Weekly Obsession: Today’s country radio makes us appreciate George Jones

Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 10:05pm

As tributes go, it wasn’t bad.

Crackling out of the static last Friday, WSM-AM played — from A to Z — every song George Jones ever recorded, as the station led into the night’s broadcast of the Opry.

On the day he died, country music’s monster broadcaster, its 50,000 watts pulsing from its towering Williamson County antenna, blasted The Possum’s lifework and plaintive voice into the ether one more time.

Meanwhile, on FM country radio, some manufactured baritone sang songs about sitting on the tailgate of his $50,000 truck in some just-barely out-of-the-suburbs Southern boomtown, drinking beer with his buddies.

That was followed by a plastic chanteuse half-whispering, half-shrieking her tremolos of desire at a boy-who-left-her.

Let’s hope this little cowboy hat trick was not punctuated by the truly embarrassing “Accidental Racist,” a song that seems so calculatingly awful, one hopes it was indeed accidental, coming from the heretofore-likable Brad Paisley.

Picking on mainstream country music radio takes no courage. It’s an easy target, and it’s a target precisely because it is so easy.

The vast majority of the songs churned out by the factory farms on Music Row are indistinguishable caricatures of country life and true love.

And radio plays what it is fed by this meat-grinder, and it plays what its listeners want. Its playlists are dictated by focus groups and all-too-often by faraway corporations racing for the lowest common denominator.

Music Row is nothing if not efficient, dutifully creating its interchangeable parts year after year and decade after decade.

And WSM, keeper of the flame, isn’t part of this complaint, interestingly enough. That behemoth was indeed the tastemaker of country music for years — dictating what was “good” and what was “country” and all but defining what was popular. But WSM-AM separated itself from the machine years ago, steadfastly committing to playing classic country, leaving the newer stuff to its FM counterparts.

(And of that newer vintage, it’s ironic that the modern country music that manages to rise above the overwhelming vapidity of Music Row’s output is being produced for a prime-time soap opera called Nashville.)

It’s in this environment, though, that we can truly appreciate a generational talent like George Jones, not because he sang in a different era — for there was pabulum on country radio in the ’60s and ’70s, just as there is now and just as there will be in the future — but because Jones was just so damned good.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” transcends eras in a way that “Hey Me And My Friends Want To Go Out And Party In The Summer Popping Tops With Girls In Bikinis And Cowboy Boots” — or whatever is No. 1 today — never will. We’ll remember his voice — as silky smooth as any tuxedoed crooner, but with enough Texas twang to ensure he’d never be confused for a pop singer — and, to paraphrase Waylon Jennings, we’ll all wish we could sing like he did.

And thank God no one else can sound like old No Show, because there would be some crass producer on The Row making sure everyone did.

Country music — maybe more than any other genre — is accurately described as an “industry,” a bleak wasteland of gray sameness.

There are still artisans, though, who make music, not as a product to be consumed, but as an art to be enjoyed forever and ever.

And when they leave us, we can see how gray and bleak that wasteland is.


Filed under: City News

5 Comments on this post:

By: budlight on 5/3/13 at 10:20

You are too critical. LL Cool J and Brad are just trying to get some real honest dialogue going in this "play the race card" world. I admire their courage and their honesty.

And today's country singers have the same aspirations as George Jones and his era had. They are just living in a different world.

The tribute was not "just not bad" as you say. It was great and it was difficult for people to maintain their composure as was evidenced by everyone who spoke. They truly loved the Possum. Kenny Chesney is one of the new voices, new sounds. He probably understands that. He was inspired by Jones and loved him like a father. He humbly just spoke his feelings. Alan Jackson was amazing singing "he stopped loving her today" and the others, including First Lady Bush, Mike Huckabee, the Preacher and opry mgt were awesome and sincere.

You're way too full of yourself and too critical.

By: Leazee on 5/3/13 at 12:32

I am in full agreement with the writer. Music Row and FM radio are hopeless and are indeed vast wastelands. Music Row is becoming more and more obsolete in Music City. As for "Accidental Racist?" I am embarrassed for Brad Paisley and his effort to start a conversation, but I sense the song also reflects Music Row's narrow perspective . I expected more from Brad.

By: budlight on 5/4/13 at 12:37

You know what Leazee, I disagree with you. For my entire life, I have never once discriminated against anyone regarding a job or anything else, yet I was accused of being a racist. Oh why, you ask? Because I do not agree with Obama's POLICIES. The song was an attempt to start an honest dialogue. And you didn't write that you were ashamed of LL Cook J. Why not? He was in on it also. I'm not embarrassed by Brad's attempt to start the conversation. Just disappointed in folks like you still refusing to want to join in. Our country is in trouble when you have people who are black telling me that they voted for Obama BECAUSE he is black. That is a lame excuse to vote someone into the highest office in the world, especially the U.S. And what exactly is the narrow perspective of the Row? Would it be similar to the narrow perspective of the Jazz community? The R&B community? The Soul Community? what do you mean - exactly?

By: Blip on 5/6/13 at 5:48

Thank you, as clear and true as a fine country song, J.R. Lind, though I can't comment about your review of "Accidental Racist", since I haven't heard it.

The worst thing about the music that stole the name "country" is a lady doesn't get to sing unless she wins a beauty pageant first. Same for guys, too.

I miss the music the great ones who didn't win the beauty contest.

It's fairly sick. That's why I don't bother with it.

By: noputpa@yahoo.com on 5/6/13 at 11:00

Walter Herron ,When I was in Vietnam,my uncle used to tape WSIX and send them to me. I loved country music. Where has it gone??? LL Cool J,Brad Paisley do not have a single clue as to what country music. If one of my grandkids changes the station from country to pop,now,youcan't tell the difference. It is like getting in to an elevator and hearing that bland,tin can generic crap. Country today is like NASCAR. It has lost it's soul and direction. A few like Vince Gill,Gene Watson and others of their ilk are carrying the torch.I saw where recently on of the girl clone singers paid $17,000,000.00 for a house. This was after only a couple of years in the business. She is NOT country. Calling her country is like calling rap,crap,Music. It don't work.