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Category Archives: Ben Is Thinking

Goodbye to the 9513 – The Web’s Premiere Country Music Blog Retiring

I received some sad news today, and I couldn’t let the day go by without writing a few words about it.  The 9513, deservedly the web’s number one country music blog, is retiring, as announced today by editor Brody Vercher.

Since it’s first post in 2006, The 9513 has defined what a great country blog should be, featuring reliably excellent writing, a wide variety of music covered, and a consistent standard of high-quality content, all overseen by founders Brady and Brody Vercher.  News roundups were posted regularly, helping readers keep thoroughly well-informed on all the goings-on in the world of country music.  In addition, it included the insightful musings of columnists such as Barry Mazor, Paul W. Dennis, and Chris Neal.  Impossible to forget are the site’s detailed, well-thought-out, and unabashedly honest reviews of current album and singles, authored by talented writers such as Jim Malec, Blake Boldt, Karlie Justus, Juli Thanki, and C.M. Wilcox.  The 9513 was valuable for the way it introduced us to talented artists of the independent music scene, while still giving mainstream country generous coverage as well.  The 9513 writers always praised the music where praise was deserved, while never hesitating to offer criticism when such was warranted.

If it were not for The 9513, The 1-to-10 Country Music Review would not exist.  It was The 9513’s insightful, yet always entertaining content that inspired the creation of my own little blog.  I’ve been happily blogging away for over a year now, growing as a writer, meeting great new people, and having a good old time.  I have The 9513 to thank for that.

We’ll miss it.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Ben Is Thinking

 

Hooked

Here’s the random topic that’s on my mind today:  What is a great hook?

What raised this question in my blogger mind?  It first came up when I read Jim Malec’s review of Heidi Newfield’s “Stay Up Late” on American Noise a few months ago, in which he cited Heidi’s hit “Johnny and June” as an example of a song that has a great hook:

““And when you go, I wanna go too/Like Johnny and June” is an enormously simple hook, but Newfield belts it with devastating conviction…. That’s a desire that transcends a piece-by-piece analyses of the lyrics and what they say. That’s what great hooks do—they communicate something beyond just what they mean. “Johnny and June” communicates an essential, fundamental desire—and that makes us want to blast it from our radios for the world to hear. We all want a love like Johnny and June, and when we hear that hook we say, “Yes! That’s me!” It’s not a cerebral thought, but a feeling that comes from a much deeper place.”

Just out of curiosity, I looked up the word “hook” in the dictionary.  Besides the obvious literal meaning, the word was defined as “something intended to attract and ensnare,” which is most often how we use the word when discussing popular music.  In that sense, a great hook could come in the form of something as simple as a few catchy instrumental chords.  But a hook in its most meaningful form is often a simple line in a song that manages to channel thoughts and emotions beyond what the words themselves mean, thus connecting with listeners on a deep level.

The song “Anywhere” from Sara Evans new album Stronger is a foremost example of a song that desperately needs a better hook.  The song has its share of weaknesses, suffering from a few cliche lyrics, but I found it was the lack of a great hook that mainly proved to be the song’s downfall, such that even a great voice like Sara’s is unable to save it.  The lyrics attempt to convey the joy and excitement of a carefree romance, but the hook “We can go anywhere” means exactly what it says on paper – nothing more and nothing less.  Such a hook can only create a black-and-white picture of its theme, without being able to supply color.

An ideal contrasting example is Jo Dee Messina’s beloved hit “Heads Caroline, Tails California,” which deals with the same theme as “Anywhere,” but with a much better title hook.  Those ten syllables of the song’s title are enough to say “We can toss a coin to decide where we will travel to.  That’s how little I care about our destination, as long as I get to go there with you.”  Just like that, the listener is caught up in the scenario.  How many country fans would love to have a romance so reckless and carefree that the two lovers would determine their travel destination with a simple flip of a coin?  This is a great example of how a strong hook can connect with audiences.

Here are a few more examples of my favorite hooks, with links to the accompanying songs:

“Don’t be falling in love as she’s walking away”

“Didn’t you know how much I loved you?”

