The 'Perfect' Country Song - Part 2
Wow, what a response to Paul’s pursuit of the “perfect” country song! While I haven’t even thought about starting my own research (although I did note that I need to restock the ‘fridge with some cold inspiration), the riders on the Bus have already made some valid points, as I expected. I have received plenty of comments, emails, and phone calls with nominations for a wide variety of “perfect” country songs.
Our long-time friend, Mr. Beer N. Hockey, started the ball rolling with his nomination of Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds.” Whoa, “Four Strong Winds” is most often considered a folk song, but it fits the required criteria and Ian Tyson is the personification of country music north of the 49th parallel. This was going to be much more involved and difficult than I had anticipated.
Just as I was pondering Beer’s comment our good friend and frequent contributor, Walt, walked up with his first suggestion, “Long Black Veil.” I countered with Gary Stewart’s “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles).” Within a minute we came up with a dozen songs to consider. All fit the requisite and yet the list was a varied one.
Perhaps it was rider Richard’s comment, “there'll be folks with their own ideas about what constitutes 'perfection’,” that made me realize that not only would it be a task to define “perfection”, but I wasn’t even sure if the it was possible to define “country.” By Paul’s choices I’d say that he had in mind the commercial honky-tonk sounds of the 1970s. But does this relatively short era really define country music more than the country music of any other period? Today’s country music differs in significant ways from the country music of previous eras. How would one decide what era best identifies country music as a genre?
That famous recording session in Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia in July of 1927, when producer Ralph Peer solicited local musicians to play for the Victor Talking Machine Company, is considered the “Big Bang” of country music. The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Ernest Stoneman were among the artists first recorded at that session. Their music was not the hillbilly tunes that had been recorded on earlier sessions further south. This music was a new sound that combined aspects of many different genres in a fresh new sound. That new sound would become known as country music.
Country music evolved and developed further in the 1930s and ‘40s. Peddle steel guitars were becoming common in the late ‘40s and by the 1950s electric instruments were common. Rockabilly and the honky-tonk sound played a major roll in the development of country music in the ‘50s. By the late ‘50s, the Bakersfield sound of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, with its slick production techniques and use of string sections was making its mark on country music. In the 1960s and early ‘70s country music took on a new sound, one propagated by the CMA that was more palatable to a larger, more urban audience.
With such a long and varied amount of material to choose from, how would one begin to find a song that best represented the genre? Such a task would not be any easier to accomplish with any other genre of music, even one as young as rock. Could one be expected to find a song that best defines rock music? Would it be from the rockabilly era, the British invasion, the Woodstock era?
After giving it a bit of thought, I don’t believe it possible to find one song that can define an entire genre of music. Paul’s post leaned heavily toward the honky-tonk sound of the 1970s and as representatives of that era his choices were superb but, not representative of the whole of country music.
No one song can capture the variety and rich culture of country music, as these suggestions from riders on the Bus demonstrate. Thanks to Paul for posing the question and to the riders on the Bus for your thoughts and suggestions.