Song Analysis: I Wish Grandpas Never Died

Riley Green’s I Wish Grandpas Never Died is a very good song, and I’ve been listening to the other tracks on his first album and looking forward to the next with much enthusiasm. Many thanks to my buddy Cart who turned me on to this one.

Right from the get-go it’s clear this is going to be a very strong category song.

I wish girls you love never gave back diamond rings [Hard Times]
I wish every porch had a swing [No category, just nice]
Wish kids still learn to say “sir” and “ma’am”, [Nostalgia]
how to shake a hand [In context, ditto]
I wish every state had a Birmingham [The South]

I wish everybody knew all the words to Mama Tried [Country Music Aspirations and Inspirations]
I wish Monday mornings felt just like Friday nights [implied Hard Times and/or Raisin’ Hell, but not substantive enough to qualify]

The first verse alone hits four, with most of these reinforced with additional category hits later on. The song also goes on to hit Love & Modes (“I wish the first time, seventeen, she was my everything kiss in a Chevrolet, could happen every day”), Raisin’ Hell (“and back road drinking kids never got caught”) and America (“I wish everybody overseas was gonna make it home”). More to be said on America category in a separate post, but this is one where we’re appropriately more liberal in our analysis to capture the spirit of the category cf Modes which really requires a more literal reference.

God/religion is the only category not mentioned. Green circles around the category, but ultimately, for purposes of this song, Sundays spent on the creek bank and death not explicitly memorialized with religious component.

Though less explicitly than some other songs that list things (e.g., Something ’bout a Truck, I Love This Life), this is a song that lists things. It shouldn’t be interpreted as a knock on this fine song to remark that it’s easier to hit a higher number of categories in ca song that lists things. The format is just more flexible when there’s no specific plot to be advanced. Going back to first principles, the number of categories doesn’t itself create a good song, it’s just an indicator. And so re-emphasizing the point on this commentary not taking anything away from the song, it should be reminded that one of the very best songs there is – and the only other known song to also hit 8 categories – Kenny’s I Go Back is also a song that lists things.

If I had one complaint/suggestion it would be to scrap the electric/steel guitar, in particular the short solo, in the recorded version. To me this undermines what is considered in the following para and for a moment, in what is otherwise a nice and special song, makes it feel just a bit cookie-cutter.

This song is effective because Green lists things that allow the listener to situate themselves in a time when their grandpas were around (or at least when the listen imagines that Green’s grandpas were around), looking back nostalgically to how things were when they/he were growing up. The nostalgic listings lead up to and culminate in the heartfeltly delivered title line at the end of the chorus. Taken out of context some of the lyrics look cliche – pop country antennas of course go up to feel out any reference to Bud Light or similar. But the strong weight of other lyrics (I love e.g. the lyrics on Copperhead and good dogs), including the capstone re: grandpas, make the song authentic and make us feel good about giving the benefit of the doubt to lyrics like Bud Light, which in context are credible. Overall, the lyrics use the categories to effectively situate the song’s nostalgia – the activities, the music, the emotions, etc – that take the listener back to the time of grandpas being around. 

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