I’ve resigned myself to the fact that country radio just isn’t that into me. Demographically speaking, we should be a fair match. I’m not a teenage girl or a soccer mom or a teenage soccer mom – which precludes a perfect match – but I am a white guy in the suburbs of northern California. That gives me some pretty secure vanilla credentials. Somehow, though, our relationship just doesn’t work.
I don’t actually hate most of the songs played on the radio. In fact, part of the problem is that the music seems specifically designed to not excite much feeling one way or the other; it’s meant to go down easy. When a song slips through that I actually like – as “Another Try” did recently – it makes me realize how uninterested I am in most of the stuff surrounding it. So, I usually stick to my CD collection, an ever-expanding assortment of music I’m sure to enjoy. I still give the radio a shot when all I need is inoffensive background noise. Sometimes it can’t even fulfill that purpose: “Bob That Head” pulls me right out of whatever I’m doing and sends me scrambling to pop in a CD every time.
You know what annoys me most, though? Country radio isn’t content with playing boring new music. They also work retroactively, making old music more boring in order to make the new music seem less so. They do this by overplaying the same few ‘classics’ to the point that they effectively become elevator muzak.
I love “Forever and Ever, Amen” and “Deeper than the Holler.” I really do. But are those songs so markedly better than Randy Travis’ other fourteen Billboard chart-toppers that they deserve to be played daily while the rest are seldom if ever touched outside of ‘classic country’ programs? The same thing goes for “I Try to Think About Elvis” by Patty Loveless, “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis, “Pickup Man” by Joe Diffie, “It’s a Little Too Late” by Mark Chesnutt, “Straight Tequila Night” by John Anderson, and a host of other ‘old’ classics. All these artists have catalogs worth exploring and, what’s more, other hits worth playing. Why not throw us some “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” or “Lonely Too Long” or “Money in the Bank”?
Because if we hear a different old song, it might not pass by unnoticed. We might stop to listen closely and think about it. We might even realize that we like it more than a lot of the new stuff Nashville is pushing on us these days. There’s no sense in taking that risk. For country radio, spinning “Forever and Ever, Amen” over and over again until everyone stops caring is an important means of self-preservation.