For a couple of months now, I’ve been kicking around an idea for a new series on the blog, one in which I cede complete creative control to my ancient iPad and 6000+ MP3 library. The concept was to hit the shuffle button, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.
Is it silly and without purpose? Absolutely (which is why my initial thought was to make this a weekend feature). But hey, it’s a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Also, after today’s series of unfortunate events (mostly meetings and poorly-catered functions), I have three hours left to post something and absolutely no ideas on what to post, so…hey, no time like the present!
Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is. Drum roll please…
Song #1: Brad Paisley, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
Okay, I didn’t see that coming. What a way to start this off, huh?
This is a holiday standard off of Paisley’s 2006 Brad Paisley Christmas album, and as these sorts of songs go, this one is pretty decent. I like the way Paisley’s fiddle/steel/electric guitar style meshes with the traditional string orchestra sound (he really dials back his guitar here to make the whole thing work), and the slow-swing tempo makes it a great “dancing-close” track at a festive function. Paisley may not be a crooner like Bing Crosby, but he keeps the mood light and the energy level suitable and consistent. It’s the sort of timeless performance that you’ll look back on decades from now and say “Hey, he did a nice job with that.”
Song #2: Dierks Bentley, “That Don’t Make It Easy Loving Me”
So apparently the iPad’s on a 2006 kick? Anyway, this is one of the more-fun cuts from Bentley’s Long Trip Alone album, discussing all of the craziness a musician might run into on the road and lionizing the woman who keeps the narrator from going too wild. I love the drive of the production here (tossing the banjo on top of Bentley’s usual sound was a great move, and I’m a sucker for long outros that let all the musicians show off), and the writing is sharp and vivid as it casually describes bras and weed being thrown around while never making the narrator’s romantic feelings come across as insincere or shallow. It’s a great “modern-day outlaw” track, walking the line between life on the road and life as a pair.
Song #3: Bentley, “Gonna Get There Someday”
I mean, I have a lot of Bentley tracks on my iPad, but back-to-back? Still, I’ll take it if the tracks are strong enough, and the closer to Bentley’s 2005 Modern Day Drifter fits that description well. The narrator is speaking to their deceased mother (which is cleverly disguised until the fourth verse), and the combination of the minor chords and brighter instrument tones deftly balance the narrator’s grief with their optimism that they’ll eventually work through their pain and sorrow (the fiddle work is especially exquisite). It’s an excellently-constructed and well-executed track, and if your only experience with Bentley is his more-recent work, you have got to dig into his back catalog.
Song #4: Billy Ray Cyrus, “Some Gave All”
Hey, it’s that guy from “Old Town Road”! I’m old enough to recall the “Achy Breaky Heart” craze back in 1992, and while neither the world’s opinion of Cyrus nor Some Gave All have improved over time, I always thought the man’s debut disc was pretty strong. The title track was the album closer, and while my past self was more moved by the sentiment and the story, my present cynical self would lump this with songs like Justin Moore’s “The Ones Who Didn’t Make It Back Home”: Kind of cheesy, kind of forgettable, and kind of a cheap attempt to exploit patriotic sentiment for profit. It’s okay, but it won’t be in the running for the best song of the ten-pack.
Song #5: Tracy Lawrence, “Renegades, Rebels And Rogues”
All right, let’s get this party started! This track kicked off the soundtrack to the 1994 movie Maverick, and honestly, there was no better way to do it. This song is all tempo and energy, with writing that managed to keep the “renegades, rebels and rogues” sympathetic despite their behavior and production that set the mood perfectly (and that harmonica! Where do you hear those things anymore?). It’s a lighthearted, good-natured, have-some-fun track, and tonight, I’ll happily oblige.
Song #6: Garth Brooks, “I’ve Got A Good Thing Going”
People remember Garth Brooks as a great destroyer of country music, but in truth he was as good a classic country singer as there was in his day. This track comes from his 1989 self-titled debut album, and it’s about as straight-laced a neotraditional song as you could find. It’s mostly fiddle-driven with an 80s-sounding electric guitar provinding midline support, and the writing discusses a narrator who is watching their partner’s feelings for them fade in real time, and thinks they’ve already got one foot out the door. The whole thing honestly feels a bit bland (especially when following Lawrence’s raucous stomper), and the narrator’s passive, defeated attitude drives me up a wall: If you think they’re leaving, don’t just sit there and moan about it—do something! In the end,it’s an unmemorable “meh” kind of song, and I won’t remember it after this post goes live.
