A love/hate relationship


Growing up in small town western Colorado, country music was always playing. At the grocery store, in restaurants, in everyone’s cars – this music created the backdrop for my childhood. However, as is often the case, eventually the cool kids decided that country music wasn’t “cool,” and I followed suit. I assumed that in order to affiliate myself more closely with the cool kids rather than the hicks, I should listen to Green Day and Alanis Morissette (whose “Jagged Little Pill” album, let it be noted, remains one of my most formative musical experiences – I still love it*).

But when I was 13, through a variety of circumstances, I heard three songs that captured me and, although I didn’t see it at the time, literally changed my life. And they were all on country radio.

Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria” was full of harmonies and awesome background parts, and was one of the most feel-good songs I had ever heard. Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” exploded from the speakers, and was sassy and fun and different – a lively, cheeky, boot-stompin’ ride. And finally, Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” tugged at my emotions like I had never experienced until then. Written by Matraca Berg, who turned out to be one of my favorite writers, the song is intensely autobiographical, and tells the story of one girl’s loss of innocence. It’s a song, but even more, it’s a story; I love that country music has retained the craft of story-telling.

These three songs opened up the door for me to learn the rich history of country music. “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “’Til I Can Make It On My Own”… Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette and George Jones… My spirit was fed by these songs, and they set me off on a path that has led me to where I am today: living in Nashville, attempting to write better songs, and just maybe, good songs. I want to write truthful music. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I crash and burn, writing things that are so banal and cheesy that I would never share them with anyone. But I keep trying, so inspired by the writers of good music.

Which is why Toby Keith’s latest song, “She’s A Hottie,” feels like a kick in the back of the knee-cap. Haven’t heard it? Hmmm, let me give you a sampling of some of the lyrics:

Hottie! She’s a hottie! Got a smokin’ little body!
String bikini and a barbed-wire tat,
She’s a rockin’ that cowboy hat!

Hey mister! Yeah, I kissed her!
Son, you oughta see her sister!

Toby Keith is huge. He’s HUGE. People love him. And I don’t get it.

It’s writing like this that helps me to understand when people tell me that they don’t like country music. OF COURSE you don’t like country music, when this is what’s represented on the radio.

I challenge us all to expect more from our music. There are amazingly talented people out there, full of musical depth and craft, and just because they aren’t readily accessible on the radio doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go digging for them. Good music is enriching and transporting and, as I can attest to, potentially life-changing.

And if you have any suggestions of songs/albums that I just need to hear, regardless of genre, I want to know what they are.

*Perhaps you remember Alanis’ song “You Oughta Know.” Jonathan Coulton did a cover of this song, and you can access it here. It is one of the most remarkable transformations of a song I have ever heard, and proves that there are no bounds to a well-written song. However, please note that this is a very raw and adult song, and there are some vulgarly honest and potentially offensive words (yep, including an F-bomb). If this might affect you, don’t listen. But if you’ve been jaded by exposure to harsh words and years of hard livin’, like I have, then check it out.


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  1. graham r on March 12, 2008 at 9:13 AM

    yep, that is why i’ve stereotyped country music for years…

    and you are why that stereotype is breaking down.

    yet, i continue to declare: NO WRANGLERS FOR GRAHAM!!

    (great post ap; keep on girl)

  2. Greta on March 12, 2008 at 9:28 AM

    “Any Man of Mine,” was the back-drop to a choreographed dance I performed at my first small group leader’s wedding, with my fellow small groupies. One of us wore a beaming Rachelle mask; the rest flitted about with Ben masks on, pantomiming Shania’s instructions (grinning happily over burned toast, thumbsing-up over a sweats-clad Rachelle, etc.) It was ridiculous, and very fun.

    I like the story songs too.

    And I agree with the Griz: keep on posting, please, all the time. I love your blog more than brownies. I think. Almost. I love it a lot anyway.

  3. Shannon on March 12, 2008 at 9:55 AM

    I love everything you just said. It’s exactly how I feel as well. I thrive off of all words sung by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn… the classics. Words, to me, are the heart of all songs. Which is why you need to get some Mason Jennings on your ipod. His early stuff is my favorite, although all is lovely. I think you’ll appreciate the lyrics for ‘Adrian’ from the album Century Spring. The song is beautiful and sad and real.

  4. Christina on March 12, 2008 at 11:48 AM

    You went through your country music awakening when I still lived in Montrose and we were friends. I remember it vividly, because I couldn’t BELIEVE you actually started to like country music. But then I kind of did too and, lo, I did buy many boppy-girl country albums. That I still listen to to this day. Deanna Carter forever!

  5. Annie on March 12, 2008 at 11:50 AM

    I don’t think I will ever understand how the radio can play such a large amount of bad music when there are so many good musicians out there to discover. It just takes a little time and effort, like you said. By the way, those Toby Keith lyrics are perhaps the most amazing I have ever read. Thank you for sharing, now I need to hear the song.

    You should check out a band called Clare & the Reasons. The girl has a beautiful voice and the orchestrations are amazing. It’s not country, but I think you’ll enjoy it.


  6. Marie Langhout on March 12, 2008 at 12:00 PM

    Of all the poignant lyrics in all the music, in all the world – I so appreciate the simple storytelling that country music offers us. Yes, Annie – Strawberry Wine is a great example of this – so is Thunder Rolls – two great mainstream country songs that still get airtime. Love them.

    What I can’t handle, though? ‘Mainstream country’ that goes pop. Rascal Flats? Not for this cowgirl.

