Nashville’s Biggest Songwriters Speak Out About the Lack of Women on Country Radio and the Songs They Wish They Wrote

Nashville Power Players 2015

Originally Posted on Billboard

Hitmakers are the lifeblood of country music. “Songwriting is sort of a 9-to-5 job in Nashville,” says Michael Dulaney, who has collaborated on singles with Tanya Tucker and Jason Aldean. Unlike in other genres, where artists and producers disappear into studios or rented mansions for months, Nashville’s most successful treat the craft more like a profession than a mystical experience. “I write at least 150 songs a year, so there’s really not a ‘writing ritual,’ ” says Rhett Akins, who has 18 career No. 1 singles. “You just hope and pray on the way to the writing session that you’ve got a good idea — or that the person you’re writing with does.”

Billboard’s First-Ever Nashville Top 50 Power Players List Revealed

Songwriters Key

1. Chris DeStefano*
Known for: “Good Girl” (Carrie Underwood); “Kick the Dust Up” (Luke Bryan)
A personal song I’ve written: “ ‘Something in the Water’ [Carrie Underwood]. When I’m singing it, sometimes I get a lump in my throat.”

 

2. Josh Osborne, 35
Known for: “Take Your Time” (Sam Hunt); “Sangria” (Blake Shelton)
Word I overuse in lyrics: “ ‘Ceiling fan.’ When [Eli Young Band’s] ‘Drunk Last Night’ went to No. 1, Rhett [Akins] sent me a text that said, ‘ “Ceiling fan” must be the new “tailgate.” ’ ”

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3. Luke Laird, 37
Known for: “American Kids” (Kenny Chesney); “Give Me Back My Hometown” (Eric Church)
Why there aren’t more women on country radio: “Some of the best writers are female, but as far as writers in Nashville getting paid to write songs, it’s still more guys. That may have something to do with it.”

 

4. Nathan Chapman, 38
Known for: “Better Than You Left Me” (Mickey Guyton); “Homegrown Honey” (Darius Rucker)
Why there aren’t more women on country radio: “I don’t know. I’ve had 16 No. 1s as a producer and songwriter — and 12 of my No. 1s have been with female lead singers. It’s an important issue for me.”

 

5. Lee Thomas Miller, 46
Known for: “Southern Girl” (Tim McGraw); “In Color” (Jamey Johnson)
A personal song I’ve written: “My grandfather was in World War II, and we did a whole verse of ‘In Color’ [“In the middle of hell/In 1943”] about it.”

Dierks Bentley on His Bumpy Road to Stardom: ‘I Didn’t See It Working Out for Me’

 

6. Barry Dean, 48
Known for: “Pontoon” (Little Big Town); “Where We Left Off” (Hunter Hayes)
Most surprising place I’ve heard my song: “[At] my wife’s high school reunion, they were doing karaoke, and somebody did ‘Pontoon.’ They didn’t know I’d written it.”

 

7. Marv Green, 50
Known for: “Amazed” (Lonestar); “Who I Am With You” (Chris Young)
Dream collaborators: Tom Petty, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Merle Haggard, Mick Jagger.”

 

8. Natalie Hemby, 38
Known for: “Tornado” (Little Big Town); “Automatic” (Miranda Lambert)
I wish I wrote: “ ‘Burning House’ by Cam. It reminds me of something the Dixie Chicks would sing.”

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9. Michael Dulaney, 51
Known for: “The Way You Love Me” (Faith Hill); “Night Train” (Jason Aldean)
I wish I wrote: “[Chesney’s] ‘American Kids.’ The language is very smart, like a little movie.”

 

10. Nicolle Galyon, 31
Known for: “We Were Us” (Keith Urban featuring Miranda Lambert); “Automatic” (Miranda Lambert)
Why there aren’t more women on country radio: “It’s not a lack of talent. I wish there were more women involved at the high level in record labels to help develop new female artists.”

 

11. Matt Ramsey, 37
Known for: “Chainsaw” (The Band Perry); “Say You Do” (Dierks Bentley)
Dream collaborator:  “I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, but if I was ever put in a room with him I’d probably cry.”

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12. Jon Nite, 35
Known for: “We Were Us” (Keith Urban featuring Miranda Lambert); “Beachin’ ” (Jake Owen)
Word I overuse in lyrics: “Right now, I am instructed by my publishers not to use ‘truck’ or ‘whiskey.’ The problem is, I drive an F-150 and I live in Bourbon Country.”

 

13. Heather Morgan, 35
Known for: “Beat of the Music,” “Lose My Mind” (Brett Eldredge)
Word I overuse in lyrics: “ ‘Baby.’ Is that too obvious?”

 

14. Trevor Rosen, 40
Known for: “Say You Do” (Dierks Bentley); “Sangria” (Blake Shelton)
Dream collaborator: “Eminem. I’m from Detroit, too.”

