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How to write a country song

Country Music is an unstoppable force
Country Music is an unstoppable force

I find myself on many boring evenings subjecting myself to the horror of watching some fun programming on CMT (Country Music Television). I do this for a couple of reasons, to annoy those around me and most importantly for humor. Modern country music is just really really awful rock n’ roll presented in the cheesiest manner possible. I can think of a few things that are more poetic and meaningful than the Luke Bryan video I endured last night, such as the text of the back of the shampoo bottle in my shower, the screaming children in the apartment next to mine, and George W. Bush.

Country music wasn’t always this way. Those old timers like George Jones, Charlie Pride, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, even George Strait and Johnny Paycheck had something in common. They told stories. Some happy, mostly sad. But they had a unique sound all their own that built the country genre. Bluegrass? Forget about it. The guys in those bands have so much musical talent that is a whole different classification all its own.

Modern mainstream country bequeaths to us a daily dose of compost in which America just can’t get enough. It’s safe to say we’ve officially lowered the bar to the ground. We have the “hot guy” singer that makes women swoon like their grandmothers used to at Tom Jones concerts. The singer will most likely have the tightest denim known to man squeezing the life out of his legs amongst other things. If he regularly take steroids, then the singer will probably go with a designer t-shirt that would have fit him appropriately when he was 8-years-old. Top that off with a hat of some kind. Some go for the classic baseball cap, but others go for the redneck gold and get themselves a cowboy hat (because nothing says ‘cowboy’ like never having been close to a farm in your entire life). Along with the “hot guy” singer you have the Nashville-based studio band. In country music, it’s very rare for a group of friends to get together and start a band. It’s all about the singer, the band is secondary. So you have a group of Nashville session guys who always wanted to be in a band of their own but never were, but were masters of their instrument and got a gig such as this. The band members usually dress like aging rock stars from the 1980s. They tend to sport the Richie Sambora (from Bon Jovi) hairstyles, often have soul patches, and wouldn’t be caught dead without their sunglasses or leather pants. On top of all of this, the band guys act as if they are playing the most complex piece of music ever written while at the same time making sure the women in the audience can see their “bulge.” I cringe at the utter lameness of this every time I see it.

For some reason, it tends to be the male gender who really takes this over the top. Why? Because women eat it up. Female country artists can be taken a bit more seriously. There is still a lot of novelty to it, but they sell themselves in a much more genuine way. In a lot of ways, it’s believable. There are some exceptions. Remember that “Redneck Woman” song back in 2003? The horror. The horror.

It’s lame but it is entertaining. And ‘entertaining’ is the key word. The highest honor for a country artist is winning the Entertainer of the Year award at the Academy of Country Music Awards. So essentially, the ‘who is the best actor award’ is the most coveted piece of award hardware in the industry. That explains so much. I listen to music and go see concerts to be inspired, to have a shared emotion or feeling with the artist and 20,000 other people, and most importantly, to appreciate art in its purest form – in person. If you want to be entertained, go see Lady Antebellum act out their songs with perfect hair in a stadium. If you want to be inspired, go see Chuck Ragan belt out his heart and soul in a dive bar.
Aside from all of this, there is some really great country music out there, you just have to search to find it because it isn’t mainstream and put directly in front of you.

As I watch these country music videos and really listen to the songwriting, I begin to think: Well, I give up. If this is what is considered cool I must be at odds with the planet and go ahead and jump off a building because I can’t be part of this anymore. But after that I think to myself: I could write a country song in 10 minutes. An album in an hour, a box set in an afternoon, and enough for a lifetime achievement award in a day.

The formula is simple. We need to discuss things such as rivers, getting drunk, walking out the door, trucks, wild women, and Jesus. We will do this in mid-tempo 4/4 time. We will use 4 chords, G-C-E-D alternating in that progression played as 1/8 notes on the 1-and and 3-and of every bar (1, and 2, and 3, and 4, and). Here we go. I’m calling this one “Ain’t no Good.”

Walkin’ with my baby to the river tonight
I see a gas lamp a’ burnin’ oh so bright.
It’s my last flame Jenny workin’ on her truck
The whiskey in my mouth makes me star-struck.
Them eyes in the moonlight and her soft smile
Makes me think of ole days that were so worthwhile.
Quit my job at the food mart and made us poor
Prolly the reason she walked out that doooooooor!
She said you ain’t no good
Like a real man should.
And all the while you were a’ cheatin’ and I uuuuunderstood
That you….ain’t…no…goooood.
16 count instrumental break featuring a Richie Sambora-looking guitarist
Verse 2

All them days a’ chasin’ wild women
Reminds me of margaritas and lemon.
Jesus I wish that I’d a’ done better
But I got a new baby and an Irish Setter.
Gonna get me a job and fix my car
Drink and drive with my baby to the local bar.
Gonna change my ways one way or another
To forget about Jenny and that wet hot summerrrrrrrrrr
Chorus (sing along)
She said you ain’t no good
Like a real man should
All the while you were a’ cheatin’ and I uuuuunderstood
That you….ain’t…no…goooood.
16 count instrumental break featuring another Richie Sambora-looking guitarist, then the volume fades and softens
Verse 3 (dramatically spoken word over low volume musical accompaniment)

She said, “Baby, you just aint’ no good.
Why did you say all them bad thangs to me in the Cracker Barrel parking lot?
You pretty much rurned my life and stuff.
No you got this new girl, you treatin’ her good?
I doubt it. You know why?”
A crescendo builds leading to the down-beat of the final chorus, which repeats 4 times
Cause’ you ain’t no good
Like a real man should.
And all the while you were a’ cheatin’ and I uuuuunderstood
That you….ain’t…no…goooood.
Another 16 count instrumental break mimicking the chorus melody fades to silence

And there you have it. If there are any country artists that would like to option this song for performance, publishing, or recording, please let me know.
What’s your favorite country song?

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