(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Well, the sky officially fell this week. The No. 1 country album is pretty much a rap album. Country rapper Colt Ford’s Declaration of Independence is also No. 2 on the rap chart. Something that’s either profoundly schizoid or extremely progressive is going on here.
And the No. 1 downloaded country single — which even impartial observers agree has absolutely no country elements to it at all — is also well on its way to being the most downloaded single by any female artist ever. Ever, ever. Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is a well-crafted and shrewdly put together pop powerhouse.
So, meanwhile, what’s happening over in what we fondly used to call “country music”?
Well, this is from an actual press release I received this week:
“Country music star and award-winning TV host Craig Morgan will release his latest single ’More Trucks Than Cars’ from his recent album This Ole Boy. … The song is an anthem for the southern lifestyle, depicted in stars that light the night sky, biscuits, grits and gravy, ’Ole Glory’ flying high and a landscape where you’ll sooner spot a truck before you see a car. And Morgan can wholeheartedly relate to his lyric ’meanwhile back in Tennessee we’re raising our babies and our own green beans.’
“The song is equally relatable to metropolitan areas of the U.S. where there is no shortage of hard-working Americans ad [sic] a touch of the Southern lifestyle is a hot commodity. While in New York earlier this year, Morgan was surprised at the number of trucks he spotted amongst the sea of yellow cabs in Manhattan.”
Hot commodity! Yessir, we got your hot commodity right here. You want songs about trucks? Step right up. Just call us up. We got long shopping lists of truck songs, we got back road songs, small-town songs, dirt road songs, fishin’ hole songs, beer-and-babes songs, bonfire songs, grits songs, biscuits songs, green beans songs, fried chicken songs, whiskey songs, Jagermeister songs, moonshine songs, water tower songs, tractor songs, tight jeans songs, farmer’s daughter songs, good ol’ boy songs, Grand Ole Opry songs, Goo Goo Cluster songs, Shoo-fly pie songs, Moon Pie songs, Bubba songs, I’m-so-country songs, tanline songs, I’m-an-outlaw songs, Old Glory songs, whatever you want for your Southern lifestyle.
Please know that I am not picking on Craig Morgan. I have liked and appreciated much of his musical work. It’s just that it seems to me that he has succumbed to the tremendous Music Row pressure to crank out shopping-list songs that resemble other shopping-list songs that have worked lately on radio. Craig’s last single was “Corn Star,” which just totally puzzled me.
Struggling country music artists of today completely have my sympathy. It’s never been tougher to make it. Radio is not new-artist friendly unless there is a large (read: expensive) push behind that wannabe artist. Radio playlists are getting smaller and smaller and harder to crack. There are fewer live venues where young artists can develop their musical chops and attract a following and maybe interest a record label.
And, just by the way, I was completely unaware that stars in the night sky are exclusive to the “Southern lifestyle.” Which, as you know, is a hot commodity.
But being a struggling artist and trying to market that “Southern lifestyle” is a tough gig. If you really want to try to make it superstar style, you get on the treadmill and stay there, trying to work within the system, running in place until the system uses you up and spits you out. Or you step off and play little clubs — if you can — and release indie albums and go to the Americana convention. And try to work social media and keep a loyal little audience.
By the way — trucks in Manhattan? Well, sir, I lived and worked there a long time, and I am here to tell you, the only trucks you see in Manhattan are not Southern pickup trucks tricked out with rifle racks and rebel flags and hound dogs and Daisy Duke lookalikes. Those are delivery trucks in Manhattan. They are delivering the goods that keep America running.
But back to the grits ’n’ biscuits song. Is this really the kind of song that can keep country from turning to pop and rap? Those pop and rap experiments are all well and good. But where do country music fans go these days?