Nashville Songwriters Hall Adds Rosanne Cash

 

15. Liz Rose, 57
Known for: “You Belong With Me” (Taylor Swift); “Girl Crush” (Little Big Town)
Most surprising place I’ve heard my song: “I was with a group of girls, and we’d been drinking on the beach all day. ‘You Belong With Me’ came on, so I said to the bartender, ‘I wrote that.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Sure you did, lady.’”

 

16. Rhett Akins, 45
Known for: “I Don’t Want This Night to End” (Luke Bryan); “Boys ’Round Here” (Blake Shelton featuring Pistol Annies & Friends)
I wish I wrote: “ ‘Sangria’ by Blake Shelton. All my friends write these songs, so I’m like, ‘Dang, how come we didn’t write that together?’ ”

 

17. Brad Tursi, 35
Known for: “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” (Tyler Farr)
Dream collaborator: “Pharrell. He’s been a part of so many great modern hits, I’d like to see how that works.”

 

18. Shane McAnally, 40
Known for: “Merry Go ’Round” (Kacey Musgraves); “Take Your Time” (Sam Hunt); “American Kids” (Kenny Chesney)
I wish I wrote: “ ‘Teenage Dream’ by Katy Perry. I’m obsessed with that song.”
Most surprising place I’ve heard my song: “Kacey Musgraves had her album-release party at a Nashville bar called Play. She had drag queens come out and each do a song, so I watched nine of my songs performed by drag queens.”

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19. Josh Kear, 40
Known for: “Need You Now” (Lady Antebellum); “Drunk on a Plane” (Dierks Bentley)
Most surprising place I’ve heard my song: “I was in Sri Lanka last year. I was holding my daughter, waiting in the bathroom line inside a marketplace, and I heard ‘Need You Now’ over the intercom.”

 

20. Ross Copperman, 32
Known for: “Pirate Flag” (Kenny Chesney); “Tip It on Back” (Dierks Bentley)
Word I overuse in lyrics: “We’re all trying to stray from the bro thing, you know? So ‘truck,’ I guess.”

Listen to songs from Nashville’s biggest songwriters (and more music from this issue) in the Spotify playlist below:

This story originally appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of Billboard.

90 Years In The Making: Q&A With the Grand Ole Opry’s Radio Show Runner Pete Fisher

Originally posted on Billboard.com written by 
Phyllis Stark

Lady Antebellum

Come Nov. 28, the Grand Ole Opry will celebrate 90 years on the air at WSM-AM Nashville.

Pete Fisher has been the show’s vp/GM for 16 years — his anniversary was June 28 — and in that time, the Opry has expanded from two nights a week to additional shows on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the season.

The challenge, of course, in an era of great technological change is to ensure that the show does not become a historical artifact. Thus, in addition to bringing in new members who are making current hits — such as Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town,Blake Shelton and Rascal Flatts — the Opry is taking steps to put a new face on the brand. The ABC-TV drama Nashville has helped. Trace Adkins inaugurated an Opry circle throwdown, a marketing effort that brings a little Opry magic to a remote location.

Also new is Opry 9.0: Discoveries From the Circle, a new-artist series that will present live Opry performances from three acts per release. The first volume, featuring Chase Bryant, JT Hodges and Drake White, arrives June 30.

Fisher discussed the Opry’s unique past and hopeful future in a recent interview.

A 90th birthday is really interesting. How do you celebrate something that old — or that established — and have it not seem like it’s dated?

I’ve been in this job 16 years now, and I remember uttering the words, “Legacy can be an anchor or an asset.” I think one of the real testaments to the team here at the Opry is that we celebrate legacy, but we strive for relevance each and every day. We love celebrating the rich history of the Opry and country music, but equally we love finding ways to grow the Opry’s value composition to the music industry and thereby growing a value proposition to the fans that come and see the Opry or listen to us.

In terms of the value to the artists, the weekends are the best time for them to hit the road and maximize their earnings. How do you make it attractive so somebody like Carrie Underwood or Brad Paisley will make the Opry part of their ongoing plans?

It’s really a variety of things. We especially try to develop deeper relationships for the artists who share kind of a common set of values with the Opry, and Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban — those are examples of artists that really share the core values of the Opry. So, there’s that emotional connection. But we also recognize that we can’t live on charity alone, or emotion alone, and so over the past 16 years we have focused on things like improving the production values of the show and creating an environment backstage that meets the needs of a real diverse community of performers. Our programming philosophy for the show is quite broad-based, and I think that broad base serves to celebrate the legacy, but also drive the relevance of the Opry. It’s new stars, superstars  and legends sharing the same stage, presenting music from yesterday, today and tomorrow to the future. We have over 2,000 artist slots that we book in a given year, so we’re able to take chances and have a healthy offering of debuts throughout the course of the year.

What do you define as Opry core values?

I would say honoring tradition, celebrating legacy, respecting elders, certainly values that make America what it is — patriotic values, and in differing ways, values of faith: God, family, country, so to speak. It’s perpetuating a legacy, being involved in something bigger than our own careers.

