I grow weary of what passes for “country” music these days.Posted: May 8, 2012
I know I’ve touched on this before, but I pretty much deplore what passes for “new country.” It’s formulaic and sounds like late-70s soft rock; Barry Manilow with a pedal steel. I worked at a “new country” radio station down south for a couple of years, and if I didn’t dislike it before that I certainly did after.
Inevitably, I guess, as I grow older I’ve gained a grudging respect for “old country.” The Hanks (Williams and Snow), Lefty, George, Johnny, Lester and Earl, Patsy, Wanda, Buck, Merle, Marty, Waylon, and Ira and Charlie. The great John Prine said that rock’n’roll is more an attitude than a music style, and they all had the attitude.
When the “new traditionalists” came into the country music universe in the 1980s I had rekindled hopes for less weaksauce and more of that attitude. Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, The Mavericks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Nanci Griffith, Foster & Lloyd, Shawn Colvin, Todd Snider, the Desert Rose Band, and the Dixie Chicks. But alas, this was all too… unique for Nashville. Too different and unfamiliar for a genre that bets its bankroll and depends so desperately on everything sounding JUST THE SAME AS EVERYTHING ELSE.
Tall grass gets mowed down even with the rest; nails that stick up higher than the others get hammered level. So back came the weaksauce. We ended up with Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, and Carrie Underwood. Jesus, take the wheel.
It’s no surprise to me that when the economy goes in the tank, the radio industry puts all its chips into country music. It’s predictable, it’s easy to program, and radio sales people love it because “new country” fans seem like they’d rather buy CDs than feed their kids. (“But Mama, I’m hungry!” “Shut up and listen to Lady Antebellum!”) Seems like the only time we hear alternative rock stations or anything with some creativity to it is when the economy is on an uptick.
This is actually very short-sighted on the part of radio programmers. (What a surprise..) As far as listener loyalty, no demographic group holds a candle to the fans of “Music Of Your Life”-type “Adult Standards” stations (a/k/a the “nostalgia” format). They’re so grateful to hear the music they love. And let’s face it, they have the money to spend. In the Twin Cities market our local adult standards station actually received calls from listeners who said, “Send me a list of your sponsors. I want to buy things from them.”
So here’s a whole demographic with enormous loyalty and resources. And the music’s better too. Yet the radio world dashes like lemmings to “new country” whenever the economy falters. Idoan geddit.