Song Review: Robert Counts, “What Do I Know”

This song represents everything that is wrong with America right now. Think I’m exaggerating? Pull up a chair.

Robert Counts is a Tennessee native who signed with Sony Nashville back in January of 2019 and dropped his self-titled debut EP almost a year ago. He’s been writing songs behind the scenes for a while now, most notably the solid album cut “Backseat Driver” from William Michael Morgan’s Vinyl. For what appears to be Counts’s first radio single, however, he and Sony have decided to go with “What Do I Know,” and frankly, someone deserves to be fired for this decision. This is an unnecessarily angry and confrontational declaration of rural pride and wisdom that has some painful similarities to the hot garbage that was Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country,” which the main difference being that Counts is a much weaker and less authoritative vocalist. It’s aim is to exclude rather then enlighten, and it’s a indictment of the us vs. them, culture-warrior attitude that threaten to tear the entire country in half.

Remember when I said “God’ Country” sounded “like a harbinger of the Apocalypse”? The production here has that same dark and ominous feel that really doesn’t click with the song’s supposed message. The arrangement is pretty much the same sort of guitar-and-drum mix we’ve grown accustomed too, but the opening electric guitars, eerie synth tones, and light-touch drum machine set a cold and foreboding tone, one that makes the song feel like the lead-up to a no-holds-barred rumble rather than an espousement of ideals. The hard-rock guitar chords and punchy drum set that jump in on the chorus only heighten this atmosphere. Instead of trying to complement the lyrics and enhance their credibility, the mix just ignores the verses and instead puts all its chips on the chorus, prepping us for combat against “the ones that don’t get it” without telling us why. (You get the sense that the mix doesn’t actually care what we’re fighting forit’s just itching for a fight, justified or not. ) It’s the sort of sound that tries to send its own message underneath that of the writing, and it’s a message I have zero interest in hearing.

For his part, Counts comes across as an off-brand Brantley Gilbert behind the mic, with just enough raspiness to make it annoying and not enough tone to make it worthwhile. Technically, I’m not sure the song is a great fits for Counts: It traps him mostly in his lower range, especially on the verses, forcing him to walk a tightrope to maintain his tone without his voice turning into sandpaper. (The chorus lets him extend his voice upwards a little, but not much, and he doesn’t show much vocal power here either.) However, it’s his delivery that really bothers me: He maintains an even-keel demeanor during the verses, but he adds a real snarl and emphasis to the chorus that’s as unnecessary as the dystopian production. Not only does this make him come across as just as bloodthirsty as the mix, but it really devalues every he says on the chorus: If he can’t be bothered to put any feeling behind the words, why should we attach any meaning to them? Even when taking into account the terrible position the writing puts him in, Counts’s performance adds an extra level of hostility to a track that shouldn’t be this aggressive in the first place. As a debut single, this is a worst-case scenario: Rather then enticing me to hear more from him, I never want to hear this guy sing ever again.

The writing, in a word, is flawed:

  • It’s got more than its share of nonsensical statements: I’m not sure what “sleep hard every night” actually means, and the phrase “like my daddy’s granddaddy’s daddy’s daddy did too” is so over-the-top it feels like a parody.
  • Where most songs try to deliver advice like this, they use an elderly character to serve as a wizened foil to the naive narrator and give the message a bit more credibility. This song, however, relies on the narrator themselves to sell its story, which a brand-new artist like Counts just doesn’t have the experience or authority to pull off.

However, it’s the framing of this song that really irritates me. On the surface, this song is a laundry list of generic one-liners, many of which aren’t even that specific to rural life:

Work hard all day, sleep hard all night
Don’t run your mouth if you don’t know how to fight
Plan your work, man, then work your plan
Don’t build your house in the sand
Carry a pocket knife, stick to your guns
Know when to walk away but don’t ever run
Try not to borrow another man’s gold
Gotta answer to the one you owe

There’s nothing overly controversial (or novel) herein fact, some of them are so vague that they don’t really say anything at all. Country music is full of songs that attempt to pass down wisdom like this (think Van Zant’s “Help Somebody,” or even Aaron Tippin’s “You’ve Got To Stand For Something”), and if a track approaches the subject in a thoughtful, non-combative manner, it can be pretty effective (“You’ve Got To Stand For Something” was also Tippin’s debut single as well). Just as I said in my “God’s Country” review, “there is no reason for this song to feel this freaking angry.”

Today, however, we live in a world of gates, bars, and lines drawn in the sand, a world where Jason Aldean tells us that “They Don’t Know,” Luke Bryan ridicules city dwellers over ten-dollar drinks on “Kick The Dust Up,” and Shelton screams at people about “God’s Country” like he’s an old man telling the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. We’re not interested in sharing our wisdom with otherswe’re here to declare ourselves right and shame the other person for being wrong. It’s no surprise then that the lyrics here take a hard turn at the chorus:

But what do I know? I’m just a redneck sitting
On a screened-in sipping on a longneck
Listening to the crickets sing the same old songs
Like my daddy’s granddaddy’s daddy’s daddy did too
What do I know? I’m just a coffee can dollar
Dirt on my hands, sweat on my blue collar
Got everything I need right here in the holler
Where the ones that don’t get it won’t go
What do I know?

The message here has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer: As a bona fide “country” person (just like you *wink wink nudge nudge*), I know a lot more than those other people (you know who I’m talking about *wink wink nudge nudge*). This song isn’t intended to broaden anyone’s horizonit’s just here to affirm that the narrator and the audience are on “Team Country,” that “we” know better than “them,” and that “they” aren’t going to make “us” abandon our hard-earned. This is the same ignorant, closed-minded attitude that’s got us ignoring climate science and arguing over wearing face masks in public, and it makes me sick.

(A rant for another day: When the f*ck did country music get so pretentious and exclusive? I can recall songs as late as the mid/late-2000s that preached that country music was for everyone, like Trace Adkins’s “Songs About Me” and Shelton’s own “Hillbilly Bone.” Why is the genre drawing such a hard line now? I have some theories, but this review has run long enough already…)

The TL;DR version of this post is that “What Do I Know” is in the conversation for the worst song I’ve heard all year. Everything from the sound to the writing to Robert Counts himself sound unjustifiably angry and indignant, and the underlying message of superiority and exclusivity is absolutely repulsive. This was a terrible choice for a debut single, as it paints Counts in a really unflattering light and doesn’t give me any reason to believe in (or even see) his potential. We really need to move past this combative attitude both as a genre and as a nation, and giving songs like this the boot is the first step.

“What Do I Know”? I know I never want to hear this song again.

