Citation
Country music as a social barometer in postwar America

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Title:
Country music as a social barometer in postwar America
Creator:
McGraw, J. Patrick
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
x, 107 leaves : illustrations ; 29 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Master's ( Master of arts)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Communication, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Communication

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
To 1960 ( fast )
Country music -- Social aspects -- To 1951 ( lcsh )
Country music -- Social aspects -- 1951-1960 ( lcsh )
Country music -- Social aspects ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 106-107).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, Department of Communication.
Statement of Responsibility:
by J. Patrick McGraw.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
23379203 ( OCLC )
ocm23379203
Classification:
LD1190.L48 1990m .M33 ( lcc )

Full Text
COUNTRY MUSIC AS A SOCIAL BAROMETER
IN POST-WAR AMERICA
by
J. Patrick McGraw
B.S., University of Colorado, 1985
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts '
Department of Communication


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by J. Patrick McGraw
has been approved for the
Department of
Communication
by
Mike Monsour
t -
Date
\> 'll6}#


McGraw, J. Patrick (M.A., Communication)
Country Music as a Social Barometer in Post-War
America.
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Jon Winterton.
The study attempted to establish whether the
medium of country music could be used as an
unobtrusive measure of social change in the United
States as World War II wound down in 1944 and during
the first years of the ensuing peace, through 1956.
The contents of country tunes identified by recording
industry analysts as particularly popular or
influential were subjected to rhetorical analysis to
determine how the lyrics changed after the war, and
the results were correlated to post-war developments
in society itself. Comparisons of the subject of the
lyrics with the U.S. divorce rate after the war
determined that the rate of failed marriages soared
during the early stages of the period studied, as did
the frequency mention of infidelity and other forms
of romantic distress in country-music lyrics.
Research methods included classifying the
subject matter of country tunes popular between 1944
and 1956 into several categories, including "cheating
tunes" for musical releases dealing with romantic


problems. U.S. Government figures for the nation's
divorce rate were utilized as well.
The research identified country lyrics as one
form of unobtrusive social observation to gauge
developments in the social order. The utility of the
measure is limited, however. While the study found
country music reflecting increases in romantic and
marital discord or, at least, the public
manifestation of such distress the lyrics did not
reflect contemporaneous developments in other areas,
including, most notably, criminal activity.
V


CONTENTS
Figures.................................... IX
Acknowledgments.............................. X
CHAPTER
1 . THE PROBLEM................................ 1
The Premise................................ 1
Methodology................................ 2
Social Context......................... 4
Similar Efforts........................ 6
History.................................... 7
Radio.................................. 8
The War Ends........................... 9
Black Influence....................... 10
New Aspirations....................... 11
Country Expands....................... 12
National Reflection?.................. 14
Social Barometer...................... 14
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE................... 19
Uncritical Literature..................... 20
Folk Connections.......................... 21
Music and Values.......................... 23
Paying Dues........................... 27
The Lomaxes........................... 28
Country Scholars........................... 30
Other Scholarship..................... 32


Rock Manifestations................... 33
The Social Context......................... 35
Jimmie N. Rogers...................... 37
Linking Music and Society.................. 38
3 METHODOLOGY.................................. 41
Potential Problems......................... 41
Other's Conclusions........................ 45
Initial Calculations....................... 48
Categories............................ 49
Ongoing Presumptions....................... 50
4 DATA......................................... 54
Chart Longevity............................ 54
Chart Turnover............................. 55
Summary List............................... 56
Definitions........................... 57
Number One Charting and
Other Influential Tunes.................... 59
Divorce Rates......................... 62
5 DISCUSSION................................... 66
Musicians As Observers..................... 66
A Clear Trend.............................. 67
Other Media Developments................... 71
Unhappiness Goes Public.................... 72
Musical Reflections................... 73
Buying In............................. 75
*


Travis as Observer.................... 78
Hank and Lefty........................ 78
Changes in the Music....................... 81
Divorce as a Social Index.................. 82
Elvis and the "Cats".................. 83
6. CONCLUSION
Obvious Perils............................. 87
Postwar Changes............................ 88
Hearts and Numbers......................... 90
Other Questions............................ 91
Signal Weaknesses.......................... 92
Bias in Academe............................ 93
Rich Resources............................. 94
Cross-Generational Appeal.................. 96
Why Not Me?................................ 97
APPENDIX
A. YEAR-BY-YEAR LIST OF TUNES.................. 99
BIBLIOGRAPHY..................................... 106


