Up until a few months ago, most of my introductory conversations went a bit like this:
“Oh, you’re from Tennessee? Like, with cowboys and country music and stuff?”
“Yeah. But I’m not from Nashville.”
“So, you must love country music, right?”
Um. What do I say? Most of the time I went for the middle-of-the-road approach. “It’s not my favorite.” More like the epitome of my annoyance. I couldn’t even listen to a simple George Strait song without turning the channel.
Then, around April of this past year, something changed. A spark of new life, I suppose. Now, mind you, even though I hail from Tennessee, my favorite genre of music is electronica/indie pop. I grew up on ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, and a splash of Spanish-infused ballads. Country was not part of my repertoire. I listened to anything except country, in fact.
Let’s head back in time to April. It was a fun-filled month, a great month, in fact; and somehow, some friends of mine convinced me, a Tennessean by birth, to go line dancing. In California. “California? Country music?” I asked, perplexed.
It turns out that certain Californians love their country music just as religiously as certain Southerners. I was shocked to discover this. Why? I wanted to know.
It’s something different. Unique.
Not to my ears!
So, because line dancing sounded like a weird and unique thing to do–and why not, when in California–I went with them. I had to borrow some cowboy boots from a friend. When I told my friends back home that I was going to a line dance, they didn’t believe me.
But I did. And since then, from that unforgettable night, I grew to appreciate country music. It took a few more months after that for me to really like country music and to not mind listening to it. While it still is not my favorite genre, it took some Californians and a memorable dance floor to teach a Tennessean to find country music fun.
So, now that I’ve bored you to death with my conversion experience, I’d like to share a few of my favorite female-powered country songs. As a newbie to the world (though I have been to the Grand Ole Opry and prefer a rugged, green field to the city), I don’t know much. I’m learning more and more, and now, whenever my Southern friends blast country music, I’m able to identify a few of the singers and their songs.
Without further ado, here are my top picks. For now. 😉
“BOONDOCKS” by Little Big Town
And I can feel / That muddy water running through my veins
This is my jam now. I can feel this song running through my veins about once a day. When did I first hear it? Well, when I was a kid, actually, because unlike me, my mom did like and listen to country, and so at times she made me listen with her when we drove around in our old Volvo. (Interesting sight indeed.)
I did like Little Big Town, even as an unruly kid with bad musical taste. Something about the four, haunting voices melting together like chocolate in ice cream was a delight to me. However, I would never have listened to LBT on my own.
Now, though, I know most of their hits. “Pontoon,” “Day Drinking,” “Little White Church,” “Better Man,” “Girl Crush,” and “Good as Gone” are all stellar songs that really emphasize Karen Fairchild’s super vocals.
Specifically, “Boondocks” is a definite anthem for the country kid. Even though it took me a while to accustom myself to the genre, I definitely feel a certain camaraderie with LBT on this song that emphasizes the positives of growing up in, well, the boondocks. (And you don’t have to be Southern to resonate with this song. That is what my Californian friends taught me!)
“BISCUITS” by Kacey Musgraves
Pourin’ salt in my sugar won’t make yours any sweeter
Kacey Musgraves. Who’s she? That was my first impression of her. She had an okay voice, and her music seemed sweetly country. Then I started to listen to her more intently, first with “Merry-Go-Round,” which won a Grammy. This woman knows how to write a song.
After “Merry-Go-Round,” I listened to “Follow Your Arrow,” and thought again that she knows how to write songs that are interesting and pull you in. Unlike most of today’s rather repetitive message, Kacey takes a spin on daily topics.
In “Biscuits” we are reminded to let others live their lives without judgment, lest we be judged. Kacey is a bit controversial in the country community, but because of her songwriting ability, I find her songs lively and summery fun.
“JOLENE” by Dolly Parton
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / Please don’t take him just because you can
“Jolene” is a classic, both in the country field and across the United States. Jolene, with her long auburn hair, is a stunner, but even more so is the phenomenon herself, Dolly Parton, whom I first noted on an episode of Hannah Montana (haha).
