Sunday, July 11, 2010

50 - 26: Why Country Music?

Country is my favorite musical genre, but it hasn't always been so. In fact, I used to detest it. This is a bit surprising to me today, considering the music I liked when I began to be aware of the wider world beyond myself and my immediate family.

I was just shy of my teenage years when I discovered the pleasures of music. John Denver was the biggest artist around, in that time between the end of the Beatles and the rise of Elton John. Denver's music was sweet, almost saccharine, full of pretty melodies and simple, back-to-nature lyrics. For the most part it hasn't aged that well -- Rocky Mountain High, and perhaps Matthew, being the most notable exceptions -- but it did provide a safe, comfortable entry to American popular music in the early 1970s.

I soon graduated from my "gateway drug" to a more lasting addiction. It wasn't really a great stretch from John Denver's country pop to the country rock of Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles, but especially the latter have proven a deeper lyrical sophistication combined with complex vocal harmonies and outstanding musicianship can stand the test of time.

In case you the reader have any doubts, I remain an Eagles partisan after 35 years.

At the same time that I was captivated by the music coming out of Southern California, I was disavowing the country music largely coming out of Nashville. I thought of it, playing off my father's cues, as empty, twangy noise. This would have been around 1975, and in many ways, musical history has vindicated my views. The biggest days of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard were over, I had no interest at the time in Loretta Lynn, and the music was produced to be heard on radio, not really to last.

This included, as far as I knew, Willie Nelson. I knew his huge hit Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain, but not his concept album Red Headed Stranger. Discovering this artist, his music, and in particular this album are crucial to my larger point, and I'll revisit the subject again tomorrow.

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