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Drinking songs making a comeback

With PC '90s over, country stars raising their glasses once again
/ Source: Billboard

After a period in the politically correct ’90s where very few drinking songs became hits on country radio, it appears the good, old-fashioned elbow-bender tune is making a comeback.

Tracy Byrd scored this year with “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo” and “Drinkin’ Bone.” Other big 2003 hits include Toby Keith and Willie Nelson’s “Beer for My Horses,” Keith’s “I Love This Bar,” Joe Nichols’ “Brokenheartsville” and Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett’s “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”

Country radio programmers say the PC tone of the ’90s swallowed up drinking songs, but the genre is making a comeback.

“Everyone was concerned about the image and identity of country music in the ’90s,” WWYZ Hartford, Conn., program director Justin Case says. “We steered away from the drinking and cheating songs.”

WCOL Columbus, Ohio, program director John Crenshaw agrees that drinking songs “temporarily went away during the rise of political correctness and zero tolerance.”

“American Country Countdown” host Bob Kingsley says, “For a while in the ’90s, people were sorting through legitimate concerns about some of the consequences of irresponsible drinking. With the increase in awareness and the ascent of the designated driver, singers and writers again feel more comfortable with the subject.”

Kingsley also thinks the deaths of such icons as Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash have “spurred renewed interest in some of the subjects they made famous.”

Moon Mullins, director of country programming for Journal Broadcast Group, points to such factors as “all the Mothers Against Drunk Driving activity, female domination of the charts and female-targeted programming” for the decline of the drinking song in the ’90s. But now, he says, “it seems the women like the drinking songs as much as the men.”

‘Bland and vanilla’KMDL Lafayette, La., program director Mike James says all of these factors led to a “cleansing” of the format, “to the point where much of the music had become incredibly bland and vanilla, all style and no substance. Finally, country music became so ‘soft’ and politically correct that men were leaving the format in droves, and women who liked to have fun were not that far behind.

“Fortunately,” James adds, “the pendulum has finally begun to swing back to a more balanced position, where it’s actually OK to sing about having a few beers, as long as you have a designated driver for your horse.”

There are numerous theories as to why this resurgence is afoot. “We ran out of cheating songs,” Crenshaw quips, adding that the “next hot trend is songs about mama, of course.”

Steve Harmon, morning man at KFWR (the Ranch) Fort Worth, Texas, says, “We are back to our roots: beer, bait and ammo.”

Many programmers say the return of drinking songs reflects a lighter national mood or, as Harmon says, “the need to get to that mood.”

Case says, “We are coming off a tough time in our nation’s history. These songs reflect our need to experience a release through music. These songs are the opposite of the many thoughtful songs we had after 9-11. Plus, they are pretty good.”

Chuck Geiger, program director of KZSN Wichita, Kan., says, “Everything has been so serious, it’s time to bust out and have a few. Remember: When the music is fun, so is the format.”

Crenshaw adds, “We can all use some comic relief every once in a while. Perhaps this renewed popularity shows us we were taking ourselves a little too seriously.”