For the rest, it’s a decent song. It could’ve been better, but it stretches on entirely too long and the addition of a choir towards the end is not needed. Once again it’s an overproduced song. The penultimate song on the album is “Wildfire.” It should be noted that Brown co-wrote this song with Eric Church, Clay Cook, Wyatt Durrette and Liz Rose. It’s once again a love song with laundry list lyrics. The instrumentation is pretty good, but I think the production is a little overdone. If that’s stripped back a little, this song sounds better. I’m baffled again too how fluffy the lyrics are and I’m left wanting something more.

Now I want to talk about producer Jay Joyce. When I saw fellow critic Mark Grondin of Spectrum Pulse point this out, I immediately realized why I had such a conflicted feeling about this album and why I don’t love it. For those unaware of Joyce’s track record, he was the producer behind Eric Church’s 2014 release The Outsiders, Little Big Town’s Pain Killer and Halestorm’s newly released album Into The Wildlife. You know what all of those albums had in common for me? They were overproduced, underwhelming and pretty disappointing. I’m left with pretty much the same feeling with Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde. It isn’t a coincidence that Joyce was behind each of these albums and I didn’t like them as much as I thought I would. He’s a huge problem and is a monster that needs to be stopped. Stop ruining music, Jay Joyce.

When it comes down to it this is probably one of the biggest disappointments in country music in 2015 for me. Zac Brown Band’s previous album Uncaged was one of my favorite country albums in the last five years. They could have easily expanded off of that album. Instead Brown brings Joyce aboard so he can muck up the sound of a great band. It was only the talent of the band where they were allowed to shine that saved this album from being a mediocre mess and make it something decent and somewhat listenable. Shame on Zac Brown for bringing Joyce into the fold and going all Bono on this album. For the first time ever I felt like the ego and business acumen of Zac Brown hurt the final product. Many Zac Brown Band fans and I’m sure many critics too will eat this album up, just like Church’s album and Little Big Town’s album. It will sell really well and do good on radio. But the cold hard truth is that there are a lot more albums that will outshine this one by far. Ultimately I will forget about Jekyll + Hyde and remember it as lackluster effort. For now I’m left disgusted, betrayed, confused and disappointed with this album.

Grade: 6/10