In addition to being the Opry’s 90th anniversary, this is the fifth anniversary of the Cumberland River flooding the Opry House. It’s impressive that the Opry has in some ways turned what was a really horrible tragedy into an opportunity to build the brand. Was any of that intentional?

We can talk about another core value, and that is resiliency. The Opry throughout its history has had various challenges to overcome, and the flood was probably one of the most significant, but I think it really showed the strong connection that the artists and the employees and the fans have for the Opry … I think that everybody on our team was resolved to overcome this and bring the Opry back stronger than ever. We’re certainly enjoying that silver lining, so to speak, with a very beautiful [renovated] backstage [area], probably the finest of any venue in the world in terms of accommodations.

Your boss, Steve Buchanan, is executive producer of the Nashville TV show. What kind of impact has that had on the Opry?

We sought out a hit television series to help grow the Opry as a business. We recognized that if demand for the destination of Nashville grew, that could really help transform the business, and it really has. We have seen transformational attendance growth, starting with the first episode. More people started coming to Nashville, and then the ripple effect of the Nashville show has been tremendous when you think about the cast of performers who have graced the Opry stage. It’s really helped shine a spotlight on country music as well and shown that there’s a little bit of country music in everybody.

I’m not sure that the show’s characters have the type of values that you necessarily would want in the real, live Opry.

I think what you see are characters who are human, who make mistakes, and most of the time they come back with some sort of resolution or reconciliation about that … There are many artists in the country format who have similar stories. And there’s nothing like dialing up the drama a little bit to keep the audience engaged, too. I think it does a remarkable job of representing the industry side. I really commend Callie Khouri and the writers, who really have hit a stride this year. A fourth season has been the reward.

Will a new Opry member be welcomed between now and the official 90th birthday?

I honestly do not know. It’s really interesting how the next member candidate kind of shapes up. The right people at the right time have come to meet the Opry. One thing that doesn’t change is we continue to reach out to the new artists in the community and nurture that relationship, and as their career grows, we hope that they grow even closer to the Opry, [but we recognize] how demanding that can be with all that an artist has to do to sustain their career. I remember back with Brad Paisley or Carrie making their debut on the Opry, or Taylor Swift even, and seeing them all fill stadiums now, so it’s fun to see that maturation of careers and to know the Opry’s played a part of it.

‘Yeah Boy’: Why Kelsea Ballerini Is Country Radio’s Gutsiest Songwriter

Originally posted on Billboard.com written by

Kelsea Ballerini

“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,” Tammy Wynette croons on the first line of her 1968 classic “Stand By Your Man.” In recent years that’s proven particularly true in commercial country, where a fairly anonymous army of beer-swilling dudes in plaid shirts have dominated the charts. The crest of so-called “bro-country” even earned seemingly infallible stars like Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton the dubious distinction of being the lettuce in the country “salad,” while the women are the tomatoes (far less plentiful, on purpose) — at least according to one guileless country radio exec, who recently used that ill-advised metaphor to explain the lack of women on his playlist.

But this past week, it’s been the women who are making the news. Kacey Musgraves, darling of blogs and mainstream country fans alike (how many artists can say they debuted their Redbook cover and did an in-store performance at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade the same day?) released her highly anticipated sophomore album Pageant Material to generally glowing reviews, and KelseaBallerini‘s very first single “Love Me Like You Mean It” hit the top of the Country Airplay chart. This is the first time a woman’s earned the top slot with her debut since 2006, when Carrie Underwood (who had just won American Idol) scored a hit with “Jesus Take The Wheel.” The last time a solo (indie, no less) female artist reigned? None other than a pre-crossover Taylor Swift, with “Ours” in 2012.

At first glance, the two artists seem to represent completely opposite visions of what being a woman in country means in 2015. Kelsea, with her long blonde hair and perma-cutoffs, could easily be the “Girl In A Country Song” recently described by Maddie & Tae in their tongue-in-cheek single. Her commercial appeal is matched by the textbook Nashville production on her debut album The First Time(released this May), a shiny veneer that almost (but not quite) disguises the depth of her songwriting talent. Kacey, on the other hand, has a nose stud, brown hair, and a decidedly “not like the rest” attitude — and it’s earned. Her standout songs about everything from friends with benefits to how small-town life can be a little rougher than the barbeques and bikinis made her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park one of 2013’s most acclaimed, across all genres. Though she’s not “Miss Congenial,” as she told Billboard, her songs are bright enough to bring her a mainstream audience as well as indie cred.

But they’re actually much more similar than first impressions would suggest — both got their start with songwriting deals in Nashville, precocious talents who wrote hits for other people before eventually proving they had the appeal to take the stage themselves. And Ballerini’s songs, even with their commercial bent, have the same level of depth and thoughtfulness that brought Musgraves to the forefront — depth that seems to, for Musgraves, fallen victim to the notorious sophomore slump.