Song #7: Alabama, “Tennessee River”
If you listen to country artists today, you’d think “Dixieland Delight” was the only song that Alabama ever sang, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. This was the band’s first #1 hit back in 1980, and while it runs together with “Mountain Music” in my mind these days, I think this is the better of the two tracks (mostly because the lyrics aren’t quite as out there—the whole “skinnin’ cats” thing and playing baseball with “sawmill slabs” from “Mountain Music” never really appealed to me). This is a more-restrained, more-conventional tale of missing the old hometown and planning to return someday to raise a family there, with some incredible fiddling tossed in at the end to crank up the energy level. I wouldn’t call it Alabama’s best songs, but it’s a pretty good one, and I’ll certainly take it here.
Song #8: Brooks, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)”
Folks, we just might have a winner here. Brooks’s debut single from 1989 is probably my favorite of everything he’s ever released: As someone who’s felt old for far longer than they had any right to, the blend of hopelessness, self-awareness, and a melancholy neotraditional country sound has always spoken to me on a deep level. (Every time I start a term and look out at the students in my class, I think “Good grief, the competition really is getting younger!”) The Chris LeDoux reference is classic, the fiddle is absolutely haunting, and Brooks’s incredible charisma was on full display. With two songs left, there’s no way anything tops this…is there?
Song #9: Dave Dudley, “Back In Circulation”
I couldn’t actually find this one on YouTube. 😦
If you looked up “obscure” in the dictionary, you would not find a clip of this song, because it’s so obscure even the dictionary writers have never heard of it! (The only reason I have a copy is because I recorded it off of a vinyl record to make a CD for my father to play in his truck.) Dudley is best known for his 1963 smash “Six Days On The Road,” but he released a lot of albums over the years. One of those was 1966’s Free And Easy, which contains this song as an album cut. (If I remember correctly, I think Tom T. Hall was the writer for this.) It’s not a terribly interesting song, with a narrator who has rebounded from a breakup and wants to get back out on the town (i.e., “back in circulation”). All it really has to offer is a fast tempo and a little energy (the production has zero punch to it, although I wonder if that’s an artifact of the vinyl recording process), as the lyrics are forgettable and Dudley isn’t very compelling in the narrator’s role. It’s not a song I’d actively seek out, and it won’t challenge for the top spot here.
Song #10: Shania Twain, “I’m Holdin’ On To Love (To Save My Life)”
I inherited a copy of Twain’s 1997 album Come On Over from a friend who was cleaning out to prep for a move, so I’d never actually heard this song before now. According to Wikipedia, this was the twelfth and final single from this album, and I can kind of see why it was this far down the list: It’s a pleasant-but-unremarkable love song where the narrator claims their life is contingent on the love of their partner. It’s got a brisk tempo and a catchy pop-country groove, but the instrumentation isn’t terribly interesting beyond the Tom-Petty-esque riffs, and my reaction to Twain’s effervescent performance is more “Good for you,” than “Oh wow!” It falls into the ’empty sonic calories’ category for me, so while it’s okay, I doubt I’ll think much about it once this exercise is over.
|1||“Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)”|
|2||“Gonna Get There Someday”|
|3||“Renegades, Rebels And Rogues”|
|4||“That Don’t Make It Easy Loving Me”|
|6||“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”|
|7||“Some Gave All”|
|8||“I’m Holdin’ On To Love (To Save My Life)”|
|9||“I’ve Got A Good Thing Going”|
|10||“Back In Circulation”|
Brooks is the clear winner here, but Bentley deserves some props for putting two random songs in the top five. Lawrence and Alabama probably lucked out by drawing actual single releases, but hey, that’s the way the RNG gods work sometimes.
Thus concludes our first attempt at “Lost In The Shuffle,” and honestly, this was more fun (and more time-consuming) than I thought it would be. I discovered and rediscovered some great music, and I hope some of you did too. Hopefully the song and game releases crank up again soon, but for now, it’s nice to revisit some of the songs that I (mostly) remember from before.