FIGURES
Figure
2.1. Incidence of Cheating Songs
On Country Charts........................ 63
2.2. Post-War American
Divorce Rates............................ 64
IX


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Grateful thanks are due members of the staff of
The Country Music Foundation Library, Nashville,
Tenn., and especially Ronnie Pugh for helping with
the search for information.
Also due thanks are members of the
Communication Department of the University of
Colorado at Denver, Professors Sam Betty and Mike
Monsour and for years Robley Rhine.
The most valuable assistance, however, came
from Professor Jon Winterton, who provided constant
encouragement during five years at the University.
His advice and observations, if put to the kind of
music discussed here, ranged from "I'm Losing My Mind
Over You" to "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" during
moments of frustration, to "Give Me More, More, More"
as this project unfolded. It is because of Professor
Winterton I was able to say "So Long Pal" to the city
- where I didn't belong and go home.
X


CHAPTER 1
THE PROBLEM
The central question of this thesis will be
whether a particular segment of popular music, in
this case, country music, can be utilized as a
reflection and illustration of changes in post-war
American society. The period, specifically, will be
the end of World War II in 1946 until the explosion
of rock and roll in 1956.
The Premise
The major underlying premise is that study of the
modern or contemporary rhetoric of a given time -
including country music in post-war America -may
provide an unobtrusive barometer with which to
measure social trends and development.
Can a cultural medium, such as one form of the
"popular" music people in given society in a given
time of history favored, trace developments in
society itself? If so, did the musical form reflect
noteworthy social changes in the period under study?
More generally, does modern or contemporary rhetoric
reflect developments in the society which produces or


popularizes such rhetoric?
If there is a connection between the music of a
given time and the social order itself, three
possibilities for the significance of the rhetoric
emerge:
It may be the rhetoric of such popular music is
reportorial, simply conveying observed events in
society, or enabling, giving individuals permission
to engage in certain activity by publicizing that
certain trends are underway. Or the rhetoric may be
both reportorial and enabling.
Methodology
This effort will involve using the themes and
lyrics of the music of the period as representative
of the culture in which they won popularity, citing
other researchers' observations that the content of
music does correlate to the values and lifestyles of
those who like and purchase various kinds of songs.
Because of the time period under scrutiny, this
project would fall into the general category of
"historical-critical research" and, to a degree, into
"rhetorical criticism.
Country music, among the various types of
popular music extant during the period under study,
2


may be nearly ideal for such analysis, as country
lyrics reflect their genesis in the American folk
tradition. Country tunes are about real life,
telling usually without much subtlety of the
issues and concerns involving the people who write,
sing or purchase the musical product.1
Tucker, Weaver and Berryman-Fink observed that
"In rhetorical criticism, the researcher focuses on
any artifact that is subject to analysis. For
example, a researcher could focus on the rhetoric of
a prominent personality, a cartoon character, a piece
of music or a television program. Utilizing all of
one's knowledge of the social milieu that provided
the essential backdrop, the researcher attempts to
draw conclusions about the effort." 2
This project will make some incursions into the
area of descriptive research as well, applying
content analysis as appropriate. Although the medium
addressed in this thesis, country music, does not
lend itself well to strict application of the
statistical method associated with content analysis,
a modified use of the approach will direct this study
to three of Berelson's goals in such research: (A)
"To describe the characteristics of the content
itself," (B) to "make valid inferences" from the
content about the "characteristics" of its producers
3


and (C) "to interpret the content so as to reveal
something about the nature of its audience or its
effects." 3
Social Context
Country music is nearly ideal for pursuit of
Berelson's second and third goals, as the medium is
not merely entertainment. Certainly more than
classical or "serious" music, and perhaps more than
rock, country musicians and fans alike regard their
music as both social commentary and philosophical
declaration. When the country audience cheered Merle
Haggard's opening line, "We don't smoke marijuana in
Muskogee" in 1970, it was not merely expressing
approval of a clever tune. Members of the audience,
instead, were "buying in" to Haggard's social
viewpoint. As long-haired opponents of Mr. Johnson's
War appeared to much of America to have taken control
of the nation's colleges and universities, Haggard
responded with a counterpunch, extolling the virtue
of Middle America as epitomized in the Oklahoma town:
Leather boots are still in style for manly
footwear.
4


Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen.
Football's still the roughest thing on campus,
And the kids there still respect the college
dean." 4
As with the 60s, the end of World War II marked
the beginning of a number of changes in the social
order and in American values. As in the 60s, it
appears country music addressed many of them.
Country music is an ideal medium from which to
attempt to glean social trends because the music is,
by definition, populist. It is not good enough for a
country performer to merely sing songs; he must also
be "one of us." In addition, country music is a
product of the folk tradition, in which songs about
real people and situations are predominant. A
country singer is not a social theoritician or
student of the arts; he is often "off the bus" in
Nashville, singing about what he knows empirically.
If the aspiring performer's personal life includes
romantic turbulence, financial woe and even a few
scrapes with the law, so much the better. It makes
him or her "real."
5


Similar Efforts
Although attempting to relate country music to
events and developments in the larger social context
is an unusual enterprise, the idea of relating
developments in other arts to the rest of the social
order is not new. Philosopher Hazel Barnes and art
historian David Hawkins, for example, included music,
literature and art of the same periods to compare
each with the other. Their program, an undergraduate
course at the University of Colorado at Boulder in
the 1960s, began with Homer and ended with William
Faulkner in literature, comparing the products of
that medium with developments in the others of
various ages. Gothic literature, music and art, for
example, shared the same dark tone.
Less expansive but more contemporary efforts
along the same line include such works as A Passing
Parade. which will be cited later, in which the
author uses times charts to track contemporaneous
developments and events in the media, film, music,
fashion and sports. In fact, most time lines or
charts, by their graphic nature, either imply or
illustrate links between the events of a given
period.
In his 1989 book The Country Music Message
6


Revisited. country scholar Jimmie N. Rogers (chairman
of the Communication Department of the University of
Arkansas) notes that country music is similar in many
ways to other forms of communication, replete with a
source, message, channel, receiver/decoder, feedback
and the potential for breakdowns. "These elements,
most often used to describe interpersonal
communication (interaction between two individuals)
are easily expanded to include mass communication, as
mass communication is an extension of that at a
personal level." While records are produced by the
thousands or, in some cases, millions, the tune is
heard two ears at a time. "[T]he act of listening
becomes an interpersonal experience between the
singer and listener."5
History
In early America, as in cultures everywhere
else, the first form of communication was basically
interpersonal, as one individual spoke (or sang) and
another listened. As American society expanded and
communication technologies developed, the nation
moved toward mass media for dissemination of news,
the arts and of other information.
7


The early 20th Century saw potential audiences
grow as never before, as such media as motion
pictures, phonograph records and radio emerged as
communication "channels." Because of the emerging
communications technology, the amount and the nature
of information and entertainment available to the
masses of the nation after World War II had changed
from the traditional media which had been available
to them for 200 years. Americans were no longer
solely reliant on print for news or sheet music and
word-of-mouth for transmission of music across the
land.
Radio
Barely 20 years old as the war ended, radio had
become a mighty influence in American life and World
War II had been the nation's first "radio war...
"[I]t was the voice of immediacy during the war. By
1947, 34.8 million of the 38.5 million households in
the country had at least one radio receiver; there
were 8.5 million in use in automobiles, and another
21.6 million in stores, hotels and institutions; in
short, an American had to go out of his way to avoid
the cacophonous din of music and commercials. Radio
reigned as America's sole national means of
communication." 6
8


The development of such media also changed the
rules for the scholar, as it provided a new mirror
with which to view social trends. The audience for
broadcast discourse, be it spoken or musical, was
potentially everyone who owned or could come within
earshot of a radio or phonograph. No longer was the
printed word and its circulation the only indication
of what a nation was thinking. Americans who didn't
(or couldn't) read signaled their preferences for
entertainment with a turn of the radio dial or the
purchase of a recording or of a theater ticket. The
choices they made help reflect what had become the
national ethos, the set of presumptions and behaviors
the country had come to adopt.
The War Ends
Every American military conflict had to deal
with returning veterans and the trauma of restoring a
peace-time economy, of course, but the period after
World War II was the first in which there was a
single, common, communicating denominator, and it was
radio. And that was new in the American experience.
Likewise, the end of World War II marked the
beginning of a new agenda for American blacks, who
had fared relatively well in terms of broadcast
9


