Showing posts with label Maggie Rose. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maggie Rose. Show all posts

Jun 9, 2022

Music Gone Missing

By Bobby Peacock

In the process of making my best and worst lists, I consulted Joel Whitburn's Top Country Singles 1944-2017. For those not familiar, these are part of a series of books which catalog every artist who has ever made it onto a Billboard chart. These include Hot 100, Hot Country Songs/Country Airplay, and the R&B charts among others. I intentionally wanted to find a few lost treasures (Mickey DiMichele, Helen Darling) and rightly-forgotten trash (Marlow Tackett) to give my lists more character. And so, I thought I'd do a little feature on all of the songs from 1990 onward -- that is, the point that Billboard changed to Nielsen SoundScan, to make things a little easier -- for which I could not find a recording anywhere online. Most of these are due to one of two reasons: either the album was a very small indie release, or it was not released at all.

The first and most obscure is Dwayne Crews with "Selfish Man." Whitburn tells me he was born in 1956 in Dallas, and I've seen pictures of this single on 45, so it is out there somewhere. While there's little to say about him, he is interesting in that he was one of the few artists to make the charts for the first two weeks of 1990, and suddenly disappear once Billboard shrank the country music charts from 100 to 75 spaces (they would shrink again to 60 in late 2000) without ever re-appearing. (Note: Billboard did not introduce Nielsen SoundScan until the same week the charts shrank to 75 spaces, but it felt odd to leave out just two weeks of the year.)

Curiously, the other absentee from 1990 is a charity single. "Tomorrow's World," a multi-artist collaboration released on Warner Bros. to honor the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. Among the artists featured are Pam Tillis and Kix Brooks (both of whom wrote it), as well as Vince Gill, Lynn Anderson, Dan Seals, Foster & Lloyd, and Shelby Lynne, to name a few. I actually found a podcast reviewing the single, but they didn't play any of it (likely for copyright reasons). I've even found the lyrics, and they honestly seem reasonable enough -- no better or worse than Alabama's "Pass It On Down," but not as inspired as John Anderson's fantastic "Seminole Wind." Given this was a major-label release with a ton of notable names, I'm surprised no one has ever seen fit to include it anywhere.

We then go to 1992 for "One Like That" by JJ White, a sister duo signed to Curb. I included their fantastic cover of John Hiatt's "The Crush" on my best of the '90s list because they reminded me of a looser version of The Judds. While there is 1992 concert footage of this fine song, I've decided to include it since the studio version does not seem to have any presence. And it's a shame, because I love the lyric "nothing wished for, nothing gained," the beach influence in the lyrics, and of course the groove. I also seem to have a very vague memory of this slipping onto WKJC's playlists at least once.

Surprisingly, 1992 to 1998 is smooth sailing for songs that made the country charts; no matter how obscure, I've been able to procure every single one (even if I did have to dip into my own collection for a few). Although as an aside, I would like to note that contemporary news articles about Steve Vaus' atrociously polemic "We Must Take America Back" quote different lyrics than appear in the recording I found, so I wonder if he re-did it at some point. If that is the case, then the original recording gets on this list with an asterisk. And if I'd been able to find it sooner, Cooter Brown's "Pure Bred Redneck" (#71, 1995) definitely would have made one of the worst-of lists.

Our next bump in the road is courtesy of Ricochet. Known almost entirely for the infectiously catchy "Daddy's Money," they made up for an uninspired musical image with consistently above-average songs. Unfortunately it came unraveled with their third album, which had three singles in a row fail to make top 40. First up was a cover of Billy Yates' "Honky Tonk Baby," a little cotton-candy honky-tonk number that you can probably predict every lyric of just from the title. And the only reason I can say that is because I can find Yates' version, but not Ricochet's. Either way, it's not hard to picture in my mind what their version would have sounded like. They followed up with a cute proto-version of "Beautiful Mess" titled "Can't Stop Thinkin' 'Bout That" and a decent cover of "Seven Bridges Road" that pushed their harmonies to the forefront, but radio didn't bite and they shed some members. While the album was eventually re-titled and released in 2000, it was far too late. Perhaps if they'd led with one of those instead of "Honky Tonk Baby" -- a song so forgettable in Yates' original that I honestly can't see how Ricochet's version could have possibly been an improvement -- then they might have had more staying power.

Another forgotten '90s band produces the next entry on this list. Specifically, the awesomely-named Smokin' Armadillos, who had already notched a couple chart entries with the catchy if lightweight "Let Your Heart Lead Your Mind" and "Thump Factor." Like Ricochet, they seem straight out of the '90s formula of forgotten bands by having a mildly memorable lead singer and a few hooks, but little else due to an over-reliance on session players (if you have a fiddle player, why are there three others credited on the album?). I don't know if their 1998 single "I Don't Want No Part of It" (from their never-seen second Curb album Plan B) would have gotten the Armadillos out of the burrow, or if it would have joined the ranks of "I'm a Cowboy," but I would have loved to see this band rise in the ranks by merit of a cool name alone.

I've already dragged South 65 quite a bit for being a mostly uninspired take on the "country boy band" formula, but they weren't entirely without merit. I still stand by the joyous ear worm "Baby's Got My Number" being one of the most overlooked gems of the '90s, and the idea to redo Charlie Rich's "The Most Beautiful Girl" for the boy band era wasn't a bad choice even if the results weren't fully realized. So it's hard to say where a song with a title like "Love Bug (Bite Me)" would have fallen upon its 2000 release. Would it have been more toward "Baby's Got My Number," or would it have been uninspired mush like "A Random Act of Senseless Kindness"? Only the few people who have this recording hiding somewhere in Atlantic Records' vault may ever know.