“Oh hey,” Ballerini sings in the opening to “Love Me Like You Mean It” — “Boy with your hat back/Mmm I kind of like that/if you wanna walk my way.” This is “Call Me Maybe,” minus the hedging (no “this is crazy” here). Ballerini is reigning country radio with a song about being a young woman who’s openly expressing interest in a man — something that shouldn’t be a declaration of radical feminism, but kind of is, even in 2015. The song continues like a country version of the TLC classic “No Scrubs” — “I don’t have time to waste on the boys/That are playing the games/And leaving the girls crying out in the rain.” This is the genre’s much-needed pro-hollering/anti-asshole anthem.

Ballerini’s next single, “Dibs,” is another song about hitting on guys, which Ballerini seems to do almost effortlessly. Instead of seeming insane or desperate, which women who make the first move are often portrayed as, it’s a welcome addition to the country come-on canon. “Hey baby, what’s your status, and tell me are you tryna keep it?” she sings to some anonymous man, whom she sums up as tidily with her “blue jeans and ball cap” description as all those oft-lauded country heroines in cutoffs and sundresses. She is, more or less, Cam’ron on “Hey Ma.” “Yeah Boy” is yet another variation on the theme — “Yeah, boy, I wanna take a little ride with you/Yeah, boy, I wanna spend a little time with you/Yeah, boy, I wanna sip a little wine with you,” she asks with a wink. It’s not that she’s consciously rebelling against the status quo, it’s that she’s smoothly stepping over it with so much skill that no one’s the wiser. She’s not perturbed by the idea of approaching a man — why should you be?

Her frankness and honesty are rooted in country’s long tradition of storytelling, a tradition that she deftly adapts to both 21st century and timeless concerns. “First Time,” “Sirens,” and the album’s strongest track, a post-divorce lament called “Secondhand Smoke,” have powerful narratives and are sung with the kind of conviction that’s earning Ballerini comparisons to her biggest cosign yet: Taylor Swift.

Musgraves, by contrast, seems to have let Pageant Material get away from her. Stuffed full of poor knock-offs of songs she’s already written (the only “mind your own business” anthem anyone should be listening to is “The Trailer Song”) and smug odes to coupledom (there’s a reason being happily in love is a topic most songwriters avoid), the new album lacks the bite of her earlier work. She commented during her Bonnaroo performance that the lead single “Biscuits” had been “pulled from radio” — considering the song’s fairly innocuous (if chiding) content, it seems unlikely to have been a moral issue.

Her laidback vibe, a strength in the consistently overwrought realm of Nashville, turns laissez-faire with didactic tracks that rely on dusty cliches, but shy from giving them any real-world context. All that on top of the fact that Musgraves insisting she’s not “pageant material” is about as believable as Beyoncé saying “pretty hurts.” “Die Fun,” “Dime Store Cowgirl” and her duet with Willie Nelson (which he wrote) “Are You Sure” show her spark — which will hopefully be brighter on her next release.

The very fact that there are two such incredible women leading the country discussion (maybe for just a week, but even so) is ultimately a sign of the genre’s vitality, and that it deserves more credit than the broader music community has been giving it. Kacey isn’t an anomaly, she’s one talented artist out of many — so it’s probably time to stop treating her like one.

Keith Urban & Eric Church Join Together to ‘Raise ‘Em Up’

Keith Urban, Eric ChurchKeith Urban and Eric Church premiered their music video “Raise ‘Em Up,” on March 30 on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

“My favorite part of this video were the candid moments that were captured between Keith and I on film,” Church said in a press release. “It’s cool that a number of those made it in the final version. To me, they really reify the emotion of the moment and experience.”

“Some of the idea for this video started with me playing with my phone one day, filming our girls jumping in slow motion,” Urban added. “That’s all that they were doing, just jumping up in the air in slo mo. We put ‘Raise ‘Em Up’ on and were watching this film of our girls and they just went together beautifully. It was so simple, and emotional, and it captured some of the spirit of what I feel is at the heart of this song.”

I Wanna Ride in Miranda Lambert’s “Little Red Wagon”

Miranda Lambert

Lambert just dropped the music video for “Little Red Wagon,” and it’s a 10000000% Miranda.

Yesterday, Lambert discussed with Entertainment Tonight how the song came about. “A girl named Audra Mae wrote it,” she says. “I kind of tracked her down a little bit in a stalker way because I was obsessed with her music and met her and we became friends. I asked her if I could record her song and she said, ‘Absolutely!’ and she actually sang background on the record.”

Luke Bryan Enjoys Spring Break on ‘Spring Breakdown’

Next week, the country singer will close his annual Spring Break concerts on March 11 and 12 at Spinnaker Beach Club in Panama City, Fl.

“I’ve watched this crowd grow/ I swear y’all don’t know what you mean to me/ It’s been something to see,” he sings.