Rating: 2/10. Complete garbage. If you’re going to listen to a song with this title, listen to Ricochet’s:

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 8, 2020

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-reborn Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” +2 (7/10)
2. Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” -1 (4/10)
3. Kane Brown, “Cool Again” -1 (4/10)
4. Jason Aldean, “Got What I Got” +2 (7/10)
5. Jameson Rodgers, “Some Girls” 0 (5/10)
6. Keith Urban, “God Whispered Your Name” 0 (5/10)
7. Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” +4 (9/10)
8. Thomas Rhett ft. Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Keith Urban and Chris Tomlin, “Be A Light” +1 (6/10)
9. Matt Stell, “Everywhere But On” 0 (5/10)
10. Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” -2 (3/10)
11. HARDY ft. Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson, “One Beer” -1 (4/10)
12. Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Stefani, “Happy Anywhere” +1 (6/10)
13. Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” -1 (4/10)
14. Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” 0 (5/10)
15. Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” -1 (4/10)
16. Jon Pardi, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” 0 (5/10)
17. Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans” +1 (6/10)
18. Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” +1 (6/10)
19. Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” 0 (5/10)
20. Kenny Chesney, “Happy Does” 0 (5/10)
21. Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards” +5 (10/10)
22. Lady A, “Champagne Night” 0 (5/10)
23. Florida Georgia Line, “I Love My Country” -3 (2/10)
24. Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer” 0 (5/10)
25. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
26. Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” +5 (10/10)
27. Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” +4 (9/10)
28. Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” -1 (4/10)
29. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
30. Darius Rucker, “Beers And Sunshine” 0 (5/10)
31. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
32. Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole In The Bottle” +2 (7/10)
33. Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good” +2 (7/10)
34. Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” -2 (3/10)
35. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
36. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
37. Brothers Osborne, “All Night” -1 (4/10)
38. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
39. Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” 0 (5/10)
40. Taylor Swift, “Betty” +1 (6/10)
41. Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” +2 (7/10)
42. Morgan Wallen, “7 Summers” +1 (6/10)
43. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
44. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
45. Runaway June, “We Were Rich” +2 (7/10)
46. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
47. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
48. Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” 0 (5/10)
49. Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” +1 (6/10)
50. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +10
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +20
Overall Pulse +30
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

Best Song: “Stick That In Your Country Song,” 10/10
Worst Song: “I Love My Country,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Justin Moore, “Why We Drink” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Thomas Rhett ft. Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Keith Urban, F. D. C. Willard, and Chris Tomlin, “Be A Light” (down from #1 to #8)
  • Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards” (down from #7 to #21)
  • Florida Georgia Line, “I Love My Country” (down from 9 to #23)
  • Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer” (down from #23 to #24)
  • Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” (down from #26 to #27)
  • Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good” (down from #31 to #33, and despite its gains this week it still appears much weaker than its competition)

In Real Trouble:

  • Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” (up from #20 to #18, but gained only seventy-three spins and 172 points, and needs to show more strength to get off this list)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” (down from #38 to #39, gained only forty-four spins and eighty-five points)
  • Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” (holds at #41, but gained only seventy-two spins and 199 points)
  • Brett Young, “Lady” (down from #43 to #44, gained only thirty-seven spins and 135 points)
  • Parmaless ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (down from #45 to #46, gained only forty-seven spins and thirty-seven points)
  • Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (down from #46 to #47, lost its bullet)
  • Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” (down from #47 to #48, gained only fifty spins and 121 points)
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” (holds at #49, but gained only forty-seven spins and seventy-two points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Runaway June, “We Were Rich” (down from #42 to #43, gained only fifty-one spins and sixty-six points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” (debuts at #34)
  • Morgan Wallen (“7 Summers” rises from #48 to #42, “More Than My Hometown” rises from #19 to #15)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (up from #39 to #31)
  • Jameson Rodgers, “Some Girls” (up from #10 to #5)
  • Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans” (up from #22 to #17)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” (up from #18 to #14)
  • Kenny Chesney, “Happy Does” (up from #24 to #20)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” (up from #2 to #1, will probably get another week atop both Billboard and Mediabase)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: Head for higher ground folks, because this week the Mediabase dam finally burst.

FGL and Rhett are exiting gracefully, Paisley, Midland, and Urban finally got the plug pulled, and McBryde decided to cash in her chips after his first Top Ten. The result is some unexpected chaos at the top of the charts are songs rush in the fill the void (Rodgers seems to be the biggest winner here, but Lane, Dickerson, Wallen, and Chesney all saw big jumps as well) and a flood of spins released into the wild that not even FGL’s big debut could soak up, giving everyone a rare chance for some solid growth. (If you didn’t see at least some decent progress this week, you’re probably getting washed away by the next wave.) Structurally, however, the situation remains the same: Those at the top of the charts benefited disproportionally from the spoils, while many folks near the bottom ended up losing spots thanks to FGL’s quick turnaround and initial #34 placement. Playlists are still a bit too short right now, but hopefully the eventual recurrence of all these falling tracks will open up some new spots for other artists to fill, even as Thanos lords over the country music world threatening to snap half of us out of existence.

Of course, if Thanos waffles on whether or not to destroy civilization, 2020 may beat him to the punch. The coronavirus death toll is rapidly closing in on 200,000 in America, the CDC thinks we won’t have enough vaccine doses distributed to return to “normal” until late Q2/early Q3 of 2021, wildfires are burning so much of the West Coast that the smoke is starting turn our skies gray on the East Coast, Hurricane Sally is slamming the Gulf Coast with devastating winds and rains, and now we’re starting to think about the possibility of post-election chaos in November, regardless of who actually ends up winning. (Things have gotten so bad that even the Bro-Country party tracks have moved into the past tense.) I wish I had a piece of advice or sliver of hope I could pass along to folks, but right now I got nothin’. I just hope you’re all staying safe right now, because things aren’t getting better for a while.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On”

Okay, now I’m confused: Has the current trend changed, or is it just the verb tense?

In my last LoCash review, I questioned whether or not the forgettable “One Big Country Song” would “have enough oomph to earn the duo a continue before they run out of extra lives.” The duo got lucky, however, and the song #2 peak earned Chris Lucas and Preston Brust a stay of execution and the right to release a third single from their album Brothers. That single turned out to be “Beers To Catch Up On,” which combined with Florida Georgia Line’s new abomination “Long Live,” makes me wonder if the Cobronavirus trend has actually receded or just adjusted to its new reality. With nihilistic partying falling out of fashion, songs like this are flipping to the next best thing: Dreaming about the partying they did in the past and hoping to recreate such events in the future. Unfortunately, talking about such things in the past and future is no more endearing or interesting than it was in the present, and the song winds up being more boring than nostalgic.

The production here suffers from the same problem as that of “Long Live”: It’s just a watered down version of a standard Bro-Country mix that doesn’t work as anything but a sleep aid. The song opens with an acoustic guitar and a clap track, then slowly fills up the background with electric guitars and organs that mostly run together (there are some steel-guitar-esque sounds as well, but it’s hard to tell if they’re actually from a steel guitar or just another electric axe), and that’s pretty much all you get. The instrument tones are dark and reflective, and the regular minor chords help emphasize the disappointment that the shenanigans aren’t still going on, but most of all the slow, deliberate cadence and lower volume levels make the song just as punchless and lifeless as “Long Live.” It’s a mix that try to make you lament the loss of times that aren’t worth mourning, but only succeeds in curing your insomnia.