Speaking of country boy bands, there was also Marshall Dyllon. As far as I know, they were one of the only other acts ever signed to Kenny Rogers' Dreamcatcher label after his "Buy Me a Rose" became a sleeper hit. "Live It Up" is lightweight but enjoyable enough in its positivity, but "You" was a ballad as boring as its title. Their third and final single -- which, like many on this list, never made it onto an album -- was a cover of Canadian country singer Joel Feeney's "She Ain't Gonna Cry." Feeney's version of the song is a breezy mid-tempo about a failing relationship that I can totally see either working or not working, depending on how much polish any of the six billion producers behind Marshall Dyllon's only album applied to it. Still, it's not hard to see why they never caught on.

Also from 2001 is a curiosity and a half -- and another Dreamcatcher release. "Keep Mom and Dad in Love" got the "Butterfly Kisses"/"How Do I Live" treatment in that two versions were out at the same time. And curiously, it's the version that didn't chart for which I can find a recording: namely, by Hal Ketchum (in the midst of a creative dry spell) and co-writer Lisa Brokop. The version that I can't find is by Billy Dean, Suzy Bogguss, and a young girl who was credited as "introducing Jillian." While I find the lyrics an overly sappy take on a child pleading her parents not to divorce, the decision to put an actual child singer on the chorus is an inspired one. And for those wondering who "Jillian" was, she's now-former Big Loud artist Jillian Jacqueline (and her sisters did one single as The Lunabelles in 2011). I didn't expect that, and I'm glad she got another chance.

Kristin Garner gives us "Let's Burn It Down," which notched a single week at #59 in 2001. She got swallowed up by Atlantic dissolving its country division, which left the non-charting Dennis Linde character sketch "Singing to the Scarecrow" also MIA (although Sherrié Austin also got to cut it). It's surprising that someone this late in the game has zero seconds of her musical career accounted for anywhere online -- and even more so that Vevo has an official karaoke version uploaded but not the original song! Another "K" name, Kortney Kayle, was a bit more successful. She had two singles for an unreleased Lyric Street album in 2001 (a time when they weren't really known for withholding albums; that wouldn't strike until Sonya Isaacs, Jessica Andrews, and Lisa Shaffer later in the decade). I can find a few other unreleased cuts, and even the other single "Unbroken by You," but not her debut. Fortunately, she's found a second career (under her married name of Wilson) flipping houses on HGTV.

Chad Brock had a rough time after his album III tanked, leading him to move to a then-obscure indie label known as Broken Bow Records. He released a whopping five singles between 2002-04, but no album. I didn't even know these songs existed until I first got one of the Whitburn books about a decade ago (in part because Billboard's perpetually broken website had a habit of not listing singles that never appeared on albums, regardless of how high they charted). Someone has leaked "That Was Us" online, and I've also gotten my hands on "You Are" -- previously released by John Michael Montgomery in 2000 -- and "That Changed Me." The first of the five, "A Man's Gotta Do," does not seem to exist anywhere listenable; neither does "It's a Woman Thing," the only one of the five not to chart. (Neither, for that matter, does his duet with Canadian singer Shirley Myers titled "No One," which got to #35 on the Canadian country charts but wasn't released stateside.) I've never liked Chad Brock all that much due to the utter plainness of his voice (seriously, just imagine "Lightning Does the Work" with a tougher edged vocalist), so I'm probably not missing much -- although I will say I find "That Was Us" to be his best single by far.

For some reason, 2003 saw a lot of very obscure independent acts chart for a single week. I'm wondering if sponsored play on some late-night show was the cause? I seem to recall After Midnite with Blair Garner spinning a lot of really obscure stuff in this era. Most of them disappeared so quickly that no one seems to know anything about them. One such entrant, Mickey DiMichele's "Jolene," made my best of 2000-2009 list. Another such example of a one-and-done from this era is "Cryin' Steel" by Jerry Burkhart. This was an early release by Cupit Records, which I remember also being behind Kevin Sharp's later releases and Memarie's "Cry Like Memphis" back when WATZ still played independent releases like that. In fact, Burkhart wasn't even the only indie to chart that week; so did Renee McCrary with a cover of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel." Somehow I found that, but no dice yet on Burkhart. But hey, the album's only $6 on Amazon.

We go back to Billy Yates co-writes for Shannon Lawson, the man best known for "Goodbye on a Bad Day." His second album for Clint Black's defunct Equity label was never issued despite charting two singles. Someone did find me its other single "Just Like a Redneck," but "Smokin' Grass" remains completely unaccounted for. (Apparently both used to be on iTunes, but were deleted when Equity closed.) Yates' version, with its cutesy weed-based double entendre, does float around online if you're curious what the song's about. But given this is the same Shannon Lawson who came up with such ideas as using distortion on an electric mandolin, I'm curious as to how much his version "smoked" if at all.

The first chart entry for Jerrod Niemann is our next visit. "I Love Women (My Momma Can't Stand)" was also cut by Rhett Akins, but Jerrod's version got cut short after a week at #59 due to Category 5 Records' abrupt closure. While Niemann's entire Category 5 catalog was later released as the album Yellow Brick Road, said album is currently out of stock on Amazon and I doubt it'll ever show up again. It also used to be on Spotify, as they have a lyric sheet, but the recording itself seems to have been removed.

Finally, we end the list in 2010 with "Mississippi's Cryin'" by Margaret Durante. While I've found a couple live performances, the single version seems to have gone MIA: it's not on iTunes, it's not on Spotify, and it was never on an album. Such is life when one releases songs independently. While she would later have minor success under the much more pleasing name Maggie Rose, I never cared for her material outside "Better." But hey, it's cool that she got any traction at all from such obscure beginnings.

