Country Dirt

In Tuesday’s Washington Post, Emily Yahr details how Jason Aldean‘s “Burnin’ It Down” . . .

. . . (which I actually kind of liked, much to my surprise — is that actually a looped synth line, or at least a heavily processed guitar, in a country song?) and Florida Georgia Line‘s “Sun Daze” . . .

. . . (which I could not make it all of the way through even once) represent a new level of sexual explicitness. But as Yahr makes clear, these trends are cyclical:

Nashville has been through these cycles before, says country music historian Don Cusic. In the 1940s, Floyd Tillman had a hit with ‘Slippin’ Around,’ about two people having an affair — some stations outright refused to play a song about cheating. Eddie Dean’s similar ‘One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)’ also arrived in the late-’40s, right around the time was a large number of divorces after World War II. . . .

Then, the 1980s arrived with President Ronald Reagan and a conservative era of pushing family values; the sexual songs seem to fade away. . . .”

Even individual country artists sometimes developed amnesia when it came to their earlier, more explicit songs. In 1976,  the Baton Rouge, LA, magazine Gris-Gris asked Jimmie Davis, twice-governor of Louisiana and co-writer of “You Are My Sunshine” (at least he took credit for it), what music he listened to. He preferred gospel and country, he said, “but I don’t like country if it’s vulgar” (quoted in Tosches, 1977, p. 128). During both of his successful runs for governor (in 1944 and 1960), opponents dug up Davis’s early ’30s recordings like “Tom Cat and Pussy Blues,” . . .

. . . “High Behind Blues” and “Bed Bug Blues,” the last of which was described by his 1944 opponent for governor  as “depraved vulgarity” (Tosches, 1977, p. 125). But when he played Davis’s songs at rallies to foment moral outrage, the assembled voters began to dance (Russell, 1983).

Sure, these songs were euphemistic and somewhat tame by today’s standards (though the verse about the “cock and pussy” in the first song is not very subtle), but they were as explicit as society would (barely) accept at the time. When Billboard printed its first country chart a few years later, in 1939, it came with the caveat that “double-meaning records are purposely omitted from this column” (quoted in Tosches, 1977, p. 118).

Things got far more graphic as society grew more permissive. In 1982, ex-con David Allan Coe released Underground, his second “XXX rated” album, which included “Don’t Bite the Dick”:

Of course, it’s no coincidence that all of these explicit songs are by and about men. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath waiting for a country equivalent of Khia’s “My Neck”:

Not that hip hop is any more enlightened than country when it comes to female sexuality.

References

Russell, T. (1983).  Liner notes for Jimmie Davis: Rockin’ Blues.  Bremen, West Germany: Bear Family.

Tosches, N. (1977).  Country: The biggest music in America.  New York: Delta.

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