The good news is that I think I know who the lead singer of this duo is now: Based on a cursory video/audio analysis that took at least three minutes, it looks like Brust is handling the lead vocals here (his voice reminds me of Granger Smith, which isn’t exactly a flattering comparison). He covers the song’s minimal technical demands without any trouble, but he’s severely lacking in the charisma department: Not only does he fail to sell the listener on the appeal of small-town pleasure-seeking, he doesn’t even make these activities sound like fun. He claims to be excited about spending some time with his old crew, but he sure as heck doesn’t sound excited. (For his part, Preston does his best Brian Kelley impression, contributing some indistinguishable harmony work that doesn’t add a ton to the track.) It’s a mediocre performance that passes in one ear and out the other without the listener ever noticing that it was there.

Lyrically, the song makes me think a lot about an album cut from Midland’s On The Rocks, “Nothing New Under The Neon,” as both feature the narrator meeting up with someone (eventually a whole bunch of someones in this track) and reminiscing about the good ol’ days. So why do think “Nothing New Under The Neon” might be the best track from On The Rocks and this song is so underwhelming? The short answer is that “Nothing New Under The Neon” has a sense of both maturity and trauma that this track lacks. Instead of talking about lost loves and family members, “Beers To Catch Up On” is just a laundry list of Bro tropes in disguise: “Trucks, longneck bottles, dirt roads, classic artist name-drops, Friday-night all-night parties”…you know, the same generic stuff I roasted “Long Live” for just a few days ago. While it’s not a 1-to-1 copy (they talk SUVs instead of pickups, and this song talks about fishing instead of women), it still comes across as incredibly juvenile and suggests that the narrator hasn’t moved on from the moment (especially with its proposal to go beyond remembering the activities and repeat them instead). As a result, it makes the narrator feel less sympathetic than they should: Oh, you can’t go drink yourself silly anymore? Here, let me play you a tune on the world’s smallest violin. (That line saying “it ain’t far from yesterday” feels especially delusional: We’re light years from last March, let alone the narrator’s glory days.) In short, this is a poorly-written mess that fails to sell its premise to the audience, and is not something I’m keen on hearing on the radio.

“Beers To Catch Up On” is a maudlin, uninteresting track that tries to mash the Cobronavirus trend with some garden-variety nostalgia, and winds up falling flat on its face. Its lackluster production barely registers a pulse, its writing reeks of immaturity , and while LoCash is present, they’re not terribly persuasive. The truth is that a) Bro Country had its moment, b) that moment is not now, and c) people would prefer to move past it rather than relive it. Where that leaves LoCash remains to be seen, but if they don’t improve their schtick, reminiscing about the career they used to have will be all they have left.

Rating: 4/10. Pass.

A Random Rambling: Clint Black’s Not-So-Super Hits

Image from AllMusic

With my piecemeal stereo setup finally starting to come together, I’ve been spending the last few months going through my country music collection (CDs, cassettes, vinyl…still working on that 8-track player, though). Among this treasure trove of steel guitar are a number of compilation and greatest hits albums (the cheapest way to get an artist’s best stuff in the pre-iTunes era), which have always held a special fascination for me: How do you determine the “greatest” of someone’s singles? How many do you include? Which songs made the cut? Did they deserve to be there? And what was the one song that got strategically left off the list so people would have to spend another fifteen dollars an another album to get it?

Most of the time, the decisions behind what and what not to include are at least marginally defensible. Sometime, however, the album roster is so off-the-wall that it makes you wonder “WTF were these people smoking?” This brings us to the hero of today’s story: Clint Black’s Super Hits album.

Super Hits was released on October 27, 1998, just two years after Black’s official Greatest Hits album. Perhaps this helps explain the track list: RCA didn’t want so much overlap that they would end up competing against each other. Still, for a “super” hit album, there was plenty of top-tier material to choose from: Greatest Hits had left off five of Black’s nine No. 1 singles up to that point (“Nobody’s Home,” “Walkin’ Away,” “Loving Blind,” “Where Are You Now,” and “When My Ship Comes In”), and 1997’s Nothin’ But The Taillights had already produced two No. 1 hits by this time (the title track and “The Shoes You’re Wearin'”), not to mention the #2 single “Something That We Do” (which would be Clint’s signature love song for about two years, until “When I Said I Do” showed up in 1999). Even after the 16 tracks on Greatest Hits, there was enough material lying around by now for a legitimate second volume of them!

So what did Super Hits give us? Feast your eyes on this track list:

Song Credentials
“Half Way Up” #6 song from Greatest Hits (1996)
“One Emotion” #2 song from One Emotion (1995)
“A Bad Goodbye” (ft. Wynonna Judd) #2 song from No Time To Kill (1993)
“You Walked By” Album cut from One Emotion (1994)
“Untanglin’ My Mind” #4 song from One Emotion (1994)
“Chain Of Fools” (ft. The Pointer Sisters) Album cut from Rhythm, Country and Blues (1994)
“A Change In The Air” Album cut from One Emotion (1994)
“Life Gets Away” #4 song from One Emotion (1995)
“Desperado” #54 song from Common Thread: Songs of the Eagles (1993)
“I’ll Take Texas” Album cut from No Time To Kill (1993)
“Tuckered Out” #74 song from No Time To Kill (1993)

Wait, what? I have a lot of questions here:

  • Okay, so maybe you could argue that “Nothin’ But The Taillights” and “The Shoes You’re Wearin'” were too new and you wanted this to complement Nothin’ But The Taillights rather than steal its thunder…but that still leaves the five other No. 1 songs mentioned above that were available and wouldn’t have been duplicates. (And let’s be honest, you’re practically obligated to include “Killin’ Time” on any Clint Black compilation.) Yet you decided not to include any of these songs? And then you used “Half Way Up” (a Greatest Hits exclusive) anyway?
  • Including random album cuts on a “super hits” collection is a head-scratcher regardless of the artist. But to ignore Black’s first three albums entirely and take eight songs from the next two? We’ll need Sherlock Holmes and Batman to untangle this riddle. I mean, I’m a huge fan of One Emotion, but do we really need half the album here? And of the songs you chose to leave out, you omitted “Summer’s Comin’,” its only No. 1 hit?
  • What’s with the bizarre similarity between the track lists of Super Hits and the albums it draws from? “Untanglin’ My Mind,” “A Change In The Air,” and “Life Gets Away” are in the same relative positions as One Emotion (with “Chain Of Fools” replacing “Wherever You Go”), and are only two numbers off their absolute positions (tracks #3, #5, and #6 from One Emotion are #5, #7, and #8). “I’ll Take Texas” and “Tuckered Out” are the last two songs on both No Time To Kill and Super Hits! Was there any actual thought put into this list, or was it just a quick cut-and-paste job?

