Pop the champagne and pour. Jason Aldean turns 42 today.
He’s been pumping out hits and drawing big crowds since 2005, and it is in tribute to those achievements that we now lift our glasses.
Maybe it’s because “Hicktown” was his first hit that Aldean returns so regularly to small-town life in his songs. In country music, geography is important. It’s the notion that who you are is where you’re from. Or where you claim to be. Via the songs he’s chosen to record, Aldean tells us he’s not only resided in “Hicktown,” but in “Crazy Town,” “This Nothin’ Town,” “Two Night Town” and “Rearview Town,” as well. Moreover, he asserts that he and his buddies, wherever they’ve lived, have left “Tattoos on This Town.” Many other of his songs allude to modern small-town life even if they don’t attach specific names to the places.
So what are Aldean’s small towns like? Let’s see:
“Hicktown” (No. 10, 2015, written by Kenny Alphin, John Rich, Vicky McGehee)
There’s almost a desperate sense of celebration, a grab-it-while-you-can attitude here — an equation of frantic activity with fun: “We let it rip when we got the money / Let it roll if we got the gas.” The people depicted are caricatures verging on the grotesque: “Well you can see the neighbor’s butt crack nailin’ on the shingles / And his woman’s smokin’ Pall Malls watchin’ Laura Ingalls / And Granny’s gettin’ lit and headin’ out to bingo.” Surely it will come as no surprise that the narrator is scornful of the “folks in the city [who] party in martini bars / And … like to show off in their fancy foreign cars.” To quote Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
“Crazy Town” (No. 2, 2010, Brett Jones, Rodney Clawson)
“Crazy Town” is Nashville, the home of country boys’ and girls’ musical fantasies. As the lyrics say, it’s “Hollywood with a touch of twang,” and it’s pretty much like a small town since it confines itself to Music Row and the saloon thicket of Lower Broadway. “It’s a crazy town of neon dreams/Everybody plays, everybody sings.” But unlike life in real small towns, in Crazy Town, you can hit the jackpot: “One year they repossess your truck / And the next you make a couple million bucks.”
“Tattoos on This Town “(No. 2, 2011, Michael Dulaney, Wendell Mobley, Neil Thrasher)
In all these small-town anthems, it’s youth — not the town itself — that the singer cherishes. Just as tattoos are reminders of younger and wilder days, so are the drag racing tire marks that linger on the roads, the graffiti still visible on the overpass and the rope burn on the limb overhanging the swimming hole. “It [the town] sure left its mark on us / We sure left our mark on it / We let the world know we were here, with everything we did.” Unlike the chip on the shoulder implicit in some of the other songs, this one comes across as sweetly wistful. Compare it to the frantic intensity of “Gonna Know We Were Here.”
“This Nothin’ Town” (No. 41, 2012, busbee, Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley)
Don’t make snap judgments, this song counsels, just because the town looks sleepy. Even in a “nothing town,” people are falling in love, throwing parties and savoring the sunset. There’s a touch of defensiveness here—which is stock in trade for a lot of country songs. “It might look a little laid back to you / But it ain’t all just porches and plows.” Not that there’s anything wrong with porches and plows, mind you.
“Two Night Town” (No. 18, 2014, Brett James, Tim Nichols)
Presumably, a two-night town is one that exhausts all its diversions in that time. But here we have someone who’s found more: “It was women, it was sinning, it was alcohol / It was everything the Bible says will make a man fall.” Add to all this the fact that his woman has walked out on him. With nothing left to lose and much to forget, he muses,” I think I’ll spend four nights in a two-night town.” Sometimes it’s not the town but the townie that’s the problem.
“Rearview Town” (No. 24, 2017, Kelley Lovelace, Bobby Pinson, Neil Thrasher)
This is one of the most eloquent songs Aldean has ever recorded: “This ain’t nothin’ but a rearview town / Broken hearts and rusted plows. … It ain’t nothin’ what it used to be / Population minus me. … I could tough it out, but what’s the use.” Has anyone ever quit his or her hometown with greater disappointment and rage?