Uploaded by Chelsea Viljoen

Themes found in country music

Chelsea Viljoen
Themes Found in Country Music
There’s nothing like coming home after a long day of work, opening up a can of Bud Lite and
listening to your favorite country artist. Whether it is Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw
or Carrie Underwood, there always seems to be some reoccurring themes in this specific
genre of music.
Drinking has always been a popular subject amongst country musicians. In almost every
modern country song there are lines similar to “Fill my dixie cup” ,“bring the keg”, “shot of
whiskey” or even “Jar full of clear” which refers to moonshine, an illegal homemade liquor
usually sold in southern states.
It relates to hard working people who like to take a load off after work and would like to relax
by having a few beers. It is very rare that you hear a country song about a ‘Friday night’
without there being alcohol mentioned. For many country artists there is a cycle and it is
usually reoccuring in their lyrics; work from Monday to Friday (usually doing physical labor
such as working on a farmer’s field), drinking on Friday and Saturday and then going to
Church on Sunday. Now, this might seem very stereotypical but I have countless songs that
back up this ‘theory’.
Take for instance Toby Keith’s “drinks after work”; he talks about working hard everyday at
work and then instead of going home after that, he decided to go to the bar for happy hour.
Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol” also is a perfect example of this theme playing a major role in
country music.
My favorite example of an alcohol themed song and previously mentioned cycle is Eric
Church’s “Drink in my hand.” There is a line; “Early Monday morning till Friday 5. Man, I
work, work, work but I don’t climb,climb,climb.” Another is “Fill it up, throw it down. I’ve got a
40 hour week worth of trouble to drown. No need to complicate it, I’m a simple man. All
you’ve got to do is put a drink in my hand.”
1.1 Partying
Alcohol and partying really goes hand in hand when it comes to country music. Most of these
songs are upbeat and are easy to dance to. Just like any music genre, country artists want
to relate to their listeners and thus want to make it as jivey as possible so that their music will
be played in bars, clubs and parties. Songs like these are: “House Party” by Sam Hunt.
Most of the time alcohol and drinking is related to the next theme found in country music:
2. Loneliness/Heartache
There are many heartfelt country songs about losing a loved one and the heartache that
comes with that. These songs tend to be slower, not as upbeat and usually good or easy to
slow dance to. One of my favorite songs about heartache is Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey
Lullaby.” Once again we can see that alcohol plays a major role and that it was incorporated
in this song. Many artists like to offer a simple solution to heartache and misery; drink
alcohol to forget or overcome.
“Drink a beer” by Luke Bryan is a very touching song that is about a man losing a friend
suddenly and then sitting on a pier, thinking about his friend and drinking a beer, reminiscing
about the old times.
2.1 Breakups
There seem to be many songs about dealing with breakups or wanting someone to break up
with someone else. This falls under the category of heartbreak and loneliness and is almost
always relatable when you’re sad.
Not all breakup songs are slow paced. “Break up in a small town” by Sam Hunt is a good
example about trying to get over someone after a breakup. In this case it is difficult as the
woman gets together with one of the man’s friends. Although it is hard for him, he finds it in
his heart to understand that that is the way things go when people live in a small town.
“Save it for a rainy day” by Kenny Chesney is about a man trying to come to terms with the
fact that his ex girlfriend will not be coming home. He has a very positive outlook on the
whole situation, he believes that the world has so much to offer and he tries to tuck away his
heartbreak and save it for a rainy day.
2.2 Revenge
Carrie Underwood seems to be a great example of a country singer who like to incorporate
revenge in most of her songs. There is an underlying violent streak to many of these songs
and in my opinion, sometimes gets a little repetitive.
“Before he cheats” by Carrie Underwood is an example of revenge. She destroys his truck
(his most valuable possession) when she finds out that he cheats on her.
3.Stereotypical idea of women and men
This is a topic that could possibly be offensive to many people and that is why this will be a
brief overview of MY opinion on this matter.
In many country songs there are specific roles for each gender. This might be an older
tradition and be because in the states where most country music is made (and listened to),
gender equality is not as widely practiced.
I have noticed that in these songs, males usually tend to physical labor such as working in
the field, farming, building etc.
