In November, country music star Neal McCoy released a pretty high profile political song called “Take a Knee, My Ass (I Won’t Take a Knee)”. Now, I’m not going to talk about my personal politics on this because this is meant to be a lighthearted take on things, and I am merely an idiot who writes stupid things on the internet.
What I AM going to do is talk about the lyricism of this song. Grammatically it is all over the place, and there are many, many good takes on the grammar of this all over the internet if you want to have a laugh with that.
But more important to me, is that, yet again, Country and Western proves itself to have the best* song lyrics. Country musicians have this insane ability to take a heartfelt message and talk about it in a completely nonsensical way, using bizarre similes and odd language throughout.
*you can replace best with almost any adjective and it remains a true statement
So here are some of my favorite country titles, with some of my favorite lyrical content.
“How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away” – Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks
This one has something of a poignant message, I think. It’s about the way in which the closeness of a relationship can strangle a person and make them feel suffocated. All Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks want is a little space, is that too much to ask?!
Of course, I’m no country music star, and I don’t quite have the same way with words as Dan Hicks or His Hot Licks. He puts it so beautifully when he says:
“Your never ending presence really cramps my style
I dream that it won’t always be the same
At first I was attracted but after a while
Have you ever heard of the hard-to-get game?”
Ah, young love.
“I’ve Got Tears In My Ears From Lying On My Back Cryin’ Over You” – Homer & Jethro
Country is kind of weird when it comes to emotional vulnerability. We live in a world where men are not encouraged to feel their feelings, and certainly not to openly talk about sadness, heartbreak, and despair. Yet, country finds a way to openly talk about those feelings.
Look at this title. Homer & Jethro are not scared to talk about their feelings, and, frankly, good on them. Lyrically this song is shit, but that doesn’t matter! It’s honest! Yeah, it’s peppered with angry rejection, but it’s real!
“And the tears in my ears, they’re off the beaten track
Since you said “It’s goodbye, we are through”
So if I should get water on the brain
You will know you’re the one who is to blame”
Oh, Homer! Oh, Jethro!
“My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, And I Don’t Love Jesus” – Jimmy Buffett
This one is all about the title, and there is a lot to unpack in this. Ok, Jimmy, your head hurts, sure. Your feet stink? Umm… Ok pal. Hmm? What’s that? You don’t love Jesus? Are you alright, Jim?
Basically, Jimmy has a hangover. A bad one. His head hurts (like the title!) so much that he doesn’t love Jesus today (like the title!). I’m not sure why his feet stink because of that but sure, why the heck not?
The story goes like this: Jimmy goes down to the snake pit to drink a little beer (just a little one!) and he ended up playing country music with his mate ol’ Joe Bones, and he had a few too many. He was at a bar and he kept breaking strings on his “ol’ guitar” and he needed a cab home. He asked someone to call a cab, then he asks some random woman to pay for it for him, and now he’s in bed drinking orange juice.
“(You Dun Stomped) On My Heart” – John Denver
Now this, this right here, this is a real country song. John Denver is sad. John Denver is mad. And John Denver is using weird vernacular to let us know just how sad and mad he is. The woman he loves has left him. How sad.
Some of the lyricism on this song is sensational. He calls her feet “cold busting stompers.” When he hopes that one day she too might feel the sting of a relationship ending he says he hopes she gets “them low down blues.” And obviously he uses the phrase “honky-tonk,” which I honestly don’t have a clue what it means.
But let’s talk about the chorus. We’ll go line by line.
“You dun stomped on my heard and you mashed that sucker flat.” Let’s stop and consider this. She “mashed” his heart. Mashed. Jesus Christ that is some aggressive imagery.
“You just sorta stomped on my aorta.” I’m done. Guys, I’m done. It’s just too good.
“You’re The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly” – Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn
This is a kind of cute song, in some ways. The message is that Conway and Loretta love each other, despite being fundamentally awful for each other. The end of every verse goes “looks ain’t everything, and money ain’t everything, but I love you just the same.” Awwww.
But let’s look at some of the other lyrics.
The structure of the verses is good. Conway says something mean. Loretta says something mean. And then they both say at the same time that they are the reason the kids are ugly. Firstly, if I was their kid I would be raging, but whatever.
“I’m Kissing You Goodbye” – Ray Stevens
What’s this? A normal song title? A normal song about normal people doing normal things like breaking up, right?
Wrong. This song is fucking weird.
Ray Stevens is trying to break up with his partner, because they have been lying, somehow. He doesn’t tell us what they’ve done, but there are some clues. “You just can’t be true dear, you’re spreading it around” gives the impression there has been something extra-curricular going on.
Some of the things he wants gone are great “get your dog outta my dog house, your cat outta my tree, get your bird outta my bird cage, I’m settin’ you free.” How many animals do they have?!
But the real gold in this one is the chorus. “Get your tongue outta my mouth cause I’m kissing you goodbye.” Essentially, he’s trying to give the boot, and they won’t stop trying to seduce him. Here is the full chorus in all its glory:
“Get your tongue outta my mouth – and wipe off that silly grin
Get your tongue outta my mouth – ain’t no telling where it’s been
Get your tongue outta my mouth – don’t try that again
Get your tongue outta my mouth
Get your tongue
Git yer tongue outta my mouf!”
How the hell was Bob Dylan the first songwriter to win the Nobel prize for literature?!
“Drop Kick Me Jesus” – Bobby Bare
Last, but by absolutely no means least, is Drop Kick Me Jesus by Bobby Bare. Now, when I first saw this song title I thought it must be a joke. It sounds like a call to see Jesus’ very popular WWE Finishing Move. But when you read the lyrics, it seems pretty sincere. There is a lot about religion in there (“Make me, oh, make me, Lord, more than I am / make me a piece in Your master game plan”), as you might expect, but, once again, the real gold is in the nonsense. I’m not even going to write anything about it. I’m just going to write the chorus, and leave it as that.
“Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Drop kick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life.”