(As an aside, when I was writing this list, Trailer pointed out that "Becky" by Haley Georgia seems to have completely disappeared from the Internet. While it wasn't a single, he and I agree that it is one of the worst country songs ever, and for this reason alone, I feel that its terribleness should be preserved for posterity.)

The entire reason I wrote this is because I'm curious as to whether anyone out there has any leads on the missing songs.

Jul 1, 2021

More Worst Country Songs of the Last 3 Decades

By Bobby “Ten Pound Hammer” Peacock

In researching the 1980s list, I kept finding or getting recommendations for songs from later decades that I'd forgotten about. Here are the leftovers.

More of the Worst of the 1990s

"Big Hair" by the Bellamy Brothers

I'm usually all right with the Bellamys. They have a good range of funny and serious, upbeat and downbeat, and an ear for genre experimentation. But sometimes all that range misses; it missed with "Dancin' Cowboys," and again with this one. The big hair-wearing lady in the song is a walking white-trash stereotype with exposed roots, a mini skirt and tube top, a tiny dog, an Airstream trailer, and of course, enough hair for ten Bon Jovis. The good ol' boy likes it all so much that he's gonna buy her a ring at Walmart just to drive the dopey hick shtick home even harder. Unlike "Redneck Girl", there's no indication of respect for the target. Every single attempt at a joke is half-hearted and predictable at best, and eye-rollingly awful at worst, and it's sung way too earnestly to a melody that rips off Diamond Rio's witty "Bubba Hyde." Thankfully, this particular album also gave us my absolute favorite Bellamy song "Jesus Is Coming." I'm not gonna spoil that one for you. Look it up.

"A Country Boy Can Survive (Y2K Version)" by Chad Brock feat. Hank Williams Jr. and George Jones

Overblown Y2K panic was everywhere in 1999, even on the country charts. While I gave Hank Jr. a ton of flak on the '80s list, I think that "A Country Boy Can Survive" is deservedly a classic. But this "timely" makeover settles for stuffing the phrase "Y2K" into a few random places along with a reference to a "computer man" and ATMs crashing, and doesn't even bother with the second verse. Even weirder, most of the "friend in New York City" verse is skipped in favor of saying that a killer got off because "the system don't work for me and you." Chad Brock's thin wispy voice sounds like a demo singer at best, Bocephus sounds like he's on Novocain, and I have no idea why the Possum even showed up. (Another version managed to drag John Anderson in too, but I guess he was too embarrassed to make the single edit.) Thankfully, once January 2000 hit and the world didn't end, this song disappeared along with the panic. And people like me would go on to spend the entirety of 2000 telling everyone that the new millennium didn't start until next year.

"Hollywood Indian Guides" by Bill Engvall

In the late 90s, both Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall had their standup routines remixed to music beds and a sung chorus. Some of them worked pretty well, but this one was a serious misfire. The original routine (from Engvall's 1998 album Dorkfish) is about a Native American culture class that Engvall attended with his son. While the Native American stereotypes really aren't that bad, that's mainly because they're overshadowed by gay stereotypes. The class's teacher is "Dances with Men", whose dialogue is represented entirely in an over-the-top sassy lisp; what follows are jokes about pink rattlesnakes that hiss with a lisp, and the class singing Barbra Streisand songs. The music backing is a barely-discernible beat that sounds like an extremely bad remix of "Kokomo", and a weak tuneless chorus with anonymous session vocalists whose main gig was probably one of those "Drew's Famous" albums. Say what you will about "Indian Outlaw"; at least that one was catchy, self-aware, and, you know, not homophobic.

"A Random Act of Senseless Kindness" by South 65

Boy bands are a huge guilty pleasure of mine, and I'm not surprised that the sound tried to cross-pollinate with country. After all, country music is no stranger to harmony or easily accessible songs about love and positivity. And these five generic pretty boys were the first to try -- but unfortunately, their first effort ended up closer to the "badly-written pseudo-motivational fluff" style rampant in country at the time. Whichever generic pretty boy was given lead vocals clearly sounds uncomfortable and forced into a fake twang, and the production is bone-dry and oddly lacking in harmony. The lyrics are the kind of syrupy drivel that Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers would later crank out for Lonestar (making me wonder how the latter went from so many great Eddy Raven songs to this). An unspecified violent act drives the narrator to be kinder. How? Why? No details are given, just a random act of motivational clichés: love is the cure for hate, get back on track, never too late, blah blah blah. Can't have any ugly details turning the teenybopper fanbase away now, can we? Thankfully, said fanbase didn't bite, probably because there was no flavor to be had (other than the catchy, Exile-esque "Baby's Got My Number"). 

"We Must Take America Back" by Steve Vaus

Steve Vaus is one of the more interesting artists to make this list: in addition to recording country and children's music (and winning a Grammy for the latter), he was also a California mayor in 2014. But his only country chart entry is an absolutely pathetic attempt at jingoistic pandering. Lyrics like "ransom our future and our children's, that's wrong" and "as liberty weeps, our forefathers spin in their graves" are laughably amateurish, giving very little indication of what kinds of problems he wants solved outside a few beyond uninspired lines about Wall Street, the American Dream,  fear, freedom, We the People, Independence Day, God, and other "patriotic song checklist" entries. On top of all that is Vaus' laughably amateurish singing voice, which sounds like Tim Wilson with a really bad head cold (not helped when the tacked-on choir vocals drown him out almost completely on the chorus). In fact, it kind of reminds me of an even worse version of some of the dubious political songs on Wilson's later albums.

