Gone Country: Where have all the patriotic songs gone?

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A screenshot from Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" music video.

Country music’s patriotic relationship with America has been well documented. I mean, it’s right there in the genre’s name: country. Artists like Toby Keith, Charlie Daniels and Darryl Worley have expressed their love for the country angrily and passionately. Others, like Alan Jackson, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley, take a less aggressive stance in their patriotism, but still express love of country in their songs.

A screenshot from Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" music video.

A screenshot from Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” music video.

This Fourth of July, country music fans probably won’t hear anything overly patriotic coming through their radio speakers. Or, should I say, they won’t hear any current patriotic tunes coming through their speakers.

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Long gone are the heydays of Toby Keith and Darryl Worley, who both saw surges of popularity by penning patriotic platitudes in the months following the Sept. 11 attacks.

You might hear Lee Greenwood’s classic “God Bless the U.S.A.” (which is so old that it has now been turned into a children’s book) or, maybe some old school Brooks & Dunn with “Only In America,” which came out mere months before the 9/11 attacks.

No, aside from a few scant lines on some recent songs here and there— Jake Owen’s “American Country Love Song,” Kenny Chesney’s “Noise“— the average country music consumer looking for a new patriotic tune to listen to around the 4th of July cookout is going to be out of luck.

Or will they?

Today’s country songs are still patriotic, to a degree. Sure, you won’t hear a new “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue“-type anthem these days. (Or at least, I hope not, since that song was born out of a reaction to the worst terrorist attack on American soil). But what you will hear is a constant, almost cliche pining for nostalgia, even if it’s nostalgia for a time most of today’s artists are too young to even remember.

The new patriotic song in country music is the “small town” song. Every artist has one, it seems. “‘Round Here.” “Back Where I Come From.” “Famous in a Small Town.” “My Town.” “Small Town USA.

For country artists, “That small town where I was raised” is the new “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

I’ve written about this previously for another publication, but the trend still continues. Whether the artist is from a small town or not, the most surefire way to prove you’re an American is to pledge your allegiance to the farmland.

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It’s nothing new, and it’s more a pragmatic move than an artistic one— why do you think presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush went out of their way to play up their homespun roots? It’s ’cause people respond easily to it.

If artists aren’t singing about living in a small town, they’re singing about how they pine for those good ol’ days back in those small towns. And it’s not just with lyrics like “I wouldn’t trade one single day in small town USA.” It’s apparent in the melodies and sonic choices of many artists as well.

What’s hot for country stars now is sounding like you just stepped out of the 80s or 90s. There is no other genre that prizes nostalgia like country music does. No other genre is as enamored with sounding the same as it did 20 years ago. Very few country artists sing praises about living in the 21st century (sans Brad Paisley, but he’s always been an outlier).

But that nostalgia clearly works with listeners, especially in this day and age where every franchise, TV show and film from 20 years ago is being rebooted. “Small Town USA” became Justin Moore’s first No. 1 hit in 2009. Every other “small town” song I listed as examples above also charted within the Top 20 on Billboard’s Hot Country Chart.

Clearly, we like looking back and remembering the good ol’ days, whether they were really “good” ol’ days.

And what’s more American than that?

 

 

 


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