NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Songs in the Key of Bush

NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.

There was a great response to a recent call here for suggested song playlists to bring President George W. Bush up to date on his country music listening. Faithful readers will recall that I lamented that Bush’s idea of overnight country music guests at the White House has thus far been limited to Larry Gatlin and Kinky Friedman, and I remarked that Bush’s country horizons seem to be somewhat limited. A progressive administration, I feel, needs to reflect progressive musical tastes.

Several readers took me to task for disrespect of the presidency, which was not the point of the exercise. Some reminded me that I had not mentioned that more than one country artist had performed at various Bush inaugural balls. True. Other participants seemed overly eager to dwell on the exuberant and more notorious aspects of Bush’s past. They wanted to tease the president with playlists that were devoted to songs about wine, women and drugs. That was not the point, either.

Several of the customers wanted me to alert Bush and his administration to the fact that the Dixie Chicks ’ “Long Time Gone” video was filmed in Mexico, and two or three eager-eyed viewers claimed that the video seems to depict illegal immigration. I’ll leave that to the INS to work out.

The country artists most often cited in submitted playlists are Brooks & Dunn , Montgomery Gentry , Lee Ann Womack , Kenny Chesney , Willie Nelson , Alan Jackson , Brad Paisley , Chris Cagle , Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton , Keith Urban , Nickel Creek and George Strait .

There were a great many all-Texas playlists (“for a president who was born in Connecticut but is supposed to be from Texas”), usually including Willie Nelson, Pat Green , Kevin Fowler, George Strait, Womack, Billy Joe Shaver and Waylon Jennings . One reader, evoking Bush’s pro-death penalty stance while Governor of Texas, offered Johnny Cash ’s “The Mercy Seat.” In a similar vein, several invoked Lyle Lovett’s “That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas.” The Oklahoma group Cross Canadian Ragweed’s “If I Were President” came up several times.

Several readers lamented the current state of mainstream country music. One popular sentiment read, “”These no-talent punks that look like Backstreet Boys that they [Nashville executives] try to sell as country singers are a joke!” Several readers said that — due to widespread confusion as to country music’s identity — they could easily make up playlists that only seem to be country; made up of such artists as Sheryl Crow, Faith Hill , Kid Rock, “the new Lee Ann Womack who looks more like Suzanne Somers” and Shania Twain.

More than a few progressive playlists recommended that Bush listen to the likes of Steve Earle , Jay Farrar, George Jones , Uncle Tupelo, John Doe, Gram Parsons , Johnny Cash’s American Recordings albums, Hank Williams III , Dale Watson , Chris Knight , Sleepy LaBeef, Butch Hancock , Kelly Willis , Heather Myles and Dwight Yoakam . There were a couple of all-bluegrass playlists.

Many lists, citing the wide range in country music, tried for a balance of styles, with mainstream, honky tonk, bluegrass, alt-country and pop country being included. Some lists included only patriotic country songs — usually starting with Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” and Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”

Several people began their lists with a song title offering presidential advice: “I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners” being the one most often brought up. Many referred to Bush himself as the title of Alan Jackson’s “Work in Progress.” And others likened his administration to Diamond Rio’s song “Beautiful Mess.”

Interestingly, virtually every entrant made the point that country music and the White House should go hand in hand.

There were a number of excellent entries. But, as I said, there’s only one winner. Jackie Furr’s thoughtful playlist amounted to a short but thorough guide to the best of today’s country music, with a few essential artists and songs from recent years thrown in. Her playlist managed to include — among works by other artists — key songs by Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Brooks & Dunn, John Anderson, Brad Paisley, Vern Gosdin, Johnny Paycheck, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Dixie Chicks, Gary Allan, George Strait and Hank Williams. So, Jackie Furr wins Montgomery Gentry’s My Town album, Lee Ann Womack’s Something Worth Leaving Behind and assorted items of CMT swag.