"What If?" by Reba McEntire

What if everybody cared with just one heart? The heart that we're "looking inside of" for some kind of completely undefined "answer". What if everybody reached out with just one hand? (Is there a reason you only want me to use only one hand? I'm left-handed, you know.) Apparently if we did all of that, we could "make it better". I don't even know what "it" is, because this song doesn't even try to establish any groundwork underneath its myriad of motivational fortune-cookie phrases. Reba, while as on point as ever, fits very poorly into the ultra-slick pop production that doesn't even try to make any concessions to country. As a charity single, it was almost certainly recorded in good faith; as a song, it's clearly the direct predecessor of the "Don't Laugh at Me"-type garbage that would proliferate only months later.

"Where Your Road Leads" by Trisha Yearwood feat. Garth Brooks

Another song to play late-90s love song cliché bingo with: "believe in miracles", "wish come true", "one prayer at a time", and "only human" should be enough to get most people a bingo before the chorus. And if that doesn't, how about "when your heart bleeds", "can't find your tomorrow", "love forever"? (It really says something that for once I'm not railing the Diane Warren ballad for this, but "I'll Still Love You More" is ultimately too boring to rile me up.) Adding to that are a weirdly structured chorus that seems to end abruptly and some of the most bombastic production I've ever heard out of Tony Brown. Blaring strings, power chords, even a choir on the last chorus -- it's like a predecessor of the bloated Dann Huff production Lonestar and Rascal Flatts would later get saddled with. (Or how Brown produced Reba and Kelly Clarkson's otherwise decent cover of the latter's "Because of You"). Trisha practically has to scream to be heard above the noise, and Garth is barely even detectable. Just listen to the fantastic "There Goes My Baby" and skip the rest of this album.

More of the Worst of the 2000s

"Braid My Hair" by Randy Owen

Did he raid Martina McBride's reject pile or something? Childhood cancer deserves a better song than this. Of all the other things the little girl wants to do (such as play Little League and become President), the fact that she wants to be able to braid her hair is somehow the most important? These are the kind of skewed priorities that come from songwriters who have clearly never even seen a young girl before (a little something I call "Who I Am" Syndrome). Add in two forced mentions of God, a jarringly transparent name-drop of Locks of Love, and overly melodramatic piano-heavy production courtesy of eternal Farce the Music punching bag John Rich, and what do you get? A bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul that's had an entire bag of sugar dumped in -- far too sickeningly sweet to have any nutritional value.

"Crazier Than Usual" by Joey Daniels

Around 2005, I started listening to WATZ out of Alpena, Michigan, which tended to play a lot of obscure independent acts. One such act was Joey Daniels, who caught my ear with a great read of the oft-recorded Ashley Monroe cowrite "Swingin' Door". Unfortunately, that was the only good song on her entire album; this song, the second single, was a far better indication of the overall quality. (Thanks to a random Las Vegas Sun article for confirming that it was, indeed, a single.) Daniels struggles to stay in key and otherwise completely lacks the energy to carry lines like "I won't let go, I'm gonna lose control, I'm flirting with danger" through the clunky melody they're given. (Jarringly out of place lines like "squirming like a worm" don't help, either.) Overall, it's an awkwardly-written amateur piece with no passion or energy or anything even remotely interesting. Thankfully, like most of the other one-note indie artists at the time, her album's title Take Me Off the Market describes exactly what happened to her.

"A Good Way to Get on My Bad Side" by Tracy Byrd feat. Mark Chesnutt

You want to know a good way to get on my bad side? Have two great '90s artists waste their talent on an overly defensive, bitter piece of trash such as this. Where do I begin? Is it wishing death on any man who dares raise an eyebrow at the wife that you patronizingly call "little lady"? Going all 'MURICA about wanting to keep your shotguns? Callously dismissing all forms of modern music -- including "a little sissy in a cowboy hat" long after hat acts had become passé? (The dig at Kid Rock's "Cowboy" is hilarious in hindsight. I bet just a few years later, they'd be fine with that nutjob.) All of this is presented in an unnecessarily vicious tone that clashes with both artists' styles and vocal ranges, making the entire package just seem like two old farts who want me to get off their lawn.

"Keep the Change" by Darryl Worley

I'm not surprised that Obama's election ruffled a few feathers in country music, especially not those of the man behind the God-awful "Have You Forgotten?" The song starts off miles away from its goal by having him defend why he says the Pledge of Allegiance or prays. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the following thesis of "fat cats" attacking the "little man" (once again I must praise Alan Jackson for being just about the only person to do a good song about the "little man"). After that, the song just disintegrates into barely-coherent rambling about how an "average joe" is still somehow smart, how an unspecified "foundation" is in trouble, and how this country is "going crazy" in a totally unspecified way. Few major problems are targeted beyond the most vague and broad-stroke catch phrases, and even fewer solutions or attempts at unity are offered. Just like far too many of these songs, it's all angry ranting meant to escalate tensions and nothing more.

"Keep the Change" by Hank Williams Jr.

Speaking of angry ranting political songs... how about one with the same title and most of the same problems, along with a few more of its own? It's also got a list of "God, family, and country" tropes that goes on for miles just like the previous one, with a sarcastic jab about the "United Socialist States of America" thrown in for good measure. But just when you think it's nearly a carbon copy of Worley's song, he instead launches into a rant against Fox & Friends "twisting" his opinions (dude, you compared Obama to Hitler -- there's no un-ringing that bell) and then calls for a boycott of both them and ESPN (who temporarily dropped the use of "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" for use on Monday Night Football; they reinstated it in 2017). While the second verse at least sets up an ulterior motive (which is more than Worley's song did), it's every bit as angry, defensive, bitter, un-remorseful, and pointless. If you want a good song called "Keep the Change", listen to the one that Hank Jr.'s daughter Holly put out in 2009.

