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The Top 12

I’m genuinely going to try to update everyday this month.  This is a laughably ambitious goal for someone who averages about 1 post per month.  It is a 2900% productivity increase, if we’re being precise.  Making this goal even more daunting:  I’m out of ideas for photo updates, and (as previously mentioned) my dentist and I are currently not on speaking terms.  Those are some pretty discouraging developments for a blog whose bread and butter has historically been pretty pictures with captions and punch lines involving the reactions of competent professionals to my poor dental hygiene. 

So after some hard thought, I’ve decided to take a leaf out of VH1’s book.  When that venerated network ran out of substantive content (by which I mean Behind the Music and Pop-Up Video), they decided to bet the house on nostalgic countdown shows.  And yes, OK, I may not have a fleet of desperate C-list celebrities to serve as snarky commentators.  What I lack in gimmicks, though, I more than make up for in passion for my subject matter. 

What we’ll be counting down are Sad Country Songs I used to listen to when I was a kid.   This theme is awesome for several reasons:

First, I generally feel like a lot of this stuff gets wrongly overlooked.  Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline are necessary components of any snob’s music collection these days, and music critics are falling all over themselves to legitimize the efforts of Taylor Swift and Keith Urban.  But for some reason, Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks just aren’t taken that seriously.  This is perplexing to me: McEntire’s best songs are more complex and mature than Cline’s, and more credibly Country/Western (if only slightly) than Urban’s.  Where, I ask, is the critical love? 

Those best songs — the ones that I still find myself wanting to listen to as I  rediscover the songs of my wee youth via YouTube (God bless it) some 15 years later — are unfailingly the ones that make me feel profoundly sad.  I’m not saying Boot-Scoot Boogie isn’t a perfectly enjoyable little ditty; I’m just saying that it lacks the long-term resonance of a song like That Ain’t No Way to Go*.   This is not exactly a shocking revelation: we are, after all, talking about a musical genre that specializes in weepy laments.

Second reason why I’m stoked about this theme: I’m always greedy for opportunities to relive my childhood.  We’re gonna do this countdown Chuck Klosterman-style, with me sharing way more personal significance than is really necessary.  But honestly, what is a song, if not a vessel for you to stash all of the feelings you were having when you first heard it (as one of our countdown artists will so profoundly point out)  ? 

What’s a little strange here is that, while my initial gut reactions to most of these songs remain unchanged, my understanding of them has evolved significantly.  My love of Country/Western music peaked at 7, an age at which, while I was certainly able to respond to overt cues (a swelling of violins, an emotive phrasing), my ability to fully grasp lyrical content was…um…sub-par.   Taking this into consideration, I have tried achieve in this list a pretty even balance of songs that were more meaningful to me at 7, and ones which I am more drawn now that I have a longer attention span and better appreciation for text of both the sub- and con- varieties.

I’m making this a 12-song countdown to pay homage to how CMT did their weekly hit countdowns in the early 90s.  “Bigger than a top 10;” the announcer would recite each week, “better than a top 20.” (It always irked me that he never explained exactly how 12 was superior to 20.)  This should carry us to about November 15th.   I’ll either have received an overdue visit from the amatuer photography muse by that point, or I’ll be SOL.  We’ll just have to see.

Some of these are songs I have posted previously; some are songs that you all have reminded me of in the past few years.  I’ll be sure to recognize you in the days those songs are covered.

I should probably spell out some general criteria for what it took for a song to be considered for this list:

– It had to have been released between 1990 and 1995. Country music stations generally have a broader definition of “current” than mainstream ones, and it was therefore not uncommon for me to be singing along to songs that came out two or three years before I got into Country music.

– It had to have been at least a minor country hit.  The only exposure my 7-year-old self had to this stuff was radio (Y106.7 was my preferred local station), or television (CMT all the way, baby.  TNN can eat its also-ran heart out.)  7- year olds don’t scavenge record stores for B-Sides and bonus tracks by their favorite artists.  Especially not 7-year olds living in suburban/exurban Atlanta. 

– It had to meet the tug-at-my-heartstrings test, either by making me cry when I was 7, or by making me feel a deep adult sadness when I listen to it now.

One final note before we get started.  If you disagree with a choice I make, or feel like my commentary/experience is insufficient, you are encouraged to share those thoughts in the comments.  For this one month, I want us all to be small-time Chuck Klostermans.  We are all the authorities here; our experiences are all relevant. 

Alright.  Let’s do it.

* Which didn’t make the countdown, believe it or not.  Sorry, y’all.  That’s the harsh reality of pairing your list down to 12 essential entries.


4 responses »

  1. I’m quite excited about this idea because country music is one of the things that has stayed with me in life, exclusively because Dad listens to country music in his car and it’s so much better than riding in silence. And it’s really dismaying what passes off as hit country these days. I’m pleased that Garth is coming out of retirement, though. He’d never release a single that was just about wanting to kiss a girl.

  2. I for one am very excited about this. I’ve read that Chuck Klosterman book “Killing Yourself To Live” about 50 times. Rock journalism magic, man. It’s all about you, and the song, and where you’re going, and especially where you’ve been. Can we nominate songs?

  3. We cannot nominate songs, unfortunately. The list is already set in stone. You can argue with my choices, however. That’s what the comments are for.

  4. it’s ok that “that ain’t no way to go” didn’t make it, as long as “neon moon” did.

    also, thank you for your kind message. i am working on a reply.


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