Don’t believe all this talk you keep hearing about country music losing its soul. There’s not a word of truth to it. Country’s soul floats high and proud on a sea of alcohol — and it always has.
You can go back to the fabled Bristol Sessions of 1927-28, which are considered the wellsprings of country music, and there you will find the Stoneman Family yammering on about “Going Up the Mountain After Liquor.”
Or you might reflect on that 1944 granddaddy of country hits — Al Dexter’s “Pistol Packin’ Mama” — which opens with the arresting image: “Drinkin’ beer in a cabaret, and was I havin’ fun.”
Truck songs, rodeo songs, rambling songs and going-home songs come and go. But drinking songs are never out of fashion. And they generally fall into two categories — festive or therapeutic. Festive is about drinking to have fun. Therapeutic is about drinking because something has stopped you from having fun.
This isn’t to say that there’s no variety in drinking songs. There is. The preferred locale changes. During the Urban Cowboy craze of the early 1980s, no self-respecting dude would grab his girl and a six-pack and head out to the lake.
All the action back then took place in honky-tonks, where a man (wearing a cowboy hat, of course) could prove his mettle by riding the mechanical bull for eight seconds and where the lady could strut her stuff in “tight-fittin’ jeans,” not “Daisy Dukes.”
Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” (1977) made the beach a day-drinking destination, and Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” (1993), with its nighttime aquatic charms, laid the groundwork for today’s bro-country festivities.
Here are a dozen new and recent country hits that demonstrate country music still knows where its head is — tipped back with mouth open.
“Bartender,” Lady Antebellum It’s girls’ night out to try healing the wound some cad inflicted on one of their members. The victim will “chase that disco ball around,” flirt with another cad-in-waiting and drink “until they cut (her) off.” Sounds like a plan.
“Beer Money,” Kip Moore Here’s the problem, see. It’s a dead-end job in a nowhere town. A guy could just curl up, go to sleep and contribute to the general malaise or take that last skimpy paycheck and blow it on Bud and a babe. Any guesses as to how it turns out?
“Bottoms Up,” Brantley Gilbert With its sinister melody and understated vocals, this song makes drinking seem more like a religious ritual than a party-starter. But its insistent, throbbing lyrics are so hypnotic, you’ll definitely want to join the crowd. And, yes, we did get the double entendres.
“Day Drinking,” Little Big Town Willie Nelson had his “Bloody Mary Morning,” but Little Big Town doesn’t want to set back their consumption clock quite that far. Nor do they want to delay their bibulous gratification until happy hour. So the obvious solution is to grab the cocktail shaker and head for the patio right now.
“Drink to That All Night,” Jerrod Niemann What is the “that” the title alludes to? That’s the existential question. As far as we can tell, the things the singer is prepared to drink to all night are “the ladies” and the promise of free drinks. Isn’t that always enough? By the way, savor the fluency with which Niemann raps. Who knew a country boy could talk that fast and still be understandable?
“Drunk Last Night,” Eli Young Band The impulse to get drunk and call the woman who’s just dropped your sorry ass is as old as the opposable thumb. Before there were telephones, men were doing it with drums — and at 2 in the morning yet! That’s the situation we have here. Alas, the results are always the same. All this romantic gesture gets you is withering scorn and a massive hangover.
“Drunk on a Plane,” Dierks Bentley Poor chap. He’s been left at the altar. But the airline tickets for the honeymoon are still good. So why not use them? How he finds an airplane on which delectable flight attendants serve him copious amounts of liquor remains a mystery. But his “Mardi Gras up in the clouds” seems to be just the diversion he was looking for.
“Rum,” Brothers Osborne Hey, there’s nothing complicated about our formula for fun, sing the Brothers Osborne. It’s just you, me, the sun and rum. What, no tan lines?
“Sunshine & Whiskey,” Frankie Ballard Another beauty and the beach ballad. Like Jake Owen and the Brothers Osborne, Ballard’s desires are simple. But the transformative elixir here isn’t Corona, margaritas or rum but plain old whiskey. Ballard is not entirely oblivious to tan lines. He does name-check Coppertone.
“What I Can’t Put Down,” Jon Pardi To Pardi, whiskey is a lamentable addiction, like cigarettes and bad love affairs. He does concede, however, that there’s an upside to drinking: “It’s really good at helping me forget.” That’s a huge plus. Isn’t it?
“Whiskey in My Water,” Tyler Farr OK, this song does involve drinking. But its main theme, though, is the intoxicating effect of love. It sort of makes you wonder why they’re sitting around a fire instead of rushing off to a bedroom. Maybe it has something to do with that damn truck he’s hauling her around in.
How’s this for an idea: A country music festival at which only drinking songs are performed. If that ever happens, here are some classics for the set list: Webb Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass,” Gary Stewart’s “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” and “She’s Got a Drinking Problem (And It’s Me),” Johnny Bush’s “Whiskey River” and Eddie Rabbitt’s “Drinkin’ My Baby Off My Mind.”
Also, Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me),” Roy Acuff’s “Wreck on the Highway,” Earl Thomas Conley’s “You Must Not Be Drinking Enough,” Johnny Russell’s “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” and “Misery and Gin.”
And George Jones’ “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will),” Jim Ed Brown’s “Pop a Top,” Tom T. Hall’s “I Like Beer,” Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol” and Paisley and Alison Krauss’ “Whiskey Lullaby,” Jimmy Martin’s “Drink Up and Go Home” and Tex Ritter’s “Rye Whiskey.”
Anyone for detox?