I haven’t really listened to country music since about the mid 1980’s. So I was rather surprised at what I heard when I listened to a local country radio station for nearly an hour while waiting to have new tires installed. It seemed to me then that the genre has MUCH more in common with rock and pop these days than its folk roots. In fact, I don’t think I even recognized I was listening to a country station until I heard a station identification message.
It’s normal for art forms to evolve as artists introduce and explore new variants and as fusions occur with other forms/genres. At a certain point, however, it ceases to be one thing and becomes a new species altogether that simply shares the name with its predecessor.
Do you think country music has changed to the point where it bears little resemblance to its original form - jumped the shark as it were, and become something quite different?
It might have started when Chet Atkins and his crew at RCA started adding strings and backup choruses in the 1950s to create the Nashville Sound. Or in the 1960s, when artists like Glen Campbell started putting songs by artists like the Beatles and Tom Jones on their albums. *Ode to Billie Joe *hit the charts in multiple categories. In any case, the line between country and rock (or at least pop) has been blurry ever since the beginning.
I don’t even listen to “country” music anymore - I search for categories like bluegrass and roots.
WAG: Maybe on of the noteworthy signposts was ‘Urban Cowboy’ (1980). Travolta was a big star in a hit movie that gave a much broader exposure to Country Music. And to expand the audience, the genre started homogenizing, and you started seeing the Faith Hills and Shania Twains.
That’s a pretty good guess. It really seemed like country changed attitude a lot in the 1970s and 1980s, with acts like Kenny Rogers and Barbara Mandrell. A lot of country hits became more about appearance than the music IMO, things got a lot more flashy with more pop/love ballads.
Not really rock though, more like pop with steel guitars. I’ll agree with the people who said it went to hell by 1980, although it isn’t a hard line. Although I listen to Willie’s Roadhouse sometimes on Sirius and enjoy it.
By the very early 90s it had become dominated by generic pop music. The transition lasting thru most of the 80s. The “Americana” format was invented in the 80s to cover what had been more traditional CW/Folk music. The radio format is less than thriving. But some artists do okay thanks to streaming and such.
I feel like it happened in the early to mid 90s, with Garth Brooks. He turned a lot of people into country music fans that weren’t country fans before (myself included). My dad, an old country purist, called his music “crappy-sounding 70s rock.” Garth led the way for Shania, Faith Hill…and all the crappy-sounding 70s rock you have today like Dierks Bentley and Kenny Chesney :).
Every generation puts up crap the last generation thinks is shark-jumpy, I suppose.
You know, country and rock have always had a lot more in common than most people acknowledge. They both came out of the same mold, and have frequently swerved back towards each other in may instances. The mid 80s is a good example, but remember the mid 70s as well. Go back to the late 50s and early 60s you had rockabilly.
In short, I don’t think Country has jumped the shark. If anything, I think country is just going through a period of claiming a section of popular music that rock and R&B has mostly abandoned. Eventually, there’ll be another roots rock resurgence (probably given a new label, but will basically be the same thing), and in response country will curve back into a more traditional sound.
Everyone has an opinion on this, so here’s mine: around 1995. After the Urban Cowboy debacle of the 80s, when Country strayed too far into Pop, there arose a movement lead by musicians who were often called New Traditionalists. They were Dwight Yoakam, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, George Straight, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, the Desert Rose Band and others. Unapologetically Country, but sometimes willing to push the envelope just a little. (Garth Brooks was a thing all to himself.) I was a Country radio DJ from 1990 to 1995. When I came in, I knew nothing about Country, and what I did know I didn’t like, having formed my opinions on the likes of Kenny Rogers, but I found I enjoyed the music of the people I’ve mentioned and became, for a time, a real fan. But about 5 years in, I began to notice that the Nashville equivalent of Tin Pan Alley was beginning to come back, pushing uninteresting middle-of-the-road music by unremarkable artists. (We called them “hair” acts or “hat” acts," they were so interchangeable.) One day I’m driving to work, listening to the station, and realized that while I had played several of the songs I’d heard hundreds of times, I couldn’t for the life of me name the artists. They all sounded the same, just a different hair or hat. At that time I said to myself “It’s time to move on.” The last day I was on that radio station was the last day I listened to Country music. I also had begun to have to issues with the Country “lifestyle” the music often portrayed, but that’s another subject altogether.
It was already starting to turn “mainstream” by 1981, as evidenced by the Barbara Mandrell song, I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool. (Not that the song itself was necessarily “mainstream,” but the message made it sound like “traditional” country music was on its way out.)
There is no clear line that divides country and rock, nor, really, could there be. (Or for that matter between country and folk, or between folk and rock.) They bear too many similarities for them not to blend into each other.
The problem is that there are two completely different genres which are both called “country”. So far as I can tell, the only thing they have in common is that the singers wear broad-brimmed hats. There’s still plenty of folk country out there; it’s just not played on the same stations as pop country.