From Hank Williams to Heaven

There are currently 3 songs in the country top 40 that explicitly talk about religion and/or God: “Like Jesus Does”- Eric Church, “Changed”- Rascal Flatts, and “Only God Could Love You More” – Jerrod Niemann. And off the top of my head, I can think of ten more that have been released over the past few years. Country music is very vocal when it comes to religion. It is hard to mention a well established country artist who has not recorded a religious song or album of some kind. Alan Jackson recently released Precious Memories Volume Two, an album originally recorded for his mother, of the songs that they used to sing in church. And it’s in our history. I Saw The Light. Will The Circle Be Unbroken. And we even have a ‘Mother Church of Country Music’ in the Ryman Auditorium.

Country music primarily draws on ‘southern values, or way of life’. Whether by this they mean family, trucks, beer, fishing, and religion – these themes are ever present in country music, and, debatably, what makes country music ‘country.’ Today I want to focus on the religion aspect of country music. There are songs in other genres about cars and family, and there are certainly drinking songs. Religion, however, is almost a taboo subject in other mainstream popular music.

So what allows country music to explore religion so freely? The trajectory that country music has taken is almost entirely dependent on the past and is interwoven with American history and by extension, its religious development. The traditional idea of God was that he was to be feared, and that one must live a pious life, to be in with a chance of salvation. Take a look at “Satan is Real” by the Louvin Brothers for an example of this old style view. This began to change in the 1800s, during the early years of America, and it became enough to show repentance and believe in God, and he would forgive the wrongdoing. This is perfectly illustrated in this quote from the Warren Brothers:

“I wake up every Sunday mornin’,
So I can go to church and pray.
But after some of my Saturday nights,
Things just don’t turn out that way.
I think even the Good Lord, he understands,
That I’m at that point in my career.
That I don’t sell a lot of records,
But I sure sell a lot of beer.”

Family life was for the most part, based on religion. People went to church as a family, and as country music knows there is nothing more important than family. My experience of religion in America was that it was open, vibrant and friendly, it was a community and family. And I suppose that’s what country music is to me, a community. For many people, and especially the many who listen to country music, religion is an important part of their lives. With religion being so deeply embedded in the history of America, particularly the South, it would be almost impossible for country music not to embrace it.

The three songs that we have in the charts at the moment are very different. We have two love songs, and one song that is primarily a gospel song. The two love songs use God in a way to express their love of someone by comparing their love of their partners, or their partners love of them, to the love of God for all people. I’ve been told by many a writer in Nashville to ‘write what you know,’ and that’s just what these guys are doing. They are using religion in their lyrics with sincerity, none of the songs show any discrimination, they are merely expressing their views, moulded by their upbringing. I’m not a religious person, but my mother once told me that I could do a whole lot worse than ‘live my life like a country song told me to’. I think that’s true. If an artist wants to sing about religion to convey that message, then that’s fine by me.

1 Comment

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