Here’s the thing: I loved this album back in the day, and I still love it today. All of the album tracks are great, and I loved the fact that it included Black’s contributions from several “various artists” discs like the Eagles tribute album. This, however, is the main problem with Super Hits: This is not a summary of Black’s best work from his first decade (frankly, Greatest Hits wasn’t really one either)this is a deep-cut collection geared towards hardcore Clint Black aficionados like me. I own all the albums, I enjoy all the tracks, and I’d probably be happy with any random selection of ten songs slapped together on a album. But to sell this as someone’s “super hits” when over half the songs never saw significant airplay feels like a blatant violation of the FTC’s “Truth in Advertising” laws. If you were buying this at the time expecting to hear Black’s best work (or at least some songs you recognized), you were in for a disappointment.

A completely different “super hits” disc of Black’s discography was released in 2003, and this one makes a lot more sense: “Killin’ Time” and “Summer’s Comin'” are here, as are several songs from Nothin’ But The Taillights and several of the key songs that Greatest Hits lacked (“Loving Blind,”Nothing’s News,” “Where Are You Now”). It even has the No. 1 from Greatest Hits (“Like The Rain”) instead of the #6 “Half Way Up”! This is a defensible super hit playlist, and given that none of these songs were released after October 1998 (so now we’re ignoring D’lectrified and Black’s biggest hits on the Hot 100, “When I Said I Do” and “Been There”? Seriously?), why wasn’t this the track list for the original Super Hits album?

Alas, we’re stuck with Super Hits‘s inexplicable collection of deep cuts and never-hits, and even 22 years after its release, I still can’t figure out why.

Song Review: Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live”

For a song called “Long Live,” this thing seems pretty darn lifeless to me.

Just when you thought Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard’s moment had passed, Bro-Country came roaring back to prominence as the Cobronavirus movement, and abominations like Florida Georgia Line’s last single “I Love My Country” wormed their way back onto country music’s heavy rotation lists. However, you can only revel in shallow escapism for so long before reality breaks through, and as the coronavirus pandemic has stretched on, the Bro redux seems to have lost much of its steam. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to tell FGL about this, as they’ve decided to eschew the rest of their recent 6-Pack EP and bring out “Long Live” as their latest single. On one level, this is a rehash of every Bro-Country song you’ve ever heard with zero added creativity or inspiration. On another level, however, this song is a metaphor for just how played out this trend is, because it lacks the one thing Bro-Country could always be counted on for (besides misogyny): Energy and good-time vibes.

If I had to sum up the production for this track in a word, it would be tired. Sure, all the original crew members show up for the reunion: The hard rock guitars, the deliberate cadence, the token banjo, the hard-hitting drum set and skittery drum machine, etc. So what’s missing? In short, there’s absolutely no punch to this mix: The instruments are quieter and no longer in your face (heck, the drum machine is barely noticeable), the tone is noticeably darker (thanks mostly to the regular minor chords), and the energy levels are practically negative. There’s no party vibe to this sound at allit just plods lifelessly along with a weary and bizarrely nostalgic feel, as if even it realizes that Bro-Country has jumped the shark. (Something that used to make people angry only generates pity and sadness now, much like the way other nations view America these days.) It’s a surprisingly limp effort that has listeners looking at their watches and waiting for the next song to come save them from being bored to death.

The vocals suffer from a similar problem: There’s just no feeling behind them. Lead singer Tyler Hubbard covers his technical bases (his range and flow are more than enough to handle the track’s minimal demands), but the energy and attitude you could usually count on from Florida Georgia Line is missing in action. (Amazingly, even Mr. Invisible himself takes a step back here: Brian Kelley’s harmonies make Hubbard sound even more tired and world-weary than he does alone.) Neither artist seems to be enjoying themselves on this track, and they make it feel like more of a lament than a celebration of the backwoods party life. However, I’ll give the pair some credit some credit for believability: This song feels like a tacit acknowledgement that nine months and 191,000 COVID-19 deaths into 2020, no one really feels like partying anymore (and even if they did, such gatherings are a huge no-no right now). That said, Hubbard and Kelley don’t do anything to make this song unique or interesting, and the audience winds up tuning out halfway through it.

And then *sigh* we get to the lyrics:

Yeah it’s a Friday night, we circled up
It’s going down ’round these pickup trucks
Yeah, it’s cold cans and Dixie cups
Just out here doing what we’ve always done

That last line isn’t just for showthis track is nothing more than a laundry list of Bro-Country’s greatest hits: Trucks, longneck bottles, dirt roads, classic artist name-drops, Friday-night all-night parties, and even “country girls, long legs in cut up jeans,” despite that sort of objectification falling out of style years ago. (Everything that isn’t called out by name is heavily implied: There are no bonfires or brand-name liquors mentioned, but you know they’re at the scene of the crime.) There’s absolutely no wit or cleverness to be found, and the hook is absolutely terrible: Sure, “long live ____” is a celebration of ____, but it’s also usually preceded by “____ is dead” and leaves open the possibility that these things are gone forever, which I don’t think was the writers’ intention here. These might be the most lazy, mindless, cut-and-paste lyrics I’ve heard all year, and whoever is responsible for this drivel needs to go retake their high school English classes.

“Long Live” is a bad, uninteresting song that only works as a eulogy for the trend it tries to represent. With reheated leftover production, uninspired vocals from Florida Georgia Line, and absolutely garbage writing, this is a poor example of a poorer subgenre, and hopefully it serves as the last page in the Bro-Country book we’ve been forced to read over the last decade. (Tellingly, this still constitutes an upgrade over the atrocious “I Love My Country.”) A wise man once said that “Time Marches On,” and Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley no longer appear to have the stamina to keep up. They’re stuck trying to sell us yesterday’s reality, and after everything the world’s been through this year, no one’s interested in buying it.

Turn out the lights, FGL. “The Party’s Over.”

Rating: 3/10. Next!

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 8, 2020

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-reborn Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Thomas Rhett ft. Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Keith Urban and Chris Tomlin, “Be A Light” +1 (6/10)
2. Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” +2 (7/10)
3. Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” -1 (4/10)
4. Kane Brown, “Cool Again” -1 (4/10)
5. Keith Urban, “God Whispered Your Name” 0 (5/10)
6. Jason Aldean, “Got What I Got” +2 (7/10)
7. Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards” +5 (10/10)
8. Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” +4 (9/10)
9. Florida Georgia Line, “I Love My Country” -3 (2/10)
10. Jameson Rodgers, “Some Girls” 0 (5/10)
11. Matt Stell, “Everywhere But On” 0 (5/10)
12. Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” -2 (3/10)
13. HARDY ft. Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson, “One Beer” -1 (4/10)
14. Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Stefani, “Happy Anywhere” +1 (6/10)
15. Justin Moore, “Why We Drink” -1 (4/10)
16. Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” -1 (4/10)
17. Jon Pardi, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” 0 (5/10)
18. Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” 0 (5/10)
19. Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” -1 (4/10)
20. Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” +1 (6/10)
21. Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” 0 (5/10)
22. Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans” +1 (6/10)
23. Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer” 0 (5/10)
24. Kenny Chesney, “Happy Does” 0 (5/10)
25. Lady A, “Champagne Night” 0 (5/10)
26. Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” +4 (9/10)
27. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
28. Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” +5 (10/10)
29. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
30. Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” -1 (4/10)
31. Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good” +2 (7/10)
32. Darius Rucker, “Beers And Sunshine” 0 (5/10)
33. Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole In The Bottle” +2 (7/10)
34. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
35. Brothers Osborne, “All Night” -1 (4/10)
36. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
37. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
38. Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” 0 (5/10)
39. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
40. Taylor Swift, “Betty” +1 (6/10)
41. Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” +2 (7/10)
42. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
43. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
44. Runaway June, “We Were Rich” +2 (7/10)
45. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
46. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
47. Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” 0 (5/10)
48. Morgan Wallen, “7 Summers” +1 (6/10)
49. Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” +1 (6/10)
50. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +10
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +21
Overall Pulse +31
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

