The Actual, Non-Biased 25 Greatest Country Songs Ever Written

So obviously Rolling Stone got it wrong, and made a terrible list. Now, the list on the website is 100 songs. The mid-year list is coming out in this space in a couple of weeks, and I figure two seven-thousand-word posts in as many weeks is fairly ridiculous, so I kept it to a top 25, which is also the number of songs that made it into the print magazine. This one’s a little more factual than usual, since I had to both explain why it was great and, often, why it was country (since so much of the discourse around so much of this music ends up being “but it isn’t really country”). As always, this list is 100% accurate, and the only way any of these can be changed is if I change my mind. Enjoy!
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” topped the RSlist, which was promising, except they gave it to the wrong Hank Williams song. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is the Hank Williams song for people that don’t like country music. It’s a fine song, certainly, even a great song, but it’s not got half the harrowed spirit that “Ramblin’ Man” does.
Country music is often lampooned for its sadness1, and, truly, there are a lot of sad songs (to the point that “high-lonesome” is a fairly common touchstone in the language of talking about the music2. But the genre’s palette is, actually, big enough to thoroughly complement songs that are 1) happy and 2) not about partying. So here’s “New Partner,” the best song ever written about the joys of falling in love.

Of course, sometimes it’s best when it’s miserable. As the rest of this list will bear out, some of my favorite miserablists are country songwriters, and some of these songs get dire. “Aeroplane” is all the worse for being so resignedabout the whole thing: Sam Quinn is singing about being in the wrong, Jill Andrews is agreeing with him, and there’s no room for anger, or self-righteousness, or genuine recrimination. There’s just a sad, sweet song about everything blowing up.
I mean, if I were a less-genuine list-maker, I wouldn’t put two breakup songs in a row, but I tell you people nothing but the truth, so here it is. If you want to know why people are disappointed in perfectly fine records like Cold Rosesor Jacksonville Skyline, the answer lies in Heartbreaker, which created a majestic, scorched-earth sound out of the trad-country elements of Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and Ryan Adams (all of whom will, in fact, appear later on this list). “Come Pick Me Up” turns the “done-wrong-by-a-woman” narrative of a lot of country breakup songs3into a lament for more wrong being done. It is, in its way, a genius piece of writing: the album opens with David Rawlings and Ryan Adams arguing about Morrissey, and it’s Morrissey’s “I’m miserable when I’m happy and happy when I’m miserable” routine that carries this song into the upper pantheon.

I suppose this, at two spots above “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, officially means that I have a soft spot for songs about happy funerals. In a lot of ways, Bill Callahan is an all-or-nothing proposition: there don’t seem to be many people that hear him, connect with one of his songs, and then don’t immediately want to hear all of the rest of them. And I know, mentally, that that appears to be the case. But “Dress Sexy At My Funeral” is such a topsy-turvy masterpiece that it manages to still not convey anything unambiguous despite actually being a straightforward narrative(either he wants his wife to confidently move on after his death, or he wants everyone to know that no matter how hard she tries to move on after his death, they’ll never top him), and I can’t understand hearing it and not being instantly won over.
It seems to have become all-but mandated in the years since the sixties to mention them, then mention “the dark side” of the sixties, as generally represented by Altamont, or the ever-escalating Vietnam war. What’s not usually mentioned is that a rich kid in California was already on the front lines of it. The Flying Burrito Brothers are generally credited with inventing country-rock (this has, admittedly, probably more to do with the number of members of the band who would eventually end up in The Eagles), but there isn’t actually anything “rock” about them – a guy wrote a song about his surroundings and about how down-and-out they left him, sang it in close harmony and wrapped it up in steel guitars. If you need a lesson in how backwards people get when they talk about country music, I can’t think of a better one.

Some things the Rolling Stone list did get right! Admittedly, it’s pretty hard to get this one wrong. A hint for some of the people out there that write about it, however. I’m not going to name names, I’m not saying you should have someone actually listen to the song before you put it on your list, I’m not saying that your stupid critics are wrong, but the trick is that the opening line is “he said ‘I’ll love you til I die.” She died a long time ago, guys. He’s bound by his word to continue loving her, even though she made him unhappy, forever. Essentially, if this song were in the first-person, it would have exactly the same lyrical messageas “Come Pick Me Up,” – in his own death (“he stopped loving her today/put the wreath upon his door”) he is finally free of it. There. I’m glad I had the opportunity to get that off my chest.

You know, I talk a lot about the lyrics in this list, despite my oft-stated position as not being interested in the lyrics. And I’m not interested in the lyrics, but I do like stories, and I do like fantastic images. So here’s a song that I know almost none of the words to, but I think “Anodyne/tossed it out for me to find/without a word you’re out the door/withhout a reason anymore” is good enough, imagistically, to leave me pretty satisfied with the number of words I know. “Anodyne” isn’t the Uncle Tupelo song that I’ve spent the most time with over the years4, but if there’s any such thing as songcraft, and if there’s any separating the performance from the song itself, “Anodyne” is the argument for it. You could probably teach a seal to play this song on a bunch of bicycle horns and it would still sound a littlesad.