"If Nobody Believed in You" by Joe Nichols

I'm not even going to talk about the first two verses, which are an inoffensive enough "repurpose the chorus" formula. Why? Because the third verse alone drops this song straight into "worst" territory. Every religious fanatic's biggest sworn enemy is the mysterious outfit known as "they". "They" are responsible for everything from workers saying "Happy Holidays" to negative reviews of PureFlix movies to cutting out mentions of God (including in the Pledge of Allegiance, which didn't originally have the phrase "under God" to begin with). Yet again I boggle that any Christian can pereceive even the slighest deviation from their values as a threat. Even if I'm not a believer, I think that Jesus was onto something with this whole "love one another" thing, and I'm sure not seeing it practiced enough. (Maybe this misfire is why Joe kept this one off his Greatest Hits album...)

"Illegals" by Cledus T. Judd

Literally the only reason this didn't make the last list is because, at the time, I could only find a cover version by one of the writers. But now that I found the actual song, all I have to wonder is what the typically apolitical mastermind behind "She's Got a Butt Bigger Than the Beatles" was even thinking. Much like Buddy Jewell's similarly minded dumpster fire, this one layers on the jingoism-racism duopoly quite thickly -- pseudo-Spanish gibberish, stereotypes of Mexicans fixing cars and buying too many groceries on welfare, a dig at "for Spanish, press 2" phone options, and demands to ship Mexicans overseas in exchange for bringing American soldiers back. Cledus does try to liven things up with spoken ad-libs, but if anything, these only make him seem like even more of an ignorant buffoon than his shtick usually calls for (to his credit, all evidence points to this indeed being shtick; the real-life Judd seems somewhat more tolerant). Overall, it's hard not to figure out why this one got buried for so long.

"Our America" by Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, and Cowboy Troy

Buried at the end of the uneven yet fascinating Comin' to Your City was this bizarre cut-and-paste job that just screamed "we're already running out of ideas". Opening with all four vocalists reciting random patriotic sound bites (the preamble of the Constitution among them), this one cascades with strings, timpani, bells, and crash cymbals clearly indebted to "God Bless the USA" (other than the wildly out-of-place guitar solo at the end). Big & Rich and Gretchen croon a typically over-the-top rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner", interspersed with Cowboy Troy listelessly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It's so overly cloying and mismatched that even at the time, I couldn't take it as anything other than pandering of the highest order. (All the more surprising given how much better the story-song "8th of November" was.) But in hindsight, it's only worse following the path from this to the flag-waving paranoiac of today. I guess this was just the first sign...

"Six Foot Teddy Bear" by Richie McDonald

Following his first departure from Lonestar while they were at their sippy-cup-of-milk worst, Richie brings more of the same turned up to about 90. The song starts off on a laughably wrong note by trying to convince us that milquetoast Richie goddamn McDonald is a tattoo-clad "Mr. Tough". What I do buy, however, is Richie the dopey dad who goes totally UwU at the sight of his kids. Buried in the deluge of syrup are references to Barbie, Dr. Seuss, and quite possibly the only ever name-drop of SpongeBob SquarePants in mainstream music history, all of which sound a hundred times more nauseating with Richie's mushy delivery. Maybe he left the band because he was the only one who actually wanted to keep churning out 73 billion progressively worse rewrites of "My Front Porch Looking In"?

"Summer Nights" by Rascal Flatts

Only three singles after the embarrassment that was "Bob That Head", Rascal Flatts delivered one of the worst in the already-dubious category of summertime country anthems. With a melody and production so Disney Channel squeaky-clean that they make "Tonight, Tonight" by Hot Chelle Rae sound like Alice Cooper in comparison, the other faults only become all the more obvious. Terribly scanning lyrics like "the sunset better set". The stilted way he sings "Y'all keep doin' y'all's thang" followed by a falsetto "scream" only slightly less eardrum-bursting than... well, the opening notes of "Bob That Head". A key change that actually achieves the seemingly-impossible task of finding a note too high for Gary LeVox to squawk out. How they went from this to the legitimately great and tender ballad "Why", I'll never know.

"Thank God I'm a Country Boy" by Billy Dean

As the 1980s list made clear, I'm not a John Denver fan at all (except "Take Me Home, Country Roads"). But at least the original "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" has a goofy kind of energy that makes it stand out among the schmaltz for better or worse. So how do you undermine even that? First, give it to one of the most laid-back vocalists of the '90s. Then layer on a fake drumbeat, power chords, and overly processed fiddle. The result is one of the most extreme mismtaches among artist, song, and production style; it'd be like if Don Williams covered "The Streak" and had Joey Moi producing. Even at the time, I was completely baffled that this of all things was the song to briefly pull Dean out of the doldrums ("Let Them Be Little" wasn't much better). He'd probably have been better off releasing the theme song to the cartoon Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa.

"That Thang" by Fast Ryde

I'll take "Bobby Regrets Another Roughstock Review" for $600. The one thing I will say in this song's favor is the production is driven by actual guitar, fiddle, and drums, without a lot of power chords or digital processing. Unfortunately, the good qualities end the second you hear the duo's dry, barely-in-key voices drone out these womanizing lyrics. And boy, do they ever lay it on thick with dumb similes like "she got that junk like a trailer yard"... along with the jaw-droppingly awful "so if you got a little lecture, best believe that we respect ya." After all of that, they just repeat "da dang dang dang" (because what else even rhymes with "thang"?) over and over to pad out the length. Regardless of one's opinions of "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk", at least that song had flavor and energy. This was just a prototype of the deplorable bro-country tropes that would rise to prominence in the coming years. If Fast Ryde had charted "Make It Rain" instead, then I might be having a different conversation.