Women usually get dolled up for their men, provide home cooked meals, make lemonade or
ice tea on hot summer days and raise the children.
This is not a negative thing as many women believe it is an honor serving their husbands
and like to listen to songs where they are encouraged to do so.
“In the 1940s, the difference between men and women as represented in country music was
clear. Men could be good-hearted but might be given to drinking, cheating, fighting, lying,
and other complicated and questionable behaviors. They were free to be full, threedimensional people endowed with a realistic spectrum of human emotions. Women, on the
other hand, were just good-hearted, or they were cruel—typically one thing or another, rarely
a human combination of both.” This is an extract of an article “Gender in Country Music
History” which supports my previous statements.
An excellent example of this idea is “Girl in a country song” by Maddie and Tae. They sing
about the cliche of girls in a country song, girls who only exist to look good for guys and their
friends on the weekend.
4. Travelling, driving & trucks
Many think that southern music is about staying in a small town, living a small life but there
are a lot of examples about artists wanting to leave the “small town” and wanting to travel to
different places. In “Mean” by Taylor Swift it clearly shows a young artist wanting to travel to
a big city and leave the small town.
In Jake Owen’s song “Anywhere with you”, there is a clear travel theme incorporated about a
young couple in love and him wanting to take her anywhere that she wants.
Although driving trucks and trucks itself is not a major theme in country music it is definitely a
sub-theme and is mentioned in many songs. There seems to be a lot of pride connoted with
the size of a person’s truck and how “jacked up it is.” Many songs are about to “tailgating”,
which refers to people sitting on the bed of a truck and drinking (usually in an isolated area
like a field of sorts.) This brings us back to our first theme; alcohol. People in country songs
seem to be content just driving around, often drinking and just being with good company or a
pretty girl. Here are some examples of people driving their trucks in country songs: “Play it
again” by Luke Bryan, “I don’t want this night to end” Luke Bryan and “I drive your truck” by
Lee Brice. “I drive your truck” is especially connoted with truck driving, most of the song
describes the inside of the truck and him taking back roads as it is a way for a young man to
cope with his father’s death. Here are a few lines of the song:
“I drive your truck
I roll every window down and I burn up
Every back road in this town
I find a field, I tear it up
Till all the pain’s a cloud of dust
Yeah, sometimes I drive your truck”
5. Family/ Tradition & patriotism
I believe that this particular theme is the most significant. Being a foreigner, I have always
been amazed by the patriotism that seems to pump through American veins. It is proudly
displayed in many music genres but particularly in country music. It is even found in country
music videos, the American flag is displayed on a porch, on the back of a truck or even
clothes that represent the red white and blue. I think in all of the music genres, country music
has the most love for the United State of America. The cornfields, the country, the people…
Everything seems to be beautiful for these country artists and they are proud to be where
they are from and it is where they will stay.
The most significant country song that i found with this theme is “Boondocks’ by Little Big
Town. Here are a few lyrics that support my statement:
“I feel no shame
I'm proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks
One thing I know
No matter where I go
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks”
It is clear to me that this person does not have much but it still very much proud of where he/
she comes from. It is pure love for his/her country and wouldn’t want to leave. Another few
lines from the song:
“It's where I learned about living
It's where I learned about love
It's where I learned about working hard
And having a little was just enough
It's where I learned about Jesus
And knowing where I stand
You can take it or leave it, this is me
This is who I am
Give me a tin roof
A front porch and a gravel road
And that's home to me
It feels like home to me”
This person is living a very simple life but isn’t interested in anything other than that. This is
his tradition and is proud of the life that he lives.
Another very touching song about family tradition is “Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line. It is about
a man wanting to put 10% down on a piece of dirt to build a house. It is the land where he
was born and raised. Here are a few lines from the song:
“It's that elm shade red rust clay
You grew up on
That plowed up ground
That your dad
Damned his luck on.”
Another few songs that I thought related to this theme is the following:
Family tradition Hank Williams Jr.
