Introduction: I researched and wrote this article in 2016, reviewing the top ten Country Music songs at that time. I have no reason to think this situation has improved. I have updated it today for its publication on my blog.
As David Allan Coe established in 1975, Country Music has always been about mama, trains, trucks, prison and getting drunk. A quick review of Country Music’s top ten songs in mid-June 2016 shows that that today’s lyrics continue the tradition. Well, not so much trains. And prison only occasionally.
Scroll through the lyrics for these top ten songs and you’ll find that five of them refer to drinking, mostly in the context of partying. That’s not particularly surprising. However, it might startle some Country Music fans to note that three of their top ten songs refer – either directly or through innuendo – to drug use.
When did Country Music begin talking about drug use? Living in the country has always been about taking care of the land and living with integrity. Throw in a little alcohol-induced hell-raising but drugs were something for inner city folks.
Apparently this situation has changed so much that three out of ten of the current top ten songs now refer to drug use. You might miss these references because, of course, they’re wrapped up in music and vocalizations.
However, after looking at drug or alcohol-themed Country Music songs, we’re going to compare them to a top ten song by Tim McGraw that has a very different take on life.
First, here’s the lyrics that refer to alcohol.
Dierks Bentley, “Somewhere on a Beach” – #2
Got a new girl, she got it going on
We drink all day, and party all night
I’m way too gone to have you on my mind
Blake Shelton, “Came Here to Forget” – #4
Misery loves company, that’s why it’s you and me
Buying each other drinks, back at the bar, thick as thieves
Stealing these little sips
Luke Bryan, “Huntin’, Fishin’ And Lovin’ Every Day” – #6
Black coffee in the mornin’
Dark whiskey in the evenin’
Carrie Underwood, “Church Bells” – #9
It was all roses, dripping in diamonds
Sipping on champagne
She was all uptown, wearing that white gown
Taking his last name…
Jenny slipped something in his Tennessee whiskey
No lawman was ever gonna find
And how he died is still a mystery
But he hit a woman for the very last time
Jason Aldean, “Lights Come On” – #10
You’re a crack-of-dawn, Monday-morning, coffee strong
Poured everything you got into a paycheck Friday night
You’re a Powerstroke diesel, backhoe-riding king of beers, 18-wheeler
Driving, living life in between the lines
Now, Check Out the Songs Referring to Drugs
Here’s the lyrics that refer to drugs, either directly or in a more subtle manner.
Florida Georgia Line, “H.O.L.Y” – #1
The title H.O.L.Y. refers to the refrain, High on loving you. That might not seem to necessarily refer to a drug until you pair it with the lyrics from a later part of the song:
I don’t need these stars cause you shine for me
Like fire in my veins, you’re my ecstasy
You’re my ecstasy
Ecstasy is a drug that’s popular with partygoers and concert attendees. It has hallucinogenic properties and is a strong stimulant that occasionally causes people to overheat so much that their organs break down and they die. It is often administered by men who go to concerts and hand the drug out to women to make the women more willing to have sex with them.
In the Blake Shelton hit “Came Here to Forget,” after singing about drinking at a bar, he continues:
That first kiss is like a Colorado hit
You better keep on keeping it lit
If you don’t close attention to the lyrics, you might miss the fact that he’s likening her kiss to smoking marijuana which, of course, Colorado legalized for adult recreational use in 2014.
And finally, in Jason Aldean’s song, “Lights Come On,” in addition to a few lyrics about drinking and raising your cup to “living it up,” he sings:
A hallelujah high from the floor to the ceiling
Yeah, the drink that we’re drinking, the smoke that we’re smoking
The party we throw, it’s going all night long
One has to wonder if these Country Music stars realize the influence they have. With eight out of the top ten songs referring to alcohol, marijuana or ecstasy, do they really not expect their fans to get the hint? Just to make the point again, that’s 80% of the top ten Country Music songs referring to alcohol or drug use.
Mr. McGraw’s Top Ten Song
Now, Tim McGraw also has a song in the top ten of the Country Music chart. It’s called “Humble and Kind.” His encouragement has a different flavor. He sings:
When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind
And what kinds of substances are being consumed in his song?
When it’s hot, eat a root beer popsicle
What happens when you follow his example? You’re proud, humble, kind and consuming popsicles. That’s a pretty healthy way to live.
Imagine the Effect Drug or Alcohol-Themed Songs are Having
What will happen to our teens and young adults who love Country Music if every week’s top ten chart has five songs that refer to alcohol use and three refer to drug use? Already, 50 million Americans are smoking marijuana each year. (When I wrote this article in 2016, the number was 30 million.) There are seven million underage drinkers each year. Nearly 4,000 of them die as a result of their drinking and 188,000 visit emergency rooms for alcohol-related injuries each year.
With ecstasy (also called MDMA) use, a handful of people die each year and more become addicted to the use of this drug, especially those that frequent music festivals and dance clubs. It’s estimated that close to a million Americans use this drug each year.
We’ve always had alcohol references in our country music and it has done us no good. But drug references? That’s something new in this genre. They’ve been in rock, blues and rap music for many years but Country Music has stayed away from drugs – until now.
How can this change possibly be good for America? In the last several years, drug trafficking channels have penetrated our rural areas. Heroin has invaded suburbs, small towns and even farming communities that never saw this drug before. From from all those areas, it is stealing lives.
Country Music acts as an anthem for a way of life that values production, pride, honesty and family – values that are the antithesis of drug abuse. I don’t think it’s any stretch of the imagination to consider that more songs like Mr. McGraw’s could save some people’s lives.