TCG are one of Earth’s finest bar-party-country-rock bands. Micah Schnabel especially fills his songs with retreating to country (the music of his central Ohio youth) after a youth spent in the punk rock trenches. And he’s written some of the finest bruisers and brawlers that ever honkyed or tonked. But this, a confessional-style lament, is probably the best of the bunch. Some of the songs on this list (“New Partner,” “Dress Sexy at My Funeral,” “Your Fucking Sunny Day”) are marked by their delicacy, their subtlety, their slowly-unfolding majesty. “Should’ve California” is, even moreso than many of their loudest, stompin’est rockers, a direct punch to the gut, and makes all that filigree seem awfully unnecessary.
Blue,” by contrast, is a layered, soaring epic of a song. I’m always interested in bands that are perfectly fine in general, but that have one moment where everything seems to come together and go exactly right. The Jayhawks are, as a rule, pretty good – they’ve written a whole bunch of great songs in a versatile array of sounds and modes. And they’ve written “Blue,” which is, lyrically, a fairly complex analysis of the feelings accompanying a boomerang relationship and is, musically, the best song the Flying Burrito Brothers didn’t write. Oh, and if any song on this list can be said to have earned it spot disproportionately because of an a-plus world-class chorus5, it’s this one.
A beautifully, delicately sung, perfectly-formed, absolutely heartwrenching song about watching a woman die of cancer. Not only a song that doesn’t make you want to party, but a song that will never make you want to party again. This is the youngest song on this list, but that’s only to make the point: it’s going to be here eventually (and, honestly, it may end up higher on the list over time), so why not give it its rightful berth already? The “test of time” is largely not that useful.

Made famous by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, “Pancho and Lefty” is not actually as sad as it sounds (which may be a first for this list), being as it is a story about retribution, be it karmic, divine, or just plain ol’ human. Everybody doesn’t get what they deserve, but everyone does get what they need, and everyone does deserve what they get. Also the song shouts out Cleveland as being cold, which tickled me to bits when I was little. Largely because Cleveland is cold.

Easilythe best song to rip off the intro to “I Want You Back”, “Your Fucking Sunny Day” is only nominallya country song, such as it is. There’s a not-often-spoken-of tradition of oddballs using country music as a launchpad for something considerably more experimental in terms of trawling through American music (Lyle Lovett is another prominent one of these), and Lambchop wrote, here, a song that manages to encompass “happy” and “angry” in a way that makes the two things seem like they belong in the same sentiment, all while making excellent use of the extremely-traditional setting of “a normal front yard”.
Most of the Johnny Cash songs that receive approbation are the ones that have been established as limning his “legend”6, but really, he’s got a couple dozen top-notch songs that actually have nothing to do with his drug problems, his wife, or his religion. “Give My Love to Rose” is an old-style story-song that’s as affecting as anything, and more satisfying than any other song he wrote.

How brilliant is it to write an ode to a lost cat that’s so indistinguishable from a breakup lament? Of course, once you know it’s about a cat (“the hole/in the screen/is barely/big enough for you/not near enough/for me to go” and, most tellingly, “I told the neighbors/I put pictures up/I handed out flyers at the show”) it’s impossible not to notice it. Nevertheless, it’s as close-to-home as any other heartbreak ballad, and, of course, has a chorus that I’d kill to have written.

True story: I know three words to this song, and they’re all in the title. This song is, especially among country songs, a testament to it not actually mattering. It’s the scorched sound o Gillian Welch’s voice, David Rawling’s guitar, and a big, expansive melody that seems to pain everything the rust-orange of a desert sunset, and makes you feel every bit as alone.
There’s no better reason to do something than because you love it, and “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” is a history of the Sun Records crew7, and a love-letter to the titular Carl Perkins, as well as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and, after its own fashion, the effects of the work of Sam Phillips, if not his methods themselves. It is, in short, about a challenging, complexly shaded country businessman, and about the humanity of heroes, which is a damned impressive thing. Almost as impressive (and you may all be surprised to hear this) as Jason Isbell’s fantastic guitar solo.
A better prison song than “Folsom Prison Blues,” a better Hag song than the small-minded “Okie From Muskogee,” “Mama Tried” is also about as good as traditional country gets, even though Merle Haggard was almost always too ornery to be truly traditional. Non-country people give it their damnedest to absorb Merle Haggard into the pantheon of “country musicians it’s ok for non-country-music fans to like,” largely because of his association with Willie Nelson, but they invariably run afoul of the fact that he wrote a bunch of songs that are, to put it delicately, pretty unsavory. But “Mama Tried” is great.
The song itself is written by Johnny Horton, and he turned in a fine version, but he’s got a weak voice and a bad rhythm section. So enter Dwight Yoakam, who has a great voice and, at this point in his career, a bedrock-solid rhythm section (trained from years playing an unfashionable form of music, which relegated him to hustling shows at whatever bars would accept him, which, at one point, including opening for Husker Du in the mid-eighties, which I would, frankly, give up several years of my life to be able to go back in time and witness).

