Friday, March 23, 2012

Speaking of songs

I wrote this some time ago, for the New Country Music Encyclopedia, but it can't hurt to pull it out of mothballs:

Speaking of of the commonest and easiest cheap shots against country music goes something like this: all country songs are about the same cliched themes, generally about drinkin' and cheatin', lovin' and hurtin', workin' and dancin', or making that good ole country music, with the odd inspirational ditty thrown in. The old joke is that if you play a country song backwards, you get your wife back, your truck back, your dog back...Well, they say every great novel or play ever written is a variation on seven basic plots, so it's hard to figure out why someone who writes two and half minute stories set to music should be criticized for mostly writing variations on the same half a dozen or so themes, especially if he or she does it with style and feeling. Anyway, it occurred to me that if country music is scorned for having such limited range of subject matter, other forms of popular music must be much more diverse, right? So I checked out a few albums at random, starting with the Great American Songbook as represented by Natalie Cole's tribute to her father, "Unforgettable." Turns out there are songs on the themes of lovin' ("The Very Thought of You," "This Can't Be Love," "For Sentimental Reasons," "Our Love is Here to Stay"), hurtin' ("Paper Moon," "Mona Lisa," "Don't Get Around Much Any More," "Too Young"), ramblin' ("Route 66"), and an inspirational ditty about makin' the best of life ("Smile").

Well, maybe we'd do better with the most exciting musical innovators of our time, The Beatles, in "A Hard Day's Night." It has songs about workin' ("A Hard Day's Night"), lovin' ("I Should Have Known Better," "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You," "And I Love Her"), cheatin' ("Tell Me Why"), hurtin' ("I'll Cry Instead"), and an inspirational ditty about livin' life with the right set of values ("Can't Buy Me Love."

How about a master American singer-songwriter, Bruce Springsteen? On "Born in the USA," he writes songs about ("Workin' on the Highway," "Downbound Train" -- actually about workin' and hurtin'), lookin' for love ("Cover Me" "I'm on Fire," "Dancin' in the Dark"), tough times ("My Home Town," the title song), ramblin' (Bobby Jean," "Darlington County"), and an inspirational ditty about livin' life with the right set of values ("Glory Days.")

Surely, I'd find more variety in the work of acknowledged musical genius, George Gershwin? So I pulled out an old vinyl album called "Chris Connor Sings Gershwin" from the back of the shelf and gave it a spin. I found lovin' ("Love Walked In," "A Foggy Day." "Love is Here to Stay"), cheatin' ("I Love You Porgy"), playin' music ("Slap That Bass") and an inspirational ditty about family values "Summertime").