"This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag" by Charlie Daniels

As if I didn't get my fill on "Simple Man"... Yet another over-the-top post-9/11 anthem from an  flag-waver to wrapped up in his anger to make an actual narrative. It's just an odd, unfocused mishmash, vacillating between angry xenophobic rants (not one, but two references to guns and hunting down the unnamed enemy), interspersed with catch phrases that were already outstaying their welcome even then ("these colors don't run", "united we stand", etc.). And for extra pandering points, the song just dissolves into a chant of "USA! USA! USA!" over and over while a kid recites the Pledge of Allegiance. (See, Joe Nichols? I told you kids still know it.) Anger was asbsolutely a justifiable response to 9/11 (Alan Jackson's "Where Were You" stood out to me by being calm and unifying instead), but surely there was a better way to channel that anger than by screeching death threats and random bumper sticker slogans.

"This Is My Life" by Phil Vassar

Yeah, with what I said about "Where's the Dress", you're probably expecting me to destroy "Bobbi with an I" instead. But that one at least has a playful, non-judgmental tone that suggests that the subject is in on the joke. Far worse on the Phil Vassar spectrum is this aimless rant at nobody or nothing in particular. The targets are the same stock ones as always -- "fat cats", middle class, talking heads, rising gas prices, and the utterly baffling line "pledge allegiance to my God". With no intended target and no real hook ("this is my life and I want it back" -- okay, who's taking it? How do you plan to get it back? Details, man), this is exacerbated by one of his shoutiest vocal performances and excessively florid piano runs that sound like Billy Joel after drinking an entire swimming pool full of Red Bull. It's amazing how quickly he forgot about all of his pleas for unity in "This Is God"...

"What Children Believe" by Shenandoah

Marty Raybon is one of the best country vocalists. Almost every song Shenandoah put out with him on lead was amazing, and he managed to make the only good version of "Butterfly Kisses" to boot. So when Shenandoah re-established in 2000 without Raybon up front, this song alone should have been enough to make anyone ask "why bother?" It reads a lot like an answer song to "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Ol' Days)": kids in a treehouse, drinking Kool-Aid, use crayons to write down overly simplistic and twee fortune-cookie platitudes like "love lasts forever, mom and daddy stay together" (My parents divorced when I was 4 and I never had any problem with it), "It's bad to lie", "faith is all you need", and so on. Short-lived lead vocalist Brent Lamb's voice has all the charisma and energy of drywall, making it clash all the harder with the stereotypical string section and key changes. Thankfully Raybon has been reinstated, their new stuff is still good, and the output of Shenandoah In Name Only has been quietly forgotten.

More of the Worst of the 2010s

"Country Boy" by Aaron Lewis feat. George Jones and Charlie Daniels

What do you expect when the lead singer of Staind tries his hand at a country career? I sure wasn't expecting an overlong, bloated mishmash of pandering and posturing. Somehow we're supposed to buy that this rich hard rock vocalist from New England is a gun-toting, tractor-driving, jeans-wearing, deer-hunting good ol' boy from the South. (Even weirder is that he mentions the American flag and then criticizes the government only one verse later.) He even throws in a totally unnecessary verse about "selling his soul" for a record deal, which doesn't fit in thematically at all. On top of that, the song casts George Jones as an evil record exec and staples on a xenophobic coda narrated by Charlie Daniels. I've liked the few Staind songs I've heard, and I think that Lewis' voice actually works pretty well on his later, more sincere attempts at country (e.g. "Forever"). But man, did he ever start this genre-shift off on the wrong foot.

"Fake ID" by Big & Rich feat. Gretchen Wilson

Ages of the three people in this song in 2011: Gretchen Wilson was 38, John Rich was 37, and Big Kenny was 48. In short, none of these people need a fake ID. They're probably old enough that they won't even need to be asked for their real ones. By this point, the Big & Rich well had clearly run completely dry. "Loud" was clearly the tipping point, and this random... noise for the soundtrack of the totally unnecessary Footloose remake. There's no energy or creativity in any of second of it, just the two of them shouting the lyrics over way too many guitars (Gretchen isn't even on the song until a barely-noticeable backing vocal on the last verse). Tired, boring, and unnecessary, just like nearly everything else churned out by them in the past decade. If you want a good song about fake IDs, check out "David Ashley Parker from Powder Springs" by Travis Denning.

"Get Me Some of That" by Thomas Rhett

In which I once again express shame for an older Roughstock review... Well that was a younger and less worldly-aware Bobby Peacock who wrote that one. It was also a younger Thomas Rhett who wrote and sang this one, drowning it in a pool of sexist fratbro clichés -- "diggin' on you", a door/floor rhyme, moneymaker, jeans, kissing, hips, hair -- I might as well just end this review here and just let you draw your own conclusions. TR's smarmy, cocky delivery does the lyrical content no favors, and it's not hard to picture it coming from a sweaty ball-cap-wearing douche wearing way too much Axe. I'm still amazed that Rhett managed to move away from this into material that -- while still far from greatness or even country-ness -- is at least somewhat more tasteful to women. (You know the world's out of whack when I'm saying nice things about "Die a Happy Man".)

