Record Labels Report Flag Lag

Despite the prospect of war with Iraq and still fresh memories of last year’s terrorist attacks, interest in patriotic country songs seems to be winding down. Publishers aren’t pitching many of them, record companies say, and artists are showing little interest in writing or recording them.

“I am not getting patriotic songs at all anymore,” reports Paige Levy, senior vice president of A&R for Warner Bros. Records. “Within the first year of Sept. 11, there were quite a few pitched. But none of the artists I worked with recorded them. There were several pitched to John Michael Montgomery , and he just felt it wasn’t something he wanted to do. He didn’t feel he wanted to take advantage of the 9/11 situation.”

Other Warner acts shied away from such songs, according to Levy, because they feared the music would become dated. “They didn’t want to have something that talked about one specific moment in time on an album that would last for years,” she explains. Levy notes there are two “military related” cuts on Neal McCoy ’s upcoming album: “I’m Your Biggest Fan,” which he performed at military bases in Afghanistan last year, and another that tells of a husband and wife separated by war. Trick Pony , she says, has never been pitched any material that was “remotely patriotic.”

Allison Jones, head of A&R for DreamWorks Records, says that “right after Sept. 11, I got pitched tons of songs. They weren’t from the established publishers in Nashville as much as from writers around the country. A majority of the ones I heard weren’t very good, but I guess you have to admire people’s fervor.” Soon enough, though, DreamWorks hit big with Toby Keith ’s self-penned and combative “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).”

Darryl Worley ’s current album, I Miss My Friend, also bears a cut, “POW 369,” that tips its hat to the flag. (The song, written by Steven Dale Jones, is also on Doug Stone’s current album, The Long Way.) Jones says the “POW 369” was written “way before Sept. 11” and categorizes it as “more of a human kindness song than a patriotic one.” 12 Feet Tall, a new DreamWorks act, has recorded Tom Douglas’ “Mr. President,” a song which Jones describes as “brilliant” and “definitely patriotic.”

“We still get a few of these songs,” reports Carie Higdon, manager of A&R for MCA Records. “They’re not really patriotic — they’re more down-home.” She adds that two songs that were “probably inspired by the events of the past year” have been recorded for upcoming albums. She declined to reveal which artists had cut them. Jim Catino, director of A&R for RCA Records, says he hasn’t been seeing any “blatantly patriotic songs” lately but concedes that he is occasionally pitched some with “patriotic overtones.”

While Lyric Street Records scored early with Aaron Tippin ’s “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Flies,” A&R director Kirk Boyer says there was little other flag-waving activity at the label. “We’ve had some things pitched to us,” Boyer explains, “but there hasn’t been any real focus on our part to try to do something like that. I guess our feeling is that we’ve still got a song in [Tippin] that still really seems to touch people and is still fairly current. Even though there’s the possibility that we could go to war with Iraq, there hasn’t been any discussion [of recording songs] in that direction.”

Running against the trend are two new singles that combine flag-waving and tree-trimming — Ronnie McDowell ’s “Red, White and Blue Christmas” on Curb Records and Leland Martin’s “Flags on the Christmas Tree” on IGO Records.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to