Mainstream country gets an unfair rap. Yes, it’s true that most mainstream country is a shitpile, but most mainstream anythingis a shitpile. Country is no different. But it’s never once been allbad, and there’s usually about the same 1-in-3 hit-to-miss ratio as any other chart8. Besides which, a bunch of the elder statesman types were once at the top of the heap, popularity-wise, and the notion that people in the seventies knew something that people today don’t is one of the most damaging attitudes that the Rolling Stone-supported establishment holds. While it’s true that this song is over a decade old, it’s also true that (since this was pre-”Shut up and sing you traitors”-era Dixie Chicks) this song was huge. And the reason is because it’s an incredible song. Don’t disregard stuff just because it’s popular9

Strangers Almanac is, if you’re playing along at home, probably the best country album ever made10. “Dancing With the Women at the Bar” and “Avenues” hold it down for the future of Ryan Adams, “Waiting to Derail” (which doesn’t sound like it’s going to come together until everything snaps into place at the very end) and “Not Home Anymore” (which is even weirderand doesn’t really “come together” so much as “end in a really cool overlapping effect”) put some proof to Whiskeytown’s arty reputation. But the best song, “Houses on the Hill,” is as non-weird as it gets. With a lyric that telescopes outward (beginning with a self-inflicted death and ending by blaming history and circumstance for the death of both a woman and her life’s love) and one of Ryan Adams’ best vocal performances, “Houses on the Hill” also proved that they didn’t needto play any game but their own. This makes Ryan Adams the only songwriter to have two songs on this list, to which I say: if I were to make a list of the 25 worstcountry songs, he’d probably have two on that one as well.
Transplanting the punk rock tradition of yelling about cities they don’t like and plopping not only into a country idiom, but writing it specifically about the capital of country music, “Fuck This Town” is uncharacteristically blunt (complete with inappropriate homophobic slur, even!) from the usually-wry Robbie Fulks. It sure does get its point across, though.

The whole mess, really, comes down to the Carter Family. With the Carter family you have to reconcile beautiful, heartfelt songs with extraordinarily ugly politics, you have to be able to deal with image-driven “authenticity”11, and you have to put up with an autoharp. If only the songs weren’t so goddamned pretty. Bonus tip of the hat: they wrote “No Depression in Heaven,” which was covered by Uncle Tupelo and then lent its name to the entire subgenre that about a third of these songs belong to.
We can agree that the best Roger Miller song is, of course, “Not in Nottingham” from Disney’s Robin Hood, right? We can do that? Good. This, then, is an actual country song. Another hit, even! Like “Your Fucking Sunny Day” or “Honky-Tonk Man,” this is an important reminder that sometimes a song is awesome because it’s fun to listen to, and not because it’s about tearing your heart out through your stomach. He’s got no cigarettes!
Steve Earle writes a hell of a song, but so often falls down the pit of keeping orthodoxy and, also, interminable guitar soloing12. He’s done his best work, then, as a sideman. But his albums generally have enough interesting stuff on them to keep them in my collection. Unfortunately, “Tom Ames’ Prayer” is something of a one-off. Steve Earle has lots of character studies and lots of story-songs, but this, which starts out a shaggy-dog story about a scofflaw in a shootout and ends in a punchline13 is a fantastic piece of writing. He’d never be this angry, or this funny.
Honorable Mentions: Joe Ely – “Letter to Laredo”, Sam Quinn – “Gun”, Gram Parson – “$1,000 Funeral”, The Bottle Rockets – “White Boy Blues”, Lucinda Williams – “Abandoned”, Lucero – “Chain-Link Fence”, Jill Andrews – “Worth Keeping”, Willie Nelson – “Crazy”, Neko Case – “This Tornado Loves You”, Wilco – “Passenger Side”
1– as the joke would have it: What do you get if you play a country song backwards? Your dog comes back to life, your truck starts again and your woman comes back to you.
2– it describes a vocal sound, not unlike Will Oldham’s. Or Ira Louvin’s, if you can’t get into Will Oldham’s.
3– look, I said the jokes were tiresome and not 100% true, not that the trope didn’t exist.
4– that’s “Graveyard Shift.” “Anodyne” isn’t even the song on Anodyne that I’ve spent the most time with – that’s “We’ve Been Had.”
5– it can be said to be true that I’m extremely susceptible to killer choruses
6 – if I seem to come down extra-hard on the Johnny Cash thing, it’s because Johnny Cash unquestionablyrepresented basically the archetypal country singer: when it was the genre fad to have a three-piece band and play understated traditional songs and songs that sounded like them, he did that (“Folsom Prison Blues”). When the bands got bigger, he added pieces and recorded heavily-orchestrated songs (“Ring of Fire”), when the anti-protest song was de riguer in country music, he did that (“Man in Black”), culminating, ultimately, in him choosing the road of respectibility over that of fame and connecting with Rick Rubin to very specificallymaneuver his image into that of a weathered old guru. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Only in music, only as the result of decades of rockist nonsense, is the idea of never changing the way you work to be more interesting to your fans something that is pretended to. And so I do love Johnny Cash – probably more than you do, because I’m willing to allow his work and his career to stand as he left it, and not twist him into some weird, distorted version of himself just so that I can match his career up with the rock musicians that he’s forced to be compared to. Compare: there is nothing wrong with having a pet cat. But if I put the cat on a leash and hang “beware of cat” signs on my door and take it fox hunting, then the cat isn’t going to be an impressive dog, and no amount of insisting that it’s totally the same as a dog is going to make that true, no matter how dog-like it is. Johnny Cash isn’t a rock musician, and forcing his music into the rock narrative is bullshit, no matter how well some of it may seem to fall in.
7– it’s probably not an accident that it’s also a challenge to the accepted narrative regarding Sam Phillips, Elvis and Johnny Cash. See FN #6 and consider why Mike Cooley is hands-down my favorite person that’s ever written songs for the Drive-By Truckers.
8– research conducted by the Department of Kind of Not Wanting to Make Up Figures, but Actually Not Wanting to Spend Too Much Time Looking at the Charts.
9– it goes against at least two things I’ve said in this list, but it could be noted that it’s entirely possible that at some point in the future Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” could also have made this list. I’m unsure how much of my astonishment with the song is contextual (coming in opposition to the generally-lionized “country” life during the most reactionary, polarized time in country music), and how much is due to the fact that I’m fairly certain that, at the end of it all, it’s a knockout punch of a song. We’ll see, I guess.
10– 1) Whiskeytown – Strangers Almanac 2) Uncle Tupelo – No Depression 3) Johnny Cash – Live at Folsom Prison 4) The Old 97s – Fight Songs 5) Bonnie “Prince” Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music
11– would that the authenticity thing a recent development, but lord knows it was on A.P. Carter’s mind a billion years ago.
12– See also: Isbell, Jason
13– which, I realize, technically makes it a “joke”, but there’s no good way to tell you people that this song is, actually, a joke without it also connoting that it’s silly or not worth your time.

