Lyrics are a huge part of what we do here at Custom Serenade. Whether they are written by clients or for clients, the words that accompany music are extremely important to us. So, naturally there is a keen interest in what other people do with words in music. I personally find it helpful to examine the lyrics of established songs and songwriters as both a means of improving as a lyricist, and also just for fun. So, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts about lyrics via this blog.
You can say what you will about New Country, but it is a genre that values lyrics. The words are to a country song what a beat is to a techno song, it’s core. So, this time around I will be looking at Josh Thompson’s country hit “Cold Beer With Your Name On It”, which was written by Brent Anderson and Clint Daniels. In general, I’m not the target audience for new country, nor am I really a fan, but as a songwriter I have to give the devil his due. These are clever lyrics. Let’s jump right in:
I hear you’re out there now and you’re doing alright
A new lease on life in Hollywood
Riding around with the ragtop down
On a lost dirt road by the railroad tracks
If you ever think about that
And wonder where I’m at and wanna come back
Grammatical errors are a staple in modern Nashville. They are included intentionally so that the the words will be written in the way that the target audience allegedly speaks, which is ripe with colloquialisms that are grammatically incorrect and would compel stuffy librarians in bifocals to shudder as they sip their tea, which is just fine with the audience and probably the writers too.
I’m sitting’ on a tailgate in the middle of a stargaze
Wishing you were in my arms
Chillin’ right here, baby if you want it
I’ve got a cold beer with your name on it
I am impressed that the writers didn’t merely come up with a rhyme for the word “arm” here. It would have been the obvious thing to do, and probably easier. Instead, they turn things around with a pair of lines both ending with “it”, which some would consider lazy, but it beats rhyming with “arm” in my opinion. It also gives them a chance to introduce the song’s title and catch phrase early on. Also of note here, the word “chillin’ ” which seems a bit out of place, but times are changing. Some people in the country talk like that. Some of them are under 50.
Back 40 on a Friday night
Me and you dancing in the firelight
I know hipsters that have co-opted fire pits in the same way that they have adopted moustaches and knitting, and I have enjoyed these fires. I hope though, that it still happens out in the sticks the way that this song describes it. If you’ve never danced in the light of a bonfire, you should.
Girl you gotta admit it sounds pretty good, don’t it?
I’ve got a cold beer with your name on it
Yeah, it sounds good. It would sound better to me without yet another intentional grammatical error (don’t it), but I’m not the target audience and the more I find it annoying, the better.
Pop the top, kick back like we used to do
Sipping all night long to your favorite tunes
If you ever get tired of the concrete life,
Those honking horns, them flashing lights
Got a jar of shine if you need it,
Under the seat, you know where I keep it
Here we have a glorification of the fun one can have drinking in the country contrasted with a condemnation of the alleged hassles of urban living. Again we have the double “it” rhymes, and again I’m ok with it (no pun intended). The use of the word “shine” here gives us more insight into this good old boy. He’s also a rebel. He drinks and drives, he buys illegal, homemade liquor. Bet you won’t find that on the sunset strip!
Hey girl turn off your cell phone,
Put your blue jeans on, get back home
Slamming technology never hurts when you’re trying to appeal to a down home crowd. Trade in your cell phone for blue jeans! Especially if you’re a hot cowgirl!
Next we repeat the chorus, no need to repeat myself. Then finally we have:
Cooler loaded down, picture perfect view
All that’s missing now is… you
I like the way the first line finds common phrases that are rhythmically identical. Then there’s the melancholy reminder of the girl that inspired this song. And then the chorus kicks in again and ends the song.
In all the country songs I’ve heard recently, the lyrics are usually a fabric woven of common phrases with the goal of effectively preaching to a choir that praises simplicity, loyalty, and all things rural. Every day sayings are employed, twisted, modified, and in some cases even created. For me, new country challenges the notion of what a cliche actually is, and at what point it (or they) become a cop-out in terms of lyric writing.
I doubt that I’ll begin sporting a cowboy hat any time soon, but I do appreciate the craft that is put into these and other lyrics in modern country music.