NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Anne Murray Was Right

We Sure Could Use "A Little Good News" Today

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

In country, rock and pop music, there’s never much real good news in the broadest sense. In the way of bad news, it’s usually heartache, and death, and cheating, divorce and betrayal — if it’s not outright mayhem. Good news is usually defined as the occasional true romance, drinking and dancing and driving a pickup and partying.

I don’t mean songs about personal emotional knitting-up, such as “The House That Built Me.” And I don’t mean the occasional powerful song about national healing, the main example being Alan Jackson‘s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” Or the “what-if” songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Or the antiwar songs such as “Give Peace a Chance” and the Dixie Chicks‘ recording of Bruce Robison‘s “Travelin’ Soldier.” But songs that truly spark the human spirit of altruism and have the power to bring people together seldom come around. I’m talking about the rare song like Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

Like a whole lot of other people, I know all the bad words and all the vile names. And I am capable of getting very angry. But I would rather not use the bad words and the vile names, and I would prefer to not live in a state of constant anger. We should as a civilization aspire to more than that. What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” was written by Nick Lowe and first released by Lowe’s band, Brinsley Schwarz. It became a large hit when Elvis Costello & the Attractions recorded it. The song also was recorded by Curtis Stigers for the many-times platinum soundtrack album of the movie The Bodyguard.

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

‘Cause each time I feel it slippin away, just makes me wanna cry.
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding? ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding? ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?

In country, the song that has best managed to tap into an emotional current about the national psyche in recent decades has been Anne Murray‘s “A Little Good News,” which takes on the national angst of the entire American population. When I turn on the radio or TV and all I hear is a cacophony of angry voices arguing with each other and calling each other vile names, I want to hear a song that reflects and shows the other side of that. I want to hear a song that brings people together.

Of the 50 songs that topped the Billboard country songs chart in 1983, the one song that I can still easily quote is “A Little Good News.” The lyrics from such other 1983 No. 1 songs as “Paradise Tonight” or “Faking Love” or “Inside” don’t come tumbling into my brain quite as readily. The year 1983, after all, was when the first Hooters Restaurant appeared.

I rolled out this morning
Kids had the mornin’ news show on
Bryant Gumbel was talkin’ ’bout the fighting in Lebanon
Some senator was squawkin’ ’bout the bad economy
It’s gonna get worse you see, we need a change in policy.

Murray didn’t write the song. “A Little Good News” was written by Charles Frank Black, Rory Michael Bourke and Thomas Rocco, but Murray’s expressive performance forever made it her song. And it won a Grammy for best female country vocal, was also the CMA’s single of the year and the album A Little Good News was named CMA album of the year. With that last award, Murray became the first woman to win the CMA album of the year honor.

So where are such songs today? I submit that they aren’t being written and recorded because no one will play them on radio. So why bother? Who cares about trying to capture the national mood? Where’s the profit in that?

There’s a local paper rolled up in a rubber band
One more sad story’s one more than I can stand
Just once how I’d like to see the headline say
“Not much to print today, can’t find nothin’ bad to say”, because

Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today.

There was a music video shot for “A Little Good News” in 1983 and it was shown then on TNN (The Nashville Network), but it is no longer available for streaming and downloading today due to issues of rights and clearances. We have it in the video archives here, so I watched it a couple of times recently and concluded that the song is better off today without the video. Why? Country music videos at that time operated on the principle of closeups of the artists. Many closeups, no matter how badly they were shot or miked. But you had plenty of those, and then you threw into the background some action footage or some news clips or whatever the hell you could clear without having to pay for it. So, today the video looks very dated. But the song “A Little Good News” still stands very capably and strongly on its own.

Nobody was assassinated in the whole Third World today
And in the streets of Ireland, all the children had to do was play
And everybody loves everybody in the good old USA
We sure could use a little good news today.

Listen to “A Little Good News” on Murray’s website