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Country Music Is Still the Best

Garth Brooks In Pieces

Garth Brooks In Pieces

I started listening to country music in high school during the glory days of Garth Brooks. I was in Forensics so I spent a lot of time between rounds sitting in the school cafeteria listening to cassettes on my Walkman. Yes, this was before CDs were the "big thing". I also bought cowboy boots and taking after my grandfather, who was a real cowboy, some bolo ties. At the predictably named "Cowboys" I learned how to country dance from an older  couple named Mannie and Alice who reminded me of my great-aunt-and-uncle Manuel and Armida. I found out that I actually liked dancing and it was a great place to go on a date.

When I got to college I was stuck in an upper-classmen's dorm because the freshman dorms were already full. It's fortunate that I was because my future wife was a resident already. But that's another story.

I found that my dorm, with its projection tv that the residents had "borrowed" from the rugby players' dorm while campus security held the door for them (also, another story), was the gathering place for a group of students who would go clubbing once a month. The "club" had the word "Czech" in front of it and was in a part of Dallas that you would expect to go to if you didn't want the cops to know your business. Fortunately for all of us "clubbing" types, the Czech Club was actually like a Knights of Columbus hall. When the 20-40 of us showed up we lowered the average age in the hall to about 60.

The great thing about the club is they had a live polka band and the students who went actually went to dance. I really don't know how many times we went to the Czech Club or to Billy Bob's Country Club in Ft. Worth while I was at the University of Dallas but it was always fun.

I still like country music and am a horrible sucker for some of the music. The problem I have now and had way back when Garth Brooks was singing about how he "Ain't goin' down 'till the sun comes up" is that the same singer could switch from singing something wonderfully virtuous to something praising immorality between breaths. I've written about this before and Jimmy Akin threw in some thoughts as well. The reason I'm revisiting the topic is because I've noticed a general trend downward in the number of songs I'll actually listen to on a country music station and an increase in the smut that passes for country music both in the lyrics and the videos. I decided to take a look at last years top 40 charts for country, rap and pop to see if country music was still better from a moral perspective. After reading the lyrics of the top twenty rap songs I had to stop so this isn't a perfect comparison. Maybe the bottom twenty were full of virtuous exhortations and if so, I apologize for the misrepresentation.

My sole criteria for determining the quality of the songs were what the lyrics said. I didn't pay any attention to the personal life of the singer or to his other music. If a song praised virtue, I rated it "good". If it did the opposite, I rated it "bad". If it wasn't possible to tell or the song didn't address a virtue at all, I rated it "neutral". Why is an exercise like this important? Music, as has been known from ancient times (look how much time Plato spent discussing the proper kinds of music) moves the soul in much more dramatic ways than a spoken word. Just think how lifeless a movie would be without a score! So taking a step back to actually analyze the music you listen to to see if you really should be humming along to Trace Adkin while he sings "This ain't no love song" or Toby Keith's "Who's Your Daddy" is a good exercise to engage in every now and then.

So here's what I found for the different genres in 2010:

Comparing Country, Pop and Rap Music for moral content

Comparing Country, Pop and Rap Music for moral content

I wasn't really surprised by the country music or by the rap. What did surprise me was the pop messages. I had actually expected more neutral songs but nearly every song was praising fornication and drinking. The other surprising thing is that the pop chart had several of the top twenty rap songs on it. So what exactly where these singers pushing? Let's take a look. You would probably expect that the country charts would be about 80 proof drinking songs and at least half cheating songs while the rap music pushed drinking and sex. You would only be partially right. Country music is by far the most tame, and in spite of the stereotypical view, didn't have a single song in the top 40 praising cheating. What I was really surprised about was the language on the pop charts. It seems that these singers are trying as hard as they can to be rappers. Times sure have changed since the Beach Boys were singing "Wouldn't it Be Nice if We Were Married".

Bad themes in popular music

Bad themes in popular music

On the positive side, country music not only avoids praising immorality as much as other genres it also praises virtue at an even higher rate. In fact, country music is the only genre that praises marriage at all except possibly for the number one rap song from 2010, Nothin' on You which at least praises long term fidelity. Nothing in the pop chart even comes close.

Country music also promotes love of family, hard work (in direct contrast to rap music which focuses on easy money), a simple life and regret about divorce. The disturbing thing about the pop chart is that three of the four songs that have good content are actually rap songs that bled over into the pop chart.

Good content in popular music

Good content in popular music

So what's the take-away here? It seems that if you are going to listen to popular music that country music is the "safest" genre and it stands out for actually praising virtuous things. It's also really good for dancing. I've also noticed that apart from Patrick Madrid and his gold-capped teeth and diamond rings, there definitely seems to be a sympathy towards country music from other well-known Catholics including Jimmy Akin and Fr. Pacwa.

Coincidentally, a couple of weeks after I had collected all the data for this post, I ran across an article that did an even more extensive analysis of music from the Billboard charts in 2009. Country music came out on top there, too.