“Let me buy you one last round as I Spring Breakdown,” he sings.

“Spring Breakdown” will be featured on Bryan’s upcoming album Spring Break…Checkin’ Out. 

Why Must Country Singles Be ‘Worked’ By Labels to Be Played on Commercial Radio?

originally posted on Billboard

Dwight Yoakam and Brandy Clark perform "Hold My Hand" onstage during The 57th Annual Grammy AwardsWhen Brandy Clark teamed up with Dwight Yoakam on the Feb. 7 Grammy Awards to perform her album track “Hold My Hand,” it was a revelatory moment for many in country radio. Based on the chatter on social media that night, many programmers were discovering — or came to appreciate — Clark for the first time in that moment, even though her single “Stripes” got a bit of attention in 2013 when she was still signed to tiny indie label Slate Creek Records. (Last November she shifted to Warner Bros. Records, but was signed to the label’s Burbank, California, division, not its Nashville branch.)

Some broadcasters posed telling questions on Facebook on Grammy night like this one from an assistant PD/music director: “Why does no one work Brandy Clark music?” That question raises another: Why should it matter?

With as much love as there appeared to be for Clark among country programmers in the wake of the Grammys, there was no corresponding spike in airplay for any of her songs in the week after the show, when “Hold My Hand” got just 11 spins on monitored country stations, six of those from one station (KRTY San Jose, Calif.).

Warner Bros. serviced “Hold My Hand” to radio via Play MPE the day after the show, but it’s unclear what radio formats it was emailed to and whether country was among them. (Clark’s Nashville team hadn’t gotten an answer about that from Burbank by press time.) Unusually, the Play MPE notification — which came with the subject line “Who is Brandy Clark?!” — included no impact date and no label contact information, giving it what one radio industry insider called “the softest possible launch.”

But the questions remain: If radio finds an act like Clark that it loves, why can’t or won’t they go off the menu and play something it’s not being “worked” by Nashville record promoters? And how much, if any, musical discovery is still happening at terrestrial radio outside the normal channels?

The answers center on some of the things radio is most often criticized for: politics, centralized programming decisions and busy programmers’ lack of time to devote to music discovery.

Veteran country radio consultant Joel Raab admits, “Sometimes music decisions are made for political reasons. So naturally songs that are ‘worked’ are often more likely to get airplay… About two years ago I was on a music call with a station, and the moment happened when we all realized that our adds, drops, etc. were being too political. We continued to do the call by making the adds we thought were only the best for the audience at that moment and tuning out other factors. Some people got upset.”

“Realistically, you can’t completely tune out the politics,” Raab continues. “Radio and music companies have to work together but never lose sight of the notion that the best music is what needs to go on the air.”

One country assistant PD/music director who works for one of the big three radio chains says, “For many of us, we don’t have the approval to just play a record we love. It is the bane of corporate radio.” She says that just a few years ago, her station would have easily added an artist like Clark following an attention-grabbing awards show performance. Now, however, “We can’t do that anymore.”

“We were much better [music] champions several years ago,” she says. “Not so much today. But then… we had the freedom to add songs without corporate oversight. It is my hope that radio can get back to that and programmers can find artists that they believe are deserving of airplay. One of the best things in our profession is seeing a young artist you believe in go to the heights of the biz, and knowing that you had a small hand in exposing them.”

Radio consultant Pam Shane, who works with many independently owned stations, says it’s more a question of time constraints than corporate oversight for her clients. “I think the principal reason radio in general wants to be worked is that people involved in music decisions have so much else to do that they no longer can spend the time listening, making comparisons, and then choosing intelligently to find music that will interest their listeners,” she says.

KPLX (The Wolf) Dallas assistant PD/music director Smokey Rivers also cites lack of time on the programmers’ part for the shortage of musical discovery. “We just don’t have the luxury of listening to loads of music like we used to have,” he says. “So, it’s nice to know that if we are going to give up a valuable portion of our playlist real estate that we’re not alone. We want to know that there is some real substantial effort going on to give the artist and project some traction.  Otherwise, we’re just preaching to our own choir about a song. While you may want to champion a single once in a while, most times you just want to know that there is a plan going on behind it.”

Edison Research vp, music and programming Sean Ross notes that programmers sticking to playing what’s being “worked” is an issue in every format, not just country. “Even with the phenomenal, a label has to follow up and impact a record or nothing happens,” he says. “Top 40 doesn’t play organically developing YouTube oddities… but when there’s a major [label] involved, and they ask for the order, it will play ‘Gangnam Style.'”

Ross dates “the end of the enterprising PD or MD” back to the time of the Eliot Spitzer payola crackdown. “Even though the real problem was PDs and groups playing ‘whatever it takes’ label priorities, it was somehow made to look like the PD who went off the menu had gone rogue,” he says of that time. “The irony was that these were songs that were being added for the right reasons — because listeners wanted them, and not because there was label money.

