Canon Fodder
September 19, 2018 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Where's the country music on Pitchfork's Best Albums of the 1980s?
posted by naju (56 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Right here
posted by chavenet at 9:41 AM on September 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


chavenet, beat me to it. Shoutouts to PinkMoose!
posted by Fizz at 9:42 AM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


You can just like Garth Brooks. Jesus Christ.
posted by East14thTaco at 9:42 AM on September 19, 2018


I don't want to derail, but like many people here music is central to my life. It always has been. Pitchfork, on the other hand, is not.
posted by hilberseimer at 9:46 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Pancho and Lefty always holds up! Willie and Merle should have done more work together.
posted by mike_honcho at 10:15 AM on September 19, 2018


Oh man, the scrubbed Coltrane review linked in the article is _painful_
posted by Maaik at 10:16 AM on September 19, 2018


isn't it true that albums just aren't as central to country music? the formula for many artists is they do 10 songs for an album; at least that's what it tended to be way back when - the 10 songs are done well but they're not necessarily selected for overall impact

and today's country is the most ruthlessly commercial music around - back then, it wasn't anywhere as calculated

not that pitchfork would have a clue about anything ...
posted by pyramid termite at 10:22 AM on September 19, 2018


I'm only speaking personally here, but in the 1980s Randy Travis, George Strait, Clint Black, and Garth Brooks ruled country music the same way Prince ruled pop - they even had a few movies featuring them.

And those guys music was really slick and produced in the same way Madonnas or top 40 pop was - it wasn't a style that was appealing to me, and if there was a independent country station (or like 120 Minutes for country), I don't recall hearing about it.

Finally add in that rockist/country like Tom Petty was doing well, and I can understand that country would be an underappreciated genre among coastal tastemakers.

I also think he's putting a lot of power in the hands of Pitchfork that it doesn't have. Their top 40 list is an internet discussion item. Rolling Stone still gets more press and credit for their listings.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:35 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


So throw that best country music list out there and fly it proud! There's a hole that can be filled.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:37 AM on September 19, 2018


Not an album, but: Willie Nelson and Ray Charles, Seven Spanish Angels.

That is all.
posted by clawsoon at 10:40 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Mainstream country music absolutely has astounding full albums, even some stuff that has come out of Nashville. Mainstream country right now is pretty blah, but historically it's had some great strings of amazing music.

Also, maybe it's because I've lived in the south my whole life, but it was pretty common before Clear Channel to have a current country station, an older country station, and sometimes an alt country station (that also played stuff like Willie and Johnny, while mostly ignoring stuff from Dolly and Loretta bc alt country can tend towards specific artists who just happened to never be the women).
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:44 AM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


The "except rap or country" discussion reminds me of a complexity study that somebody posted to Metafilter a while back, which found, in addition to the fact that pop lyric complexity has been gradually declining over the past few decades, that rap and country had the most complex, least repetitive lyrics of all the genres studied.
posted by clawsoon at 10:48 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


The “except rap and country” statement is portrayed in the article as somehow being an Ivy league attitude, but I must have heard it a million times growing up in Oklahoma. Its arguable even a more important class separator here, because any time you go to the store you will see people that you can feel confident listen to country music or rap. It's not an 'I'm better than those hicks out in the country' statement, it's an 'I'm better than most of the people that surround me everyday' statement.

Country music and rap are both enormous genres with a lot of breadth in the types of songs they contain. I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn't be able to at least find one song in them that they can identify with, especially since both are so story driven. “Everything except rap and country” has always just seemed to me to be a declaration of intentional ignorance that makes me feel uncomfortable, and every time I hear it (it hasn't gone away), I feel a little bit of distrust and separation with the person saying it.
posted by Quonab at 11:15 AM on September 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'm only speaking personally here, but in the 1980s Randy Travis, George Strait, Clint Black, and Garth Brooks ruled country music

Garth had only one album come out in the 1980s; his debut. Everything else was in the 1990s where was the undisputed ruler of the genre. And Friends in Low Places is in my top 10 of all time favorite country songs.

I like the list in the link, especially George Strait's Strait From the Heart. I don't mind admitting that even after all of these years, Amarillo by Morning is still one of those songs that I get caught up into 100%. Hell, even half way around the world, in Mongolia, they get wrapped up in that song.
posted by NoMich at 11:16 AM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Nice article (though it could use a good hard edit in half).

