Dear artists of Nashville: Don’t be afraid to tell your own story!
A phrase that I’ve used a bunch in reviews over the years is “effectively vague.” The idea is that if you dial back the level of detail in your song and instead paint a picture using broad strokes, more people will say “Hey, that sounds like what I experienced!” and you’ll connect with a larger audience as a result. It’s not a bad strategy on balance, but it relies on the listener to fill in your blanks with their own memories, as if you’re playing a game of Mad Libs, and over time I think this has led to a strain of lowest-common-denominator songwriting, where the only provided details are the approved list of buzzwords you hear in every song. My feelings on the subject are that I already know my own darn story, and I’d rather hear about the artist’s journey through the topic, and how it differs from everyone else’s experience. While there are a few songs today that do this, most only offer a bare-bones framework that the listener has to finish building.
This brings us to the song I’d like to examine today: “Yes!”, the sole #1 and signature song for pro-wrestler-turned-country-artist Chad Brock. Released in 2000, the song served as the second single and title track for Brock’s sophomore album, and was based on the true story of how Brock met his first wife Martie (sadly, it seems the relationship didn’t last long). Over two decades later, the track still holds up as a solid love song, and despite being a fairly specific tale it still resonates with its audience through smart decision-making and solid execution.
First, let’s start with the production, and the cardinal rule for love songs is that they should feel like a love song: Positive, upbeat, energetic, and emotive. The mix here checks all the boxes, opening with a bright fiddle and bouncy electric guitar, leaning on the higher octaves of its piano and organ to give the some a more-expansive atmosphere, and giving every piece of the arrangement ample space to make their voice heard (the exception here is the steel guitar; it doesn’t get much exclusive screen time). The tempo is brisk, the drums drive the song forward without overwhelming the sound, and most importantly they not only set a suitable mood for the track, but the sound even helps pass the good vibes of the writing on to the listener. (The volume balance is also pretty good here—this can be tricky to pull off when the mix is this loud, but here it never feels like the sound gets in the way of the lyrics.) You feel this one as much as you hear it, and when the narrator talks about how much they love their partner, you know exactly what they’re talking about. This is a great mix for this track, and for as much grief as I give producers for bad mixes, whoever put this thing together deserves to stand up and take a bow.
There’s a part of me that is surprised that Brock performs this well on this track, and there’s a part of me that knows I shouldn’t be: Sure he was a pro wrestler, but what is a pro wrestler if not a showman who plays to the crowd? (The various prior occupations of Midland’s members haven’t hurt them either, so it’s unfair to judge someone’s musical prowess based on their resume.) Despite the tempo, the lyrics are fairly relaxed and don’t test the singer’s technical abilities, but as with all love songs it’s imperative that the artist bring the required charm and charisma to the table to let their feelings shine through, and honestly, Brock does this even more effectively than the production does. (Let’s not minimize his technical ability either: It’s the clarity and volume in his voice that truly keeps the production from swallowing up the lyrics, even at its loudest.) There’s a notable cheeriness in his performance (mixed with a dash of wonder), and he does a great job sharing his feelings with the audience and making the narrator a likeable character. Sometimes I think artists today try a bit too hard to be serious when they convey the depth their feelings, but I’d argue an ebullient performance like this does a better job because you can really feel it, and it makes whoever you’re singing to know just how much you make them smile.
Finally, let’s talk about the lyrics, and in particular the first verse, which is a blow-by-blow retelling of how the speaker and their eventual partner met. Meeting via mail being sent to an old address is probably one of the rarer ways to start a relationship, and while not a lot people have that experience firsthand, it’s a distinct and interesting start to the story that catches the listener’s ear early (it’s not quite “a farmer and a preacher, a hooker and a preacher,” but it’s not bad). I wouldn’t call the “Yes!” hook exceptionally strong, but the writers do a decent job tying it into the story (come on, you know the marriage vows are coming), and it’s a perfect summation of the ethos of the song: Unabashedly excited and positive. The song gets a bit more vague and cliché in its second half, but it’s less about buzzwords and more about feelings, and it’s enough to let the sound and singer elevate it with their standout performances. (There’s some actual story progression here as well, and even though it’s just the standard ‘meet to marriage’ thread, it gives the emotions of the track some deeper meaning, and keeps them from feeling shallow or ephemeral.) This song isn’t here to tell our story—it’s here to let us share in their story, and it succeeds.
“Yes!” is exactly what I would say if asked if this was a good song. Through its upbeat sound, its specific writing, and a really nice performance from Chad Brock, this song demonstrates that there are more ways to connect with your audience than being super vague and hoping they recognize the tale as their own. You don’t have to tell someone else’s tale if you can interest people in your own tale, and this track does a great job of connecting with the listener and giving them both insight and the feeling of being in the speaker’s shoes. Sadly, this song was basically the last we heard of Brock (he would never again reach Billboard’s Top Twenty after this), and the happy ending the song implied failed to materialize, but between this song and “Ordinary Life” (and to some extent “Lightning Does The Work”), he left a legacy that still holds up today. My hope is that some of Nashville’s current denizens take note of this legacy, and think about finding their own voice instead of being someone else’s voice for a change.
Rating: 7/10. Should you hear this? I’ll let the title speak for itself.
One thought on “Retro Review: Chad Brock, “Yes!””
I feel this song is often thoroughly panned, but I’ve always quite liked it and completely agree with your review!
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