Best Song: “Stick That In Your Country Song,” 10/10
Worst Song: “I Love My Country,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Maddie & Tae, “Die From A Broken Heart” (recurrent)
  • Jake Owen, “Made For You” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards” (rode a huge surge from #12 to #7, but has a “thank you country radio!” ad in Country Aircheck and has already dropped to #9 on the rolling chart)
  • Justin Moore, “Why We Drink” (down from #7 to #15)
  • Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer” (down from #22 to #23, lost its bullet with a nearly 400-point loss – summer’s over, and so is this track)
  • Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” (up from #27 to #26, but lost its bullet again, this time with a nearly 200-point loss)
  • Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good” (up from #33 to #31, but only gained thirty spins and ninety-four points – it’s a zombie at this point)

In Real Trouble:

  • Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” (down from #18 to #20, gained only thirty-seven spins and seventy-two points)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” (up from #39 to #38, but lost its bullet again)
  • Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” (holds at #41, but gained only nine spins and fifty points)
  • Brett Young, “Lady” (down from #42 to #43, lost its bullet again)
  • Parmaless ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (down from #43 to #45, gained only sixteen spins and seventeen points)
  • Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” (up from #48 to #47, but lost its bullet)
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” (holds at #49, but lost spins and gained only four points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” (holds at #34, but gained only thirty spins and fifty-three points, and got run over by Rucker and Ballerini)
  • Dylan Scott, “Nobody” (up from #37 to #36, but gained only sixteen spins and thirty-one points, and is still outside the top #35 after nearly eight months)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Darius Rucker, “Beers And Sunshine” (up from #36 to #32)
  • Taylor Swift, “Betty” (up from #44 to #40)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” (holds at #2, sits contentedly at #1 on Billboard while watching the peons scramble for the Mediabase throne)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: Fall is usually when the reruns end, but this week was pretty much a replay of last week.Maddie & Tae stepped aside, but a big push from both Rhett et al. and McBryde kept spins at a premium, meaning that a lot of songs on the bottom of the charts are barely keep their heads above water. I think it’s time to play a little game of “Stay In or Get Out?”

  • Kip Moore, “She’s Mine”: It’s been over a year since this track dropped, and the album’s been out since May. It’s time to find a follow-up single. Get Out.
  • Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer”: Paisley may not actually have a choice here given the way the song tanked this week, but this thing hit a hard ceiling in the low twenties a while ago, and the summer season is fading fast. There’s no “I” in beer, but there’s two in “hit single.” Get Out.
  • Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs”: This has been out since January, and it hasn’t been able to escape the mid-twenties for several months now. It’s time to find a third single and Let It Roll (but not “Let It Roll,” that one’s pretty mediocre). Get Out.
  • Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good”: Alaina just dropped a new EP last week, and with this song (which came from her last EP) struggling to find traction, it’s time to roll out something fresh. Get Out.
  • Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That”: This one officially dropped in 2019, but it really hasn’t registered as a struggling song until this week. That said, it’s #9 peak in Canada was back in May, and Wikipedia shows that her Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between album has already been mined for four singles. I suppose it can Stay In for now, but Arts’s team should be ready to pull the plug the minute they have something ready behind it.
  • Dylan Scott, “Nobody”: Golly, this thing still hasn’t caught fire after eight months? I’m sooooooo surprised. Get Out and stay out.
  • Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle”: What the heck happened here? This thing had a huge debut back in April, but it’s been on life support ever since it fell back to the pack. I’d say Stay In just on timing alone (four months on the chart isn’t that long in an era where tracks sometimes hang around for twice that time), but someone’s head should roll at Warner for such a botched rollout.
  • Maren Morris, “To Hell And Back”: I’m not sure what’s going on here either. How do you go from a crossover hit that reached #12 on the Hot 100 to struggling to break the top 40 on country airplay? (I’ve heard that radio doesn’t like to have words like “Hell” in their song titles, but that can’t be the only issue here, can it?) This one’s only from March, so it can Stay In for now, but if it’s still outside the Top 30 by November, they should make a change.
  • Brett Young, “Lady”: I guess he should have released “Don’t Wanna Write This Song” after all, huh? It’s only four months old as well, so I think I’d Stay In and hope that sentimental songs come back in season in the fall.
  • Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way”: Yet another May release that seems to be stuck in neutral on the charts. I’d say Stay In simply based on a lack of chart time for now, but its future doesn’t look all that bright to me.
  • Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us”: Yet another March release, but neither Allan and Cyrus have Morris’s track record to lean on. Given how “meh” this track is and how much better Allen can be, I’d Get Out and roll the dice on a new single for the fall.
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most”: This one’s a June release from a group that really doesn’t have anything to lose at this point. Stay In – why the heck not?

Unfortunately, this discussion is mostly fiddling (…okay, given the lack of fiddle in country music these days, maybe it’s more like “using a drum machine”) while Rome burns: The coronavirus death toll now exceeds 189,000 in America, and only looks to get worse as we move into fall and the eventual flu season. I haven’t had any hope for 2020 for months now, but now my hopess for 2021 are starting to fall too: Despite this administration’s pronouncements, a vaccine likely isn’t showing up until the end of this year at the earliest, and given a) the challenge of mass-manufacturing and mass-distributing such a vaccine, and b) convincing a substantial number of skeptics to actually get the vaccine, I’m starting to think next spring is going to look an awful lot like this spring, and that we’ll all be stuck bouncing off the walls in our homes (if you’re lucky enough to still have one) for the foreseeable future.

When it comes to both country music and COVID-19, I don’t see much light at the end of the tunnel right now.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “7 Summers”

This is not a great song for Morgan Wallen, but at least it’s a decent song from Morgan Wallen.