The "everything but rap and country" stuff was a line I experienced all too often in the 1990s. OK, how bout some Merzbow, etc. It's funny the social/race signifiers that pop up.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:27 AM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn't be able to at least find one song in them that they can identify with, especially since both are so story driven. “Everything except rap and country” has always just seemed to me to be a declaration of intentional ignorance that makes me feel uncomfortable, and every time I hear it (it hasn't gone away), I feel a little bit of distrust and separation with the person saying it.

I mean, if you're trying, that's true. If you sample a genre for a while and find little to enjoy, eventually you stop searching.

This dates me, but when I was growing up "sampling" music was a challenge excepting listening to a radio station that carries that genre. But radio stations that cater to country don't - in my experience - offer a great variety. They stick to what's popular, so if you "sample" a station over time you probably won't hit on music that's an outlier that you identify with. The country I was exposed to from, oh, let's say 1975 through 1995, was (to my ears) at best "meh" and at worst annoying for someone more into classic rock and (later) 80s new wave, punk, and alternative.

I love Johnny Cash, who falls firmly into the "country" category - or some of it, anyway... I sort of see Johnny Cash as a genre all its own... but I wouldn't say I like country. I like the Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris album, but her solo work doesn't do it for me.

Same with rap - I like some but it's not a genre I like unto itself. And I can say fairly confidently I do not like opera, either. But nobody's beating up Pitchfork for failing to deal with 80s opera or any of the other genres that it ignores...

Anyway, I bristle a bit when there's an assumption of dishonesty or some kind of character flaw for not liking country or rap. Lord knows, I don't see many people getting offended if somebody says "I like anything but death metal" or similar.
posted by jzb at 11:37 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think it's telling in a different way. Rap and country both are recognized to be significant genres, but not of interest to the particular person. Jazz, chorales, opera and whatnot aren't even worth of mention.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:40 AM on September 19, 2018


Same with rap - I like some but it's not a genre I like unto itself. And I can say fairly confidently I do not like opera, either. But nobody's beating up Pitchfork for failing to deal with 80s opera or any of the other genres that it ignores...

Anyway, I bristle a bit when there's an assumption of dishonesty or some kind of character flaw for not liking country or rap. Lord knows, I don't see many people getting offended if somebody says "I like anything but death metal" or similar.


1) There’s a great article to be written about Pitchfork and classical, opera, etc. I'd read it and probably nod my head if someone wrote a thoughtful piece on it

2) “I like everything but [death] metal” isn’t a statement I’ve ever heard out in the world to my recollection, whereas “I like everything but rap and country” is so specific and I’ve heard it so many times from people that it exceeds a statement to be read on its face and instead becomes a weighty conscious signifier for something else
posted by naju at 11:52 AM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Anyway, I bristle a bit when there's an assumption of dishonesty or some kind of character flaw for not liking country or rap.

But, you do like (some) rap and country (and despite any protestations, Johnny Cash is absolutely mainline country and in no way a genre of his own). That's the point. If you immediately cut off all rap & country, genres that tend be seen through stereotypes about certain classes of people, it's honestly suspicious - as a person who has been the country class of people. It's why opera doesn't come up, that is seen as high brow. Some will judge you for not liking it, but they're judging from the other direction. Also, if someone says "I like everything but rap and country" and they also don't like choral or opera or death metal then they're just signaling harder that they don't like poor people, imo. Like, it's just a weird statement - "what music do you like?" "everything but these two genres out of all music ever!" Which isn't actually an answer to the question.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:54 AM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Anyway, I bristle a bit when there's an assumption of dishonesty or some kind of character flaw for not liking country or rap. Lord knows, I don't see many people getting offended if somebody says "I like anything but death metal" or similar.

To me, at least, it isn't that there are some people who don't listen to country or rap or opera, but there are some people who are proud of not listening to country, who take it as part of their identity that they don't listen to something. Saying "everything but country and rap" in response to "favorite music" means you are describing your cultural outlook as defined by your dislike of something, which is an attitude so alien to me that it moves past offensive straight into baffling.

