Song Review: Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You”

(Editor’s Note: Thanks to the crammed schedule of our writing staff, Kyle’s Korner will be cutting back for the summer from five to three posts a week, likely on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. We hope to return to a full schedule of posts by this fall.)

This song will definitely impact how I remember Rascal Flatts, and it does so in the best possible way.

I’ll be honest: For me, Rascal Flatts has just been kind of there ever since they showed up twenty years ago. Despite the massive influence the trio had in shaping the sound of country music back in the 2000s, I’ve purchased exactly one of their songs (their debut single “Prayin’ For Daylight”), never paid them that much attention during their heyday, and basically wrote an epitaph for their mainstream career late last year. The group continues to plug along, however, and last week they surprise-dropped a brand new single “How They Remember You,” and it’s yet another respectable-but-lightweight take on…

…wait a minute…

…this…is not what I was expecting.

Rascal Flatts can effectively deliver a message when they want to, but even their “message” songs like “Stand” and “Unstoppable” can be a bit too vague and fluffy to really drive their point home. This one, however, feels different: It’s a timely, topical call to action that reminds the audience that we will all be judged by history, and we should all keep that in mind when we’re faced with a decision between what’s right and what’s convenient. It’s a surprisingly moving and meta track that might have just earned a last-second slot on my midyear best-song list.

The biggest surprise in the production here is that for a song with such a potent message, there’s no piano to speak of to send the usual “serious song” alert. Instead, it’s more of a standard guitar-and-drum mix, with the featured instruments (especially the electric guitars) giving off a mildly-dark, super-spacious feel that makes the track feel like an arena-ready power ballad. Verses are primarily driven by an acoustic guitar, mandolin, and a real drum set (a steel guitar pops up once or twice as well, and I think there’s a drum machine buried very deep in the mix), while the electric guitars are cranked up for the choruses and bridge. The result is a sound that highlights the importance of what you choose your legacy to be, expresses hope and optimism that the listener will make the right choices and make a positive different in the world, and generates the right amount of energy and momentum to deliver its message without overshadowing it. I wouldn’t call it a terribly distinct sound, but it does its job and does it well, and that’s all you can ask for on a track like this one.

Shay Mooney might do a passable Gary LeVox impression, but this song shows there’s no replacing the real thing. LeVox is the perfect artist to put behind the mic here: He’s no stranger to high-minded ballads like this, and after two decades he and bandmates Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney are at a point where shaping their legacy is about that’s left to do within the genre. LeVix has always been a very emotive and charismatic vocalist, and he doesn’t disappoint here: He delivers his lines with feeling and purpose, owning the narrator’s role and effectively pushing the listener to look back on their life Ebenezer Scrooge-style and ask “Did I do the right thing? And if not, can I start doing it now?” (For their part, DeMarcus and Rooney offer their usual solid-but-neutral harmony vocals, which blend well with LeVox’s lead vocals but don’t offer a ton beyond them.) Rascal Flatts isn’t exactly known for their weightier material, but LeVox is more than up to the task when the group drops something like this.

The lyrics here boil down to asking the listener a simple question: When the stakes were high and something you really cared about was on the line, did you, did to rise to the occasion or not? The comparisons here aren’t the most unique or novel ones (stand or fall, laugh or cry, quit or keep going, etc.), but there are some decent hypotheticals offered (“When you’re down to your last dollar, will you give or will you take?”), and the hook makes an important point: We’re all going to leave some sort of legacy, and “it ain’t if, it’s how they remember you.” (The writing itself is agnostic as to what your choice isthe positive spin is left to LeVox and RF’s producer.) What I like most about that track, however, is how beautifully meta it is:

  • From a career perspective, Rascal Flatts is putting a bow tie on their mainstream career, and they’re both inviting people to view their record (which is admittedly decent, although awfully lightweight and fluffy at times) and challenging themselves to do better in the future and take a stand for what matters, both in country music and in life. (It’s worth nothing that when I posted about the death of George Floyd, the only similar statement I found at the time was from LeVox, although there were others I missed.)
  • Speaking of real life: Not only does this feel extremely topical in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the protests for racial equality and justice (these are legacy-altering for a generation, and it’s no longer acceptable to not take a stand), but there are a couple of biting lines in here, particularly “[Did you] build a bridge, or build a wall?” which is a thinly-veiled swipe at the current occupant of the White House. 2020 is shaping up to be the most consequential year in decades, and the narrator is demanding that take a stand for what’s right.

When the listener hears this song, their reaction is “I don’t want to be the person who ‘quit’ or ‘[made] ’em cry.'” My generation is already cursing those that came before us for screwing up the environment and letting racial inequality fester in America, and we don’t want that to be our legacy too. That desire to be better is where the lyrics draw their power from, and help them rise above what might otherwise be dismissed as unoriginal lip service.

“How They Remember You” is a question we all should be asking ourselves right now, and Rascal Flatts are shaping their own legacy by demanding that we do that. With a passionate vocal delivery and a grand, hopeful mix behind it, the song is doing exactly what I want country music to do: Make people think critically about our current reality, and then strive to make it better. There are no answers here (people are going to have to figure out their own legacies for themselves), but getting people to think about their legacies (and how to build them) is a strong legacy in itself, and the song’s listeners, and by extension society as a whole, will be better off for it.

Rating: 9/10. Don’t miss this one.

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