Unpopular Opinion: In Defense of Kenny Rogers and Classic Pop Country
“I like everything but rap and country.”
So says every 13-year-old just peeking over the fence into the wider world of music. And good on them. Of course, most of us grow up and realize that dad was right. Country music is boss.
It’s not the most controversial opinion in the world to sing the praises of Waylon, Willie and JC. Hell, I don’t even get cross-eyed looks when I explain to people how great Bocephus is anymore. And hey, I even got to give 20 reasons why you no longer need to say “I like old country” anymore.
But people still hate pop country and I can’t really figure out why. Listen, I’m not going to launch into a defense of “bro country." It’s a sad state of affairs when female country singers in the mainstream are significantly more badass than their male counterparts. So, no, everyone who thinks I just randomly pick an unpopular opinion and defend it for the sake of getting the page views, sorry: I only say things I actually believe.
"People who are advocating burning draft cards should be hung." —Glen Campbell. Really.
When I talk about pop country, maybe I ought to say “old pop country.” If you think that pop country is shit, I encourage you to give Glen Campbell a listen. “Rhinestone Cowboy” is a toe-tapping tune. “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.),” a strange sort of sequel/rewrite of the aforementioned track, is ripped from the erstwhile L.A. studio musician's own life, and stands in the fine tradition of country songs about achieving your dreams only to find that your dreams suck.
No piece defending pop country would be complete without talking about Kenny Rogers. The man has a voice of pure velvet. I’m not just saying that because I’m the son of a man who looks like Kenny Rogers. Sure, there’s “The Gambler,” which is obvious precisely because it’s so fucking great. But let’s not forget darker tracks such as “Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got).” The man can do a duet like no one’s business — just ask Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton or Kim Carnes. His and Sheena's version of Bob Seger's “We’ve Got Tonight” is the definitive, and this is coming from the world’s biggest Seger fan under the age of 60.
I’m a big fan of Dan Seals. Why didn’t any of you tell me that he died, by the way? This one I have to blame on my pop, whoonce saw fit to drill a love of Seals into me by listening to nothing but Won’t Be Blue Anymore the entire way from Rhode Island to visit relatives in Pennsyltucky. I may or may not be known to shed a single, stoic tear every time I hear “Meet Me in Montana.”
My last night in Los Angeles County (I moved, but fear not — I'll continue to pollute your Facebook feed for the foreseeable future), someone put a track on the jukebox that’s known to bring people together. I’m talking about “Friends in Low Places” by none other than Garth Brooks himself. After belting out every damn line with my new friends over a bottle of Miller Lite, I excused myself and headed home.
Why? Because I can’t think of a single better way to end a night. So while you might be too cool for Randy Travis or Ronnie Milsap, I’m sure as shit not.
Note: The writer dedicates this week's installment to Glen Campbell, who is currently in the final stages of Alzheimer's.
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