The 9 Categories of Country Music: The South

At least at first glance “The South” seems like the easiest of the 9 Categories to identify in songs and draw boundaries around for purposes of categorization and this identification. It probably is, but this is more a feature of the complexity of the other categories rather than this category just being a simple one. At the core of this category are songs about the south generally, or about specific southern states and cities. Songs like Alabama’s Song of the South and Dixieland Delight, Brad Paisley’s Southern Comfort Zone, Hootie’s Southern State of Mind and Southern Style, Hank Jr.’s If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Dixie, Tim’s Southern Voice and The Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down don’t focus on southern locations or a specific southern custom, they’re just about the American South.

Songs about particular southern states (and cities) are too numerous to name exhaustively so I’ll just mention a few nice examples. Alabama’s weight is probably more than carried by Sweet Home Alabama alone (Georgia too with Devil Went Down to Georgia), but also boasts song’s like Paisley’s Old Alabama and Tracey Lawrence’s Paint Me a Birmingham. Mississippi, my adopted southern home state, gets some love in Faith Hill’s Mississippi Girl, Johnny and June’s Jackson and to segue west Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man sung by the lovable Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn. To its name Louisiana and its cities have songs like Louisiana Saturday Night, PFG’s Louisiana Song, REK’s Hello New Orleans and Garth’s Calling Baton Rouge.

At least among my favorite artists, Texas is far and away the leader in inspiring country songs, like Strait’s All My Exes Live in Texas and Amarillo By Morning, Terry Allen’s Amarillo Highway, Waylon’s Luckenbach, Texas – sorry, there are just too many songs about Texas that I really like and want to mention – Aldean’s Amarillo Sky and Texas Was You, Jason Boland’s Somewhere Down in Texas, Kevin Fowler’s 100% Texan, Josh Abbott Band’s My Texas and She’s Like Texas, Alabama’s If You’re Gonna Play In Texas, Little Texas’ God Blessed Texas and so many Pat Green songs like I Like Texas, Texas On My Mind, Somewhere Between Texas and Mexico, West Texas Holiday and Way Back Texas. Oklahoma has some nice songs as well including MH’s iconic Okie from Muskogee, EYB’s Oklahoma Girl and Carrie’s Blown Away. And to cover at least some of the remaining field let’s also mention Take Me Home Country Roads (one of my all time favorites), Aldean’s Country Boy’s World, Wagon Wheel (always), PFG’s Virginia Belle, Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road, Shooter’s Gone to Carolina and Carolina (Eric Church or Parmalee, take your pick).

Moving outward from the core of this category, it makes sense to at least consider what else could be included in the category of “The South”. Not within the name of category, but consistent with its spirit are songs like Reckless Kelly’s Arizona Skies and Idaho Cowboy, Strait’s I Can Still Make Cheyenne and Ocean Front Property and even Kid Rock’s All Summer Long that find their inspiration a little further west (or north). So too for songs like Flyover States, REK’s Out Here In the Middle and Strait’s Heartland that are non-specfically more about the great middle west states of this great country, rather than specifically southern states. It might be stretch to go so far as to include songs like PFG’s and CDB’s respective Californias, but in this correspondent listener’s opinion I’d include at least references to western and heartland states here.

I feel still more comfortable including in this category songs about topics identifiable with the South, without specifically naming southern locations. When we hear Hank’s Jambalaya (on the Bayou), Billy Currington’s Good Directions (sweet tea, turnips greens, etc) or even Kacey Musgraves’ Biscuits, this transports the listen to the south just as much as hearing a specific location, even more so with songs mentioning non-city southern landmarks like Alan Jackson’s Chattahoochee, REK’s Corpus Christi Bay, A Country Boy Can Survive or PFG’s Southbound 35, ZBB’s Toes (GA clay) or CDB’s Stockyards. (So too for songs like Chris Ledoux’s Western Skies, Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road and Toby Keith’s Should’ve Been a Cowboy, taking us west). Because I plan to write a separate post about this, I won’t analyze here the small town, rural and farm motifs as satisfying this category other than to say that under the right circumstances I think there’s a solid argument that they can (e.g. Where the Green Grass Grows, JAB’s I’ll Sing About Mine, ZBB’s Homegrown and Hal Ketchum’s Small Town Saturday Night), given proper context.

At the end of the day, for this listener, it doesn’t take a ton of The South to get credit for hitting the category. Simple references like Blake Shelton’s “If you’ll be my Louisiana / I’ll be your Mississippi and Canaan Smith’s metaphorical kissing “slow as the Mississippi” get us there. I don’t think it can just be songs like Take Me Home Country Roads that are explicit celebrations of particular locations that get credit for hitting this category, though arguments about the breath and inclusion of this category should not distract from the recognition that depth and meaningful engagement with this, or any other category, can make a song great on its own and it’s not just about checking the category boxes. Songwriters have the opportunity to write about anywhere under the sun and set their stories wherever they please, and I really enjoy hearing songs set all across America.

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