characterization during the conflict, in part because
the fascism that had been America's mortal enemy for
the duration of the war was based in large measure on
racist premises. Because of the martial efforts "of
black servicemen fighting against international
racists, radio in the United States consistently
began portraying blacks as it had never attempted to
do in the past.
"Special programs and series extolled black
culture, achievement and heroism. They pointed at
injustice and demanded freedom of opportunity. These
programs used words that were alien to pre-war radio:
brotherhood and integration, equality, prejudice." 7
Black Influence
Black culture, specifically music, had begun to
expand its influence as well. The music of black
America, easily the most graphic and brutally honest
of any on the North American continent, flavored the
music of such performers as Hank Williams. His
mentors included Rufus "Tee-Tot" Payne, a black
singer Williams had befriended in his youth. Sam
Phillips, owner of a tiny record studio Memphis, was
the first in his craft to realize and act on the
realization that black music held enormous appeal for
10


America's young people. But he also realized that,
given the social realities of the country in the
early 1950s, it would take a white artist to
introduce it. He would find such an artist in a
young man he dubbed The Hillbilly Cat, Elvis Presley.
Before radio came into its own in America,
artists were introduced to relatively small
audiences, live show by show by show. With the
radio, and, later, television, such performers as
Williams and Presley could be introduced to millions
of listeners at the same time, ignoring social and
geographical barriers which had characterized the
nation's culture for 450 years.
New Aspirations
The egalitarianism radio had helped to spawn
was at work in academe as well, as the post-war G.I.
Bill was helping 2.3 million veterans many of whom
without any pre-war chance at all for a higher
education attend college. Their motivations were
materialistic, a sort of domestic variation of what
John Kennedy would later characterize as the
"revolution of rising expectations" a generation
later. A home of his own, a new car and the
appliances radio was touting led the veteran hurry
11


"to earn the degree and enter the job market" in
search of the "good life." 8
Another element at work, in part the product of
the electric national medium, in part the product of
the personal agenda most Americans agreed upon and in
part the product of the cross-regional communication
brought on by the war was a new national culture.
True, ever since motion pictures became a widespread
commercial medium in 1920s, Americans across the
country could had a universal frame of reference.
But in the dawn of the electronic age, almost every
American could be discussing the same news event or
radio show or dramatization at the same time. Nearly
40 percent of the nation could be counted on to block
out part of its Sunday night to listen to Charlie
McCarthy and Jack Benny; Monday morning America had
something in common to talk about. 9
Country Expands
Country music, for 300 years the backwoods
component of American musical culture, was subject to
such social expansion as well. The music -which had
been the province of the American South historically
-earned new fans, some of them converts from their
exposure to it from their war-time colleagues in the
12


barracks, some of them won over by the powerful
regional broadcasts of "hillbilly" fare from such
stations as WLS in Chicago and WSM in Nashville.
Until radio exposed the music to all of America
and Johnny came marching home humming a hillbilly
tune, country music had been one of America's most
static musical forms. The ballads of Victorian
England had been discovered in the work of American
mountain people, the tunes and lyrics virtually
unchanged. 10 But radio, which had broadcast its
first "barn dance" in 1923 had been introducing
country music to new audiences all along, although
the formula had typically been to provide nostalgia,
"to remind you folks of the good fun and fellowship
of the barn warmings, the buzzing bees and the square
dances in our farm communities of yesteryear and even
today." 11
The country fare on radio before and through
World War II was basically traditional, steeped in
the traditions of religious music, the "family band"
and ballads. The fiddler, long the only essential
component of the barn dance, was among the most
prominent forces in broadcast country music as well.
Tunes like "The Preacher and the Bear" put folk tales
and situations to music, had dominated the early
recording industry and early radio had not wandered
13


too far beyond. 10 Patriotic and war-related tunes
had been among the most popular country releases of
the 1940s, including Elton Britt's "There's A Star
Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere," which in 1944
became the first country record to win what became
the major accolade in the recording industry the
gold record. 13
National Reflection?
But whether the traditional music and its war-
time replacement reflected the national spirit of the
time is another question. The purpose of this
inquiry is to determine whether the changes about in
the land after World War II were reflected in country
music itself. And just as there was no single change
which fairly summarizes the American experience after
the war, there were a variety of developments
underway in country music as well. And, as with most
other social signals, no single direction appears
clear.
Social Barometer
There are, however, methods by which to identify
which topics and concerns surfaced most often in a
14