For the life of me, I do not understand Wallen’s appeal at all. However, it’s undeniable these days that Wallen has appeal, and lots of it, as evidenced by the unexpected drop several weeks ago of a new single “7 Summers.” The track was initially released to the public as a brief Instagram demo, and generated so much buzz on social media that Wallen and Big Loud Records were compelled to release the track to mainstream radio to see how it fared. It was a bold move considering Wallen is already pushing “More Than My Hometown” as an official single, but I’ll give credit to the fans on this one: This situation is more “Hole In The Bottle” than “Champagne Night.” While I’m not sure the song is a stellar fit for Wallen, it’s still an upgrade over the irritating “More Than My Hometown,” and might be the first single from Wallen that actually sticks in my head for longer than three seconds.

The real star of this track is the production, which has a retro vibe that’s surprisingly smooth and relaxed. The electric guitar that opens the track is slick but restrained, blending well with the acoustic axe that carries the melody. The background keyboard has a similar low-key feel, and the drums are both real and subdued. Unless the “indistinguishable wall of noise” heard in “More Than My Hometown,” the instruments feel a bit more distinct and separate here (there’s lot more texture to their sound as well), and the mix’s decent groove and chill atmosphere makes up for the track’s lack of energy (even the barely-noticeable guitar solo works in this context—this is a wind-down track, not a wind-up one). The tone stakes out a nondescript middle ground between the highs of the relationship and the bittersweet feel of the memory, and does a decent job supporting the writing. It’s not a Midland throwback mix, but for a cheaper, catchy replica of that sound, you could certainly do a lot worse.

Unfortunately, I’m still not that impressed with Wallen as a singer, and feel like he’s just not the right person to sing this song (he hasn’t gone through the redemption arc that Thomas Rhett or Old Dominion have, although this could be the start of that process). For one thing, his voice is fairly rough and gravelly, which clashes a bit with the smooth finish of the production. (His technical skills are otherwise tolerable: He handles the range and flow demands without a problem, although his enunciation is still a problem during the faster lyrical sections.) The bigger issue is with Wallen as a narrator: I just don’t find him that believable as a mature, reflective speaker that can appreciate a relationship beyond the alcohol and physical attraction. He might care about his long-lost summer fling, but he doesn’t do a great job convincing the audience to care along with him (especially when it’s this far in the past). Wallen just isn’t ready to deliver a song like this right now, but the fact that he avoids driving this one completely into the ground makes me think he might get to that point eventually…maybe.

Of course, part of Wallen’s believability problem is that he gets handicapped by less-than-stellar writing for the second song in a row. I’m generally not impressed with backward-looking tracks like this (it’s been “7 summers” since this whole thing ended, get over it already), but despite all this time passing, we don’t get much of an indication that the narrator has matured since then. They’re still dropping slang like “sipping on a sixer,” still personally offended by the attitude of the other person’s father, and of course, still the same “go drinkin’, same friends on Friday” person they always were. (The “bought a few acres” line would help matters…if it weren’t breezed through so quickly that you have to look up the lyrics to know what the narrator’s saying.) The constant musing about whether the other person ever thinks about the relationship just reinforces this perception: It comes across as a tad whiny, and seems to say more about how far the narrator hasn’t come than anything else. This dude is just stuck in the past dreaming about a relationship that wasn’t much more than rivers and Southern Comfort to begin with, and it’s not a terribly endearing look.

I would put “7 Summers” in the same category as Rhett’s “Beer Can’t Fix”: It’s not a great song, but if you had to listen to a song like this, it’s probably the one you’d pick. The production goes a long way in setting the mood and drawing in listeners, even if the writing is poorly framed and Morgan Wallen himself doesn’t provide a ton of vocal support. While I still don’t think it justifies all the hype Wallen is getting right now, I’ll concede it’s his best release to date, and it might be the first step towards convincing me his presence in the genre is worthwhile. However, I’d like to see more progress from him before I reserve a seat on his bandwagon, and only time will tell if he can build on this.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see what you think.

Song Review: Old Dominion, “Never Be Sorry”

This is one of those moments when I really get irritated with country music.

Back in March, Old Dominion released “Some People Do,” a heartfelt declaration of maturation and pleas for understanding that I labeled as one of the best songs I’d heard all year. Country music, however, got caught up in the carefree nihilism of the Cobronavirus movement, and the song withered and died on the vine with only a mediocre #28 peak to show for it. The response of OD and RCA Nashville has been swift: “Never Be Sorry” has now been released as the fourth single from the band’s self-titled album, and the contrast couldn’t be more striking: Both this and “Some People Do” feature a broken relationship, but instead of a slow, emotional statement to try again and do better, “Never Be Sorry” kicks up the tempo, drains out much of the feeling, and takes a glass-half-full approach by celebrating the good times and ignoring the fact that they’re over. It’s not a terrible approach, but it’s definitely a few steps back from the band’s previous single. Unfortunately, if the radio won’t reward quality, I suppose you gotta do what you gotta do.

Back when I talked about Diamond Rio’s career, I noted how their distinct sound made them stand out from other acts on the radio. Old Dominion’s sound, however, isn’t nearly as distinct, and the conventional pop-tinged arrangement they bring to the table here is a prime example. You’ve got your usual slick electric guitar carrying the melody, some keyboards providing some background riffs, and a mix of real and synthetic percussion keeping time (I’ll give you three guesses as to whether or not a snap track appears, and the first two don’t count). The faster tempo and brighter instrument tones work to create a happy vibe with a lot of energy and even a catchy groove, but I’m really not sure it fits the subject matter that well. Reflecting on a failed relationship, even if you choose to remember the good times, requires a delicate balance of light and darkness to give listeners a full picture of the situation: You may never forget the good times, but the fact that they (and the relationship) are over has to hurt at least a little, right? Not here: The sound is unrelentingly positive, making it seems like the narrator isn’t that sorry about anything, not even the relationship ending. Looking on the bright side of things is all well and good, but I slapping a wannabe dance track on a song that runs the gamut on emotions doesn’t feel quite right.

Lead singer Matthew Ramsey suffers from the same problem as the sound: He chooses to focus on the positive and declare that he has no regrets for the relationship taking place, but he sticks to the positive party line so much that the listener starts to wonder how invested the narrator was in the relationship in the first place. Technically speaking, this is a solid performance: Ramsey has enough flow to handle the rapid-fire portions of the track without an problem, the range demands are minimal and keep him within him comfort zone, and he brings enough power to the table to deliver his line with conviction. Charisma-wise, however, this is a disappointment: When he says he’s sorry that the relationship ended, he doesn’t sound sorry about allin fact, he comes across as if he’s at peace with the whole thing, which makes you question how he could move on so quickly from a relationship he so clearly enjoyed. Furthermore, the ease with which I could imagine other artists doing this song (seriously, give this to Thomas Rhett and it would sound the exact same) and the return of the “decent-if-indistinguishable harmonies” I noted in my “Some People Do” review make the song feel more generic than it should, as if anyone could be behind the mic right now. It’s not a bad performance, but it’s not terribly good either, and it’s a step backwards for a group that’s been on the upswing recently.

