I am slowly coming to accept the quality and entertainment value of country music after years of disgust and ignorance of the genre. My mother always taught me to be more open when it comes to music, but when I lived with my Evil Stepmother (™), the house rule on music was either country or gospel. I counted myself lucky that I found a Christian hard rock band (Petra) that I dug at the time, but I know now I was really missing out on some great music.
While my mom's never admitted to liking country, she listens to much more of it than she's really aware. John Mellencamp, the Eagles, the Allman Brothers band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd aren't exactly country (some more so than others) but they all have something in common with what I believe country music is all about.
Rock - particularly classic rock, like Led Zeppelin, whose shirt I'm wearing now - will always be my first love, but country music is working its way into my life. My brother, Wayne, used to be real big on country back in the day. Back when I lived with his mom, I got hooked on my favorie country song, "Chatahoochie" by Alan Jackson. I loved it from the start and I still love it. But it was like a fluke then - I didn't explore more. When I got into country, the gateway drug, as it were, was actually Garth Brooks. Now, Garth Brooks is sitting right by the same fence John Mellencamp is. Mellencamp is as close to country as you can get while still being rock. Garth Brooks is as close to rock as you can get while still being country, so for a Mellenhead as I was, it was real easy to get into. I'd actually dug his song "Standing Outside the Fire" long before Wayne started on me, but again I didn't pursue it. Wayne had me use my online resources to track down a copy of the "Double Live" album, which I got him, and I dug it. I got a good deal on his box set, which contained his first six albums. I don't like every song, but I like most of the singles.
I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere with Garth Brooks, or Wayne's recommendations, alone. I had to dip my feet in and discover what I liked. Sonoma County, California, had two main country stations. There was Froggy 92.9, which was OK, but played more of the older stuff, which I find harder to get into. I like the 90s and newer country, though some of the 80s stuff wasn't too bad. Then there was 104.9 Q105, and that was more my speed. I discovered "The Impossible" by Joe Nichols and "Riding With Private Malone" by David Ball up there, and I want to say a couple others that became favorites. After I moved to Eastern NC, I found one country station - Country 95.1 WRNS - and they're pretty good. But this new one, Thunder Country 103.7, has me hooked. So when I'm feeling country, I get caught up in the storm, as they say on there, first. But a country station plays less ads, it seems, than other stations, on both sides of the country, so I listen to more country on the radio than other genres.
The next big step came when we came into some country singles online. Jen knew much more about 90s country than I did, so I had her take her pick. We have tons now, way more than I knew what to do with. Where to start? So I asked Jen to make a country mix. I listened to it, and filtered what I liked from what I didn't like, and then made a mix of my own. I believe I'll get a second mix out of the songs we got, but for now, here's Nathan's Country Mix 2007. (Despite the year in the title, it doesn't mean the songs are recent, the year is just when the mix was compiled.) Here's the track list:
01. How Forever Feels (Kenny Chesney)
02. Goin' Through the Big D (Mark Chesnut)
03. Awful Beautiful Life (Darryl Worley)
04. Heads Carolina, Tails California (Jo Dee Messina)
05. Kiss This (Aaron Tippin)
06. Sold (John Michael Montgomery)
07. Small Town (John Mellencamp)
08. It's Five o'Clock Somewhere (Alan Jackson, featuring Jimmy Buffet)
09. The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)
10. The River (Garth Brooks)
11. Don't Take the Girl (Tim McGraw)
12. One Boy, One Girl (Collin Raye)
13. The Best Man (Blaine Larsen)
14. Riding With Private Malone (David Ball)
15. One More Day (Diamond Rio)
16. Ol' Red (Blake Shelton)
17. What Might Have Been (Little Texas)
18. The Impossible (Joe Nichols)
19. She Said Yes (Rhett Akins)
20. Concrete Angels (Martina McBride)
21. Bless the Broken Road (Rascal Flatts)
I started the mix with Kenny Chesney, who has become a favorite name among the songs I've heard. I also like "I Go Back", in part because it references a bunch of classic rock songs, starting with John Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane". Pure class, and the song is great. But "How Forever Feels" is more appropriate for this mix, a good blend of catchy fun and sentiment, the two main ingredients for a good country song.
