Country musicians have always been concerned about the state of their craft. Well, some country musicians. Others are happy to produce whatever will make them rich and famous. This is why we have artists like Corey Smith, Waylon Jennings and Jackson Taylor to keep everyone else honest.
This list contains a whole lot of blame. It seems like just as soon as one singer points a finger at another, the second singer passes the blame to another. There are a few; however, that take responsibility.
12. Eric Church, “Lotta Boot Left to Fill”
Country singers these days aren’t living up to the standard set by their predecessors, argues Church. Today they’re about get-ups, gimmicks and what looks good on TV. Church admits he also has a lot to live up to. This song also features a call out to the previous one on this list. Oh, and a pretty fantastic shot at Jason Aldean.
Key lyric: “You sing about Johnny Cash/The Man in Black would’ve whipped you’re a**.”
11. “Songs About Trucks” – Wade Bowen
Bowen simultaneously critiques the trend of singing about trucks and contributes to it. He asks for some good, old-fashioned heartbreak music, instead of inane partying and drinking songs. It’s similar to Gary Allan’s “Songs About Rain.”
Key lyric: “I’m getting drunk, but not in a pasture.”
10. “I’ll Sing About Mine” – Adam Hood
Here’s another song taking a shot at Kenny Chesney. Hood also calls out Eric Church. There seems to be a lot of finger- pointing in country music these days. Maybe Todd Snider says it best, “If you’re the one that’s doing the pointing, nobody’s probably looking at you.” The Josh Abbott Band also recorded a sour grapes version of this song.
Key lyric: “When you talk about the Dairy Queen, pickup trucks and Springsteen/Make the place I love sound like a bad cartoon.”
9. “Girl in a Country Song” – Maddie & Tae
Maddie & Tae deliver a dose of reality for country music by stating women are neither objects nor the cliché a lot of country songs describe. They ask you to treat them with a little respect and as if they actually have their own individual personalities. Similar idea to the Ting-Tings’ “That’s Not My Name.”
Key lyric: “Being the girl in a country song/how in the hell did it go so wrong.”
8. “Nashville Blues” – Cory Morrow
When Morrow plays this song live, he asks his audience, “What do you think about Nashville?” They respond by giving him a healthy chant of “Nashville sucks.” Morrow then launches into his satire of the Nashville music culture.
Key lyric: “Now the songwriting’s left up to old hillbillies/hippies and rednecks and girls like miss Emmylou.”
7. “I Was Country (When Country Wasn’t Cool)” – Barbara Mandrell
Someone should cover this song. It may be even more applicable today that it ever was before. Mandrell spurns all the fans who converted to country music after having called her names before. She says country fans who have to act like country fans aren’t really country.
Key lyric: “Now look at everybody/trying to be what I was then.”
6. “The Last Cowboy” – The Last Cowboy
Johnson doesn’t just question the state of country music with “The Last Cowboy,” he questions the entire culture. He senses a seismic shift in country culture, away from its southern gentleman heritage.
Key lyric: “They changed all the words/and the cowgirls they all sing along.”
5. “Country Song” – Jackson Taylor and the Sinners
Taylor is bound to piss a whole bunch of people off with his pull-no-punches, scathing exposé. Then again, it’s kind of his point. He takes shots at Rascal Flatts, Adam Hood, Trace Adkins, Toby Keith, anyone who sings about trucks, pop music, hip-hop music, the Grand Old Opry…and the list goes on.
Key lyric: “Don’t let this cowboy hat fool you/Cause I ain’t some bumpkin who’ll amuse you.”
4. “Too Country” – Brad Paisley
This song is a response to the mid-90s country music executives who would turn away songs and singers because they sounded too country. Paisley asks what that even means. Isn’t country music supposed to be, gasp, country? He does it all in a typical Brad Paisley, true-till-it-hurts fashion.
Key lyric: “Is it just too old-fashioned? Is it just too antique? Is the question too strong, or is the answer too weak?”
3. “If That’s Country” – Corey Smith
Smith’s song is a biting critique of modern country music and its singers. He doesn’t hesitate to take shots at Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and CMT. Image, Smith sings, is what sells in country these days and the music falls by the wayside. His music isn’t labeled country, but that’s just fine with Smith.
Key lyric: “He’s the same old sh*t in a slightly different bag/But if he’s country, then country’s pretty bad.”
2. “Murder on Music Row” – Alan Jackson and George Strait
This song likens what has happened to the state of country music to murder. It essentially calls modern country artists criminals. Blame it on the money hungry or blame it on the fame seekers, but modern country is essentially pop.
Key lyric: “Someone killed country music/cut out its heart and soul/They got away with murder down on music row.”
1. “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way?” – Waylon Jennings
This is one of the original songs that questioned the state of country music. Waylon worries the music has stagnated and become more about popularity and costumes than the music. It is pretty much the same argument made today. This song is just as relevant as it ever was.
Key lyric: “It’s the same old tune, fiddle and guitars/Where do we take it from here?”
Bonus: “Back When” – Tim McGraw
This had to be part of the list simply because it is so wonderfully hypocritical. In “Back When,” McGraw waxes nostalgic for the way things used to be, from food to music to language. He wants “a flat top for strumming.” When was the last time anyone saw Tim McGraw pick up a guitar? Then there’s “I’m reading Street Slang for Dummies/Cause they put pop in my country.” This coming from the man who sings “Highway Don’t Care” and “Truck Yeah.”