You can take the magazine out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the magazine

So, a chance to talk about two of my favorite weird love/hate relationships has arisen and guys. I’m going to talk about it. Rolling Stone has launched a country music website. To start: Rolling Stone magazine is, as you can probably guess if you’ve read past posts about the matter, something of a frenemy. For most of my adult life, I have, in fact, subscribed to it1, and generally because I like some of their usually-impressive stable of writers. Besides, I don’t have a lot of sources for the publicity-funded puff piece in my life, so Rolling Stone, by dint of being the last non-literary print magazine that I read, gets to show me a window into the world of what’s being marketed. I’m legitimately interested in the highly-politicized set of reviews (the dozen or so records per issue that get reviewed get, on average, three and a half stars, which seems to relate to basically nothing, and the reviews themselves are written descriptions of either the circumstances of the recording itself, or of the genre/scene context of the band). One of the reasons for this sameness is their well-publicized need to stay on the good side of the artists that they’ve already established that they’ll champion. It’s a semi-open secret that if you’ve been on the cover recently, or you will be on the cover soon thereafter, that your album cannot get negative review. Furthermore, Rolling Stone made its bones2 on championing and, indeed, creating the flagpole for, a pretty specific sort off rock music. That sort of rock music is, presently, out of favor: there’s a pendulum that swings, in predominant popular music, from “small band, live instrumentation dominated music” and “production-based music”3. Since Rolling Stone also has a rich history of not precisely getting aboard trains that lead to production music stations (with well-noted token exceptions), they’re sort of stuck. Enter country music to give them a port to weather the current EDM storm. So they’ve started a new website. If that sounds more cynical than I mean it to, well, it’s a pretty cynical publication. And it’s not nearly as cynical as the country music establishment. So, country music then. I’ve said before that taken as a series of elements – small bands, live-instrument focus, a tendency to be very interested in things like sonic character and texture, an enormously-wide variety in emotional tenor and context4 – country is the genre with the most potential to be great. And it almost never is. Now, I don’t mean this in an “all country music is crap except for Johnny Cash” sort of way. There’s enough of that particular lie in the world, and I don’t think we need any more of it here. It’s more of a “ninety percent of anything sucks” argument. And it’s true of basically every genre, but in the case of country music, it seems to be something that people are comfortable wallowing in, rather than fighting. Part of the problem (and, seriously, I’ve said all of this before), is that country music is pretty vocally obsessed with a couple of warring ideas about authenticity5. The less important one to this piece is the one that tends to be a part of the country music that I listen to and talk about the most, which is the notion that country as a genre has frozen sometime around 1970 or so, and that the only “real” country music comes before that date, so you have to ape it as hard as you can. This is an infuriating attitude, but is also easy enough to ignore because it’s fundamentally silly: how is it more “authentic” to ape something old rather than work in that idiom, since that’s literally acting in a way that is untrue to your own approach. But the version of “authenticity” that Nashville (and, by extension, the country music establishment) is concerned has a great deal more to do with the superficial sound of a record6, and hats, than it does with sonic markers or evolution. It does, however, allowed for a weird double-reverse authenticity, however, that is largely opposed to the Nashville outlook – it was “outlaw country” in the seventies, and there’s a thread of it that sort of weaves in and out of country music’s mainstream, raising its head periodically after periods of dormancy (it’s roughly analogous, in mainstream-treatment terms, to punk rock in that sometimes it’s in favor, and sometimes it isn’t, but that it’s still just as authenticity-obsessed and is really an inside-out mirror to the mainstream). And that’s where it all comes full circle: in a way, it makes perfect sense that Rolling Stone would (almost certainly temporarily) switch their focus to country music, because, in a lot of ways, country music occupies the cultural space that rock music occupied in the past. But wait. There’s more. In the metatextual sense, nothing makes more sense than Rolling Stone covering country music, but, in a surprising move, it’s also perfectly sensible in the textual sense. By which I’m saying: there’s an enormous crop of country musicians who are essentially indistinguishable from rock music made somewhere around the turn of the century7. Of course, it’s telling that the physical copy of the magazine, and the initial website coverage, is a lot heavier on, say, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Kyp Moore and Eric Church than, say, Lady Antebellum, Nickel Creek, Jason Aldean and Kacey Musgraves: the extraordinarily tone-deaf coverage basically relies on you believing them when they say they’re suddenly experts in reporting a style of music that they started out ignoring, spent a couple of decades spurning, and now feel like they can talk about because a bunch of these people play guitar solos and, in the case of Eric Church, are essentially fronting rock bands that live in Nashville. (also, they have a whole sidebar article on hats. Hats. And how some country musicians don’t even wear cowboy hats anymore, which might actually be the most frustrating thing about this whole endeavor) The centerpiece of the new site (which, actually, is just a subsection of their existing site, despite their “grand opening” coverage) is a list of what they claim to be the 100 Greatest Country Songs. It’s over there. You can all go read it. It’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen in a long-ass time, and it’s the reason that this whole endeavor is impossible to take seriously. You’ll see my own counterpoint in the next post (which is to say: I have my own list of the 25 greatest country songs ever written, because, quite frankly, I know a great deal more about country music than these people), but there is really nothing that’s more emblematic of the problem, here than this list. It’s largely the same, completely orthodox, absolutely country-phobic