The country of rock

One of the good things about being in southwest Wisconsin is getting to listen to maybe the finest morning radio show for a market of this size.

WGLR-FM in Lancaster (for which I have done games and endured jokes about the disaster area that is my golf game) does an excellent job of informing listeners of what is going on in Wisconsin and the Tri-States every morning. (I saw WGLR’s morning host earlier this week, and I told him I wake up with him every morning, and to stop snoring and hogging the covers.) Between 6:30 and 6:45 I hear the important local news, the weather, local sports and even the farm markets. From the farmer’s perspective, of course, higher prices are good, lower prices are not.

WGLR calls itself “97-7 Country.” Back when I was doing games for WGLR, their slogan was “We Cover the Country,” which was preceded by “Music Country.” (In doing a résumé CD for a job I didn’t get — hint: they’re in Minnesota this weekend — I found a copy of WGLR’s old weather sounder that sounds like, and may have been called, fairy dust. It’s one of my ringtones.)

(Sad side note: One of WGLR’s account representatives, Tom Greenwood, died early this week. His funeral is this morning. Tom was known locally for his coverage of car racing. I worked with him on a football playoff game in 1999. The death of someone as close to my age as Tom was and the fact that Tom is, I think, the first person I’ve done games with to pass on is not pleasant to contemplate.)

WGLR does what every radio station really needs to do — be live and local. Those stations that are voice-tracked for hours and hours, and the stations that carry whatever programming the satellite provides (although I do like Tom Kent and Nights with Alice Cooper) are not really serving their listeners.

Regular readers over the past four years know I am a fan of rock music and not country music, although you know I have a favorite country song:

I first moved to southwest Wisconsin in 1988, and appalled my mother by being able to recite most of the words to this:

It blew my mind when a 1990s high school reunion of mine featured line dancing. Independent of the fact that line dancing didn’t exist when we graduated, I doubt you could have found one member of the Madison La Follette Class of 1983 to have admitted listening to country music in the early 1980s.

Of course, rock music owes a lot to country given that rock is an amalgam of country, blues and jazz. Many of the biggest country acts of the ’50s and ’60s spent a lot of time on the pop music charts too:

I got the idea many years ago to take one of the stations that WGLR’s owner now owns and make it a country/rock station. That wouldn’t be that hard, particularly if you pick from ’70s Southern rock:

Readers know that my first criterion for music is how the music sounds. (Which is one reason why I’m not a fan of The Eagles, much of whose ’70s music belongs on country stations, not rock stations.) Five musical ingredients of country that turn me off are twangy guitars, pedal steel guitar, banjos, violins and harmonicas, all of which I prefer in limited quantities. (I’m not a fan of bluegrass.)

The other thing that turns me off is those songs that adhere to the country stereotype of my-girl-left-me my-dog-died my-truck-blew-up let’s-go-get-drunk. (Isn’t there a Cousins Subs commercial with that theme?) There is a country-ish — more appropriately termed rural — dialect in Wisconsin that sounds sort of like a drawl than the speech of, say, someone from Madison. It sounds as if you have to sound like that to be a country act, and I don’t prefer that.

On the other hand, country love songs seem more respectful than, say, your typical Nickelback song. I have never heard a patriotic rock song; I assume it’s more cool for rock singers to rip on their country (for instance, “Born in the USA”) than praise it. There have been country acts that beat on the country that gives them the freedom to beat on their country, but Steve Earle isn’t considered a country act anymore, and Natalie Maines’ mouth torched the Dixie Chicks as a country act forever. (The First Amendment does not include immunity from the consequences of your free expression.)

Having listened to more country music as part of the aforementioned morning show in the past month than in the past few years, the first thing that comes to mind is that country of the last 35 or so years — essentially country from around the time the movie “Urban Cowboy” came out — meets the old standards of pop music: three or so minutes of actual melody. (The more I listen to contemporary hits radio, the more it strikes me as unlistenable, with limited exceptions, given pop’s current veering between pseudorap and songs that sound as if they’re sung by 15-year-old girls or for 15-year-old girls.)

I guess my challenge is to introduce a new genre to country music similar to brass rock: Brass country, something like …

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