Only the last part of that is true – I’ve never owned more than a squirt gun and I hate beer – but you totally bought it, right? Country music fans are supposed to be right wing nut cases yelling “hell yeah” at a Toby Keith concert but some of us are more likely to pump our fists in the air for Kacey Musgraves.
First, you’ve gotta know your history. In 1952 the first big hit by a woman in country music was “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” sung by Kitty Wells. A rebuttal to a song by another artist that blamed women for the ills of the world, it was considered so radical that it was banned from radio and from the Grand Ole Opry. Interestingly enough, it was written by Jay Miller, a man.
In the seventies Loretta Lynn also had something progressive to say about women in “The Pill.” Again, some people weren’t happy about a woman speaking her mind and country music radio wouldn’t play it. In an interview with Playgirl Loretta recounts how rural doctors credit the song with getting women in isolated areas to ask for the pill.
There are a lot of strong women in country music. Add Dolly Parton, Kathy Mattea, LeAnn Rimes and more to the list I started above and you have an impressive roster. I especially like “Independence Day,” a song made famous by Martina McBride and written by Gretchen Peters.
And the stories, hot damn – sure, there’s lots of shallow “I got drunk and did a dumb thing” songs, but there are also poignant stories, like this one by Gretchen Peters, “When All You Got is a Hammer.”
I’m a huge Gretchen Peters fan. Can you tell?
Don’t forget the men. You can’t get much more liberal than Steve Earle. From “John Walker’s Blues,” about a boy turned terrorist (released post 9/11), to “Copperhead Road,” he doesn’t mince words. In the latter he sings, “I volunteered for the army on my birthday / They draft the white trash first, ‘round here anyway.”
And praise be to Willie Nelson. The man who wrote country standards like “Crazy” and “Hello Walls,” is unapologetic about his use of the magic herb. He helped organize the first Farm Aid, benefitting small farmers, and I think he’s played at it every year. Here he is with Merle Haggard singing, “It’s All Going to Pot.”
“All the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee just couldn’t hit the spot.” Every time that line rolls around I have to giggle.
Tim McGraw is an outspoken supporter of President Obama and he’s involved in an anti-gun violence program. Garth Brooks sang, “When we’re free to love anyone we choose / Then we will be free.” Both are pretty progressive, doncha think?
You’ll find lots of religion in country music but it’s not all “Jesus Take the Wheel.” (By the way, I’ve always hated that song. Lady, you’re worried about your baby but you let go of the wheel of your car?) You can mention Jesus and still have a liberal outlook, like Kurt Fortmeyer’s “Jesus Wouldn’t Do It That Way.”
No discussion about liberal politics in country music could be complete without the Dixie Chicks. In 2003 band member Natalie Maines told a London audience, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” Many of us were thinking the same; she had the ovaries to say it in a huge public way. The backlash was enormous. Some radio stations quit playing them and they received death threats. These women aren’t delicate flowers, though. Here’s their answer.
Kacey Musgraves, anyone? Her 2013 hit “Follow Your Arrow” was a Country Music Association Song of the Year. With lyrics like “Make lots of noise / Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls / If that’s something you’re into,” you can’t argue that she’s going to go all Kenny Chesney on your ass.
Speaking of kissing girls, country may be a little behind the times when it comes to LGBT artists but we’ve got Chely Wright, kd lang, and Brandy Clark (who co-wrote “Follow Your Arrow”).
If all that isn’t enough to convince you, look at how damn singable country music is, no matter your political leaning. Listen to this Dolly Parton song. I dare you not to sing along.
No post about country music would be complete without a shameless plug from me. I’m a singer-songwriter who sometimes veers into country territory:
All right, I’ve gotta go slap on some Patsy Cline and swig a club soda. Y’all come back now, ya hear?
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