I was all set to do that here, but then I realized I was wrong. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is the greatest country song. So is “I Got Mexico.” So is “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “The Dance” and even - God help us - “Achy Breaky Heart” and thousands, maybe millions, of other songs.
All of them the perfect country song.
This realization came to me when I tried to define what it was that made a song the greatest. With all due respect to Steve Goodman and David Allen Coe, the perfect country and western song doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with mama or prison.
The perfect country song is the one song that you reach for when you’ve altered your consciousness to just the right point with music, memories or Miller Genuine Draft, the song that you sing along with, maybe cry along with and afterwards you feel a hell of a lot better.
If we use this as our definition, then it’s obvious that there are as many perfect country and western songs as there are people on this planet. Maybe more since your perfect song at age 16 will probably not be the perfect song when you hit 42.
This is slightly embarrassing, but years ago when I was trying to get over a girl who had left me and taken my heart with her, I used to crank up Ronnie Milsap’s “Almost Like a Song” and try to sing through that lump in my throat while I played a little air piano. At that stage of my life it was the perfect country song. It made me believe that maybe, just maybe, I would get over this lost love. And eventually I did. I give Milsap much of the credit for my recovery, and I still love that song, although it no longer affects me at the same emotional level.
Because now, to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson, I’ve got a good woman and I’m no longer wasted. My romantic life couldn’t be better; my professional life is another story. I’ve tried but have so far been unable to extricate myself from a day job that pays too well to be called dead-end, so let’s say it’s a cul-de-sac job. My fantasies are no longer about getting back with an old girlfriend, they’re about getting the heck away from those morons who sign my paycheck. Now “I Got Mexico” is the song I crank up when I’ve had one too many beers or bad days at the salt mine.
And yes, I know “I Got Mexico” is ostensibly about lost love, but every time Eddy and I sing the opening “I just tired of that same old job, tired of fighting that freeway mob” I know that this job is not going to drive me crazy. When I hear it and when I sing it I believe that things are going to be all right. It’s like therapy, only shorter and cheaper. Plus you don’t have to lie on some strange person’s couch. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
Thank you, Dr. Milsap. Thank you, Doctor Raven.