opinions that have been regurgitated by Rolling Stone and their readers for, oh, twenty years or so8. So why is this interesting? If Rolling Stone has had a disruptive and distorted view of what constituted the genre they were ostensibly covering for decades, and if their view of country music is, to be honest, no more disingenuous than their take on rock music9. I suppose, in this case, it’s because it’s so ourobouric: Rolling Stone constructed an editorial environment for itself that necessitated an increasingly-narrow idea of what was “good,” to the point where they risked running out of material. Country music, similarly, chased the most-mainstream end of itself so far away from the genre’s sonic origins (except in the most superficial sense) that they are left only with a smallish stable of people who, after a time, look, talk, sing and act exactly alike more than ever. Both of these took place over years when the record-selling industry (which was propping up both Rolling Stone and the Nashville heads) is unwilling to meet consumer demand, choosing instead to bully and vilify (or, at least, belittle) their remaining fanbase10. And so Rolling Stone adopting a contrahistorical pro-country stance isn’t problematic in and of itself, but more for what it represents, which is officially the point at which the most long-standing corporatized entities join their meager forces in an attempt to continue to be able to believe that they are still arbiters of what matters. Oh, but they do have, like, a four page story on Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, which means that at least one person on their staff does, in fact, know what country music should at least look like. I have nothing bad to say about that. Maybe the person that wrote it will get to take over editorship and it’ll be like when Rob Sheffield (remember when he was great?) used to run the reviews section. 1 – albeit almost never because I’ve chosen to – I read it in high school (which predates my adult life, but anyway) because I would read any music magazine in high school. For a couple of years I had a subscription that I didn’t let lapse (this was early in the “provide us you financial information and we’ll use it to keep sending you magazines forever” business model). Eventually I started going to shows at the House of Blues often enough and not unchecking the box that I continued getting them. As you’ll see, this isn’t entirely a bad thing. 2 – well, its musical bones. It made its “good writing” bones on PJ O’Rourke and Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace and Matt Taibbi. Hard to argue with that particular group of people, and so this piece doesn’t really talk about it very much. 3 – which, for the last fifty or so years, can be simplified to “guitars and not guitars”, but which is actually older than the predominance of the guitar in popular music. 4 – as well as smaller things like “I really like banjos” and “there tend to be a lot of story songs” 5 – actually, the “authenticity” thing is something that tends to happen to maligned subgenres: it more-or-less killed punk rock, it makes a lot of hip hop unbearable, and it has pretty thoroughly derailed dubstep, as it did Detroit techno and grime before it. It has the biggest effect, then, on microgenres, but country music is almost as old as recorded music and is still having these insane growing pains. 6 – boring technical droning-on to follow: it’s always been funny to me that country radio stations play what seems to be an astounding chunk of music throughout the history of the genre: songs don’t fall all the way off of playlists for decades sometimes, and new songs aren’t added at near the rapid rate of, say, the local hip-hop station*. Part of the reason that this is the case is that country records made until, oh, 2002 or so actually still sound the same as country music made after 1972ish. Oh, there are changes in recording techniques that mean that you notice them when they’re side-by-side, but Alabama has a great deal more in common with Tim McGraw in terms of production effects (that is to say nothing more than “the set of things that make the record sound a specific way,” it’s not an actual commentary on the actual effects used during the actual production) than, say, Free does with The Strokes, despite the latter pairing being more similar in a strictly generic fashion. For more on this topic, well, if you really want to hear more about this, I’ll tell you myself instead of taking up your time by continuing this footnote. * – admittedly, at the time of this observation, the stations I was noticing had a faster period of replacement were rock stations, but as more “modern” rock stations become basically classic-rock stations moved forward in time by a few years, this has sort of also become the case for rock music, about which more in one second. 7 – meaning the period where “alt-country” was its closest to mainstream (think the first Kings of Leon record, the worst Ryan Adams solo record, the rise to prominence of the mighty Drive-By Truckers, and a smattering of other twangy, Lynyrd-Skynyrd-esque bands that wore hats), and when there was a resurgence+ of non-country musicians crossing over to play songs that go played on country radio. + – this isn’t a history lesson, but it’s one of those things that happens periodically. Just believe me, I know what I’m taking about. 8 – a hint to you people who think that it somehow makes you seem inclusive when you “allow” that Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson are “ok” examples of country music: of course they fucking are. That’s because they’re fucking great. But knowing the same three Johnny Cash songs and being able to slobber over the Patsy Cline version of “Crazy” just makes you a human being with ears, and is like saying “all rock music is terrible because it doesn’t all sound like ‘Satisfaction’” – holding up the worst of something and insisting that it invalidates the genre by not being the best is so unbelievably dumb that I can’t believe I found this many words to say about it. 9 – and is, frankly, significantly less so than their coverage of hip-hop, which continues to be some of the most tone-deaf and dismissive coverage on the planet. 10 – this isn’t really the piece for it, but it’s worth pointing out that while the rock- and country-oriented wings of the record-selling industry have worried mostly about how terrible “piracy”** is to the detriment of their sales, the hip-hop and dance music (i.e. the genres that actually sell the most across the board) wings have long since accepted it as fact, and have maneuvered their targets accordingly. ** – still the most ridiculous euphemism for “sharing things you like with like-minded individuals” I’ve ever heard

