Gone Country?

Tony’s note May 2012:  This was meant to be my first column, but it was never published.  There was a mix-up with the editor.  So it was the first one I ever wrote, but no one ever read it – until now.  (You may notice a line here or there that was recycled into a later column.)
Coincidentally, my first music column will be published while many are in town for the gay rodeo.  It would seem appropriate to write something about country music…but I’m the dance music guy.  I own a dance music store.  I love dance music, soul, R&B, pop, divas.  I don’t like country music.

I’ve uttered that statement plenty of times in my life, typically followed by a mocking “Twang, twang, twang – my baby done left me and married a trucker, took my dawg…”  Gee, could I have been stereotyping?  Maybe it’s time to take a closer, (slightly) more serious, more respectful look.

I love soul music.  Lionel Richie, who grew up in Alabama, said there isn’t much difference between country music and soul music.  In fact, he wrote the hit “Lady” for Kenny Rogers.  And when you think about some of his hit songs with The Commodores like “Oh No” and “Sail on,” you can hear the country connection.

When I was a kid in NJ, flipping back and forth between the two AM radio stations (ask your daddy) I was always happy to hear “Through The Years” by Kenny Rogers, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle, and “I Love A Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt via my baseball-player shaped transistor radio (Mom hadn’t figured it out yet).  I didn’t know they were “country music.”  I just enjoyed them right alongside Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer’s “Enough Is Enough,” the Manhattan Transfer’s “Boy From New York City,” and anything by Barry Manilow, as I roller skated down the street.  (How had Mom not figured it out yet??)

In recent years, I thought Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much” was fun while I was tending bar at Alibi.  Keith Urban’s “You’ll Think of Me” was a dedication to someone(s) who broke my heart; and Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” was comforting as I thought of a good friend I’d lost now dancing in Heaven.

Speaking of dancing, there’s been no shortage of country music remixed for the clubs.  LeAnn Rimes’ “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” comes to mind.  And in a somewhat odd twist, Lady Gaga has just come out with a “Country Road Version” of her hit “Born This Way.”  (You can find it on youtube.)  She re-recorded her vocals, adding the line, “If I wanna make it country, baby, it’s OK,” and added some guitar and harmonica.  In doing so, she took a song that stands up for gay people and against prejudice, and kind of held up a mirror to my own bias against country music.

Lionel Richie is back, recording a country duets album.  He is redoing his old hits with the likes of Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, and even a duet of “Lady” with the aforementioned Kenny Rogers.  I’m looking forward to it.  So maybe it’s not fair to make the blanket statement, “I don’t like country music.”  Just don’t make me listen to the George W Bush/Alfred E Neuman look-a-like on American Idol.  Enjoy the rodeo!

This week in music history:  1979: Kenny Rogers “She Believes In Me” was climbing the charts on the way to number one.


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