(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Good music videos can be things of joy, intensify the impact of the song and even make it a memory for life.
Mediocre or average music videos are the visual and aural equivalent of a mild, but persistent and nagging, toothache.
Bad music videos are like really bad migraines and root canal surgery. You finally scream, “Why is this happening to me?”
Most music videos these days I find to be mostly average, which is greatly disappointing. If I can’t see a really good video, then I’d rather see a really bad one — if only for the stimuli. Mediocre or average videos are not really worth anyone’s serious time and attention.
But — and you knew this was coming — these days, just as in recent years, most music videos, just like most country music releases, hew to the middle ground. In both cases, in following the mainstream country radio doctrine, they seek to not so much entrance the listener or viewer as to ensure that the listener or viewer doesn’t change stations or channels. “Don’t offend anyone” seems to be the golden rule.
And then there are the music videos that rise to be charming and listenable and fun, such as Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy” or the Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.” And those that are serious and enjoyable, such as Trace Adkins’ “All I Ask for Anymore” or Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” or Alan Jackson’s “Sissy’s Song.”
And then many others are just totally forgettable.
With that in mind, I thought it might be nice to just do a little study of what seem to be country music videos’ basic DNA — of what are its building blocks.
I think you can isolate music videos’ elements into several basic areas: locale, characters, plot, action, lighting, wardrobe, props and the actual music treatment.
These seem to be the most common elements:
Old farm houses
The singer’s old high school
Small towns (Watertown, Tenn., you hear us?)
Auto repair shops
Sleek modern Nashville condo interiors
Wild West towns
Green screens (with often elaborate global panoramas screened in behind the singer)
Good ol’ boy
Sweet old dad/granddad
Sweet old mom/grandmom
Grizzled but wise old man
Chicks in awesome bikinis
Dudes with awesome abs
Old beat-up pickup truck
Old restored pickup truck
New pickup truck
Old beat-up Ford tractor
New shiny John Deere tractor
Restored muscle car
Restored 1950s Chevy
Vintage fin Cadillac
Shiny Harley bike
Hay bales (still!)
Tight short shorts
Ball caps (backward and forward-facing bills)
Goofy sweater caps
A cross on a necklace
Soft-focus vistas of the woods and forests
Dramatic bonfires at night
Lens flares (Note: To get a lens flare, turn your camera directly into the sun’s rays or into an especially bright light to get those supposedly desirable flares across your images.)
Very dark interiors of sleek Nashville condos
Very dark exteriors of Manhattan rooftops
Very dark streetscapes
Very bright urban lofts
Dude breaks up with chick
Chick breaks up with dude
Dude and chick meet; something happens
A significant other dies
A child dies
A close friend dies
Someone gets married — happily
Someone gets married — with complications
Someone gets married — tragically
Someone gets pregnant and didn’t want to
Someone decides to go drink a whole lot
Someone decides to try suicide
Someone walks around town alone
Buddies go cruising
A buddy needs straightening out
A “shaggy dog” plot twist or ending
Going home again
Wisdom is acquired
Things not included:
Foreign sports cars
Humvees (after being objects of desire for years)
Small cars and hybrids, except as objects of ridicule
Fancy food, except as an object of ridicule
Expensive wine or champagne
Books (except the Bible)
Women without make-up
Cocaine or other drugs (“smoke” may be alluded to)
To use your Eazy-Duz-It music video guide, simply choose your elements of choice, put them together, and turn on the cameras.
As an example, to assemble Rodney Atkins’ video for “Farmer’s Daughter,” pick the matching elements: old farm + old truck + old farmer + grain silo + hay bales + sweet girl + good ol’ boy + dude and chick meet and something happens = “Farmer’s Daughter.”
For Currington’s “People Are Crazy,” the elements are: grizzled but wise old man + good old boy + bar + beer + lotsa dancing + death + shaggy dog ending.
Lambert’s “The House That Built Me”: Sweet girl + tour bus + going home again + old farm house + old photographs + wisdom is acquired.
Risk-taking is the element most missing from today’s country music videos. Enormous risk-taking went into the making of the genre’s greatest video. By itself, Nine Inch Nails’ song, “Hurt,” was not extraordinary. When Johnny Cash covered it with a heartfelt and almost confessional version, it raised the song’s emotional impact considerably. It became an emotional epic saga of his life, with his sorrows mingling with his joys.
But “Hurt,” the song, was not a hit for Cash, charting for only one week at No. 56. But when Cash called on the gifted director Mark Romanek to turn it into a music video, the result was transcendent. Its emotional impact remains immeasurable. The Cash “Hurt” video was everything a great music video should be. But, most importantly, what elevated it to an exalted level is that it took tremendous risks.