A Series of Questions About a Cragslist Post, #2

Some time ago, an enterprising young gentleman who had grown tired of the existing flavors of ramen noodles decided that “bikini butt” was the flavor he was after, and that he was willing to pay handsomely for the experience. Obviously this is irregular, but in the search for gustatory delights, who is to say who is right and who is wrong1?

But “wrong” doesn’t mean “not baffling,” and even given that the ad seems pretty straightforward, there’s still some things I would like cleared up.

First off, we have to make some assumptions right off the bat, which is problematic. I’m a largely-recovering grammar snob, and generally I’ll make allowances for nonstandard usage provided the point is coming across clearly. One of the things that can garble a message, however, is a nonstandard intent. That is to say: when the words are being pressed into service in a way that is, itself, different from the expected, the grammar of the words becomes of the utmost importance, because you’ve already forfeited the clarity that comes with sticking to the expected. And so the sentence “I will pay you $175 to sit in my bath tub [sic] full of ramen noodles wearing a bathing suit” presents challenges. For starters, “full of ramen” and “wearing a bathing suit” are both non-specific (“wearing a bathing suit” is actually dangling so badly I’m afraid it might drop out entirely). We’re to assume the bathtub is full of ramen (a fair, grammatical assumption, with “bathtub full of ramen” as a complete noun phrase), that’s fine, but it is then followed by “wearing a bathing suit.” Now, we’re presuming that the woman is wearing the bathing suit, but since the phrase is orphaned all the way at the other end of the sentence, it could also be the bathtub that’s wearing the bathing suit. Furthermore, the orphaned clause is actually closest to “ramen noodles,” which means that the noodles could, also, be wearing the bathing suit. Since that’s called into question, it also makes one wonder if the woman, who we’ve presumed is wearing the bathing suit, shouldn’t also be the one full of ramen2. “I will pay you $175 to wear a bathing suit and sit in my bathtub, which will be full of ramen noodles” is better, and spares you, the woman-payer, the embarrassment of giving someone the keys to your apartment who is expected to see a bathtub in a bathing suit and is instead confronted with a bathtub that is entirely in the nude (except for its filling of ramen noodles).

And, although it’s a quibble, “I will not be home, nor will anyone else while you do this” is also something of a weird sentence, because I most certainly will be home while she does this. Just not at your home. But this still seems kind of an odd caveat: she’s in a bathing suit, and she’s willing to accept $175 to sit in your dinner. Wouldn’t you think that she would also be willing to, say, do so behind one closed door instead of in an empty apartment, where if she fell and broke her neck on the noodles (you admit, later in the ad, that they “will be cooked and therefore slippery”) there would be no one to help her?

We’re also further assuming that the whole exercise here is about tasting lady noodles, and that’s leading us down an even more troubling road. To wit: you have decided that this will require a thirty-minute soak. I guess this is so that it seems reasonable, but here’s some real talk. Mushrooms take more than half an hour to lend their flavor to water, and that’s water that isn’t currently full of noodles and starch particles. Humans, in case you didn’t know, are made of meat, and to get any kind of flavor that’s going to stand up to noodles you’d have to simmer3 raw meat for several hours. And that’s at a simmer. Bath water is, on rough estimate, 100 degrees or so. Simmering happens much closer to 200, and most people find a simmering temperature by bringing the water to a boil and then lowering the temperature. Even if you add the boiling water from the cooked noodles (which, well, let’s come back to this in a minute), It’s not going to be cool enough to enter until it’s well under simmering temperature. Even if the lady gets in while the water is at a flavor-drawing 180 degrees, and she’s willing to risk the burns, she’s still only sitting there for half an hour. So the only human flavors it would even be possible to get are either thoroughly disgusting4, or slightly-less disgusting.