“When you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you/ You’re gonna believe them”

“Always know that I will find a way to get to where you are/ Baby, there’s no place that far”

“Whose bed have your boots been under?”

“Even if the whole world has forgotten/ The song remembers when”

“There’s no use crying over spilled perfume”

“So God bless the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue”

“The only time I wish you weren’t gone/ Is once a day, every day, all day long”

“You walk by, and I fall to pieces”

Basically, this is my long-winded way of posing a few simple questions:  What would you say makes for a great hook?  What are some examples of songs with great hooks?  What is an example of a weak hook?

Leave a comment below with your answers to any of the above questions.  While we’re thinking about this, what say we watch Jo Dee’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California” video?  It’s awesome!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Ben Is Thinking

 

Thanks, Brad – My Country, ‘Tis of Thee

The following is a guest contribution by Maurice Tani of the California-based independent alt-country group 77 El Deora.

I write, (and my band, 77 El Deora, plays), country music. At least I call it that. It’s certainly not pure in any sense. I draw on a lot of different influences, but down in the basement, if you look at the foundation, the bricks are made in Bakersfield, and the brick layers scratched their names into the mortar: Buck, Don, Merle….

The other day, I was driving south on 101 up in Sonoma, channel surfing the radio. As a songwriter, I generally try to give a song the benefit of the doubt and listen to at least a verse and chorus. I tune out a lot of stuff and wind up listening to way too much news radio, NPR, and Mexican music…

I wish I could listen to more country on the radio, but big time commercial country music media is another world from what independent, original country outfits like my band or Red Meat (for another shining example) do. Obviously, a lot of people listen to what comes off of Music Row in Nashville, but we have little in common with what the major labels present as country beyond the broad country label.


Scanning the FM band, I came in on the beginning of some song on a commercial country station that had a long intro (sort of unusual for commercial radio of any pop genre) with some fairly aggressive guitar, which always attracts my ear. More often than not, commercial country records tease with spicy guitar and then disappoint with bland or worse, stupid lyrics. Still, there’s always a chance there might be something good….


The vocal started in with a line about the protagonist having her “Brazilian leather boots on the pedal of her German car.” Red flag. I am so used these days to a main thrust of commercial country being an anthem to xenophobia, America right or wrong, foreign cars suck, city dwellers are arrogant, redneck pride, etc, etc, that I had a bad feeling about where this was going after just one line.


Apparently, this is a hot button for me. Commercial country, like all pop formats, has always had a bland side, but there were also some great songwriters working the field. By the ’80s, however, production started to veer into ’70s-style soft rock. They had already lost me at that point. But more recently, I have been aware of a trend of blatant pandering to what I suppose the industry has defined as their target demographic.


This latest phase in commercial country focuses heavily on an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality. Singers beat their chests proudly that they are “country,” “rednecks” etc, implying that they’re “real” while those other people are not. Real God-fearing Americans. Real Christians. Real, down-to-earth people with real moral values as opposed to the phony elitists. It’s a celebration of defiance to a perceived threat to the honest, middle-American Heartland way of life.


Everyone likes the underdog to succeed. It’s story telling device that predates the written word. Modern commercial country casts the (moral, white) majority in the roll of the underdog in the culture war on everything from marriage to Christmas.


This isn’t some recent invention of cynical Bush-era/Fox and Friends, Nashville A&R people. “Okie from Muskogee” came out in 1969 and similar stuff surfaces periodically (i.e. “A Country Boy Can Survive” in the early ’80s) but this latest wave of anti-sophisticate self-gratification has reached new height in the years following 9/11.


So, the song on the radio continues.


“She’s listening to the Beatles singing Back in the USSR.”


Still wary, I’m not sure where this is headed. Is this writer about to take a swing at elitist Europeans or Communism? Obama socialists? Death camps? I mean, who doesn’t like the Beatles?


The singer continues:


“She’s goin’ around the world tonight, but she ain’t leavin’ here.


She’s just going to meet her boyfriend at the street fair.”