I don't listen to country music, not because I dislike it, but because I simply haven't taken the time to dig into it and start finding things that I like. But far from seeing it as a virtue I see it as a sad side effect of the reality that there is far too much music out there for a single person to get exposed to even a tiny fragment of what's worthwhile.

The only benefit I can see to making part of your identity your *dislike* of something is that it indicates some sort of status marker, as others have pointed out above- I'm an Intelligent and Worldly person, of course I don't listen to that country trash. I don't harbor much sympathy for that viewpoint.
posted by perplexion at 12:01 PM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Exactly. And like, as a music lover, I'm very passionate and focused on all the shit I looooooove, and when I'm looking for like-minded people to talk about music with, I can tell because with a gentle prompt they're never too far away from gushing about something they recently discovered that they can't stop listening to. That mindset is so far removed from defining yourself by what you don't listen to that I can't help but think this statement is not even about music.
posted by naju at 12:09 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is Springsteen on the list? REM? There you go.

What they’re really whining about is a lack of hats.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:20 PM on September 19, 2018


It's ok to dislike subjective art forms that are forced on everyone in public. We may be talking about the '80s but it's 2018 now, and this person graduated (from college I think) in 2009.

Sheesh, the article itself is all winky about 'indie rock' like people only like that because of cultural appropriation or whatever and not because they actually like it as music.

Also, even back in the '90s rap wasn't music for 'poor people' it was the primary music of suburban upper class white teens. That's why it's on Pitchfork's list now and opera is not. Sure, many of the people who don't like rap possibly don't like black people or poor people. But plenty of the people who do like rap don't like black people or poor people.

People love talking about things they like, and they love talking about things they dislike (mayo /pizza not from New York/ sportsball). There's nothing odd about it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:36 PM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's certainly odd that so many people have found the exact same phrase to express their very personal dislike. Also, rap is the primary music for the communities it reflects too. That's why white suburban teens glommed on to it. Especially in the '80s the themes of the music were about living in the inner city.

And yes, racists can hate black people and still partake in and/or appropriate the art of black people. News at 11.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 12:47 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]



I don't want to derail, but like many people here music is central to my life. It always has been. Pitchfork, on the other hand, is not.


__

Where’s the crap I give for anything Pitchfork says?

__

We get it, you’re too good for Pitchfork! But it doesn’t matter whether you personally care about them or not. They’re one of the main critical tastemaker establishments for music and the article is literally about how canons are formed (it's in the title) and the biases that go into them. And maybe you don't care about the canon either, but the canon exists independent of you and probably affects lots of things you do care about; that power is kind of their whole point and why people pay attention to them and make plays to alter them.
posted by naju at 1:09 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


The thing about music, especially in the 50s-early 2000s period, is that musical tastes were closely aligned with subcultures. There was an article recently (it might even have been on here) arguing that the proliferation of instant streaming music means that subculture is divorced from music in a way that was not true previously.

So, liking all music other than country and rap was a way of saying "I'm not a member of either of the two subcultures identified with those genres of music." It's also probably a way of saying "I'm not that into music." There are people who are super into music, and then there are lots of people for whom music is fine, but not that big a deal.

If you're in that category, and you want to distance yourself from the perceived subcultures aligned with rap and country music, then the statement makes sense.

It's less about literal musical taste and far more about cultural identification.
posted by MythMaker at 1:11 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Everything except rap and country"

The thing about rap and country is that there's identity rolled into those music styles; if you don't identify with the culture being sung about in rap or country, it's going to me more difficult to say you like it -- "at my front door lookin' in", "I love this bar", "you're gonna miss this", "stick a boot up your ass courtesy of the red white and blue", "let's check each other for ticks", "Jesus take the wheel", there's a lot of things in those songs that a certain group of people identify with, and the music is designed that way; I agree, it's reductionist to eliminate entire genres that way, but when you have to filter out so many songs that just don't resonate with you, it's hard to say you like the genre, and country and rap are very filtered when it comes to the audiences they're looking for. The country song about driving a slow tractor down the highway? I have literally done that, so that song sticks with me, but I wouldn't say that convinces me that country as a genre speaks to me, the rest is foreign.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


AzraelBrown: The country song about driving a slow tractor down the highway? I have literally done that, so that song sticks with me, but I wouldn't say that convinces me that country as a genre speaks to me, the rest is foreign.

