When my cousin mentioned a song she likes called Blue Ain’t Your Colour, I desperately wanted to listen to the lyrics. This Keith Urban song took me down a musical path I hadn’t been on in a while – the path of cowboy boots, checked shirts, the open road and unconcealed emotion, also known as Country & Western music.
Growing up, I was familiar with the music of Billy Ray Cyrus (Achy Breaky Heart), George Strait (I Just Want To Dance With You) and of course, Shania Twain. It impressed me much. I loved how the lyrics had humour, irony, wordplay and honesty all rolled into one foot-stompin’ tune.
Country music is unapologetically direct. Pop music delivers emotion in an understated, sometimes cryptic way that is often open to interpretation. Country music just tells it like it is. Like that one friend we all have who just blurts out whatever is in her head, the one with no filter, the brutally honest, what-you-see-is-what-you-get character who the rest of us secretly want to be sometimes.
You don’t need to analyse a country song or put too much effort into guessing what it could be about. It’s all laid bare right there, often in the title. Forget about being concise. Just lay it all on the table. The lyrics are literal to the point of occasional banality, but with no beating around the bush.
When Shania Twain asks Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under, there’s no getting away from it. You answer the damn question. In contrast, Beyonce’s Irreplaceable, also about a cheating partner, requires much more work to understand the premise of the song. That is, you have to listen to it to realise that she is actually saying ‘You’ve been replaced’. Very misleading, that title. Also listening to the first few lines might make you think she was supervising a painting being hung on the wall (‘To the left, to the left’).
With country music there is no such ambiguity. When left for another woman, Shania puts her heart on her sleeve and sings Poor Me. When John Denver faces unrequited love he sings ‘You dun stomped on my heart and you mashed that sucker flat.’ No interpretation needed.
Another quirky feature of country music titles is the use of parentheses (brackets!) to give you the full story. To explain further. To remove all possible doubt. My favourites:
Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You) – Shania Twain
She Got The Ring (I Got The Finger) – Chuck Mead
She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles) – Gary Stewart
Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy) – Big and Rich
If we applied this rule to non-country songs, we would provide sufficient information and relevant details to an otherwise vague title. I propose we add brackets to this Jay-Z song:
(I Got) 99 Problems (But A Bitch Ain’t One). Would be so much clearer.
But the prize for the best country song title ever has to go to this one by Deana Carter. To disappointed women everywhere – she sings:
Did I Shave My Legs For This? So good it needs to be shared.
©2017 Seetha Dodd