Song Review: Riley Green, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died”

Are you telling me that Riley Green and Big Machine dropped “In Love By Now” for this?

Country radio will give a debut #1 to just about anyone these days, but avoiding the “sophomore slump” afterwards has proven to be a tall task for a lot of new artists. Riley Green appeared poised to break out of this trap following the success of “There Was This Girl,” but instead became the poster child for the phenomenon when his follow-up single “In Love By Now” took several months just to crack the Mediabase Top 50. Instead, however, a large grassroots swell of support emerged for a different song: “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” which finally pushed Green’s team to switch horses midstream and get behind the song everyone else wanted. While I appreciate the quick response of both artist and label to give the people what they want (especially in an era when songs can spend 40-50 weeks on the radio despite the fact that nobody actually wants to hear them), I was really hoping that we would get something better than an inconsistent laundry wish list that makes it really hard to tell if the song should be taken seriously.

The production here is a safe, restrained arrangement that avoid getting in the way of the writing, but by itself it’s not a particularly interesting or memorable affair. The arrangement features an acoustic guitar on melody duty, some electric guitars to provide some volume on the choruses and a brief solo, a few steel guitar cameos that add little more than background noise and “country” cred, and a real drum set to keep time. It’s impossible to pick a lane that can suit writing this scattershot (we’ll talk about this more later), but the producer chose to emphasize the serious angle here, slowing the tempo, darkening the instrument tones, and using periodic minor chords to try and give the lyrics a bit more weight and power. The decision works when such solemness is warranted, but when it’s not, it just drains the song of its energy and make it plod along blandly until the listener’s patience wars thin. Overall, it’s the kind of standard mix you’ve heard a hundred times before, and only occasionally applies to the topic at hand.

Similarly, Green finds himself caught in the same predicament as his producer: How do you properly set a tone for a song that waffles so violently between serious and silly? In the end, he decided that there was safety in numbers and followed the producer’s lead, delivering a heartfelt-but-unbending performance that pretty much ignores half of the song’s subject matter. His technical abilities are not really tested here, but his all-in emotional approach feels really out of place at times. (He delivers lines about grandfathers not dying and cars having truck beds with the same tone and conviction, making him sound flatter and more lifeless than he should.) Green’s usual earnest charisma is still there, but it feels misplaced this time around, and when he covers a lightweight topic like Monday morning feeling like Friday nights, he appears to both oversing (with too much seriousness) and undersing (shouldn’t there be more energy here?) the line. Green’s far too talented to have to put up with a song like this (even if he wrote it himself!), and he deserves better.

Okay, I’ve beat around the bush long enough: The writing for this track is really bad, and sets every other piece of the song up for failure. In a word, the problem here is inconsistency: The narrator gives us a wish list for all the things they wish were true in the world, but it comes across as an unstructured brain dump that bounces from one topic to the next with little connection between each pair. Despite the title selling this as a serious song, it only occasionally tries to tug at your heartstrings (“I wish grandpas never died,” “I wish everybody overseas was gonna make it home”), and it mixes in so many lightweight (and surprisingly generic, and sometimes Bro-like) wishes like coolers that never ran out of beer, porches with swings, Mondays that felt like Fridays, etc. that it makes its serious points feel cheap and disingenuous. (There’s also an overemphasis on nostalgic here, which makes the song feel backwards-looking and pessimistic.) On top of this, some of these asks are completely nonsensical: What would naming every road “Copperhead” accomplish beyond a Steve Earle tribute? What’s so great about Birmingham that makes every state need one? Why would you ever want to learn to drive a second time? Throw in the laundry-list construction of the whole deal, and the only thing the listener is wishing for by the end of the song is that Green had found something better to record.

“I Wish Grandpas Never Died” is an incoherent mess of a song, with a terrible lyrical foundation that neither Riley Green nor his producer could ever hope to shape into something meaningful. It’s a significant step back from “In Love By Now,” and leaves the audience more confused than touched by the subject matter. Green had better hope that this switch pays off, because otherwise his hopes of becoming an A-list star will just be wishful thinking.

Rating: 5/10. I wouldn’t wish this song on anyone.

One thought on “Song Review: Riley Green, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died”

  1. You know, people thought I was harsh when I gave this a 7, but the more I listen to this, the more I agree with your take. I wanted to like this, but if it had actually been about … I don’t know, SOMETHING (like hey, Grandpas!), that’d be one thing. As it is, it’s kind of a disappointment. I’m also glad I’m not the only one who prefers “In Love By Now” to this and is sad it got pulled.

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