“In country, it’s probably worse because there are so many planes stacked up at any given time, waiting for half a year to even get out of lunar [rotation],” continues Ross. “Brandy Clark would be a 46-week-process under the easiest circumstances. If the label doesn’t want to go through that, a PD doesn’t want to get screamed at for taking a slot from the label that does want the add.”

Shane thinks the rise of automation is another contributing factor for the dearth of musical discovery. “There is a lack of talking one-on-one with listeners in contemporary radio that leads to leaving them out of the equation,” she says. “If every station still had live jocks who take phone calls, then radio would hear lots more about people like Brandy.”

Rivers cites Nielsen’s Portable People Meter as another component. “We’re getting so much information now that reaffirms the old adage that ‘what you don’t play won’t hurt you’ that stations are sticking closer to home with familiar artists and themes,” he says. “Programmers can’t spend a lot of time waiting for an artist or song to catch on. You only have so many bullets in your gun. You have to aim wisely.”

On a brighter note, Shane notes that “music discovery is greater at independent stations… PDs there generally are empowered, are listening to more music and to their listeners, and are ready to take a few risks. More often than not those risks pay off.”

Kacey Musgraves’ “Biscuits” is now available

kacey musgraves

“Biscuits” is the first single off her forthcoming sixth album (second on a major label) and cowritten by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. “Pouring salt in my sugar won’t make yours’ any sweeter / Pissing in my yard ain’t gonna make yours’ any greener,” Musgraves sings.

“I’m very proud to be kickin’ things off with “Biscuits!” I think it’s the perfect preview to the record we had so much fun making,” Musgraves said on her website. “The sound of this song represents so many of the things I love about country music. And be warned — it may inspire a square dance.”

Rolling Stone’s Booting Ass and Taking Names: Country’s 20 Best Revenge Songs

From Carrie Underwood’s tire slashing to Johnny Cash’s sucker punches, count down the best tunes about getting even.
Carrie Underwood Before He Cheats
(Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic)

Country music may be the genre of the Bible Belt, but when it comes to avenging sins, its lyrical weapons are plenty and potent. Carrie Underwood swings a baseball bat, Johnny Cash uses fists, Miranda Lambert loads a gun and Toby Keith fires up footwear. Forget looking good as the best revenge; it’s all about a good aim. Here are the 20 country songs that prove best that what comes around goes around.

20. Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”

Maybe it’s because her father was a private detective, but Lambert takes no prisoners when it comes to cheating hearts. From the first line of this 2009 hit, she puts her man on notice that he’s not nearly as clever as he thinks, as he spreads his “charms” all over town. But what we don’t find out until the end of the song is that what’s good for the goose is even better for the gander. “Here’s a bombshell just for you/Turns out I’ve been lying, too,” she sings, revealing that she’s been spreading a few things of her own.

19. Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”

Thanks, Dad. . . for nothing. It’s hard to be grateful when you’re a dude whose name is Sue. In this At San Quentin classic written by Shel Silverstein, the Man in Black tells the tale of a boy whose deadbeat father gave him the feminine moniker before he skipped town. Though he later learns this was a gesture to get his son to toughen up in his absence, it’s difficult to shake off years of bullying, and the whole thing ends in an old-school scuffle – complete with a severed ear – set to a chugging Cash-ian beat and plenty of tongue-in-cheek. Though they settle it all in the end, one thing’s clear: there will be no Sue Jr. “If I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him Bill or George! Anything but Sue!”

18. Taylor Swift, “Better Than Revenge”

Taylor Swift has made a multi-million dollar career out of getting lyrical revenge, with this track from 2010’s Speak Now perhaps packing the strongest punch. “There’s nothing I do better than revenge,” she sings, though she never details just what exactly she’s going to do to the man-stealing actress who’s “better known for things she does on the mattress.” But in that line lies the real-life karma. See, Swift’s revenge comes in the form of all those rumors about celebrities who inspire her songs. This one was allegedly about actress Camilla Belle, who dated pop prince Joe Jonas just after he dumped the singer-songwriter, and thus had her dirty laundry aired on pop and country stations worldwide.

17. Porter Wagoner, “The Cold Hard Facts of Life”

Bill Anderson wrote this Number Two country hit, the title cut of a 1966 Wagoner album that served up infidelity, divorce, drunkenness and murder. Arriving back in town early, our narrator hopes to surprise the missus. Figuring that pink champagne makes a nice welcome-home gift, the unsuspecting hubby encounters a guy at the liquor store who’s also buying booze for his lady. He’s still clueless when the guy tells the cashier “her husband’s out of town,” but wises up when he sees that the dude has driven right to his house. After downing the entire bottle, he decides it’s time to make his move — a move that doesn’t end well.