I think that what appeals to me in music is something other than relatability, though I can't put my finger on quite what it is. (Nothing wrong with the way that you do it, just different from me.) I've never worked at a whorehouse in Texas, but "Hard Candy Christmas" still got me through some hard times. I've never woken up drunk on a Sunday morning - never even gotten drunk - but "Sunday Morning Coming Down" gets me every time. Running away never crossed my mind as a kid, but "River Road" was a favourite. Etc, etc.

I can say the same for most of the music I like in most genres.

Hmm. Maybe I just like music that's more interesting than my boring life.
posted by clawsoon at 1:44 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


The "I like everything except rap and country" definitely was a thing, wasn't exactly true for those who said it, and in that particular phrasing seemed pretty intentional in situating the person in a class/race context. Not caring much for either country or rap wasn't so much the issue itself as how the statement was made, which was usually when someone asked what kind of music you liked in a casual conversation so the disclaimer was made as a way to identify one's tastes without making a positive claim of identity, just a denial of one, saying I'm not one of those people without committing to what kind of person you are.

Not all disinterest in country or rap is the same thing as the use of the statement in that context, so how or why it comes up, how it is presented as an indentifier, and how complete the denial can make a difference in whether one sees it as a taste issue, lack of knowledge on the genres, or something more complex.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:02 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Hmm. Maybe I just like music that's more interesting than my boring life.

I mean, that's a good point: why does someone like Dr Feelgood? or 18 and Life? It's not that they lead the life of a drug dealer, but it tells the story of a big city person making their exciting way through the world. Copperhead Road is one of my favorite songs, and maayybe it is country? but it strikes a chord more with the side of me that likes rock and roll, the outsider living their life their way, even if it is afoul of the law; plus, I'm a history buff and appreciate the context, even if I'm not from the south.

Pretty much all the songs I quoted as reasons I don't identify with Country pretty much have something to do with "this is my life, I'm just leading it as best I can, because I guess it's actually awesome or something?" and that just doesn't resonate with me, they seem pandering and treacly (except for the Ticks one, that's just weird all around).

But, with the Copperhead Road reference: I seem to remember that "country" as a genre for those who reject it was very specifically the Top 40 Country, versus blues, bluegrass, early rock, and roots, where Steve Earle tends to slide inline with those more than pop country, and which is why Johnny Cash often gets a pass.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:23 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have always loved country music from the adorkable (say, Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler") to the luminous (say Gram Parsons' "$1000 Wedding"). But the gateway really opened via of all people, Elvis Costello. His "Almost Blue" revealed the emotional & musical range of a whole bunch of incredible country music to this coastal dweller ... George Jones, Charlie Rich, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn....)
posted by chavenet at 2:27 PM on September 19, 2018


Huh? Johnny Cash is absolutely top 40 country (and sounds like many of those who came up before and alongside him then influenced similar sounds after). People give Cash a pass because they like it but they want to signal that they don't like country, so that only works if he "isn't really country" or a "genre to his own."
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:03 PM on September 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Right here
posted by chavenet at 9:41 AM on September 19 [+] [!]


Dwight Yoakum had three number one country music albums in the 1980s and is not on the list, which seems like a significant oversight.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:25 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


But Buenos Noches... is on the list in the linked article in the OP
posted by NoMich at 3:28 PM on September 19, 2018


I was trying to come up with more reasoned arguments as to why it makes perfect sense to me that pitchfork ignores country music but then I couldn't find a way to make it sound reasonable to anyone that actually enjoys the stuff. I guess, there's a reason why pizza ranch isn't ever going to make the list of best american eateries. It's the same reason Clint Black won't make it into Pitchfork's top albums. It might be classicism, snobbishness and condescension, but also it might just be taste.
posted by dis_integration at 3:50 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


lol I dare you to defend even the last year, or 12 issues from the last 12 years, or whatever metric you want make that "taste" is seen throughout the entire magazine.