    I love your country roots just as much as I love wranglers! *others* will come around, you just wait. Once they see the miracles they work on an ass, there’s no turning back.

  7. Sarah Kate on March 12, 2008 at 12:10 PM

    I dislike Toby Keith AND his music with a very strong passion.

    I think he sounds like a goat when he sings.

  8. BJ on March 12, 2008 at 12:13 PM

    Because I’ve never heard that Toby Keith song I had to substitute some other melody behind the lyrics when I read them and found the best fitting melody is Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
    Great thoughts, Annie!

  9. Deborah Barnett on March 12, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    Did I shave my legs for this? Why, yes I did… ;o)

    Thanks friend, for sharing that part of your life with me last night. You are a breath of fresh air.

    I need to go download me some Deanna Carter now… my only copy is on cassette. What? Who said that?

    Love the Annie.

  10. My name is Annie. on March 12, 2008 at 1:01 PM


    I love these suggestions – I’ll definitely check out Mason Jennings, and Clare & the Reasons! If anyone else has ideas for me, let me know!

    Also, I welcome mix CD’s at any point. :)

  11. itstrivial on March 12, 2008 at 2:00 PM

    I have to admit I like Toby Keith’s “Should have been a cowboy.” But… “Hottie”??? That truly is a new low.

    Also, I dug the Alanis cover.

  12. Beth on March 12, 2008 at 2:18 PM

    Well, I already know you know Sara Groves. If you haven’t yet, go buy all her music. It’s worth it!


  13. bec on March 12, 2008 at 2:28 PM

    ‘she’s a hottie’ is strangely similar to ‘whiskey girl’ in my opinion.

    ‘Don’t my baby look good in them blue jeans?
    Tight on the top with a belly button ring
    A little tatoo somewhere in between
    She only shows to me’

    shudder. i’ll bet he thinks of his wife the entire time he sings this stuff…? and his kids must be proud to watch their friends hear him sing such words. and if not, he’ll ‘put a boot in their ass’.

  14. Bryn on March 12, 2008 at 3:10 PM

    Hi Annie,

    As you know I love classical music, but I sure wish I could play violin like Stuart Duncan on “Meet Me in the Morning” with Drew Emmitt (who, you probably know, is from Colorado too). I completely ignore the words, so I don’t know if it tells a good story or not! And I also don’t know if there’s a difference between “bluegrass” and “country” music….is there?

  15. Case and Los on March 12, 2008 at 3:24 PM

    This blog makes me so happy, b/c I concur about Alanis and most def still listen to Deana Carter on my iTunes. Do you know Candi Pearson, she’s one of the females I’m not sure you’ve mentioned that I like, whereas the others Christy Nockles, Sara G, Bethany D, etc. I think you’re into.

    p.s. I think you inspired me to write a blog about Sir Mix-a-Lot and feminism. In a weird way I think he’s empowering!

  16. dn on March 12, 2008 at 6:01 PM

    It’s best not to try to understand Toby Keith, or anyone else from Oklahoma.

  17. luke on March 12, 2008 at 7:38 PM

    oh i love music suggestion sharing. there’s almost too much, and i don’t know you well enough to know what you already like. so i’ll just throw a few out there:

    1. Over the Rhine. one of my absolute favorites. her voice is unreal, great lyrics.
    2. Page France. particularly obsessed with the Hello, Dear Wind album at the moment.
    3. Bon Iver. maybe you saw him on my blog. so good.

    i’ll have to give country another chance…maybe. :) at least those good songs you mention. yes, toby keith is all that is wrong with country/music/america. –too far?

  18. Michael Austin Diaz on March 12, 2008 at 7:58 PM

    I saw your post on my blog today, kinda random but thanks for the encouragement…It says you are down in Nashville so you probably have heard just about everything, but for a good harmony, you gotta love The Be Good Tanyas.

  19. Lyla on March 12, 2008 at 9:23 PM

    Here’s my recommendation:

    Now, some may say that I just like this because I know her. (I replaced her as receptionist at that there vet hospital I used to work at in Wallingford.) HOWEVER, I think this is a truly, truly talanted song writer. I read the lyrics to her songs on the way home before I could listen to the cd and it brought tears to my eyes.
    Lemme know if you like what she’s got on her My Space. I’ll send you one of her CDs if ya do.

  20. Lyla on March 12, 2008 at 9:24 PM

    I forgot to add that “Chokin’ on a Wishbone” is about some guy she saw on Highway 99… also known as Aurora.

  21. Anonymous on March 13, 2008 at 8:18 AM

    The Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” album. Put that in your iPod and smoke it.

  22. Sarah on March 13, 2008 at 10:25 AM

    when i was growing up my dad wouldn’t let us listen to country music because he said it would make us stupid. and in the case of toby keith, i’m kind of afraid he’s right.
    I still can’t listen to most country, but I looove Neko Case and the Pernice Brothers (who are more pop, but whatev). If you haven’t listened to either of them I do love making a mix cd.

  23. Andrea on March 13, 2008 at 1:03 PM

    We can’t forget James Taylor. Man, he is good!

  24. Andrea on March 13, 2008 at 1:20 PM

    I just found this group from a friend’s blog and I am really digging them: The Cobalt Season


  25. Andrea on March 13, 2008 at 1:26 PM

    Sorry for the third comment in a row but I send it and then think of another one I just have to share:
    Andrew Peterson


  26. Anonymous on March 14, 2008 at 12:05 AM

    Hello! I am de-lurking to say two things:

    1. I love your writing!
    2. Obadiah Parker’s folksy cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” is amazing. It’s my fav cover song of all time.

    — Michelle

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