16. Kathleen Edwards, “In State”

Kathleen Edwards has gotten herself mixed up with the wrong man. “You talk so sweet until the going gets tough/The last job you pulled was never big enough,” she laments, knowing he’s unlikely to clean himself up. Although we’re never told the exact nature of her dude’s dirty dealings — drug running? bank robbing? — Edwards does let us in on a little secret: she’s gearing up to call the cops and tip them off. If her love isn’t enough to scare the guy straight, maybe 20 years in a state penitentiary will do the trick.

15. Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”

Nancy Sinatra was about to be dropped from her famous father’s record label in 1966 when producer Lee Hazlewood had her record “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” a jangly song he’d originally written for himself before realizing Sinatra’s sinewy, nubile delivery was just what his tune needed to take off. The distinctive, walking double bass line helped make the singer’s rendition the definitive take on this revenge classic, sounding just like a ravishing ladylove sliding on a slick pair of high-heeled boots before giving a sultry “so long” and strutting out the door. It’s the musical encompassment of having the power to exalt or the power to destroy. . . coupled with the power of sexy footwear.

14. Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”

Since the release of this feisty number nearly a decade ago, not a single day has passed where it hasn’t blasted over the speakers of a football field, a Buffalo Wild Wings or a crappy sound system at happy hour karaoke, fearlessly unleashed from the lungs of any woman ever done wrong. Written by Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear, “Before He Cheats” was first unleashed in 2006, on the same album that catapulted Underwood from small-town Oklahoma shy girl to pop-country starlet in four singles flat. Because letting go and moving on never feels as good as property damage, the song’s crossover success received endless accolades and crashed the Billboard charts Louisville Slugger-style, just like the way Underwood smashes her cheating lover’s 4×4 truck in the cutthroat recording.

13. Drive By Truckers, “Decoration Day”

Jason Isbell brought this song about a raging war between Southern families to the Drive-By Truckers, and it went on to become the title track to the group’s 2003 album. The bitter, fatal feud he depicts in the lyrics — between the Hill and Lawson clans — makes the Hatfield and McCoys’ beef look like a game of tag. But it’s the unwillingness of the narrator, a Lawson, to continue the conflict that elevates the song to higher art. As he sings, “I got dead brothers in East Tennessee,” you can hear him deciding, “This ends with me.” Because while blood may be thicker than water, a son doesn’t have to defend his dad’s legacy if the father is himself a son of a bitch.

12. Pistol Annies, “Trailer for Rent”

Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, otherwise known as Pistol Annies, never sounded so pissed as they do in this song about kicking a no-good dude to the curb. Tired of her husband’s “shit”, a put-upon wife leaves food on the stove and splits, but not before putting an ad in the paper advertising that the titular trailer is in need of a new tenant. Fast forward a decade, and the self-consumed ex-husband is still sprawled out on the couch — drinking beers and, likely, not even realizing his pistol of a lady up and left.

11. Bobby Bare, “Marie Laveau”

Don’t piss off the voodoo queen. This 1974 single was Hall of Famer Bare’s only Number One hit, and shows how revenge can be so much more fun when you have Creole witchcraft in your pocket of evil tools. In this virtually verse-less story-song written by Shel Silverstein and folk singer Baxter Taylor, Marie unleashes her wrath when a suitor swindles her for some cash and tries to leave before the wedding bells ring – a tale Bare tells in his smooth twang and country-blues boogie. “Oooooo-we! Another man done gone,” he sings, after warning future beaus to either seal the deal or just steer clear.

10. Jason Isbell, “Yvette”

A murder ballad about a literal family affair, “Yvette” spins the story of a teenaged boy who admires a quiet, glassy-eyed schoolmate from across the classroom. He follows her home one night and watches through the window, horrified, as her father walks into her bedroom and inflicts some unspeakable acts of abuse. “He won’t hold you that way anymore, Yvette,” Isbell promises, returning to the scene of the crime later that evening with a Weatherby rifle in his arms and revenge on his mind. Although the song wraps up before he pulls the trigger, we’re guessing this story ends with a bang.

9. John Prine, “Sweet Revenge”

Sometimes, revenge isn’t just in the lyrics – it’s the actual song itself. After his second album failed to resonate as powerfully as his debut, and he’d literally quit his day job, Prine was suffering from a bit of an existential crisis. He chose to respond with a third LP, Sweet Revenge, full of stunners like “Mexican Home” and “Please Don’t Bury Me,” along with the title track. With lyrics ripped from Hunter S. Thompson (“The milkman left me a note yesterday/’Get out of this town by noon/You’re coming on way too soon/And besides that, we never liked you anyway'”), he hits back at the detractors with a priceless melody that said this Chicagoan wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what the milkman demands.

8. Waylon Jennings, “Mental Revenge”

This 1968 hit — later covered by both Jamey Johnson and Linda Ronstadt — shows how to get some vengeance without getting your hands dirty. “Hope” is the operative word in the Mel Tillis-penned song, which shows a scorned lover wishing a variety of devious outcomes upon his former lady. “Well, I hope that the friend you’ve thrown yourself with/Gets drunk and loses his job,” Jennings sings to a steadfast shuffle. This is a kiss-off with no need for a minor key.

