Before you put pen to paper one or two things need to be cleared up.1) Country and Western has nothing to do with coming from the country or the west. Nashville - an industrial city producing 99% of the world's sequins is the centre of Country and Western. And it's in the middle. If the name meant anything country and western songs would all be about peoples wives shagging bears in Alaska.
2) Country and Western is not the white man's blues. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the blues. The blues is about poor black folk wishing they were rich and white. Country and Western is about rich white folk wishing they were poor and white.
3) You don't have to be poor to write songs, but it helps. Look what wealth did to Paul McCartney and Elton John. (Eric Clapton, of course, only wrote decent songs after he got rich but he is really black so it doesn't count.)
4) Country and Western is about form, not content. It doesn't actually matter if your wife is shagging a bear in Alaska as long as the steel guitar player is well lit and the backing vocalists have plenty of sequins on their dresses.
Before continuing I am indebted to Professors R. L. Leavis and N. Mailer for their invaluable paper: "George Strait - "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?". A study in semantic form and lyrical topology. University of Minnesota 1974.
All country and western songs must start with 4 to 8 bars of sweeping instrumental introduction.
This allows the singer to establish, within reasonable parameters, the key of the performance. It also allows the listener an opportunity the pull off the highway and find a clean handkerchief to weep into.
The first line must clearly state the main theme.
"Cold Fort Worth beer just ain't no good for jealous"
- here we are left in no doubt what the song is about: the singer is an alcoholic. Although this example is especially fine in also introducing the suggestion that the singer's wife could well be shagging that bear in Alaska.
The second line should restate the theme strengthening it's impact and ensuring that the listener got the right idea;
"I've tried it night after night"
The third line develops the theme and tell of the consequences of the main thrust:
"You're in someone else's arms in Dallas"
Finally in the first verse the song title is introduced in a lyrically strong position, so ensuring any redneck can find it again on the jukebox.
"Does Fort Worth ever cross your mind?"
(Notice here the failure of the last line to rhyme. This is because America, although it took our language to it's heart, couldn't be bothered to pronounce it properly. If you come from anywhere south of the Macon-Dixon line then most of your words sound the same anyway.)
The subject matters for Country and Western song range wider than in any other popular or folk song idiom. There are no rules, boundaries or restrictions. Death, religion and bodily functions are all permissible, indeed eagerly anticipated, in a Country and Western song. The one dominating criteria is that a song must be relevant to the listener. The genius of George Strait in our present example is to take two themes that every American, without exception, can relate to ie. alcoholism and infidelity, and tie them up in a single neat package ie. verse one.
After this verse two is hardly worth mentioning. By now the audience is in a state of mental isolation making vows to himself and his maker to give up drink, sex and farting in public. This done, his or her attention returns for the middle eight.
No one knows why the "Middle Eight" or "Bridge" is so called. Some say it refers to the number of bars in the section but since no Country and Western artist can count to eight without the aid of dollar bills in his hand it seems unlikely. It has been suggested that the term "bridge" suggests that the section is a device to cover a key change leading into the last verse. Country and Western songs do not change key. That would confuse the banjo player and is just stupid.
This should not deceive the writer into thinking that it is a trivial or inconsequential part of the song.
A waltz is country and western music without a middle eight. No one ever cries during a waltz (unless your dancing partner is Orson Wells and he trod on your foot.). The middle eight is the song's tearjerker. If it is to be successful every device of emotional manipulation and blackmail available must be skilfully deployed. If it's "Stop shagging my best friend - or the hamster gets it" then the singer must be strong enough to pull the trigger and blow away the gun-smoke without hesitation. The word "compromise" is not in any dictionary kept in the Nashville County Library.
A full analysis of the techniques used are beyond the scope of this article but I refer the reader to Billy-Joe Bragg's excellent and scholarly exposition of the subject "The Bridge - Pathway to Precipitation."
Finally, we should not forget the last verse, although most songwriters do. Jerry Ramone once remarked "More than three chords in one song is a waste." The same can be said for verses. After two verses and a middle eight if you haven't got tears shed, pack up and go home.
Repeat the first verse and save on printer ink.
Opera has been described as country and western music without the banjos. And just as it is the task of the operatic composer to transcribe the human condition onto the stage heightening our perception of the emotions and human truths through the medium of music, so a country and western song should do the same - through a jukebox or car radio.
There's no more reasons not to go for it.
Sew on those sequins and sing for your dear wife.
Written and composed by:
David Benton - on behalf of Dr. Borinson (who has now been transferred to a hospital in Milton Keynes where he is being attended by bearded doctors in Fairisle sweaters and treated with hourly morris dances. (folky enough for you Pete???))