“Jolene” may be an older song, but I love it. In fact, “Jolene” may be in my top two songs. There is something about the lyrics that draws its listener in, from the rolling octaves to the gutsy message. It may not be the feminist anthem of the century, but I love it. Jolene’s bad, the narrator’s jealous, and the narrator’s man is tempted. It’s a love triangle for the ages.
Dolly Parton, why didn’t I listen to you sooner?
“I GOT THE BOY” by Jana Kramer
I got the first kiss, and she’ll get the last / She’s got the future, I got the past
Once upon a time, when I was about fourteen, I spent a summer with Netflix and a little TV show called One Tree Hill, a teenage drama that introduced me to Jana Kramer, who played a singer on the show. Flash forward to my country days, and she has a song I really like, “I Got the Boy.” Mind blown!
I didn’t necessarily care about the song when I first heard it. I thought Jana’s voice was a bit twangy, but when I heard it the second, third, fourth time, I listened to the song and was able to connect to the narrator. The song is interesting, because it twists time and develops a story between a teenage love to an adult love. I’m not the biggest romantic in the world, but the song made me think about time and love and, yeah, I like this one.
“HEADS CAROLINA, TAILS CALIFORNIA” by Jo Dee Messina
We can pack tomorrow, tonight let’s flip a coin / Heads Carolina, Tails California
When I heard this song the first time, I was like, “Who is singing this? This voice is weird!” I picked up my lifeline, my cellular device, and met Jo Dee Messina. I’d never heard her name before, but I can tell you, I know it now.
The song is a fun one. It is the perfect summer road trip song, if you’re off on an adventure with the love of your life. “Heads Carolina, Tails California” reminds us of a certain spontaneity revolving around young love and the opportunity to do whatever you want, impulsively or not.
While it is not my favorite country song, I like this one because it fits in my love of travel and the concept of learning to be free enough to do what you want to do on your own terms.
ANYTHING BY THE QUEEN OF COUNTRY POP, SHANIA TWAIN
Shania is legend.
Let’s swing back to the time I told you my mom made me listen to country. For whatever reason, as a kid I never considered Shania Twain country. She sounded like a pop singer to me, and I loved her. Therefore, now that I like country, I’ve been listening more to her than the usual classics such as “You’re Still the One,” Man! I Feel Like a Woman!,” and “Forever and Always.”
Honestly, there are a million more I could add to this list. My ultimate favorite of hers is “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” And now that she’s in the middle of a full-force comeback, I’m more excited than ever!
“ODE TO BILLY JOE” by Bobbie Gentry***
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge / And she and Billy Joe was throwin’ somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge
Bobbie Gentry wrote my favorite song of all time. That feels good to get off my chest.
I discovered this song back in my I-hate-country-phase. Honestly, I listened to it over and over again in secret for a while, until I finally opened it up to my family and friends, who also love this song and the unbelievably great storytelling within.
Billy Joe is a strange dark mist of a song. It’s a mysterious, what the heck happened, and what did they throw off that darn bridge type of song. It’s one that you can debate with anyone and everyone just to hear what people think happened between the young narrator and her secret relationship with a young man named Billy Joe. I think the reason I love it so much is because it tells a story within the four minutes or so of song, and we don’t fully know the whole story. Can we trust the narrator?
All I know is that, when I went to college, I listened to “Billy Joe” when I desperately missed the green lush countryside of North Mississippi, where this song takes place.
This is a must! Everyone needs to hear it at least once (if not a million times) in his or her lifetime.
So, there you have it, my friends!
I am a country music muse these days. And I’m going to encourage you to check it out too, no matter where you’re from, or who you are, or what you believe country music to be. There is the stereotyped bro-country genre, and the beer and trucks and girls and dogs, but that’s not what I want to hear. There are some serious treasures within this genre!
Check it out!
Until next time,