And also, get out of your bubble - if you think there's no taste in allllllll of country or rap, yeah, you might be classist and/or ignorant.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 5:51 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Let's try that comment with rap and see if it passes the smell test:

I was trying to come up with more reasoned arguments as to why it makes perfect sense to me that pitchfork ignores rap music but then I couldn't find a way to make it sound reasonable to anyone that actually enjoys the stuff. I guess, there's a reason why pizza ranch isn't ever going to make the list of best american eateries. It's the same reason Biggie Smalls won't make it into Pitchfork's top albums. It might be classicism, snobbishness and condescension, but also it might just be taste.

Yeah that smells pretty rank from here
posted by naju at 5:55 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


You can't just substitute rap for country like the argument would be the same. That's like saying objecting to Thomas Kinkade is the same as objecting to Kehinde Wiley. Everything is not the same as everything else, and so you can't substitute everything for everything else. Just subbing in rap is the same as when people just sub in 'black' for complaints about 'whiteness'. Which is appropriate, because the thing that is most essential to country music is whiteness.

I'm reminded of dril's (the greatest philosopher of our age) finest tweet.

The thing is that there are good things and bad things.
posted by dis_integration at 7:41 PM on September 19, 2018


And Pitchfork often, consistently, through their whole history have featured bad things and said they were great. To suggest that they have taste and country isn't it because of Clint Black is just so dumb, honestly.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 7:50 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Anyone suggesting that country music, as a genre, is of low worth needs to listen to more country.

After all, what do you play when you want to torture people? A: Not Country Music
posted by q*ben at 8:35 PM on September 19, 2018


I guess, there's a reason why pizza ranch isn't ever going to make the list of best american eateries. It's the same reason Clint Black won't make it into Pitchfork's top albums. It might be classicism, snobbishness and condescension, but also it might just be taste.

Jesus Christ.

Yo, maybe taste is sometimes shaped or influenced by class, snobbery, and condescension. I may be defensive, but having grown up listening to country music, and as someone who still considers myself an avid country music fan and record collector, I've gotten this bullshit all my life.

What a terrible fuckin' sentiment. "Maybe country music actually does objectively suck." Never heard that one before. Maybe no one was brave enough to speak the truth.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:17 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


On the plus side, here I was thinking people had stopped shitting on country music. Keep it up! Keep those record prices lowwww.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:23 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


What really interests me about the whole "genre" deal is that it does speak more to extrinsic values than musically intrinsic ones, the whole music is music belief. Ideally, from that latter standpoint, genre wouldn't matter since it is primarily a way of categorizing based on loose, artificially constructed "rules" of likeness coming from largely from instrumentation, subject matter, and some vaguely bordered ideas of style.

Genres, as a whole, are used to pare down possibilities, not expand them and are more useful for marketing purposes than in describing merit or value in themselves. It's what can be done within those artificial boundaries that largely makes genre works stand out from others within the same categories. That both gives the audiences some indication of what it is they'll be indulging in, an idea of what to expect and how to think about what they hear/see by how it fits their previous experience with the genre. Audiences, in an important way, look for works to largely stay within the expected boundaries of the genre, but to slowly expand to new things by incremental steps maintaining connection to the old.

Works that shun ready genre identification, at least in the most popular definitions of the categories, have a harder time finding audiences just for their interest in saying something outside the bounds of expectation. There is less of a ready background history of other works to rely on in order to "understand" what's being said. The merit ascribed to genres and non-genre work is hard to compare or contextualize because we've accepted "taste", with its many extrinsic informing factors as the more dominant organizing principle of importance.

A canon, in the old school sense, worked in something of the opposite fashion, where the ideals of merit, what was believed to determined comparative value, were the more important and the works fitting the canon were seen as providing proof of those values. That was it's "educational" purpose, and a reasonable one in the abstract, but life not being an abstraction, shows why they repeatedly failed to match their claimed standards as critics are aren't immune to "real world" intrusions into their areas of interest. I think there is something to their ideals, as the taste first method has many of its own problems, but trying to ignore the realities that cause the extrinsic differences of taste simply doesn't work.

What is needed by critics is some attempt to define their endeavors better along what they are using as defining values, then applying better study of their own efforts to refine the ideals to fit real life differences. The Pitchfork method of "adding diversity" or attempted inclusion wasn't the wrong path to take exactly, but their methods of doing so were not successful, making it, in the end, a better try than last time, but still mostly just another list of little meaning, but some interest for fun and in finding things one perhaps hasn't heard.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:59 PM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


When people don't like a whole genre of music I tend to think they just don't know much about it or just don't like music that much. Saying you don't like Country doesn't make you a bad person, it just sounds like "I don't like Rock music" to me. None of it?