"Goin' Through the Big D" by Mark Chesnut is such a gimmick, but it's a sweet one. The kind of song that gets you humming its tune at work and laughing about the play on words in the chorus, "I'm goin' through the Big D and I don't mean Dallas ... I got the Jeep, she got the palace". I don't feel the divorce theme, but it's more of a fun song than anything. There's a song we have about a girl who tells the singer she'll be gone by lunch if he goes fishing, and he sings how he's gonna miss her. I think that one will be on the next country mix. "Awful Beautiful Life" is another one I discovered on the radio in California. Darryl Worley shamelessly rips off Alan Jackson's "Chatahoochie" with "Tennessee River Run", which is another favorite (gotta love the "Cajun sausage on a hotdog bun"). "Awful Beautiful Life" has a little too much religious-right stuff in it (going to church, supportive of the war) but it's done up in a good way, in a fun song.
"Heads Carolina, Tails California" by Jo Dee Messina appeals to us, naturally, because of how I moved to North Carolina from California. Heading to (North) Carolina, California to my back. The song itself is about driving, just wherever the road takes you, which I totally dig. Since the cross-country drive, I've been hot for road trips. To eastern Tennessee and back for the honeymoon and to Connecticut and back, twice, to see Jen's family up in Stamford - I love gettin' behind the wheel for a trip that'll take more than 8 hours, so I dig a good driving song.
Aaron Tippin's "Kiss This" is another fun-to-listen-to gimmick song that you'll love to sing along with. "Why don't you kiss, yeah kiss this, and I don't mean on my rosy red lips...". It's funny that a man's singing such a feminist song. It's about a woman saying that and more to a loser boyfriend, and the crowd getting into it. Still, a fun song to sing along with. "Sold" by Montgomery Gentry is another fun song. I don't get into it as much as the previous five, but it's a good tune.
Next we have John Mellencamp's "Small Town", pretty much as close to country as the Cougar's gotten. It doesn't have the twang, but the lyrics are in the right place. The next song, however, is all country. Alan Jackson singing "It's 5 o'Clock Somewhere", with Jimmy Buffet on guest vocals. This is another fun song, but it's more of a drinking song, and getting more serious as we move down the list. Country legend Kenny Rogers' hit "The Gambler" is next up. For old country, it's good. Heck, for any country it's real good. Rockers joke about Kenny Rogers (I did) but you know, the guy was at the Grammys, I think it was, in the front row in 1991 when Metallica played "Enter Sandman", and at the end of the performance, reportedly Rogers was one of the first to get up and applause. So you gotta hand it to the guy.
Now the list gets serious. There were a lot of great Garth Brooks songs I could have chosen, but I went with one I was just getting into, far from a favorite. "The River". It's a slow one, not so much fun, as just a good overall song. Another one with a lot of fun songs, Tim McGraw sings the next one, "Don't Take the Girl", a sort of tear-jerker. I guess you could take the ending either way, but the lyrics will have you waiting. Collin Raye's "One Boy, One Girl" is kind of in the same vein, but with a happier ending. Blaine Larsen's "The Best Man" is more upbeat, but follows this new trend of good from-the-heart lyrics, about a man whose stepfather became his role model. I heard this in the Texas steakhouse, for an Internet-invented "holiday" celebrated on March 20 (sometimes March 14) I'm not going to get into, but it involves a steak dinner. Kind of a man's holiday, if you follow.
Don't let David Ball's "Riding With Private Malone" fool you. It wasn't recorded in the 70s; it's actually fairly recent (late 90s), but it's that real natural, unsynthesized sound, sounds like he just got up there and sang and played, and it wasn't filtered digitally, so it has a more natural sound. Another good story, perhaps as supernatural as you're going to get in country. I remember hearing "One More Day" by Diamond Rio back around the time Dale Earnhardt Sr. died - I don't know if it was just the same time or if they put the song in a tribute video, or the music video was about Dale Sr., but I remember a connection. The lyrics don't exactly fit - about a husband who wants one more day with his late wife. Now there's a sweet song.
