Ten years ago today, there was a popular drinking song all over country radio by two of country music’s most talented artists.
But this drinking song wasn’t at all like the ones we know and love and push up the charts today.
The song was Brad Paisley’s duet with Alison Krauss, “Whiskey Lullaby.” And in the issue of Billboard magazine dated Aug. 14, 2004, the song peaked at No. 3. It went on to win multiple awards, including a CMA trophy for its songwriters, Bill Anderson and Jon Randall.
If you go back and listen to it now, you’ll hear no mentions of bonfires or flavored lip glosses. There were no tailgates down, no radios cranked and nobody ready to raise some hell. Instead, there was infidelity, heartbreak, guilt, alcoholism, depression and two suicides.
Compare the lyrics of this song to some of the whiskey-soaked songs on the radio now. First from “Whiskey Lullaby”:
“We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time/But he never could get drunk enough to get her off his mind.” And, “The rumors flew, but nobody knew how much she blamed herself/For years and years, she tried to hide the whiskey on her breath.”
Ultimately, this man and woman — his heart was broken because she’d broken it — both put that bottle to their heads and pulled the trigger.
Now here are some lyrics from current country drinkin’ songs:
“Twist off, sip a little, pass it around, dance in the dust, turn the radio up.”
“I could use another whiskey and your cosmo’s gettin’ low/While we tryin’ to figure out the next place we should go, we can drink on it.”
“Got a keg of beer and a bunch of girls, sure enough gonna be a good time.”
“Everything is right and we rule the world/Two twelves in the truck back, beating/A bunch of rock stars on a riverbank singing.”
“What I’m really needing now is a double shot of Crown/Chase that disco ball around ’til I don’t remember.”
Ten years ago, Paisley’s song was on the radio constantly. All summer long, even though it wasn’t “summer anthem” material. It may have been a downer, but it told a story.
Even Paisley himself admits that the trend within drinking songs has shifted to be simply about the drinking. He recently told Billboard , “We were always talking about alcohol, but most of the time it had to do with how that plays into your life. This has to do with, ’It’s almost the weekend, let’s go do this thing.'”
So how did we get from a drinking song so deep and powerful to the drinking songs we have now? Was it a gradual change, with the stories in songs disappearing little by little? Or did it happen overnight when I just wasn’t looking?