And it's always strange to me how when the subject of Country music comes up people will cite the Countryist Country artists to ever Country, like Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakum, etc. and say "well I like them, they're not really Country like that stuff on the radio". That's like saying "I don't really like Metal, like Poison, but I like Metallica, they're not really Metal."
posted by bongo_x at 12:59 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


When people don't like a whole genre of music I tend to think they just don't know much about it or just don't like music that much.

The reason we have genres is because you're able to listen to a type of music and categorize it. If a genre has readily recognizable traits, why is it odd someone would gravitate towards some and away from others?

You cite Metallica and Johnny Cash, which are clear examples of artists who've crossed over into new markets. I like Metallica (well, up through the Black Album, anyway...), but not so much Anthrax or Megadeth or Poison. (There are few songs here and there, but I don't put on a full album and dig it all the way through.)

Nine Inch Nails has a huge following, but how many people like industrial as a genre? How many people bought Nevermind but don't own any other grunge?

Maybe Johnny Cash is the Platonic ideal of country music but I haven't heard much contemporary country that makes me think "that sounds like Johnny Cash!" I mean, there are elements that are the same - but his voice is, if not unique, damn rare. I'm open to suggestions, though.

This isn't unique to music, either. Lots of people I know would say they don't love horror/slasher flicks, but really enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods or Jaws or It. Lots of people would say they don't like sci-fi, but lined up around the block for Star Wars (I'm thinking about the originals), but didn't care for sci-fi as a genre. I have friends who'll watch damn near anything that qualifies as a superhero show, so they're fans of the genre - whereas other people might say they don't like superhero movies, but enjoyed the Michael Keaton Batman or the newer trilogy.

It's really not that weird that a genre has crossover hits/artists but still leaves people cold as a genre. And other folks will listen to damn near anything that fits within that genre.

Anyway - I'm not here to dump on country or rap, or opera for that matter. If somebody I trust (musically) recommends something, I'll check it out regardless of what genre it's sitting in. And I'm happy for people to enjoy whatever they enjoy - I like lots of music that I know is not going to ring the bell for 99% of the people I know.
posted by jzb at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


That's like saying "I don't really like Metal, like Poison, but I like Metallica, they're not really Metal."

You have that backwards. People say that "I do like metal, but I don't like Poison, because Poison isn't 'metal', it's glam-rock. "

"that sounds like Johnny Cash!" I mean, there are elements that are the same - but his voice is, if not unique, damn rare.
The bands that remind me of Johnny Cash singing-wise are Beat Happening and Magnetic Fields, neither of which are actually country bands but some of the tunes by the Magnetic Fields have been completely accurately described as "like country music where the band only read about country music in record reviews, but have never actually heard it".
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:38 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


A lot of these complaints about Pitchfork here are like the that old Borscht Belt joke: "The food is terrible here." "Yes, I know. And such small portions!"

Look, nobody should have to listen to music they aren't interested in, and Pitchfork doesn't have to cover country if that's not what they're into. Pitchfork was more akin to a zine when it started, quite different from a national general-interest magazine like Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly. Like a zine, they focused on certain genres (or scenes, more appropriately) and people wrote reviews about what they were passionate about. Bad writing and contentious opinions were par for the course.

Later on, as mentioned in the linked article, they got older, scenes changed, and they wisely did not ignore the current discussion about exclusion in music criticism. They expanded their tastes and covered a wider variety of music. They still have their own voice, and they should, and what they don't cover is as big a part of that as what they do cover.

Their best of lists are gong to fit with their critical voice. It's not a list of what was necessarily popular or on the radio or TV. It's what was important and influential to what they're covering now. Besides country, there's not a lot of AOR and other mainstream rock, industrial, jam bands, or the hair metal and new-wave pop that was so huge on MTV.

I don't think any one from Pitchfork would ever say "everything but rap and country." I'm from Chicago, just like Pitchfork, and we have a country scene that really grew in the 90s. Anybody here who closely follows music would know about Bloodshot Records, Fitzgerald's, the Hideout, and the Old Town School of Folk music, or been to Delilah's on their country nights. That scene tends to skew older than Pitchfork's audience, though.

That scene, and the list by PinkMoose and the article, does tend to be more traditionalist. Maybe that's why there isn't more country on Pitchfork's list. They do cover some country now, and their 90s album list includes Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (twice) and the Magnetic Fields. Although I guess those guys are doing country wrong, somehow.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:20 AM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's not much, but it's probably worth pointing out that the Pitchfork list at least has the decency to include Lucinda Williams's seminal 1988 self-titled album. I also have an essential addition to PinkMoose's excellent list: Trio by Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris. Just as good if not better than Highwaymen.

On the other hand, as a big fan of classic country the 1980s was when you really started to see the dropoff in quality in mainstream country music IMO. Acts like The Judds and Alabama do nothing for me. But the 1980s were also when you started to see the renaissance of alt-country that would really bloom in the 90s, so some of the omissions on the p4k list are really unforgivable.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:30 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Judds were maybe one of the most important bands/families that came across my radar at the time. I was young, but I watched the farewell concert live, while taping it, and then burned out the tape. All three of the Judd women are incredible and powerful and strong and flawed. It's actually what I really like about women in country music (up until about the Dixie Chicks, but it still lives on a little) - they are mad and opinionated and deferential and feel love and feel hate - they are complicated and layered and full. They spoke openly about loneliness, the problems of motherhood, domestic violence, why to stay or why to go. I learned, and continue to learn, so much from those women that wasn't showing up at the same time in the same way on more cool critic approved stations.

I stumbled upon The Women of Country, a CBS special from 1993, the other day. It's music and vignettes and incredible group sections. Here is He Thinks He'll Keep Her with Mary Chapin Carpenter and the best backup singers you could ask for.

I guess I also liked how much even straight up mainstream country (again up to a point mostly) loved deep voiced, not size 2, grown women at the mic. That was more difficult to find in other places sometimes.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


(I also remember when the 1980s were new country lol. Things are always better in the past.)
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today!: I guess I also liked how much even straight up mainstream country (again up to a point mostly) loved deep voiced, not size 2, grown women at the mic. That was more difficult to find in other places sometimes.

I liked this re-quote from the article: "Country music has always been adult music sung by adults."
posted by clawsoon at 1:04 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Country music has always been adult music sung by adults

I agree that's it's predominant image and true enough in the direct "stories" of the songs, but country music also has some other elements that can mitigate that depending on how you look at the issue. I mean for one thing country music largely relies on simple irony, often through word play, explained directly to the audience in the song so people don't miss the meaning. Some of that is fairly clever in that basic way, like Randy Travis' On the Other Hand and Diggin' Up Bones for example, but the story and the irony stay right there on the surface of the song, there's nothing to dig up beyond that.

The strength of country music lies primarily in the combination of lyric and vocals, with the instruments mostly taking a supporting part, or an equal partnership with some of the better musicians. It's very much a what you hear is what you get genre. That's not a bad thing (and to be clear I like quite a bit of country music, although mostly individual songs, damn few albums as a whole), but it does work against some measures of judgement some people have for music, where the expectation is that the lyric isn't necessarily in front and what there is of it is going to be framed at least a little more ambiguously by the the instrumental elements of the song. That isn't a universal of course, but that is something that seems to be held in high esteem by many critics and serious fans.

The subject matter of country is adult, but that doesn't make a lot of the songs actually more fit to adult sensibility. The love songs/break up songs speak of adults, but the dynamics are pretty much the same or worse than that in other popular music depending on what you focus on and the sentiments expressed tend towards an equally narrow sensibility, just using an adult story frame.
Other songs pitch a lifestyle that is as much the desired image the listeners want to hold of themselves, laden in patriotism, often carrying a particularly white faux nostalgia for a life style ever in the past no matter when one came to it, or caught up in the demand to celebrate things purposefully constructed as opposing "urban values" as part of its genre packaging, and there's lots of really dumb word play as well.

That isn't to say there aren't a lot of problems with other popular music forms, or that country doesn't find some benefit in their methods, there is some good reason, for example, to capture the lives of those in more rural areas and a solidly constructed lyric powerfully sung needs no excuse for celebration. I just think the conversation needs some better grounding over what the music is itself, rather than just how people react to it. That's true of the other popular genres as well of course, not just country.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:22 PM on September 20, 2018


gusottertrout: I mean for one thing country music largely relies on simple irony, often through word play, explained directly to the audience in the song so people don't miss the meaning. Some of that is fairly clever in that basic way, like Randy Travis' On the Other Hand and Diggin' Up Bones for example, but the story and the irony stay right there on the surface of the song, there's nothing to dig up beyond that.

The Race Is On

Not sure if I'm disagreeing with you or proving your point.
posted by clawsoon at 2:27 PM on September 20, 2018


I think it’s sort of true that genre is an imposed category, but at least with country music it’s also historically somewhat self-defined. The Nashville and Bakersfield sounds were the result of these big concentrations of musicians and producers and songwriters. You see a lot of the same names on different records. I mean, I get what people are saying, but it isn’t always just a superficial resemblance.

And yeah, ha! I’ve always said the 80s were where country music went to die, but I grew up with a lot of country from the 80s and I still have a soft spot for the Desert Rose Band, Southern Pacific, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” and so on.

As for country being for adults - it depends on the song. Simplicity doesn’t mean something is juvenile, and the themes the songs cover can get pretty dark. I wouldn’t call Branded Man - a song about the stigma of having been in prison - simple or juvenile.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:37 PM on September 20, 2018


As for country being for adults - it depends on the song

Yeah, absolutely. I wasn't trying to deny there is plenty of good adult music within the genre, more just trying to point out where it loses audience and doesn't fit the claim as much.

One thing I did forget to mention that I think is also kind of important is that country has a strong seeming preference for clarity that I believe comes from it still having a strong songwriter as separate from performer base. Songs are more readily adaptable to different singers than in much other popular music, so strength of vocals becomes more important to the fans than idiosyncratic singularity of vocals.

I think that's important because, combined with the idea of genre being more a construct than meaningful in some ways, it suggests the basis for the dislike of country is based in some pretty narrowly defined differences about the genres and focused more on the worst of country as defining it rather than the best. The worst of country is really terrible from a urban/liberal/diversity angle as there is virtually nothing to offset dreadful lyrics. A bad country song can grate on one's nerves worse than almost anything but perhaps a particularly inane pop earworm that you can't shake.

But that isn't reason to then say country as a genre is bad. One of the reasons I mentioned the artificiality of genres is because one could profitably think of other connections between songs that might make the appreciation of them more understandable. If, for example, you categorized songs by whether they were lyric/voice dominant or music/feel dominant and made further refinements from that basic division, then "country" music wouldn't stand out as being all that different than a lot of "rock" or even "rap" in a lot of meaningful ways.

Springsteen, for one obvious example, writes songs that could easily be fit into a similar story genre with country, they are even mostly about the same class of people, just have a different musical style of instrumentation and are thought of as being more "owned" by Bruce than many country songs are by their singers. Tracy Chapman's Fast Car is, in construct, a pretty exemplary "country" song in its subject matter and clarity, just performed in a way that doesn't fit the genre as named. Is the Stones Honky Tonk Women really all that different than Johnny Horton's Honky Tonk Man? Are Elvis Costello's songs that far removed from George Jones? Country singers cover Honky Tonk Women, Elvis recorded country songs. I mean one could go on and on because the similarities in the song construction and what is being appreciated are, to my mind, more meaningful than the differences that the current genre definitions suggest.

The genre divisions help create and perpetuate the divide by suggesting some important difference that isn't really all that significant when looked at from a different angle. It's purposeful segregation from some wanting to retain a place separate from other popular forms but also a difference ignored by others who play music and listen to it as being mostly an artifice that doesn't say anything very useful about the music itself at all.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:57 PM on September 20, 2018


Oh, and rap music often tells the same kinds of "adult" stories as country, just substituting an urban setting for a rural one, change in vernacular and imagery, and placing the musical emphasis more on rhythm and cadence or "flow" instead of melody, all of which is of limited importance compared to the extrinsic conceptual/cultural differences people place on the genre definitions to make it easier to dismiss that which they don't want to appreciate.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:11 PM on September 20, 2018


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