There’s an article at PJ Media, sparked by my friends at Liberty Island, which asks the question, “Who Are the Greatest Country Music Artists Everyone Should Have In Their Collection?” The subhead reads: “Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton? Who are the best?”
I have all the respect in the world for these people, but let’s get real. Johnny Cash is dead. Willie Nelson is in his eighties. Dolly Parton is Medicare-eligible. Are they country music legends of the highest order? Of course they are. But are they who we should be talking about?
I looked at the comments on the article (breaking my own rule of never looking at the comments). The people who read the article suggested people like Lester Flatt and Jimmie Rodgers. Someone suggested the Stoneman Family, who were playing ninety years ago. Ninety years ago!
I am not saying we should not honor the greats of country music. Of course we should. I’ve got an iTunes player full of Johnny Cash and George Jones music. But I’ve also got two five-year-old daughters, and I live in by-God New Jersey, and I’m going to have a supremely hard time to convince them that country music is worth listening to.
I’m driving with them the other day, and they want to listen to the kids’ station on XM, and I turn it on, and for some reason known only to the Elder Ones, they’re playing “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, which is not what I’d classify as kids’ music, but whatever floats your boat. And they’re listening to it, and Child A starts complaining that the words of the song aren’t right.
“Those are the words,” I say. “Why wouldn’t they be right?”
And then, hand to God, she starts singing the chorus of the Katy Perry song “Roar,” which, indeed, talks about the eye of the tiger.
That’s what I’m up against. And if you tell me that the best way to stop my kids from listening to Katy Perry and start listening to country music is to get them hooked on the Stoneman Family, you’re wrong. I say that with the deepest respect, but you’re wrong and you need to maybe think about listening to something more current.
I was lucky, I guess. I grew up in the ’70s, bouncing around the North Texas prairie in my dad’s pickup, listening to all hundred thousand watts of WBAP in Fort Worth, with Paul Harvey on at noon, and listening to George Jones and Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. Add in some Kenny Rogers and Barbara Mandrell and you had yourself a well-rounded listening experience. But even then, country music was, objectively, kind of a hard sell. Take a look at this, if you dare.
If you didn’t click on the link, what you missed out on was Conway Twitty, on the old “Hee-Haw” show, singing what can only be described as a seduction ballad, while rocking an improbable toupee and mutton-chop sideburns, and wearing a pale-pink double-breasted polyester leisure suit and white cowboy boots. And he’s gently caressing the inside of his thigh. This was–and I say this very advisedly–considered to be perfectly normal at the time.
I want better than that for my kids.
So when they’re ready to start listening to country music, I’m going to break out three artists that I think they’ll like, and that are a good introduction to the genre: