I hate country music.
Let me be specific.
I hate country music.
I hate country music that exists simply to be country. Add a Southern drawl and twangy guitar to lyrics about jilted lovers and/or pickup trucks and you have any number of hit new singles. If all else fails, just start singing about football. It won’t help your career any, but at least you’ll be on TV once a week.
What I’m complaining about here is country pop, I suppose. My argument against which is the uninspired homogeneity within that genre, and “pop” in general. Do something interesting, different, new. Don’t just settle into the radio pattern of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. Don’t just creatively subsist on what’s come before. Even I if bothered to listen to a Top 40 country station, would I be able to tell anything about the artist other than (maybe) their gender? I’ll get off my soapbox about what most country artists do wrong and get back to what some do right.
What’s right about country is when country stylings are applied to other genres, either subtly in the case of much acoustic/folk rock (Wilco, Arlo Guthrie, Railroad Earth) or more overtly in rockabilly and Southern rock from Johnny Cash to Lynyrd Skynyrd. There’s even room for those fantastic eccentrics, music’s wild men like the Legendary Stardust Cowboy or Roky Erickson. Somewhere in the middle is George Frayne, more popularly known as Commander Cody.
The Commander has been going strong for 40 years now, currently fronting The Commander Cody Band and getting his start at the helm of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. I first experienced them on the Sirius station Deep Tracks, with their jaunty (and hilarious) cover of Tex Williams’ sardonic ode to nicotine, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)”. After that I was hooked, discovering other classics like his signature tune “Hot Rod Lincoln” and the bluesy “Seeds and Stems (Again)”. Their 1973 LP Country Casanova contained the Commander’s take on Tex Williams and nine other country love songs. Whether the love in question is one girl, many girls, a smoke, or partying, they’re love songs nonetheless.
Clocking in at a brisk 28 minutes, the band rips through the album with not a weak tune in the bunch. The title track sets a theme of hard living and hard loving for the rest of the album. So does Side B’s lead-off track “Rock That Boogie”, showcasing the high musical IQ of both the Commander’s piano work and Bill Kirchen’s distinctive guitar. There’s even a spiritual tune that does not lack in energy “Shall We Meet (Beyond the River)”. This is almost jarring contrast to Side A’s ender, “Everybody’s Doin’ It”, a proclamation in favor of “dancin’ and truckin’” but also “swingin’ and fuckin’”. The song (embedded below) was especially controversial in ’73, being a country tune with a full 24 uses of the word fuckin’ in 2 minutes and 18 seconds.
“I’ve been smokin’ ‘bout 25 years. Ain’t dead yet.” And neither is the Commander. He’s still going strong, playing Connecticut venues such as Manchester’s The Hungry Tiger or Infinity Hall in Norfolk this past year alone. Bill Kirchen, lead guitarist and vocalist of the Lost Planet Airmen still maintains a musical presence, having recently played theatre shows at Fairfield University and a more intimate club setting at New Haven’s Café Nine. Even four decades later there is still ample opportunity to hear some of the great old stuff. For the rest of you, you can always get brown-out drunk and check out Kenny Chesney or Brooks and Rich or whomever The Meadows can con people into paying $40 a ticket to see. Everybody just might be doin’ it now, but for me? I’ll stick to the classics.
Until next time,