Florida Georgia Line - Round here
Lee Brice drinking crowd
Homegrown- Zac Brown Band
Chicken fried - Zac Brown Band
6. Cowboys
It is said that between the years 1940 through 1960 there was one music genre; country and
western. Now, there are 2 different music genres; country music and western music. In the
book “ The Cowboy in Country Music” it is explained in detail the difference between the two
but here is a paragraph that briefly explains:
“Musically [the two] are basically the same thing. The difference in western is in the lyrics. It
deals with the West – the beauty of the West, western stories. The western genre has pretty
much disappeared. The country music cowboy is a guy who drives a pick-up truck – he
doesn’t have a horse, there’s no cattle.”
There are many country songs that have this ‘modern day cowboy’ and it has been
mentioned in the previous theme but here is a song about an actual cowboy “Like a cowboy”
- Randy Houser
“I'll ride in on a sunny day,
Sing you a song, steal your heart away
Like a cowboy
Hang my hat like I'm here for a while
Kick off my boots and drive you wild, like a cowboy
Well baby you know I can't stay long
You wake up, I'll be gone
Until then I'll hold on, like a cowboy”
7. Farming/ Countryside
This theme definitely does go hand in hand with the 2 previous themes mentioned. Many of
these country songs are produced in the south which does explain a huge number of country
songs that have to do with farming or being in the country. These songs are most likely very
relatable to the listeners who are possibly also do physical labor for work such as farmers or
field workers.
“How Country Feels” by Randy Houser is a perfect example of someone who is used to
being in the country, most likely grew up there and loves it. Here are a few lines from the
song that supports my previous statement:
“You were raised on an asphalt farm
Ain't never heard a rooster crow
Never walked barefoot by a river
Felt the mud up between your toes
You never rolled in the hay
You never thrown it in four wheel
Climb up on here girl
Let me show you how country feels”
A few more songs that I thought would be appropriate to this theme is the following:
Farmer’s daughter - Rodney Atkins
Jason Aldean - Dirt Road Anthem
Kick the dust up - Luke Bryan
She’s country - Jason Aldean
Somethin bout a truck- Kip Moore
Love/ Relationships
Like in most music genres, country music artists also does incorporate love in the lyrics. It is
not this specific genre that adds this theme to songs, most artists do it. It is a very popular
theme to sing about. However, love is displayed and explained differently in country music
than in other music genres. For example, when a man loves a woman he will sing about her
putting her painted toenails on his truck’s dashboard. Or for a woman, she will sing about
him taking her out on the town and take her dancing. This theme also goes well with pretty
much every other theme previously stated. Love is almost always the reason behind an
alcohol themed song or the reason for heartache etc. Other than previously mentioned, this
theme is pretty self explanatory. I have listed a few country love songs that I think represent
this theme quite well:
Like a wrecking ball - Eric Church
Zac Brown Band - Whatever it is
Crazy Girl - Eli Young Band
8. Religion
Religion plays a very big role in country music. Any other genre does not mention religion as
often as much as country music. This really does go hand in hand with the theme previously
mentioned; tradition. Many country artists mention that they ‘go to church on a Sunday’ ‘get
down on their knees’ ‘thank the good Lord upstairs’ etc.
It is pretty obvious that the main religion found in country music is “Christianity.” I have never
heard any artist sing about another religion and thus I am making my statement based on
my personal view of the matter.
I think religion has a deep connection with country music but not so strong that some country
songs can be classified as religious songs rather than country music. More so that religion is
mentioned quite often. Here are a few examples of the country songs that I have found that
are related to religion.
Brantley Gilbert - One hell of an amen.
Carrie Underwood - Church Bells
It Wasn't God Who Made the Honky-Tonk Angels
Like in any music there are themes that play a big role in the lyrics and the general sounds
of the music. There are so many more themes that are found in country music but I listed the
most significant ones that I found the most interesting and that appeared in the most songs. I
also found a quite interesting song that I thought appropriate for this essay, It is called
“Crazy Town” Jason Aldean. It is about Nashville, Tennessee and artists trying to make it in
this big city.
“It's a crazy town full of neon dreams,
Everybody plays everybody sings,
Hollywood with a touch of twang,
To be a star you gotta bang bang bang,
Bend those strings till the Hank comes out,
Make all the drunk girls scream and shout,
We love it we hate it we're all just trying to make it,
In this crazy town.”