Country music? I miss the good stuff

The AM radio station here in these parts is CJBQ 800 out of Belleville, and to get caught up on the local news I tune it in during my drive from Queensborough down to Belleville each day. Unfortunately the music featured on the morning program, in and around the news, weather, sports and chat, is contemporary country, and the only word I can use to describe it is – godawful. The songs all sound the same, the performers are interchangeable, the tunes unmemorable and the lyrics – well, don’t even get me started. Except I guess I’ve already got myself started.There is a stunningly large number of references in the songs to driving around in trucks, which strikes me as a singularly unimaginative theme. And when these songs try to tackle the venerable country-music themes of “heartbreak and desire” (as the great Emmylou Harris put it in Boulder to Birmingham, her achingly beautiful song about the death of “cosmic American music” legend Gram Parsons) – well, we end up with lines like this one, which I was particularly appalled to hear more than once this past week: “Whiskey burn her memory down.” What does that even mean? How can whiskey burn anything down?

We are a far, far cry from lyrics like Hank Williams‘s “The moon just went behind the clouds/I’m so lonesome I could cry.” Or Johnny Cash‘s “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” Or Loretta Lynn‘s “You ain’t woman enough to take my man.

And then there’s Dolly Parton, who is one of my all-time heroes because she is smart and talented and tenacious and funny – and a fantastic songwriter. Think of My Tennessee Mountain Home, or Coat of Many Colors, or I Will Always Love You (which, for those of you who might not know, did not originate with the bombastic Whitney Houston). Or the song that is one of the great classics of country music, and one of the great examples of powerful songwriting by women. Of course I am talking about Jolene.

Dolly Parton released that single in 1974, when I was a young teenager living in Queensborough (where I now find myself again, all these years later). It was a huge hit, and was played regularly on none other than CJBQ 800, which our school-bus driver generally had tuned in on the drive to and from school. I have fond memories of hearing it over and over during that joyous afternoon time when the bus was bringing you home to freedom at the end of the school day, along the back roads in the area of Madoc (where school was). It’s a song that has lots of the great country-music themes: jealousy, heartache, two women in love with the same man. But it’s framed in an original and striking way; and the tune is haunting. A masterpiece.

Driving into Madoc the other afternoon, just a little later in the day than when the school bus used be delivering us home from school, I was tuned in to CBC Radio 2 (having heard one too many dopey songs from the 1950s on CJBQ’s hugely popular afternoon show with Freddy Vette) and host Rich Terfry made mention of the fact that Dolly Parton had suffered very minor injuries in a car accident this past week. He used it as a lead-in to a Dolly Parton song. Which, I am thrilled to report, was Jolene. It was so cool to hear that long-ago classic at that particular time and place.

“I had to have this talk with you/My happiness depends on you/And whatever you decide to do/Jolene.” People, we were a long, long way from “Whiskey burn her memory down.”

22 thoughts on “Country music? I miss the good stuff

  1. I know how you’re feeling (regarding the music that’s played on the radio station.) Apart from the local news, I’m afraid I can’t listen to it. Instead, I listen to CFMX (the classical station), and I never tire of hearing music by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, etc. As for the state of country music these days, one song sounds like the next — the same can be said of other styles, too. Is one rap song any different from the other? They all seem to have that lazy beat, with heavy bass. Then again, I guess our parents would have said the same thing when they heard Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix.

    • Yes, I suppose we are starting to sound a bit like our parents, Sash. Perhaps it’s inevitable! I too have started to take refuge in classical music; I like the classical show on CBC Radio 2 in the mornings and early afternoons. It certainly does more for the brain than that ridin’-around-in-trucks music!

  2. I too know how you are feeling. But I don’t mine the older country music. Myself I don’t listen to AM radio. On my trips across Northern Ontario I grew to respect the radio stations I have at home. Driving along the Trans Canada highway gets pretty lonely without something on the radio. As there isn’t many stations up north. So i wasn’t long buying some cd’s.

  3. Hi there,
    1. As a former part-time CJBQ announcer from the early 1950s, I enjoy listening to much of the contemporary music on the station. Jim Wright (a former student of mine at Moira) does a good job in the early afternoon and Freddy Vette is highly entertaining with his variety of voices and music in the late afternoon.
    2. CBC offers an excellent variety of music as a general rule. However, I still have a place in my heart for CJBQ. I remember the 50s when the late Carl Cogan was CJBQ’s Western Man, Bill Stovin was the station manager, Lee Jourard was a fixture, and Chuck Collins drove a car with added fins.
    3. Sorry . . . Jolene is not one of my favourites.
    Gerry

    • Oh Gerry, don’t get me wrong – I have a lot of time for CJBQ too, one reason being it was the radio station I grew up with. I quite like the morning guy, especially when he does interviews with people about things going on in the community. What I don’t like is the choice of music on that show (the “I love ridin’ in my truck” songs) – in my childhood CJBQ played pop songs in the morning (Sonny and Cher! Tony Orlando and Dawn!) which I remember fondly. As for Freddy Vette, he’s good and I know he’s very popular, but that 1950s and very early 1960s music is just a little too much before my time, and after one too many “rang-a-dang-a-ding-dong” songs I sometimes have to take a break. (Let’s put it this way: when the Beatles’ 1963 Love Me Do sounds fresh and new compared to most of the stuff on the show, I know I’m in trouble!) I haven’t yet seen Freddy Vette and the Flames perform live, but I know he puts on a great concert and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. But listen: as a longtime CJBQ listener, do you remember early-1970s DJ Joey Edwards? He was fantastic, and very, very funny. I did a post on him a while back, and if turns out I’m not the only person who remembers Joey and would like to know what ever happened to him. Do you, by any chance?

      • Message appreciated.
        I don’t know about Joey Edwards location today. I do recall his voice on CJBQ. I imagine that Lee Jourard will know something about him and I’ll try to forward this message to him.
        Keep up the good work.
        Gerry
        P.S. You might want to go on the internet for CJBQ and check up on Jim Wright. I taught Jim in the early years at Moira Secondary School and the station has his history on its on-line site.

      • Thanks, Gerry – will look into that! And if you have any leads for tracking down Joey Edwards – well, thousands (oh, okay, dozens) of his fans from back in the 1970s (like me) would be thrilled!

  4. Oh kitty, kitty kitty! Of course whisky can burn a memory down. You fellas need a good ole fashion happy hour which is really sad hour in one horse town bar, not some Queensborough amateur hour. There is not enough mega-byte mileage on this super information highway for me to begin to tell how whisky has done burned down plenty ’round these parts (and i”m not even out of my kitchen yet). Hells bells.
    Love Dolly and Jolene of course plus Jolene by Ray Lamontagne. A different Jolene but one i”m sure would past muster even for you in your Duster or Pacer or whatever you’re drivin’ to school these days. Your Pal Kitty from yonder town.

      • “Drink it in a dirty glass, yeah!” Ah, Kitty, many were the times when that little ditty got us through a tough day in the newsroom, non? Geez, just imagine if we’d HAD that corn whiskey (as opposed to a ditty about it) – then maybe we would NOT have got through the day. (Though we probably would have had some good laughs!)

    • Howdy, Kitty! So great to hear from you, weighing in with deep core knowledge on the weighty subjects of whiskey and hurtin’ songs. I actually have Ray Lamontagne’s Jolene, you’ll be happy to know, and pretty much everything Ray Lamontagne does passes muster and then some with me. (And I have our Ray’s Dominique to thank for drawing him to my attention.)

  5. A brisk Hickory Wind hello from over Brighton way. There must be an AM radio resurrection just around the corner,

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