Where liberals love to cite empirical studies, the best country tugs heartstrings, shapes values, and reminds you that some things are just true no matter how much social engineers try to obscure them.
Several conservative authors have noted that poets express conservatism best, and country music is about as ostentatiously conservative as it gets. Where liberals love to cite empirical studies, the best country tugs heartstrings, shapes values, and reminds you that some things are just true no matter how much social engineers try to obscure them. Here are some of the best examples.
Two notes before we hit the list:
First off: I wrote a misleading headline. I don’t pretend these are objectively the best conservative country songs of all time Three friends got me into country a few years ago, there’s a lot of it I still haven’t heard. But it was listening to some of these songs that prompted me to write this post. These songs aren’t complex, yet neither are they mundane. They meet you where you are, and remind you to seek the transcendent from that spot, minute by minute. Comments are welcome—what other country songs do this?
Second: three qualifications. In this list, I largely tried to avoid the platitudinous—the obvious, clichéd stuff. So despite the fact that I like George Strait, he’s not on this list. I’ve also tried to avoid the hickish; the “I am an uncultured swine and proud of it” stuff that glorifies ignorance or implies that sophomoric irresponsibility is behavior characteristic of a “real man.” Finally, this list does tend to trend newer, because it’s simply what I’ve been listening to lately; I don’t mean to imply anything inferior about older country music.
And now, the list:
(1) “Outside my Window” by Sarah Buxton
Buxton is self-consciously corny and childish in this song, but in a way, that’s good—the song doesn’t take itself too seriously. What it does do is remind us that there are permanent truths. It is possible to become too grown up to live like a human was meant to live.
(You) still need stars when you’re wishin’ at night
A best friend to set you right, a good laugh, a warm bath
And a beautiful song you can sing along to
Good news that’ll make you cry
All the little things that money can’t buy
(2) “It’s America” by Rodney Atkins/”The Good Stuff” by Kenny Chesney
There had to be one patriotic song on this list. But unlike some of the cheesier, more airy-fairy patriotic songs like “God Bless the U.S.A.,” or the neoconservative war songs like “Have You Forgotten,” Atkins’ America is about people and their life together. (If you need further proof, listen to his defiantly localist “These Are My People.”)
Chesney’s “The Good Stuff” has much the same take on marriage. The little things, the concrete relational interactions, the life the couple has built together are what really define the institution for the singer.
Later on when I got home
I flipped the TV on
I saw a little town that some big
Twister tore apart
And people came from miles around
Just to help their neighbors out
I was thinkin’ to myself
I’m so glad that I live in America
(3) Any Brad Paisley love song
No breezy “love is a feeling” stuff with Paisley. No sense that love will fade when the passion does. Paisley’s songs always find beauty in his woman—because he’s always looking for it. For example, from Paisley’s “She’s Everything:”
She’s the giver I wish I could be
And the stealer of the covers
She’s a picture in my wallet
and my unborn children’s mother
She’s the hand that I’m holding
When I’m on my knees and praying
She’s the answer to my prayer
And she’s the song that I’m playing
(4) “I’m Still a Guy”/”You Need a Man Around Here” by Brad Paisley
One more entry from Paisley—these two songs together are a lighthearted reminder of the differing yet complementary natures of men and women (a recurring theme in his music).
You need a man around here
You can’t do it all by yourself
To me it’s painfully clear
That you could use a little help
Someone to kill the spiders
Change the channel and drink the beer
Seems to me that you sure need
A man around here
(5) “Around Here Somewhere” by Phil Vassar
Vassar’s songs can be more serious than a lot of country music. This song is about an apparently failing marriage—at any rate, the passion has faded. What is significant is where the couple looks for it—in the life they have built together. What finally redeems the mostly sad song is the last chorus, in which the singer calls his wife to remember their vows—it is their commitment that will sustain their love, not the other way around; like a nation, a marriage remains strong by binding itself back to a beginning.
Well, it can’t be gone, it can’t be gone, it’s just
Behind the door, inside the house
Between the pillows on the couch
Under the bed, up on some shelf
Behind these walls we built ourselves
Under the sun behind the moon
From January until June
A promise made, a promise kept
Baby, let’s retrace our steps
Somewhere between hope and despair
It’s got to be around here somewhere
(6) “The House that Built Me” by Miranda Lambert
Possibly the most conservative country song I’ve heard. No individualism here. The singer knows, deeply, that her past has shaped who she is—memory is a crucial part of identity, and of healing her when she is broken. Without her mother, her father, her history—where she came from, what made her—she is incomplete.
Mama cut out pictures of houses for years
From Better Homes and Gardens magazine
Plans were drawn and concrete poured
Nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama’s dream
You leave home and you move on and you do the best you can
I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am
I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself
If I could walk around I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.
Brian Brown loves building the environments, habits, and networks that make people thrive. He is the founder of Humane Pursuits, where he writes a featured column and edits the Give channel. He started his consulting company, Narrator, to help great mission-driven organizations modernize and grow. He lives with his wife Christina and son Edmund in Colorado Springs, where they mix cocktails, hunt for historic architecture, and see how many people they can squeeze into their house for happy hour.