Lyrically, the narrator finds themselves at the end of a good relationship gone bad, and while they’re sad its over, they will “never be sorry” for taking a chance on love. I at least appreciate that the writers at least the performers a chance to actually feel some remorse (“sorry the sky fell down, sorry I don’t know why all we do is apologize”), despite the fact that Ramsey and the producer completely flub the lines. However, the premise of the song just feels a bit awkward to me: I’m sure that there are good memories and good lessons to learn from the experience, but to express the narrator’s feelings in this way makes the relationship feel transactional, as if it were no more than a one-night stand (and the track’s focus on the physical expressions of love doesn’t help matters). I’m a bit torn on the turns of phrase as well: The hook is so-so at best, and for every line like”sometimes forever gets away from you no matter how hard you grip it,” you get a strange line like “we swung our feet off of the edge of the moon” (huh?). Bringing up a pair of shoes the narrator bought for the other person once seems like an odd choice of memories as wellmaybe they were super expensive? You just never get the sense that there was anything terribly serious between the two parties here, and when you pair it with the way the sound and singer make walking away sound a little bit too easy, the audience is left feeling ambivalent about the whole mess.

What really burns me up about “Never Be Sorry” is how radio-friendly the whole thing is, making it come off as a direct response to the cold shoulder that “Some People Do” got. It’s catchy, uptempo feel and soundalike production will slide easily between the Boyfriend and Cobronavirus tracks dominating the airwaves right now, and while I’d call this marginally better than those trends, it’s a far cry from “Some People Do” or even “One Man Band.” For a group like Old Dominion that has been steadily raising the bar over the lase few years, this isn’t the sort of song I was hoping to hear, and while they may “Never Be Sorry” about the situation, I will always be sorry that country music pushed them in this direction.

Rating: 5/10. Stick with “Some People Do” instead.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: August 31, 2020

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-reborn Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Florida Georgia Line, “I Love My Country” -3 (2/10)
2. Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” +2 (7/10)
3. Thomas Rhett ft. Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Keith Urban and Chris Tomlin, “Be A Light” +1 (6/10)
4. Kane Brown, “Cool Again” -1 (4/10)
5. Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” -1 (4/10)
6. Keith Urban, “God Whispered Your Name” 0 (5/10)
7. Justin Moore, “Why We Drink” -1 (4/10)
8. Maddie & Tae, “Die From A Broken Heart” +2 (7/10)
9. Jason Aldean, “Got What I Got” +2 (7/10)
10. Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” +4 (9/10)
11. Jameson Rodgers, “Some Girls” 0 (5/10)
12. Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards” +5 (10/10)
13. Matt Stell, “Everywhere But On” 0 (5/10)
14. Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” -2 (3/10)
15. HARDY ft. Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson, “One Beer” -1 (4/10)
16. Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Stefani, “Happy Anywhere” +1 (6/10)
17. Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” -1 (4/10)
18. Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” +1 (6/10)
19. Jon Pardi, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” 0 (5/10)
20. Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” 0 (5/10)
21. Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” -1 (4/10)
22. Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer” 0 (5/10)
23. Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans” +1 (6/10)
24. Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” 0 (5/10)
25. Lady A, “Champagne Night” 0 (5/10)
26. Kenny Chesney, “Happy Does” 0 (5/10)
27. Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” +4 (9/10)
28. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
29. Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” +5 (10/10)
30. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
31. Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” -1 (4/10)
32. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
33. Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good” +2 (7/10)
34. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
35. Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole In The Bottle” +2 (7/10)
36. Darius Rucker, “Beers And Sunshine” 0 (5/10)
37. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
38. Brothers Osborne, “All Night” -1 (4/10)
39. Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” 0 (5/10)
40. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
41. Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” +2 (7/10)
42. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
43. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
44. Taylor Swift, “Betty” +1 (6/10)
45. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
46. Runaway June, “We Were Rich” +2 (7/10)
47. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
48. Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” 0 (5/10)
49. Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” +1 (6/10)
50. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +12
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +20
Overall Pulse +32
Change From Last Week
0

Best Song: “Stick That In Your Country Song,” 10/10
Worst Song: “I Love My Country,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Chris Janson, “Done” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Justin Moore, “Why We Drink” (down from #1 to #7)
  • Maddie & Tae, “Die From A Broken Heart” (down from #2 to #8)
  • Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” (up from #28 to #27 with a semi-decent week, but they need to show me more before I pull them off this list)
  • Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good” (down from #32 to #33, only regained its bullet thanks to a weak seventeen-spin gain – I still think it’s toast)

In Real Trouble:

  • Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” (up from #19 to #18, but gained only twenty-seven spins and sixty-four points)
  • Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer” (down from #21 to #22, gained only thirty-six spins and ninety-one points)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” (down from #37 to #39 despite gaining forty-four spins and 176 points – it’s not out of the woods yet)
  • Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” (holds at #41, but gained only twelve spins and eight points)
  • Brett Young, “Lady” (holds at #42, but gained only seventeen spins and 110 points)
  • Parmaless ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (holds at #43, but gained only thirty-nine spins and ninety-two points)
  • Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (down from #46 to #47, gained only thirteen spins and sixty-nine points)
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” (holds at #49, but gained only twenty-five spins and forty-four points)
  • Jake Owen, “Made For You” (holds at #50, but gained only fourteen spins and seventy-six points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Runaway June, “We Were Rich” (down from #44 to #46, gained only six spins and forty-four points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Florida Georgia Line, “I Love My Country” (pulls out all the stops to go from #4 to #1 before Thanos snaps them out of existence)
  • Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” (up from #9 to #5)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” (up from #3 to #2, claims #1 on Billboard while everyone else scrambles to out-spin it on Mediabase)

Bubbling Under 50:

It’s finally back!

On The Way:

  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On”
  • Old Dominion, “Never Be Sorry”
  • Cody Johnson, “Dear Rodeo”

Overall Thoughts: This week was even more boring than last week: It was a classic escalator for the most part, with Janson exiting and everyone in the top half of the chart jumping up one spot to fill the void. FGL’s mad dash to the finish and Stapleton’s big debut once again pushed folks on the bottom half on the chart to the brink (especially if you were below #40), and while the songs I’ve got on death watch (Paisley, Midland, Alaina) managed to live another day, I expect them all to collapse fairly soon, especially as stations move to their fall rotations.

The top of the charts saw a surprising amount of activity, however, which speaks to Luke Combs’s incredible gravitational pull in the genre these days. FGL had to make a big push to get to #1 before it got eclipsed by “Lovin’ On You,” and Rhett et al. are making the same move this week (and given Brice’s four-spot jump this week, I get the feeling they’re looking to do the same thing):

No one dares to take on Thanos right now, and so we’re treated to the same Mediabase scramble every time he rises to the top of the chart.

However, the most interesting thing in Country Aircheck wasn’t the chart posting this week; instead, it was CRB board officer (this CRB, not that one) John Shomby’s virtual cross-country tour listening to country stations from all across the US. His conclusions mirror a lot of the things we’ve been noticing here at the Pulse (emphasis below added by me):

“Across 55 markets, all but two stations had a woman in middays and only three had a female in PM drive. Those three stations had a male voice in middays. No station had back-to-back female personalities. For the most part, the on-air approach was very basic…I could only single out three personalities in the top 55 who sounded extremely connected to their audience. Each had something to say every time the mic opened, giving their stations a much stronger local feel. Overall, lots of ‘live’ but not a lot of ‘local’ from the personality side.

