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What is better, Old country and Modern country music?

todayFebruary 3, 2024 477 6 5

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When it comes to Country, it stopped being “Country” when Garth Brooks took the stage in front of 600,000,000,000 people and turned it into high-production Pop.

Country is typically divided into five generations.

The First Generation consisted of those who originally were noticed for their musicianship and storytelling skills and then recorded/produced to bring their music and stories to a larger audience. Shortly after the turn of the century (1900), musicians from the backwoods and from up in the holler started coming down to the cities for work in the coal mines and factories that were beginning to emerge. These people brought their music with them and once noticed, artists like The Carter Family, Cliff Carlisle, Jimmie Rodgers, Vernon Dalhart, Uncle Dave Macon, and Lloyd Chandler were recorded and introduced to the masses. This was known as Hillbilly music at the time; or a convergence of Gospel staples and old Western European ballads. The music was slim, mostly just guitar and vocals; but it hearkened back to the old world and kept cultural ties with the lives of those who composed/performed it.

The Second Generation began to include Western style singers. Moon Mullican, Roy Acuff, Eddie Arnold, Gene Autry, Jesse Ashlock, Hank Williams, Cecil Bower and the likes brought a mix of Western Swing and the first hints of Rockabilly to the scene. Country music began to become a bit more produced with the advent of radio and television to the scene. Now artists could display the cowboy image; which young boys were so keen to emulate. The music had a Honky-Tonk flair with a touch of whimsical nostalgia; reminiscent of music sung by true cowboys around the campfire on cold Arizona desert nights. Tommy Duncan, Bob Wills and Leon Mcauliffe began to introduce the steel guitar and fiddles to their act; which somewhat energized the relaxed temperament of Country music’s antecedent repertoire. Bluegrass banjo and Honky-Tonk piano began to infiltrate the scene; providing a more festive atmosphere. Johnnie Barfield gave birth to Hillbilly Boogie; which paired Gospel, Rockabilly and Country elements with the popular Swing music style of the day.

The Third Generation began to include more Blues crossover but kept with the swinging Rockabilly style that had become popular over the previous decade or so. The Grand Ole Opry and the Ozark Jubilee began to bring more attention to Country artists of the day like Marty Robbins, Cowboy Copas, and Don Gibson. The now popular “Rock and Roll” style was beginning to infiltrate the Country music scene, but a few artists like Johnny Horton, Spade Cooley, and Freddy Fender tried to keep things “Country”. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash introduced what would become known as Outlaw Country – a more rugged, antagonistic style of Country music fusing elements of Rock and Roll with Blues and Gospel to create a sort of “badass” element and style. Songs about time spent in prison and murdering strangers and running from the law became popular. The outcast was becoming a new hero of Country music. This led us into the Fourth Generation.

The Fourth Generation began to see Country as a much more popular style. It was no longer just Hillbilly music from the boonies or Mountain folk ballads. The Outlaw style became increasingly popular along with the rise of many more female artists. Patsy Cline, Boxcar Willy, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jr., Mel Tillis, Charlie Daniels, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Billy Joe Shaver, Tanya Tucker, David Allan Coe, and many others became hugely popular with their songs about topics ranging from various illegal activities to pining for home and/or loved ones. There were several Country/Pop crossover acts like Barbara Mandrell, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, and Kenny Rogers who made a big splash with several of their hits. We began to see more Country/Rock fusion with acts like The Marshall Tucker band and The Allman Brothers. Harmony acts like Alabama and The Oak Ridge Boys brought a more Mountain Country feel to the scene. Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris were notably influential on keeping an authentic Country feel while infusing elements of Rock and Roll into their sound. Regardless of what styles influenced the music, the emotion and lyrical content was largely genuine and came from somewhere within the artist or songwriter – not from a sense of what formula would make the most money. Though this philosophy or mode of thought did begin to bleed into the industry around the end of the Fourth Generation era; leading us to what we have now…

The Fifth Generation was/is almost entirely predicated on making money through image and production. Though a few authentic artists like Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, and Reba McEntire still remained popular, most acts were signed or created to take advantage of the larger Country music fan base now present across the country. We saw acts like Blackhawk, The Dixie Chicks, Lonestar, Faith Hill, and Restless Heart performing songs written explicitly to appeal to the targeted demographic. Artists were memorizing lyrics about hard times and tough livin’ while sitting in their private jets drinking champagne. They began to wear custom tailored jeans with specifically designed rips and holes in them. They’d don shiny, new cowboy boots that looked like they’d never once been in a stirrup. The sound was highly produced, and so were the artists. THIS is mostly what modern Country music has become. Very little remembrance of true, Country living. Few authentic words spoken by lips that had breathed through it. Few chords struck by rough hands calloused from manual toil and hard living. Few notes sung through lungs blackened by coal and cigarette smoke.

These days it’s mostly image. An attempt to convey an image of what once was, when what once was didn’t care much about image. Though it is true that popularity often diminishes the authenticity of things, making something popular due to its authenticity is entirely different than trying to make something authentic to achieve popularity.

Written by: musicman

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