7. Justin Townes Earle, “Someone Will Pay”

Justin Townes Earle has never avoided an association with his famous country singer father, Steve Earle, and the younger Earle has certainly never held back on wearing his daddy issues on his sleeves. “I don’t get angry; I get even,” he sings on the opening line of the deceptively cheery sounding, country-blues ditty “Someone Will Pay.” The song is off the singer’s 2015 LP Absent Fathers, which is the companion album to its 2014 predecessor, Single Mothers. And it’s no great mystery who Justin is singing about (or rather, who he’s singing to) when he croons, “On my mama’s life, someone will pay for the way you lied.” The song does leave one question unanswered, though: Who is that “someone?” Father, or son?

6. Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder and Lead”

Lambert’s first shot at the Top 10 arrived thanks to this nasty bit of rough justice (or is it premeditated murder?) that opens and closes with the groans of a guy whose fate is sealed after he slaps her face and shakes her “like a rag doll.” Waiting for the dude to post bail and show up on her doorstep, Lambert’s all liquored up and ready to send them both straight to hell. The singer, who had already laid waste (in song) to another ex in “Kerosene” by burning the cheating bastard’s house down, has since softened her image a bit, but anyone foolish enough to tangle with this Texan probably deserves every damn thing he gets. While she may have gained a reputation for a high body count in her songs, the inspiration for this tune came from a real place. When she was a teenager, Lambert’s parents took in women and children who had been abused.

5. Garth Brooks, “The Thunder Rolls”

The cheating protagonist in Garth Brooks’ 1991 hit makes one fatal mistake: he returns home from a sordid tryst still smelling like his lover’s perfume. Whoops. While the country singer wanted to end the song with a bang — literally, with the wife pulling a pistol on her philandering husband — the album version leaves things a little cleaner. Networks even banned the video, which depicted scenes of domestic violence. But no one tells Garth what to do: live, he plays the whole shebang, telling the ill-fated tale in its entirely to a wicked melody that sounds like a devious storm rolling into to a dusty saloon. And that video? It won a CMA Award. Talk about the best revenge.

4. Maggie Rose, “Looking Back Now”

Maggie Rose is full of regret but shows little remorse in the role of a love-scorned death row killer who’s moments away from a lethal injection in this wrenching, modern murder ballad. While the once whiskey-swigging, gun-toting Rose, now scared and begging for God’s forgiveness, cowers at the prick of the needle, the song is unflinching. “Looking back now, I should have probably let him run,” the singer intones as she feels the sodium thiopental drip into her veins, but “paybacks are hell where I come from.” And not just where she comes from, but where she bets she’s going, too. In the tradition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Rose offers her famous last words in the final verse of a song about letting love take you all the way down to the depths of hell.

3. Dixie Chicks, “Goodbye Earl”

Songwriter Dennis Linde, who penned “Burnin’ Love” for Elvis and such irreverent hits as “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” and “Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer,” wrote this Thelma and Louise-inspired revenge fantasy. Dixie Chick Natalie Maines unfolds the tale with extra grit in her voice as she sings that “Earl had to die” — as retribution for abusing wife, Wanda, before the ink on their marriage certificate was dry. With help from best friend Mary Anne, the battered bride poisons Earl’s black eyed peas, wraps him up in a tarp and hides the body without a trace. . . of evidence or regret, that is. Besides, “it turns out he was a missing person who nobody missed at all.” “Goodbye Earl” wasn’t the last controversial thing the Chicks ever did – but it was certainly the funniest.

2. Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)”

We’ll put a boot in your ass/It’s the American way.” No other lyric more completely defined the patriotic (or, as many argued, jingoistic) sentiments that dominated country airwaves in the wake of 9/11, running up to the invasion of Iraq. Like many hawkish Americans, the unapologetic Keith, firm in the belief that justice and vengeance were one in the same, wasn’t just angry — he was enraged. And he didn’t mince words on what prevailed as his signature song (at least until “Red Solo Cup” came along). The de facto soundtrack to the Bush Doctrine, the song — much like the war — was polarizing in its promise to blow axis of evil inhabitants back to the Stone Age. The song itself made good on that promise, its titled famously scrawled across some of the bombs that dropped over Baghdad.

1. Carrie Underwood, “Two Black Cadillacs”

Underwood is great when she’s playing the good girl, but she’s even better at being bad. In the delicious “Two Black Cadillacs,” a woman spots her husband’s mistress at his funeral.  It turns out this is not the first time the two have met, and their actions have been far more diabolical than their man’s infidelity. The pair make unlikely bedfellows as they plot to do in the guy who has done them both wrong. If “Before He Cheats” is Adultery 101,  then “Two Black Cadillacs” is a graduate course that makes taking a bat to someone’s car seem like child’s play.