A second coincidence is that I had a rep from a country music station in California call me a couple of weeks ago because he had found my old posts on country music while trying to figure out how to convince the new owners of a Catholic store to advertise on his station. I told him that I didn't have any advice to offer since I wouldn't put my store on a country station because of the content, both from the songs and the hosts.

Here's a list of the top songs from 2010. I've linked to the music videos for some of the good country ones. I couldn't link to any of the other genres in good conscience.

Country

  1. Love Like Crazy
  2. Rain is a Good Thing
  3. Why Don't We Just Dance
  4. All Over Me
  5. The Man I Want to Be
  6. Roll With It
  7. Gimmie That Girl
  8. All About Tonight
  9. Come Back Song
  10. She Won't Be Lonely Long
  11. The House That Built Me
  12. American Honey
  13. Til Summer Comes Around
  14. Highway 20 Ride
  15. Keep on Lovin' You
  16. Crazy Town
  17. Our Kind of Love
  18. Water
  19. A Little More Country
  20. Farmer's Daughter
  21. I'm In
  22. Lover, Lover
  23. Little White Church
  24. History in the Making
  25. Temporary Home
  26. That's How Country Boys Roll
  27. Smile
  28. Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer
  29. Undo It
  30. Stuck Like Glue
  31. Hillbilly Bone
  32. The Truth
  33. Ain't Back Yet
  34. American Saturday Night
  35. The Boys of Fall
  36. Free
  37. If I Die Young
  38. Mine
  39. Unstoppable
  40. I Gotta Get to You

Pop

  1. Tik Tok
  2. Airplanes
  3. Bad Romance
  4. Dynamite
  5. California Gurls
  6. In My Head
  7. Break Your Heart
  8. I Like It
  9. Love the Way You Lie
  10. Cooler Than Me
  11. Telephone
  12. Hey, Soul Sister
  13. Your Love Is My Drug
  14. OMG
  15. Teenage Dreams
  16. Sexy Chick
  17. DJ Falling in Love
  18. Nothin' On You
  19. Billionaire
  20. Just the Way You Are
  21. Breakeven
  22. Replay
  23. Rude Boy
  24. Need You Now
  25. Alejandro
  26. Imma Be
  27. According to You
  28. Carry Out
  29. Whatcha Say
  30. Ridin' Solo
  31. Bulletproof
  32. Just a Dream
  33. Fireflies
  34. Empire State of Mind
  35. Club Can't Handle Me
  36. Take it Off
  37. Do You Remember
  38. Bedrock
  39. 3
  40. Two is Better Than One

Rap

  1. Nothin' On You
  2. Bedrock
  3. Over
  4. How Low
  5. Say Something
  6. My Chick Bad
  7. Love the Way You Lie
  8. Empire State of Mind
  9. Your Love
  10. Miss Me
  11. Airplanes
  12. Money to Blow
  13. Tie Me Down
  14. Lose My Mind
  15. Forever
  16. Fancy
  17. Steady Mobbin'
  18. Got Your Back
  19. Teach Me How to Dougie
  20. BMF

{ 9 comments… add one }

9 comments
accessiblemediaone
accessiblemediaone

Rap music is the means in which anger and frustration is express lyrically with love

Angela
Angela

It's so sad how many people don't pay any attention to how bad some lyrics are. Even the lyrics from so many of the operas written several hundred years ago are bad as well. Yes, the music to it can be amazingly beautiful but you can't listen to it because the words or the purpose are bad.

Mack Hall
Mack Hall

Guitar - French for kindling.

Baron Korf
Baron Korf

Country is getting worse and worse, especially the ones that are rating higher and higher on the charts. Part of that has to do with the general coarsening of morals in the fan base. One of the Country clubs that advertises on the radio has a "friends with benefits nite" which doesn't even try to mask its intentions. But there are a few good artists and songs out there. My wife loves #3 on the Country list, which can be "good" or "bad" depending on the assumptions going in.

donna
donna

I noted that you did not compare Rock at all in this, my particular genre. I doubt it would do as well as country but perhaps here I would mention that Christian Hard Rock is probably the best of both worlds, bands like Skillet, Red and Thousand Foot Crutch cross over into secular music because of their sound appeal but also minister to the formerly unreachable by the lyrics that speak to the listener where they are and lift them out and call them to grow.

Nicholas Jagneaux
Nicholas Jagneaux

Angela, One thing that I would note about opera lyrics - as compared to the lyrics of today's radio songs - is that there is a context to the songs in an opera. The song's lyrics develop a story. With today's radio hits, the lyrics *are* the story. This is important. In many operas, there is plenty of examples of people behaving badly and sinning; however, in most operas the consequences of the behaviors are revealed and the characters suffer because of them. This can make the opera - and their songs - part of a more complete moral message.

Ian
Ian

I like number three as well but left it as neutral because there isn't a clear indication, like you said.

Ian
Ian

I didn't include any religious genres because I wanted to focus specifically on secular music. I honestly didn't think about including regular rock music.

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