Despite my lack of enthusiasm for Emmy Lou Harris , I do consider myself a country music fan. I frequently tune in to country radio, and usually near max volume! And yet country music is famous (notorious?) for its simplicity. There's not much profundity to the genre. In fact, the only "deep meaning" I can find in country music is, paradoxically, its lack of deep meaning - it is profoundly simple music, and that's what makes it profound.
In fact, there seems to be a competition between some country singers over who can be the least sophisticated. Take Blake Shelton's 'Kiss My Country Ass', for example:
While a great many country songs flaunt this "I can be even less sophisticated than you are" character, perhaps none capture it better than Thomas Rhett's 'Die A Happy Man', the lyrics of which are all about being satisfied with who and what you are.
So the profundity of this song is in its simplicity - having the maturity and wherewithal to not only accept but embrace who and what you are, even if that isn't anything terribly sophisticated or special. He's never going to have the chance to do all these cool things like see the auroras, visit Paris, or drive from LA to San Fran in a convertible. And ya know what? That's okay. Actually, it's more than okay - it's ideal. He knows he would enjoy those activities, but he also recognizes that they're fundamentally less important than staying home and spending time with the people he loves. And that's profoundly meaningful to him, even if it isn't to anybody else.
In tandem with the lyrics, the music is also quite simple. Harmonically, the entire song uses just five chords (D, G, A, b, and e); structurally it's straightforward - a verse, pre-chorus, and chorus, all used in textbook fashion; the recording (both of the music and the video) employ conventional practices. Why? Because this song - whose profundity lies in its simplicity - doesn't need anything fancy. While the Beatles use complex songwriting concepts (whole tone modulations, chromatic mediants, metric modulations, retrograded sounds, varispeed, etc) in their music, the use of those same techniques in country music would undermine the meaning that makes the genre profound - it would draw attention away from the lyrics and their message of deliberate simplicity.
Blake Shelton hit my radar screen again the other day when his song 'Boys Round Here' came on the radio. The opening line in particular caught my attention:
The Beatles' music is extremely sophisticated and innovative. But that's not the point of country music, which is by nature a conservative genre. There is something appealing about this "redneck-er than thou" attitude, and this music is hugely popular for precisely that reason. It provides a strong cultural unity between listeners who identify with its underlying message. Indeed, I crank it, too! That being said, I doubt anybody will be studying Shelton's songs fifty years from now. And no doubt that's fine with him.
I'll be speaking on Blake Shelton - oops! I mean the Beatles - tomorrow evening at the Phoenixville Public Library:
Monday, 25 April 2016, 7:00-8:00 p.m.
Phoenixville Public Library, 183 2nd Ave, Phoenixville, PA
The Beatles: Band of the Sixties
Explore the music of The Beatles in this 60-minute multimedia presentation (part history and part musical analysis) spanning the full 1960's: beginning with the band's seminal visits to Hamburg, continuing through Beatlemania, and concluding with Abbey Road. The program will be supplemented with audio clips of music and excerpts from interviews with the band members.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.