Whether the lyrics discuss religion, politics, social issues or the status of the music industry itself, these songs made headlines and spoke volumes.
From the 60’s feminist movement to today’s backlash against bro-country, each one of these tracks have made bold statements in the way that only music can. Here are the country music lyrics that made some heads shake, and others spin.
“Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)” – Toby Keith
“Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass
It’s the American way”
After the events of September 11th and the loss of his veteran father, Toby Keith penned this song that quickly became a patriotic anthem. Initially, Keith only chose to play the song during private concerts for American troops, but decided eventually to release it after strong positive feedback from military personnel. Although the sharp wording and unapologetic aggression caused some controversy, the song struck a chord with the public and became one of the biggest hits of Keith’s career.
“We Shall Be Free” – Garth Brooks
“When we’re free to love anyone we choose
When this world’s big enough for all different views
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew
Then we shall be free
We shall be free”
Co-written by Stephanie Davis, Garth Brooks was inspired to write “We Shall Be Free” after visiting Los Angeles during the 1992 riots. The song tackles almost every social issue you can think of, and in typical Garth style, was ahead of its time. Years later, Brooks called the track “the most controversial song I have ever done,” and has performed it at many political events including President Obama’s 2009 inauguration concert.
“Murder on Music Row” – George Strait and Alan Jackson
“Oh, the steel guitars no longer cry and you can’t hear fiddles play
With drums and rock ‘n roll guitars mixed right up in your face
Why, the Hag, he wouldn’t have a chance on today’s radio
Since they committed murder down on music row
Why, they even tell the Possum to pack up and go back home
There’s been an awful murder down on music row.”
In 2000, two of the biggest acts in country, George Strait and Alan Jackson, came together to sing about their dismay over the current state of their genre. In the song, the narrator blames the “murder” of traditional country music on the introduction of pop influences on mainstream radio. Although it was never officially released as a single, the song still made the Billboard charts because of its popularity with the public.
“Okie From Muskogee” – Merle Haggard
“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don’t take no trips on LSD
We don’t burn no draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin’ right, and bein’ free.”
Written as a response by Merle Haggard to Vietnam War protests, “Okie From Muskogee” gained attention as a representation of the unheard small-town American. The song is a slightly sarcastic response to the counterculture of the time, and gave a voice to those who had more conservative views on what was happening in the political climate of 1970.
“The Pill” – Loretta Lynn
“But all I’ve seen of this old world
Is a bed and a doctor bill
I’m tearin’ down your brooder house
‘Cause now I’ve got the pill”
Loretta Lynn has consistently produced songs with strong feminist themes through her career, but none quite as iconic as “The Pill.” The song’s cheeky take on taboo subject matter allowed a new window of discussion for women and their choices for birth control. Although some radio stations refused to play it, the song still remains the highest-charting pop single in her entire career.
“Not Ready To Make Nice” – Dixie Chicks
“I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round”
After a huge backlash from country fans due to lead singer Natalie Maines’ negative comments about President George W. Bush, the Dixie Chicks seemed to disappear from country music. Three years after the incident, the group released this song as a response to the criticism and hatred they received. While initially the tune struggled with low airplay, it eventually went platinum and garnered high praise from music critics.
“Follow Your Arrow” – Kacey Musgraves
“If you don’t go to church, you’ll go to hell
If you’re the first one on the front row
You’re a self-righteous son of a-…“
Although playful and easily digestible, Kacey Musgraves addresses many social taboos in “Follow Your Arrow” that mainstream country still tends to shy away from. The song praises personal authenticity and touches on drug usage, homosexuality and religion in a blunt and refreshing way that has gained attention from both fans and industry types alike.
“The Man in Black” – Johnny Cash
“I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.”
In a song only Johnny Cash could write, this classic describes the reasons why the legend chose to only dress in black during performances in the 1970s. The song lives on as a painfully honest poem that voices his frustrations with the social and political climate at the time.
“Girl In A Country Song” – Maddie and Tae
“Bein’ the girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we’re good for is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend
This unexpected hit from a previously unknown duo, Maddie and Tae, became the perfect response to the “bro-country” trend that surrounded country music in 2014. With witty lyrics and strong vocals, the pair carefully and cleverly attack the sexist clichés and themes flooding the mainstream, and voice the opinion that many female fans were previously unable to make heard.
“Independence Day” – Martina McBride
“Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing
Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning
Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay it’s Independence Day”
This gut-wrenching song by Martina McBride tackles the horror and helplessness of domestic violence in an honest and powerful way. The song, told from the view of the abused woman’s daughter, tells the story of how the woman takes extreme measures to escape the situation and regain her “independence.” The track helped garner new public awareness for the issue of domestic violence and became an instant classic.