Whatever happened to cheating/drinking songs in country music?

It was a long held stereotype that country music had lots of songs about drinking and adultery, and from what I remember listening to country radio in the 70s/early 80s it was very true. Nowadays it’s almost unheard of hear cheating songs in modern country music, and even drinking songs have declined in number. Why? Why were these two topics so prominent in older recordings? And are there any modern country artists who do good cheating and drinking songs?

I’ve pretty much given up on country music for this very reason.
These days, everything’s about being a patriotic 'Merican, the joys of living in a boring little southern town, and/or how much the singer loves his kids. Usually heavily seasoned with Christian glurge. Blech.

Every now and then a decent beer-drinking song slips through, though.

Sentimental & religious tunes have long been part of the Country repertoire. Damn–need I listen to that modern crap to see whether they’ve taken over again?

The Original Cheating Song: Floyd Tillman’s Slipping Around. Originally recorded in 1949–I think this is a “new” arrangement.

A lot of the mainstream country songs I’ve heard seem to be either really defensive about being “country”/“real american”/, or seem to glorify it, and simultaneously put down everything else.

Not a lot in the way of the classic mama, trains, drinking, prison or trucks stuff, but a lot of somewhat sanctimonious stuff lately.

I seem to recall that a lot of country songs in my youth (1970s and 1980s) were more or less love songs or stories of a sort, frequently tragic ones, or just songs about nothing in particular, which doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, at least not when I listen to mainstream country.

Any of the big names from the 90’s still have those kinds of songs, they just don’t get played on the radio much. Now it’s mostly sappy love songs, boring songs about your home town, or rock and roll sounding songs about rednecks. Dierks Bentley is a newer guy that still does songs like that though.

Carrie Underwood: Before He Cheats
Dixie Chicks: Earl

I guess that people are tired of hearing about drunk philanderers. They can turn on the TV or read a newspaper and see them 24/7.

You forgot the butt-kickin’. Whiskey drinkin, butt-kickin, and womanizin.

The history of Outlaw Country begins, truthfully, with Johnny Cash and moves right on to Kris Kristofferson and was then explodes in the 70’s with Waylon and Willie and the boys. The greatest music of all time.

Coke and whores - who could have imagined that part would have ever come to an end?

I’ve always liked Sugarland’s Stay. It’s sung from the perspective of the married man’s mistress, the “character” in these stories who is so often either ignored or vilified, and illustrates how that person is frequently as much a victim as the unfaithful man’s wife. The simple, stark nature of he video really sets it off as well.

That said, I’ve been a country fan since 1987, but I honestly think that modern country has ended up paralleling modern rap, of all things, just from a different angle. I’m speaking of the way every country artist now apparently needs to establish, via their songs, just how “country” they are, in the same way that rappers have to establish how “gangsta/street” they are. I mean, you rarely hear “rock” artists singing about how “rock” they are. I’m reminded of that quote (Queen Elizabeth II, I think), “If you have to tell people you’re a lady, you’re not.”

I’m not sure if old Wassirname is a lady or not. I never turned her over.

Surely you must respect the creds of the modern day outlaws such as Steve Earle and Ryan Adams?


Me - I like me some Townes Van Zandt. Dollar for dollar, my best iTunes bet.

Short answer: Country Radio

Country radio has an ENORMOUS influence on what gets written, recorded, and sold. During my brief stint working in the country music industry in the mid-90s, all we ever heard from record execs was that they wanted songs that were “upbeat positive.” That’s because that’s what Country Radio wanted to play. There’s been more emphasis on patriotic/religious songs these days, as well as “party” songs, but the downbeat aspects of CM have been relentlessly squashed by radio PDs.

A generation or two ago, most country music was aimed at people who actually lived in the country- rough people who liked songs about booze and cheating.

Today? A large percentage of country music is aimed at young women in Sun Belt suburbs. Now, a 25 year old secretary in the suburbs of Houston or a 28 year old nurse in the suburbs of Atlanta may like to go two-stepping at a country dance hall on Saturday night, but she does NOT want to hear Hank Williams. She likes her songs to be up-tempo and cheery.

Young women like those are the demographic that most country music radio stations are aiming at. And young women like that really want  pop/Top 40 music with just a tiny trace of fiddles or steel guitar. 

Real, old-school country would turn off women like those. That’s why Johnny Cash’s later albums got a lot of airplay on alternative rock radio and almost none on commercial country radio.

That was one of my first MP3 purchases as well. I wanted to see if Amazon’s “if you liked this you might like…” algorithm would explode if I simultaneously purchased Live at the Old Quarter and Duran Duran :slight_smile:

But yeah, not much outlaw country left anymore. Another thing I miss is the Texan/anything not Nashville accent. These days it’s true that country seems to be generic rock with a steel guitar and a specifically Nashville accent.

I dunno, there are some that are the exact opposite of that, like “God Bless the USA”. Mind you, I imagine that neither the listeners, nor, probably, the singer, realize just how anti-American and anti-family that song is, but if you actually pay attention to the words, that’s the message.

“If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life
And I had to start all over with my children and my wife…”

Huh, gee, personally, my family is something I have worked for all my life. If all the things I worked for were gone, then I wouldn’t still have my family.

That second line is actually “And I had to start again with just my children and my wife”. IOW, his family is all he has left in his “if” scenario.
Re: the “upbeat” country: I heard a theory several years back that it was sort of a backlash against the “rock” of the '90s. Before the '90s, rock & roll was generally upbeat, but then grunge came along and turned rock into a downer. And the older rock & roll fans didn’t want “downer” music when they went out to hit the bars and party. Add in the rise of rap, which most middle-aged white folks at the time weren’t going to listen to, and there was a mass migration of rock fans to country. That also relates to the general “rockification” of country.

Right, exactly. So they apparently aren’t in the set of “all the things I’ve worked for all my life”. Neither, apparently, is the freedom he enjoys as an American.

The Moral Majority happened. The Christian Right.

Fuckin’ cult if you ask me.

I think you’re on to something. About a decade ago, I recall Faith Hill and Shania Twain being really popular, and commenting to a country-listening buddy of mine that if you took the accent out that Faith Hill would be light-rock or easy listening, and Shania Twain’s songs were basically already there, except for a few with more country-ish tunes.

Personally, I think the best music is where the outlaw country & rock worlds intersect- not much sappy stuff there, and some really interesting tunes. I like me some rockabilly too.

Still, if given the choice between old-school 1970s and 1980s arena rock and modern day radio country, I’m listening to the rock every time.

Interestingly outside of North America, Twain’s last album was issued as a pop remix that swapped the fiddles for synthesizers.

Kid Rock and Sherl Crow did a couple of duets that IMHO are very very hot.

In paticular the songs Picture ond Kid Rocks Cocky and Collide on Collide.

What you’re talking about is honky-tonk music. As a subgenre of country, it appeared in the 1940s and has never really gone away, although it has fallen out of fashion so you have to get away from the mainstream to hear it. A lot of country musicians still do honky-tonk songs… try Dwight Yoakam, Dale Watson, Hayes Carll… there’s a lot of others I don’t know too well.