Sing Along With Dr. Phil
Published: June 29th, 2016
By: Jim Mullen

My radio station has changed formats once again.

They used to play the worst pop music from the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s and the first couple of years of the '90s, then they switched to the worst pop music from the '80s, '90s, Aughts and the first couple of years of the teens.

And now, they're playing the worst contemporary country music. They must have a deal with the record companies that lets them pay less royalties for bad songs than good ones.

The other possibility is there is no such thing as good contemporary country.

I used to tell people I liked all kinds of music, but that's not true. Techno-dance-rave music leaves me cold, I don't understand why people think Stephen Sondheim is God's gift to Broadway, and except for most of the the X-rated words, I can't understand the lyrics to most rap songs. What are they saying? "Booty something something booty booty something, crystal, bling, booty something."

Still, it's all very popular. Maybe that's why I don't like it. It's like Yogi Berra's comment about a popular restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

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I used to like a lot of country music. I remember the first time I heard Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" in 1968. It was shocking. It was one thing to sing a song about heartbreak, or about the man who got away, or even the man (or woman) who done you wrong -- but a divorce! It wasn't something to sing about back then. Things were changing, but it was still looked on as some kind of character flaw. You could almost hear the neighbors whispering about it: "What was the matter with her?" or "I don't know how she put up with him so long."

People who should have divorced stayed married because they felt the gossip would be more than they could take. No one bragged about being a single mother back then. Divorce was so taboo back then that in the song, Tammy spelled out the word to keep the kids from understanding. Now, people brag about getting divorces. They hold parties after signing all the decrees.

For about the last decade, country music has been about driving past your ex's house in a pickup truck you haven't paid for while watching your kids on a pontoon boat with their new daddy. It's a new genre of country called "Self-Inflicted Problems." It's like a "Dr. Phil" show set to music.

It's easy to see why that kind of song would be a hit with people who have made a string of bad choices in their lives, but do you really want to go to a concert and hang out with a few thousand of them? First, where'd they get the money to buy the tickets? Shouldn't they be paying off the pickup and making child support payments? Maybe they'd still be married if they'd taken their wives to concerts instead of going to bars and whining about what a ball and chain she is. If she was that bad, then why did you marry her? It's like singing about your adult-onset diabetes. Stop eating so much sugar and you might write the next "Crazy" instead of "You Want to Do What to My Toes?"

Normally, if you don't like a song, you can just flip to another station, put in a CD or stream your own music. But I've heard all my own music and long, hard experience has taught me that there are long, lonesome stretches of this vast country that are either radio-free, or where the only station you can get specializes in the Worst Music Ever Recorded. The satellite stations are almost as bad. The only advantage they have is, they play bad music when you're out of range of bad regular radio.

You know things are bad when you hear better music while shopping in the big box store than you do on the radio. But then, the stores want their shoppers to be happy. Radio doesn't seem to care.