New Country

Patrick Wall - - Posted November 28, 2002
           In many regards, new country is not unique in being a watered down area of music that sells to the masses. Afterall, this is more or less typical of Nashville since the 1950s and 1960s. The 1950s and 1960s was a transition period for country music that included many untimely deaths of artists who most certainly all had a lot more to contribute (Jim Reeves, Moon Mullican, Carter Stanley, Charlie Louvin, Hank Williams, Red Foley, Tommy Duncan). With such a clearance of the most talented and unique country artists, many knocked downin their prime, the industry did not know where to go. For example, the Nashville Souind: when Jim Reeves was around, this style of music had class. It was a nice balance of updated western swing that provided a bridge between Moon Mullican style music and the ballad of the rock 'n' roll era. When Reeves was gone, the Nashville Sound was taken up by replacements that hadn't the same grasp and it eventually deteriorated into schmaltz and then into dreaded countrypolitan. From the 1970s until now, mainstream country music just has never come out of the countrypolitan trap. That is it.
           Alan Jackson, George Strait and all of these, everyone must remember, grew up in an era when countrypolitan was the rage. That was the FIRST country music they ever heard and probably implanted into their conscience as their natural style. New country is simply just a name replacement for countrypolitan.
           But, why can music so bland and soul-less (in comparison to what else is/was on offer) be so popular? The main reason, I believe, is that Nashville is a dictatorship. They have a way of doing things and that's that. The artist often does not have the choice in what or how to record. Any JLL fan will know this when it comes to JLL in Nashville or JLL's later Sun period (in Nashville!) when Sam Phillips became commercial. We also are well aware of Jerry Lee's, Moon's and Bob Wills' negative opinions of Nashville. We are aware of how difficult people like Willie Nelson found Nashville as a place to get encouragement for their music. We also know how the Grand Ol' Opry viewed certain instruments and how they viewed blues and R&B.
           The only way a mainstream return to good music is ever going to happen is if people rebel and say "I'm not listening to this crap!" and demand more quality. If music was a critical service it would have been remedied a long time ago! Also, Nashville and other pro-pop establishments should expand their views and try out different styles for promotion. They may be pleasantly surprised. Instead of embracing early rock 'n' roll and nurturing it for what it WAS, what did the mainstream do with it? They killed off the old style (blues, western swing, R&B) and replaced it with teenage schmaltz. They have now done onto country what they already did to rock 'n' roll. Just like there is a big difference between "End of the road" (JLL) and "Rubber ball" (Bobby Vee), there is a big difference between "Worries on my mind" (Moon) and "Clear blue sky" (Strait).
           An EVENTUAL change will come. But, I fear that the "pop/new country muscle" is way too strong to eliminate. Too many powerful money moguls who do not know music continue to rule the music industry. As long as this is the case, then bland thoughtless music with no depth will continue to dominate country, pop, R&B and other once great genres.

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