"Girl in Your Truck Song" by Maggie Rose

While we're on the subject of tastefulness to women... the only thing worse than an entire musical movement predicated on sexism is having the target of said sexism say "yes". It runs down the checklist in exactly the same ways as the songs it glorifies -- some of which it even name-drops -- with the same canned banjo and drum machine sound. Rose's vocals are completely listless, lacking any sort of energy or passion to make this even rise to the level of being attention-gettingly bad (surprising, given how shrill she was on the only slightly less bad "I Ain't Your Mama"). Considering this was released at the same time as the witty and progressive "Girl in a Country Song", it's not hard to figure out why this one (and Maggie Rose herself) disappeared.

"Happy People" by Little Big Town

When your song's first line is "happy people don't cheat, happy people don't lie", what else could the ensuing song be but a sermon? Happy people don't do this or that or anything. The hook ("whatever makes you happy people") undermines the whole premise by suggesting an openness that is completely contradicted by the preachy, one-note laundry lists of the verses. Happy people don't fail? Does that mean they succeed at everything on the first try? Way to trigger my gifted kid syndrome. Happy people always wait their turn? So that means they're doormats. Oh, and happy people don't judge? Well, you've spent this whole song judging me for apparently not being "happy people" by your standards. And of course, like most latter-day Little Big Town songs, it's got a dull vocal arrangement that's so Karen Fairchild-centric that the other three might as well not exist. This song is a waste of both Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters' songwriting skills, and it doesn't make me happy people.

"If I Were a Boy" by Reba McEntire

Most of my issues with this song are also in Beyoncé's version, and so omnipresent that I would hate any cover on principle. As Todd in the Shadows pointed out in an early video of his, the original song acts as if, quote, "only guys hurt the ones that love them, only guys cheat, and girls never have their friends stick up for them when they screw around." The original feels way too bratty and immature for an artist who was 27 at the time, so how much more wrong can you get than by having someone who was FIFTY-SIX sing it? The only "boy" someone that age should be singing about is her grandson. To Reba's credit, the vocals are up to her usually high standards -- even if they are smothered in Dann Huff production. And squandered on absolutely dogshit lyrics. I'd like to think that this song is singlehandedly responsible for Reba not having another radio hit since.

"Party Like Cowboyz" by Big & Rich

Do cowboyz (because poor literacy is kEwL!) actually party with box wine, G-strings, and "pawn shop bling bling"? I don't know because I'm not one myself, but the ones from Big & Rich's perspective make the Bellamy Brothers' "Dancin' Cowboys" look like Will Rogers in comparison. Just like "Fake ID", Big & Rich are so throughly out of ideas that they just resort to an odd mishmash of party-hearty clichés, recycled power-chord riffs, and outright gibberish ("jackety jacked up, beer backed and doubled up"?!?). The "cowboy" references and overall song structure are clearly transparent attempts to re-create the magic of "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)"; love that song or hate it, it definitely occupies a unique place in country music canon. And that's not even the only nod to their past, as they rip an entire lyric straight from "Wild West Show" (you know, one of their few serious songs). Like most of their later attempts at party songs, it's just an obnoxious mess, and I can see why they gave up entirely and pushed harder for ballads on Gravity. Because sometimes you just gotta know when the party's over.

"Pills" by Tracy Lawrence

Ah yes, quite possibly the only country song to attack the pharmaceutical industry. While there are legitimate concerns such as improper diagnoses, side effects, and addiction, there are also plenty of people who are given completely valid prescriptions for completely valid maladies. Take it from me, a guy who spent most of his adolescence taking multiple different prescriptions for his autism. So Tracy's callous dismissal of drugs for depression, ADD, and the like -- not to mention calling people "emotional zombies" -- is extremely tasteless from the word go. It's made even worse when he instead prescribes "daddy's belt" as an alternative (wonderful idea; let's give the kid trauma instead) and bitching about how nobody diets or exercises anymore. You know, as opposed to people being genetically predisposed to being overweight -- again, I would be an example here -- and pressured by unrealistic expectations of body image. In fact, I think I need a pill just listening to this cranky old geezer whine at me. Anyone got a Tylenol?

"#REDNEK" by Gord Bamford

If nothing can good can come from a misspelled song title, or from a song title that's a hashtag, then it must apply double when you have both. Bamford is yet another one of those Canadian country singers who has a billion hits in his homeland but absolutely zero stateside -- something which initially caused me to think this hadn't been released as a single and therefore did not qualify for the list. Some are actually quite good, especially given how quickly he seems to churn them out, but this is not one of them. This one is yet another checklist with a few absolutely weird ones such as "hillbilly banjo hip-hop rap" (nice redundancy there, and an accurate description of the Brantley Gilbert-lite production) and probably the first use of "pimped out" in a country song. To call this lazy, loud list song "played out" would still be giving it too much credit. Perhaps this one didn't cross the border or even appear on an album because even Canadian radio was embarrassed by it?

"Merry Go Round" by the JaneDear girls

Their first two songs weren't terrible, but they really lost it with this one. John Rich is clearly phoning in the production, which includes synthesized hand-claps that sound like they were sampled from an 8-bit video game, combined with lifeless power chords an already-weak vocal track worsened by the most haphazardly placed Auto-Tune I've ever heard in my life. (Seriously, it almost sounds like it was applied completely at random.) The hook makes no sense; how does dancing in the woods equate to making one's "merry" go 'round? (Calvin & Hobbes was right -- "verbing weirds language".) Everything else is just the same "party in the woods" tropes that were already getting played out in the years leading up to the bro-country wave. Altogether, a dismal end to a largely forgettable duo -- and, for that matter, to John Rich's production career.