Okay. Actually relatively benign. In fact, “street fair” sounds a bit urban. I would have expected “county” or “state” fair. . .


Then the chorus:

It’s a french kiss, italian ice


Spanish moss in the moonlight


Just another American Saturday night


He’s working an international motif into a commercial country song? Sure, it ends with the hook of “Just another American Saturday night” which sounds just like what one would expect from the Nashville song mill, but he didn’t get there preaching to the choir about how great we are compared to “them.” It’s actually sounding like some sort of celebration of diversity. I’m gonna stick with this for another verse -or at least until the other shoe drops….


Next verse he runs through a toga party and a reference to the Greek fraternity system (elitist college education), Canadian bacon, pizza (Italy), and a couple of foreign beers (one of which is light). He ends the verse with a sort of Jimmy Buffet/Great Melting Pot reference, saying “we’re living in a big ‘ol cup. Fire up the blender and mix it all up!”


It’s just a light-hearted country-pop song, but this is a breath of fresh air in a format that has pandered increasingly to a socio-political agenda that promotes American isolationism with the implication of our (supposed) moral superiority. Are we afraid of losing our American identity with the influx of foreign influences? Not according to this guy. Our American identity is those foreign influences all blended together. We take that for granted in most coastal cities, but this is a concept that is almost shocking coming from the conservative world of mainstream country radio. Remember, this is the radio format that effectively banned the Dixie Chicks for criticizing George Bush.

The bridge comes up after another chorus and the singer sums up his point:


“You know everywhere has something they’re known for


Although usually it washes up on our shores


My great great great granddaddy stepped off of that ship


I bet he never ever dreamed we’d have all this”


He’s not saying those other places are better or worse. He’s saying those other places are who we are. It’s a gentle point. Hardly earth-shattering. Nothing that hasn’t been said before in “We Are the World” or “Feed the World” or “It’s a Small, Small World” but it’s the context here that is important. This isn’t some star-studded, cross-genre heart and wallet tugger. This is just a common, everyday, commercial country single, made for radio play in the hyper-partisan, culture-war scarred landscape of post-9/11, (white) middle America.


Then, not once, but twice through the changes with a ripping Telecaster solo. He reprises the bridge, swapping out the last two lines with:


“Little Italy, Chinatown, sittin’ there side by side


Live from New York, It’s Saturday Night!”


New York City?!?! Somebody call Sarah Palin! Is he actually implying that America includes NYC?! What’s next? Hollywood? San Francisco? Berkeley? (Ok, Berkeley is a stretch even in Berkeley)


If you haven’t guessed by now, the artist is Brad Paisley. Yes, I know. The record came out in 2009. This song was released as a single in November. That’s how little I listen to commercial country radio.


I went online and found the video:

It’s not genius, but cute enough. Most notably, the imagery is urban-positive with cheap CGI video game graphics (Okay, it’s a look…) (Oh, and it includes a few cameos of Little Jimmy Dickins, who is featured in many of Paisley’s videos. LJD is just good music!).


Brad Paisley not trying to be deep. He (co)writes clever, fun songs and plays great guitar. He tackles a wide range of subjects in his songs that range from rural (“I’m Gonna Miss Her,” “Ticks,” etc) to modern, topical (“Online”). He uses a lot of irony in his lyrics and a lot of fire in his playing. I don’t think he’s trying to change the world, but he is exerting positive energy in a place that needs it badly. We need more Brad Paisleys.


By the way… at the end of the song, he closes the whole thing out with almost a full minute of more Tele shredding. Thanks Brad. I needed that. I needed the whole damn thing.

77 EL DEORA WEBSITE
77 EL DEORA ON FACEBOOK

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Ben Is Thinking, Guest Contributions

 

A Passion for Great Country Music

In exploring the country blogosphere, it’s largely inevitable that you come across comments that make such claims as…
“Those who can do.  Those who can’t… become critics.”