"Ol' Red" by Blake Shelton is a good story song, but it has a witty end. It's kind of similar to AC/DC's old single Jailbreak, twist and all, but where AC/DC's blues effort ends in tragedy, Shelton's tune ends in comedy. This is just a fun song to listen to. "What Might Have Been" is a good "breaking up/moving on" song with some good lyrics. Joe Nichols' "The Impossible" is yet another one I discovered on my own, out in California. It's the only song by him I like (I've heard a couple others), but it's a good one. Rhett Akins' "She Said Yes" is a good song about falling in love, and it was included on our wedding soundrack. Jen says it took her a couple years to find it on CD - she must have overlooked Amazon; they have everything.
"Concrete Angels" by Martina McBride is the saddest song on here - it's about a little girl who dies from child abuse. That subject just pisses me off like nothing else. Jen and I are trying for kids (preferrably girls), so the idea of people hating their kids that much to use them as punching bags (or sex objects) just makes me want to kill someone. There are so many would-be parents out there trying to adopt, they ought to just do the right thing and give the kids up. I really dig the song, though, but I can't listen to it too much. Lastly, Rascal Flatts' "Bless the Broken Road" is probably going to be the theme for our first anniversary. (The wedding theme was Nickelback's "Far Away".) It's about how all the bad relationships you've had on your way to the one that worked shaped you for success later, and that's exactly how I feel about Jen's previous boyfriends. I didn't have any romantic experience before Jen, but there were still people who shaped my romantic views to fit perfectly with Jen's.
Just as a final note, we are not selling copies of this mix, so please do not ask. We use this mix for private use only and are not looking to violate copyright law. But if you have iTunes or a similar legal downloading program, and have $20 to invest in a mix to get you into country (or you already dig it but are looking for a good collection), I have to recommend it. Or, if you'd like the original one Jen made for me, here's its listing. Folks we know and have played the mixes for tend to prefer hers. Note that it has a few of the same songs, but others as well.
01. Kiss This (Aaron Tippin)
02. Guys Do it All the Time (Mindy McCready)
03. What Might Have Been (Little Texas)
04. How Forever Feels (Kenny Chesney)
05. Heads Carolina, Tails California (Jo Dee Messina)
06. No News (Lonestar)
07. Speed (Montgomery Gentry)
08. She's Taking a Shine (John Berry)
09. Summertime (Kenny Chesney)
10. Be My Baby Tonight (John Michael Montgomery)
11. Goin' Through the Big D (Mark Chesnut)
12. Strawberry Wine (Deanna Carter)
13. Ol' Red (Blake Shelton)
14. I Can Love You Better (Dixie Chicks)
15. How Your Love Makes Me Feel (Diamond Rio)
16. Dust on the Bottle (David Lee Murphy)
17. I'm Gonna Miss Her (Brad Paisley) (this is the one I mentioned earlier, about fishing)
18. Rock My World/Little Country Girl (Brooks & Dunn)
19. Austin (Blake Shelton) (good one on par with "Ol' Red")
20. They Don't Make Them Like That Anymore (Boy Howdy)
21. Meet in the Middle (Diamond Rio)
22. Sold (John Michael Montgomery)
23. Old Enough to Know Better (Wade Hayes)
I know for damn sure that when we have kids, we won't force them to listen to music we like or even only approve of, but we will have country music playing. Maybe not as much as the rock, but there's something serene about country music playing, even loudly, throughout the house. Country personifies the slow and mellow life of the country, of lands far from metropolitan areas. Much of it has a lot of religion, but even as a sort of atheist/agnostic, most of it's appealing anyway - it's not usually very preachy. In general, I see country as lite rock that is more honest, more down-to-earth, more realistic, more personally identifiable. It's a more personal form of music, and if you don't know much about it, I advise giving it a chance.