"Shut Up About Politics" by John Rich featuring The Five

Speaking of John Rich... let's be be serious. Are we really going to buy a song called "Shut Up About Politics" from a guy who clearly has no intention of ever doing so? I knew that at the time, and it's true like the sun coming up each morning. Rich claims to be tired, but even after the song's release, he spends most of his time raging at literally everything on Twitter. (Apparently Biden's mere existence is "elder abuse" in his eyes?) The fact that he roped in the hosts of a Fox News show to shout the chorus is a tasteless bit of pandering that shows he has no intentions of shutting up. And naturally, as one would expect from a wealthy paranoid nutjob, his "solution" is to offer both sides a shot of his own Redneck Riviera whiskey. Even if Rich were to practice what he's preaching, he's still given himself enough rope to hang himself at least a thousand times over.

"Shut Up and Hold On" by Toby Keith

Funny how these entries keep having connecting themes, huh? I feel like I'm on Chain Reaction. Much like John Rich, Toby Keith has spent way too much of the 21st century embarrassing himself. Jacking the electronic beat of "That's My Kind of Night", the seasick non-melody of "Sideways", and the overblown machismo of "Country Boy", this one staples on a confusing narrative -- he gets to the bar with his girl, and then the same girl pulls up to the bar? Or a different girl? Whatever it is, two people are going out on a "crazy" night in the most forced of ways, there is literally zero definition given to the woman in this scenario, and it doesn't even sound like she has a choice in the matter. (Boy, these complaints sound familiar.) And what the hell is that vocal mixing on the last bridge? It sounds like an odd mix of chipmunk vocals and vocal fry. Shut up and don't sing.

"That's Country Bro" by Toby Keith

And completing an utterly bizarre quadfecta, how about watching Mr. "How Do You Like Me Now?!" shove an already-outdated reference to bro-country right in the title? List songs are a dime a zillion, and while I do have to give some credit to being possibly the first ever name-drop of Eddie Rabbitt, all of those points are taken right back by the anachronistic title, lazy lyrics, and overly defensive tone. I don't think it even needs to be said, but name-drops are not a yardstick of country cred. And this is made all the more baffling by the exceptional lyricism of his previous single "Don't Let the Old Man In". Even worse, this song speeds through is name-drops so quickly that he runs out of singers and starts randomly listing characters from The Dukes of Hazzard, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke before he's even hit the 2-minute mark. How the hell did he rope Bobby Pinson into this garbage? That's bad songwriting, bro.

"That's How It Still Oughta Be" by Trent Tomlinson

Yay, more preachy conservatism from someone way too young for the topic. As if I didn't get my fill of that with "Automatic". At least this one does a better job staying on-point, but they aren't good points. Pro-child beatings? Check. Blind trust in neighbors, preachers, teachers, and the like? Check. Bemoaning high gas prices? Check. Complaining about jobs sent overseas? Check. Mentioning the Bible? Check. Thankfully this was just a blip on the radar for the underrated Tomlinson, whose first album is still so strong that I wonder how he never got a big break. (And as an aside, he did much better portraying down-home old-school mentalities with "Henry Cartwright's Produce Stand".)

"The Way I Talk" by Chucklefuck McMullet Morgan Wallen

Take the usual Joey Moi production style: power chords, banjo, drum machine. Add one mulleted doofus who talk-sings in a lazy phony drawl and hides his vocal shortcomings under layers of Auto-Tune. Sprinkle in a jittery and poorly-scanning melody. Mix in all manner of utterly forced Southern references: "y'all come back", daddy and mama, "down yonder". and of course, admitting that he refuses to change. If the way you talk is nothing but a checklist of down-home good-ol'-boy southern clichés, and you live the way you talk, then that just raises even more questions. Even before the controversies, I boggled that Morgan Wallen had any semblance of a career; he seemed even less competent than the bland bros who churn out #1 hit after #1 hit but can't move a single album (looking at you, Russell Dickerson), and his songs seemed beyond even the lowest common denominator. But then it hit me: there is a level lower than the lowest common denominator, and that seems to be exactly where Wallen, his music, and his fans reside. Why else do you think his Wikipedia article still doesn't have a picture of him? His bottom-feeding nature was right there from the first single, and I feel like I'm the only person to have spotted it. (Hat tip to Jonathan Keefe for the epithet "Chucklefuck McMullet".)

"Way Out Here" by Josh Thompson

Just like "A Good Way to Get on My Bad Side", this one wastes a talented performer (and songwriters) on another extremely xenophobic screed. Its protagonist is an animal-abusing, tobacco-using, gun-toting, death-threat-spewing, Bible-thumping hick with a crappy rundown truck and an unhealthy diet. In other words, the same kind of people that I see flying the stars-and-bars and Gadsden flags in my own neighborhood, even though I live in goddamn Michigan. And the lines about wanting to "see this country run like it used to be" give me flashbacks to all the terrible post-9/11 songs that took up a lot of the last list and even portions of the revised 2000s list. We're about enforcing negative ugly stereotypes way out here, apparently. Thankfully this was a fluke on an otherwise pretty solid album.

"The Weight of the Badge" by George Strait

I can hear you now. "Really, Bobby? Not one, but three George Strait songs on a worst-of list? Isn't that at least twelve too many?" Yes, but that's three out of a catalog numbering in the thousands, of which roughly 99% are absolutely goddamn amazing. Much like "I Believe" and "Troubadour", this one fails for me almost immediately by pandering with the most superficial of clichés (why yes, they did put the phrase "protect and serve" in there -- how else would you even know it's about a police officer?) instead of telling a story. But even worse, it seems willfully ignorant by not even trying to breach the subject of police brutality in a time when Black Lives Matter and similar movements were already in full swing. I don't think Strait is trying to be a screeching jingoist like Toby Keith, but it's one of the few times I've been floored by an artist's exceptionally poor timing. I think I'm gonna go listen to "I Can Still Make Cheyenne" on loop for the next hour.


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