Let’s talk about this for a moment.  In essence, such commenters claim that music critics are nothing but grumpy old sourpusses who have no musical talent and no hopes of achieving a successful music career, and who thus try to feel better about themselves by slinging mud at those who do have such potential.  Strangely enough, such comments only seem to appear on negative reviews.  I have yet to see one on a positive review.

Let’s break down these assumptions.  First of all, is there any sound basis for asserting that music critics never have any musical talent of their own?  That may be what some of us would like to believe when we come across a scathing review that we strongly disagree with.  But let’s be humble about this – We really don’t know, do we?  Some critics are very talented musicians, and it’s not a given fact that every person on earth with the slightest shred of musical talent is going to pursue fame and fortune as a country star.  Bear in mind also that good writing is a talent in itself.  Perhaps the said critic has found that his true calling is to be a writer rather than a professional musician.  At any rate, there is little basis for assuming that the critic does what he does solely because he is not the one making the hit records.

The greatest error of such a comment is assuming that the the critic is motivated entirely by hatred and bitterness, when in fact such could hardly be further from the truth.  A music critic is motivated, not by bitterness, but by passion.  We love to write.  We love great music.  Isn’t it easy to see why we might enjoy writing about music?

Understandably, this might beg the question of “If y’all are motivated by passion, then why so many negative reviews?”

Consider another typical comment-thread complaint:

“You know my daddy always said if you have nothing good to say about something then keep your opinion to yourself. As in things you may dislike someone else dearly loves.”

Negative reviews happen.  That’s just the way it is.  But that in no way suggests that an unimpressed reviewer is negative about music in general.  Since we have a passion for great music, that passion often causes us to be particularly critical of not-so-great music.  So why don’t we keep our opinions to ourselves?  Since mainstream releases from major record labels draw a great deal of attention, record buyers are interested in knowing if it’s really worth their dollars.  So we eagerly listen to new releases, and review them to help our readers determine what’s worth buying.  If we honestly don’t think it’s any good, then we tell you why we hold that opinion.  Thus, negative reviews serve a purpose just as the positive ones do.

There’s definitely no need to become angry or defensive if a critic pans music that we enjoy.  After all, does the negative opinion of one critic prevent us from listening to and enjoying the music for what it is?  Definitely not.  In such a scenario, the old adage “Agree to disagree” is very applicable indeed.  If you do disagree, then it’s perfectly acceptable to leave your own comment and express why the music appeals to you.  I love it when I get reader comments that cause me to view a song or album from a new and different perspective, and to see positive qualities that I might not have noticed at first.  That only makes for an interesting and enjoyable blog discussion, as long as opinions are expressed with tact, diplomacy, and respect for others.
If you find that a certain critic reliably disagrees with your opinions on music, then that simply means that the two of you analyze music on different levels.  You and he are two unique and different individuals who have different tastes, different sets of opinions, and who look for different qualities in what you consider to be great music.  Maybe that critic just isn’t the one for you.  That’s okay.  You might find another critic whose opinions you can relate to more clearly.  You may find that you can rely on that critic to help you determine what type of music will appeal to you.

As an avid country music blogger, I can say that it always makes me happy when I see comments like these:

“Thanks for the review, was trying to decide whether or not to buy it. I think I’ve decided, upon reading this, that I will.”

“Jamey has a nice earthy quality which is quite entertaining.  Thanks very much, Ben, for making me aware of him.”
Introducing you to great music is like introducing you to a dear friend of ours.  One of the most satisfying aspects of reviewing music is having the opportunity to introduce you to new music that you might not have discovered otherwise.
There are countless different styles of music to choose from, even just within the genre boundaries of what we call country music, and there is an endless variety of opinions on music.  Surely, the Internet is big enough to accomodate all of them.  A country music blog is an ideal forum for all of us to share the great music we love, to freely express our opinions, and to engage in discussion over it.  In today’s digital age, such interaction is made quicker and easier than ever before.  We may agree.  We may disagree.  But the one thing that all of us have in common is that we all have a deep love for great music.  We may have our differences, but our passion for the music is what unites us.
Wow, that last sentence could really use a string section and a gospel choir, don’tcha think?
 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Ben Is Thinking

 
 
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