“Musically, 90% of the stations played the same current music, give or take a song or two…Country radio – across the nation – is very familiar, playing the biggest hits the most and being very careful with new music (meaning anything below No. 25 on the chart).”

“Based on an admittedly limited sample, Country radio sounds safe and homogenous. Very few stations found ways to set themselves apart. Approaching it as a basic at-home worker, there were days everything seemed to sound alike, making it hard to distinguish stations from one another.

It’s kind of nice to see that we aren’t the only ones noticing these radio trends! Of course, it’s also worth noting that some folks are trying to buck these trends: Sam Wilson is putting together a Pittsburgh station with a localized flavor and a wider playlist variety at Parkway 106, and Chris Owen’s “Nine O’Clock News” segments at WYRK in Buffalo digs deeper into the charts for new singles to play. I’d like to see more stations go this route, especially if they’re available over the internet (so listeners can sample regional tastes from across the country no matter where they are, and see which they like best!).

Of course, we’ve got bigger issues in America than our radio playlists:

It feels like that for all the media attention both subjects have received this year, concrete progress has been hard to come by: The virus keeps raging, and the police keep killing Black people. We need to keep talking about these issues, and keep putting pressure on those in power to do more to address them (whether it be enacting tougher standards for virus mitgation, rethinking the role and the budgets of law enforcement, or things like improving voting access), so that we don’t let this moment pass without achieving some real change.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: Mickey Guyton, “Heaven Down Here”

What do you do when you’ve got nowhere left to turn? In Mickey Guyton’s case, you try appealing to a higher authority.

If you’ve been following my Pulse posts over the last month or so, you’ve likely noticed that hope is becoming an exceedingly scarce resource: Our botch response to the pandemic ensures that we’ll be dealing with this viral mess until a vaccine arrives, and despite ongoing protests for racial justice, it seems the topic had once again faded into the background with little concrete progress (at least until the Jacob Blake shooting put the issue back in the headlines and professional basketball players led a strike to push for more progress on this issue). As a society, we seem to be stuck  in a morass of unease and complacency, ignoring the hard questions that we face in favor of keeping our heads down and just pushing through each day. After “Black Like Me” received no support at radio, Guyton’s career appears stuck in the same morass, but instead of ignoring the questions for which she has no answers, she decided to channel her anxiety and despair into “Heaven Down Here,” a Hail Mary plea that’s ostensibly to a higher power, but is really an appeal to the audience to try to show more understanding and kindness to one another. It draws a map that points us towards potential answers to our questions, and while that map boils down to the old bumper-sticker line “What Would Jesus Do?”, it’s better than nothing.

There isn’t a whole lot to the production here, and while it sets a proper mood with its tone, it’s otherwise unremarkable. The track opens with some simple riffs on a slick electric guitar backed by some synthetic percussion (some real drums and *sigh* a clap track show up eventually), adds some darker keyboard chords and steel guitar notes to the background for the choruses, and that’s pretty much it. I like how the colder synthetic elements and frequent minor chords reflect the track’s pessimistic reality, and the chorus swells gives the narrator’s request to the heavens some extra rocket fuel as it launches, but the arrangement feels surprisingly generic for the subject matter (it’s the same guitar and percussion line I’ve heard on a bunch of recent Metropolitan tracks, and the usual ‘spiritual’ touches given to a song like thisorgans, background choirs, etc.are nowhere to be found). The mix creates the right atmosphere, but it lacks the power to really stick the landing here, and doesn’t quite rise to the level of the message it’s delivering.

Thankfully, Guyton has enough vocal power to cover the production deficit, and she brings her best Carrie Underwood impression to the table for this track. She’s got enough range to climb the ladder on the chorus and drop down on the verses without losing her tone, her flow is mostly untested (her sharp syllable enunciation can make her sound slightly choppy, but you have to look hard to notice it), and I like the way her voice is layered near the end of the song to cover the basic melody while providing a more powerful reading on top of it. (Honestly, it’s time we recognized Guyton as one of the best vocalists in the whole genre.) Despite her lack of radio star power, her delivery has a strong air of authority behind it despite the narrator’s desperation, and she uses her charisma and charm to connect with the audience and hold their attention even as the song gets a little repetitive near the end. It’s an inspired performance that helps make up for the track’s uninspired sound.

The lyrics here are solid by themselves, but in the moment they do a great job capturing the zeitgeist of our current situation. The narrator is making a desperate call for love and understanding to God because they’re the only entity left to turn to, asking them to “rain [love] down like pennies/In this wishing well of tears” (which is probably the best line in the song). There’s a real sense of desperation in the narrator’s lines: Even though they “hate to be a bother,” “know that [God is] busy,” and that they recognize that they “don’t hit [God] up that often,” they’re making their plea anyway because they’re so concerned that the world is collapsing around them. It’s a move that’s both relatable and understandable: If the face of a raging pandemic, a call for racial equality that keeps getting met with indifference, a endless series of culture wars (seriously, how did we manage to turn wearing a mask into a red vs. blue debate?), and the inability (some would say indifference) of traditional authority figures like the President and federal government to address all these issues, what else can we do but scream to the heavens like a lost computer looking for an IP address? However, there’s a method to this madness: The very thing that the narrator is asking for (“a little more heaven”) is something that we can all work to provide, simply by treating our fellow human beings as fellow human beings and not as enemies in an endless political debate. It’s a subtle way to push people towards the same conclusion as Underwood’s “Love Wins”: Love and caring are all that the narrator wants, they’re desperate enough to ask God for help, they generate enough sympathy that people want to help, and (ideally) they realize that they can. Whether or not said push is successful or not remains to be heard (given how little airplay time Guyton gets, its audience will be artificially small), but it’s a clever setup regardless.

The irony of radio’s rejection of Mickey Guyton is that is allows her to release singles a lot faster than a traditional airplay cycle (only Thanos can match Guyton’s recent pace), allowing her to keep pace with the pulse of society and create songs that really match the moment. “Black Like Me” asked people to consider her perspective in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and now “Heaven Down Here” stands as a plea for civility and understanding at a time when we feel like we’re all at each other’s throats. I seem to have a weakness for songs like this, but I also think you can’t go wrong with solid writing and Guyton’s great vocal performance, even if the production is a bit underwhelming. It’s not the political statement that “Black Like Me” was, but it’s still a recognition of the turmoil that surrounds us (which puts it miles ahead of the Cobronavirus songs around it) and serves a gentle push back towards civility and understanding at a time when both are in short supply. It’ll be a long time before people say we live in “Heaven Down Here” again, but perhaps this song can be a first step towards putting us back on that path.

Rating: 8/10. Check this one out.