But you’re not even making stock. You’re sliding this woman’s skin (and, y’know, nylon or whatever) around on your cooked noodles, which is not only smashing them into the sides and bottom of the tub, leaving you with not so much “noodles” as “compressed noodle slime,” but is also accomplishing the job of taking all of the starch (which would help the sauce adhere, and therefore help you get more out of your already-pretty-weak lady stock) off the noodles and leaving it on her skin, which is not only making your noodles worse, but is making her flavor still more inaccessible.

But you must have thought about that. You have to have considered just telling a lady that you want to drain her bathwater and using it to make lady-flavored ramen broth. Do you know how I know that? Because even if you didn’t think of it at first, you’ve gone and filled a bathtub with ramen5. So at some point in the tromp across your probably-tiny Brooklyn apartment with yet another pot full of ramen noodles (I’m assuming dried and not fresh, here – you’d need so many noodles, and so many of them are going to be smashed and smeared around the bathtub, that you would just be setting money on fire to get fresh or, heaven forfend, roll out that many yourself6), you must have thought “gollly gee, this is really not as efficient as just making sauce out of bathwater”.

Further adding to the notion that this is more planned-out than it at first seems, you have given what is, certainly, the most baffling instruction of all: “Do not bring any sauce. I will season the sauce after I get home prior to dinner.”

Walk with me, here: you’ve decided that Bathing Suit and/or Butt Leavings are the flavor you desire. You have decided the fair market value of $175. You have decided that maximum privacy (even to the point of a disregard for your noodle-sitter’s safety) is of the utmost importance, you have decided to use the (seriously weak and bland) lady “stock” as the post-cooking broth, rather than the cooking medium itself. You feel that you’ve covered everything, every eventuality, every question.

Every question but one.

What if the lady decides to add to your experience with a jar of hoisin, or a bottle of sriracha, or some tamari? That will ruin everything. So you order this woman, this woman that is either free of compunctions or willing to overlook them for the sake of sitting in a bathtub full of noodles, to not bring any sauce of her own, because you will be seasoning the broth.

That leads us, however, full circle, back around to the perils of ambiguity. Because what you say is you’ll be seasoning the resulting sauce. Broth is not a sauce, and even the culinarily inept know that. However, broth can be made into a sauce, generally by thickening. In fact, if you relied on the weight of a full-grown lady human to pound and grind a portion of the noodles into starch, then somehow figured out a way to strain the noodles out of the bathtub, transfer the water to a cauldron (or something sufficiently large enough to heat up) and set it to a near-boil, the starch would thicken the broth, concentrating the flavors and creating something more like a woman gravy.

And that might work, although it’s probably the most impractical idea you could’ve had.

No, I’m going to assume, Mr. Ad Guy, that you do not intend to make the world’s most disgusting gravy out of the leavings of a noodle squasher, and that, instead, your intention is to “season” the resulting broth with, say, soy sauce or sriracha or hoisin7. Or, because you’re clearly an absurd person, ketchup or sauerkraut or something.

What I’m saying here is, the thing to take away from this is to proofread your Craigslist ads, because otherwise someone could get the wrong idea.

1 the person who is currently eating an egg sandwich is the person who is right, the person who wants to eat swimsuit-lady-flavored noodles is wrong, but for the sake of our purposes here, we can pretend that they’re equivalent.
2 a suggestion that also happens to be easier on the brain later in the piece, as you’ll see.
3 if you boil stock the fat particles are distributed through the stock in a way that makes them hard to get out, and the stock becomes cloudy
4 and are, presumably, exactly the sort of reasons why you want this lady in a bathing suit in the first place, quite frankly.
5 at this point, I’m assuming, since the ad is old enough, that he found his willing woman and he has consumed the noodles, or else realized the folly of his ways, so either way this set of actions is in the past tense.
6 also, if you knew enough to either find fresh noodles or roll out your own noodles, you’d know that this is a dumb idea. Since you don’t, I assume you don’t.
7 these are actually the traditional accompaniments of phở, not ramen, but I see no way to have any idea what this guy knows about either, and so am assuming based on the popularity of those particular condiments.

The Maxim Hot 100 Part 2

50. Stana Katic
WISAU: That being exclusively in terrible things will not bar you from this list.

49. Emilia Clarke
WISAU: That her online following is not only one of the creepiest, it’s also sufficient to get her way up the list.

48. Paula Patton
WISAU: That dumping Robin Thicke is a thing to be lauded.

47. Kendall Jenner
WISAU: That there is no place the Kardashian Marketing Juggernaut™ cannot go if it sets its mind to it.

46. Kellie Pickler
WISAU: Carrie Underwood 2.0 has all of the features of the original, but is a little bit less quirky (i.e. the “veganism” and “hockey fan” bugs that caused such confusion in the original model have been worked out) and is in a somewhat less-compact package1

45. Lacey Chabert
WISAU: We all feel bad about that Glen Coco upset, frankly.

44. Avril Lavigne
WISAU: That the marketing minds that have kept Chad Kroeger in the public eye have now started to work on his wife

43. Kate Beckinsale
WISAU: That some things are eternal

42. Ronda Rousey
WISAU: Again with the women that beat people up? I guess the appetite for this kind of thing is also bottomless.

41. Lauren Cohan
WISAU: That you’ll never lose your spot at the table working for comic-book-nerds

40. Demi Lovato
WISAU: The “we knew her when she was underage” thing, but there’s also, creeping into the list, a general feeling of “reality show judge,” which I find to be a more than a little confusing, but here’s Demi Lovato anyway.

