“How to buy…” is an occasional series in which I offer profound insights into the record store buyer’s craft. This week: acquire instant expertise in country music.

In R&B, the words are merely a vehicle for the performance. People with amazing voices perform fearless acts of vocal agility over what are usually banal and uninspired lyrics.

For country music, which must, sadly, be performed by country singers, this is usually impossible. As a result, we must judge country singers by the content of the lyrics that were written for them by somebody else. Thankfully, this is easy to do, since all good country songs include certain key words and concepts. By assigning values to them, we can accurately distinguish the good from the bad.


Simple songs for simple people. That’s the idea here. Every good country song has a readily understandable statement to make. The more asinine it is, the better.

  • “Becoming an adult has given me empathy for my parents” – 10 points
  • “I have to get out of this small town” – 15 points
  • “I see no way in which I’m partly responsible for the relationships I have” – 20 points
  • “I’m going to drink through my problems and repeat my mistakes” – 25 points
  • “I’d like to stay in this small town” – 30 points
  • “I have no comment on the war itself, but I support those taking part in it” – 35 points
  • “I know I’m being an asshole, but I’m going to keep doing it anyway” – 40 points
  • “Oh crap” – 50 points


Country music values the really important things, which are:

  • Family – 10 points
  • Manliness – 15 points
  • God – 20 points
  • Guns – 30 points
  • Cowboy hats and boots – 50 points each


The more manly the better. A good general rule is that if you shouldn’t do it in heels, it’s country.

  • Hunting – 10 points
  • Fishing – 10 points
  • Farming – 20 points
  • Fighting – 30 points
  • Drinking  – See below


Alcohol has been vital to the development and continued success of country music. When assigning values to the booze in country lyrics, there are really only two questions to ask: “how manly is it?” and “how likely is it to lead to bad decisions?”

  • Beer – 5 points
  • Whiskey – 10 points
  • Tequila – 15 points
  • Moonshine – 50 points
  • Margerita – 7.5 points
  • Any other cocktail – 0 points
  • Wine – minus 5 points.


Country is one of the few genres of music that is defined geographically. As the opposite of urban music (in which it is commonplace to name-check major conurbations), any song that calls out backwoods locations is automatically more country. Apply the following formula:

  • For each location more than 100 miles from an ocean – 10 points
  • For each location South of the Mason-Dixon line – 20 points
  • For each location outside the US (except Mexico) – minus 10 points


There are lots of options here, but all the important ones should be covered by the following:

  • Getting out of a good relationship* – 10 points
  • Getting into a bad relationship* – 20 points
  • Anything that’s only practically possible in Vegas* – 30 points

* (whilst drunk) add 20 points


Country is a road movie rendered through the medium of song, so you’ll need a way to get around the small town you’re never gonna’ leave. Extra points are awarded for impracticality.

  • Car – 5 points
  • Limousine – 7.5 points
  • Truck – 10 points
  • Horse – 20 points
  • Old horse – 30 points
  • Toyota Prius – Minus 200 points


When the animals boarded Noah’s ark, they did so in equal numbers. If the Bible was a country song* things would have gone rather differently. If your animal isn’t listed below, award 10 points if you could either ride it or herd it, or if you could get badly hurt trying.

  • Cow – 10 points
  • Bull – 15 points
  • Horse – 20 points
  • Dog – 30 points
  • Cat – minus 10 points
  • Chihuahua – minus 50 points

*itself an excellent title for a country song.

Farm Equipment

Many country songs would be unnecessary if people simply asked permission before trying to ride any of the following:

  • Tractor – 10 points
  • Combine Harvester – 20 points
  • Farmer’s Daughter – 30 points


Rodney Atkins: Cleaning This Gun

Rodney Atkins: Cleaning This Gun – 75 points

When Rodney was a kid, his girlfriend’s dad scared the crap out of him by implying that he’d get shot (30) if he tried to ride their daughter (30). Now he’s a father, it’s his turn (10). Oh, and drive safely now (5).

Carrie Underwood: Last Name

Carrie Underwood: Last Name – 110 points

Carrie gets drunk on Tequila (5) and marries a stranger (20) with a Ford Pinto (5) in Vegas (30). Oh crap. (50 points).

Craig Morgan: International Harvester

Craig Morgan: International Harvester – 110 points

Craig is a farmer (20) and he’s married to a (hopefully unrelated) farmer’s daughter (30). He drives a combine harvester (20) and he doesn’t care if he slows you down (40).

Brad Paisley: I'm Still a Guy

Brad Paisley: I’m Still A Guy – 160 points

Brad isn’t gay. He likes hunting (10), fishing (10), mechanical bulls (15), fighting (30) and has a gun (30) in his truck (10). He’s manly (15) and has no plans to change (40).



Post a comment
  1. Peter K #
    March 19, 2010

    Does “alt country” count as “country”? If you’ve never listened to the Handsome Family, I really think you should. The album “Last Days of Wonder” I’d particularly recommend. The following lyrics are from the song “Your Great Journey”:

    Your Great Journey…

    like four million tons of hydrogen
    exploding on the sun
    like the whisper of the termites
    building castles in the dust
    you’re no longer leaving foot prints
    you left your wallet on the bus

    Your great journey has begun

    When automatic sinks in airports
    no longer see your hands
    and elevator doors close on you
    when buses drive right past
    when the only voice that answers
    is the whir of a ceiling fan

    Your great journey has begun

    staring out hotel windows
    at planes taking off
    walking round the parking lot
    you will never find your car
    you’ve begun to dance the ghost dance
    stray dogs gather in your yard

    Your great journey has begun

  2. kimchikraut #
    March 31, 2010

    So basically, R&B is like coloratura arias and Country is like Lieder.

    • properdiscord #
      March 31, 2010

      Lieder with trucks.

  3. John #
    April 1, 2010

    Well hell. I’ll bet that I could just about do the same with yer classical music, especially the new stuff. And also I really do think it’d be just as much a hoot for classical lovers as this post was for us country devils.

    Here, I’ll start it off (you fill in the points, mine are just suggestions):

    – orchestra (-20)
    – chamber (20)
    – solo instrument (20)
    – solo instrument, percussion (30)
    – electronica (40)

    – even tempered (0)
    – historic temperament (authenticized) (10)
    – slendro or pelog (15)
    – microtonal (25)
    – newly-invented scales (5)

    – jeans and T-shirt (80)
    – non black or white (-10)
    – facial hair (men) (10)
    – leather (15)

    – New York (200)
    – London (30)
    – Scandinavia (10)
    – others (-100)

    – A bunch of fragments
    – serial (add points for complexity)
    – minimalist (deduct or add according to length and complexity)
    – pure concept
    – soundscape

    Well, something like that, anyway. Plenty more categories and criteria out there.

    Properdiscord: if anyone can do this up right it’s you folks. I’d be mighty pleased to see what you come up with!

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