39. Gina Carano
WISAU: That seriously, people apparently love ladies that get beat the high hell out of each other. You people are strange and I want not part of this business.

38. Shakira
WISAU: See? The reality show judge thing. It’s weird. I mean, also an ex-pop-star, but still. The reality show thing must be what’s keeping her this highly ranked in 2014, right?

37. Nina Agdal
WISAU: I think it says that we all like saying “Agdal” as much as I do, and this is all just an excuse to keep her in the public eye enough to get to enjoy it.

36. Jennifer Lopez
WISAU: That familiarity breeds high placement on the Maxim Hot 100

35. Jennifer Love Hewitt
WISAU: That some things are basically inarguable.

34. Alyssa Milano
WISAU: That it turns out she was the boss the whole time!

33. Ashley Tisdale
WISAU: That having been in High School Musical carries with it a lot of “Hot” currency, even if you’re not the one everyone saw naked a couple of years ago.

32. Lake Bell
WISAU: That it is possible to use the assets that Maxim highlights to eventually guide your career to some pretty impressive places on your own term.

31. Lea Michele
WISAU: That there is no height limit on Maximification
30. Sophia Bush
WISAU: That Sophia is a pretty great name2

29. Zoe Saldana
WISAU: That some women really do look good in any color!

28. Vanessa Hudgens
WISAU: It says that Vanessa Hudgens is super-duper hot, but really this entire post could, in a way, be seen as an opportunity – finally – to post 2013’s finest cinematic moment, bar none, to this blog. I can’t promise that clip has anything to do with why Vanessa Hudgens is on this list, but I can promise that it will improve your life without measure, not to mention prevent you from having to watch Spring Breakers.

27. Emma Stone
WISAU: That Gwen Stacy was always hotter than Mary Jane Watson anyway

26. Hayden Panetierre
WISAU: That if you look convincingly like any of the country singers on this list, and play a country singer on tv, then you can have the largest slice of the “Maxim-approved country singer” pie

25. Miley Cyrus
WISAU: That a near-complete reversal of opinion between one year’s list and the next actually only results in a 24-spot drop down the list.

24. Charlize Theron

23. Miranda Kerr
WISAU: Jesus Christ with the underwear models. Enough already.

22. Margot Robbie
WISAU: That I guess I don’t know when voting for this list started, but it was after The Wolf of Wall Street was released.

21. Beyonce
WISAU: Well, the fact that she isn’t #1 means we all have to look out for the Beygency.

20. Kaley Cuoco
WISAU: That so many people watch The Big Bang Theory

19. Selena Gomez
WISAU: That not even a long association with Justin Bieber is enough to turn people off from a barely-legal former-child-star.

18. Samantha Hoopes
WISAU: Oh a blonde underwear model. That’s much less repetitive, right?

17. Laura Vandervoort
WISAU: That Smallville was another incubator for these lists

16. Brooklyn Decker
WISAU: That it is possible for you to get all the way to #16 on this list and still be someone that I have to google every time to see who you are.

15. Christina Aguilera
WISAU: That the wildy-swinging pendulum of Christina Aguilera’s Fame is currently on the “up” part of its cycle.

14. Olivia Wilde
WISAU: That as we get higher up the list, here, it gets harder and harder to divine some truth out of the selection, because it gets harder to argue with, really.

13. Eva Longoria
WISAU: That Maxim voters’ memories are long enough that you don’t really have to have done anything in the year in question to end up near the top of the list.

12. Kate Upton
WISAU: That the reign of the skinny blonde girl with huge boobs will never end, and Kate Upton is the reigning queen.

11. Rihanna
WISAU: That, at least in the pants of the nation’s men, Rihanna has finally upstaged Beyonce.

10. Cara Delevigne
WISAU: That a woman can be well and truly ogled even if she has a really tricky last name

9. Mila Kunis
WISAU: That some people are basically always going to occupy the top ten here.

8. Jessica Alba
WISAU: That looking like someone’s grade-school teacher can be an asset, because there’s apparently a huge population that wants to fuck a grade-school teacher.

7. Alessandra Ambrosio
WISAU: That no one is immune to the charms of every underwear model

6. Zooey Deschanel
WISAU: That comporting yourself as a real-life Manic Pixie Dream Girl has enormous benefits

5. Jennifer Lawrence
WISAU: That you can please all of the people all of the time (for at least some of the time)

4. Irina Shayk
WISAU: That the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is a better way to reach the Maxim voters than even the Victoria’s Secret catalog

3. Katy Perry
WISAU: I think sometimes it’s not what it says about us, but what we say about it.

2. Scarlett Johansson
WISAU: That even in Maxim terms, it’s more worthwhile to be interesting than to coast

1. Candice Swanepoel
WISAU: That there are two South Africans on this list! Yep.

And there you have it. The Maxim Hot 100 as mirror, reflecting back upon us all, and teaching us important lessons. There are probably some things we can also learn by who was omitted (“don’t marry Kanye West,” for example), but that seems like more conjecture than would be useful for this sort of thing.

1 by which I mean nothing more than the fact that Kellie Pickler is taller than Carrie Underwood, which I’m pretty sure is true.

2 look. there are a hundred of these things. Get off my back.