given medium, and this is what this effort will
attempt to do. If particular themes appeared for the
first time and gained particular standing in the
medium of country music, then it could be argued that
the same subjects had become a focus or concern of
that audience. And if the tunes were discussing
issues that had not been discussed before such as
divorce and other romantic distress the development
may indicate that such "forbidden" topics had emerged
from America's closets. The grand buildings of a
civilization, after all, illustrate only one
dimension of a society. Anthropologists interested
in the Native American cultures of the southwest are
fascinated with the cliff dwellings and other
magnificent remnants of that age, but the scholars
must examine more pedestrian data such as what the
people who lived then put out in their trash to
determine how they really lived.
So it may be that such edifices as the United
Nations Building represent the global aspirations of
the American republic and much of the rest of the
world, but how things were going at home is a tale
far better told by such data as what tunes Americans
were listened to, at the rate of seven plays for a
quarter in the jukebox. "As the audience experiences
life from different perspectives," Rogers noted, "so
15


will the writers and performers tell of it." 14
Specifically, then, we will attempt to discover
whether there were any quantifiable, visible trends
in post-war America which reflect the rhetoric of the
lyrics in country music.
16


Notes
1. Hank Thompson, telephone interview, July 1990.
2. Raymond Tucker, Richard L. Weaver II, Cynthia
Berryman-Fink, Research in Speech Communication.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
1981, page 71.
3. Bernard Berelson, Content Analysis in
Communication Research. New York, Free Press,
1952, page 18.
4. Merle Haggard, "Okie from Muskogee," Copyright
1970.
5. Jimmie N. Rogers, The Country Music Message
Revisited. Fayetteville, Ark., University of
Arkansas Press, 1989, page XX.
6. Joseph C. Goulden, The Best Years 1945 ^
1950. New York, Atheneum, 1976, page 155.
7. J. Fred MacDonald, Don't Touch That Dial: Radio
Programming in American Life from 1920 to 1960.
Chicago, Nelson-Hall, 1979, page 355.
8. Goulden, page 71.
9. Harrison B. Summers, A Thirty-Year History of
Programs Carried on National Radio Networks in
the United States 1926 1956. New York, Arno
Press, Inc., 1971, page 65.
10. Alan Lomax, Folk Songs of North America. New
York, Dolphin Books Edition, 1975, Doubleday and
Co., 1960, page 170.
11. Patrick Carr, editor, Illustrated History of
Country Music. New York, Dolphin Books edition,
1980, Doubleday and Co., 1979, page 60.
12. Joseph Murrells, Million Selling Records from the
1900s to the 1980s. New York, Arco Publishing
Co., Inc., 1985, 14-16.
17


13. Murrells, page 45.
14. Rogers, page 242.
18


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Country music has never been a popular subject
in American scholarship, perhaps because the subject
itself has traditionally been characterized as the
province of rednecks, truck drivers and beer-nursing
clods. "It used to be," country singer Charlie Pride
once observed, "that if you were listening to country
music on the radio in your car, you'd switch stations
when you came to a stop light so no one would know."1
Much of the music's "image problem," if that is
the proper term, is due to its perceived
constituency working class people.
Particularly after World War II, country music
scholar Bill Malone wrote, "country songs tended to
concentrate on the concerns and preoccupations of
working people and to have melodies that the average
person could hum or sing. The music was 'realistic'
...about every-day concerns... Country songs,
however, seldom protested against larger political
and social problems, but instead voiced a
preoccupation with private sins and worries."2


The irony is that the same topical intimacy
which invites derision and ridicule especially in
tunes deal with personal problems or work is the
quality which forms much of country's appeal. True,
"Take This Job and Shove It" is but a three-chord
tune and its lyrics pose no threat to America's
high-brow poets. But the tune is one anyone can
approximate in the shower or on the assembly line and
the sentiment is one held by almost all working men
and women at one time or another. It is not,
however, the stuff which attracts extensive
scholarship.
Uncritical Literature
Much of what literature there is about the music
tends to be artist-oriented, uncritically written to
please the fans of that particular performer. The
literature about the medium generally seems to come
in spurts, with considerable print generated by the
attention country music garnered in the early 1980s
when the movie Urban Cowboy made the music the fad of
the day.
A student of country music, then, is confronted
with a dearth (although not a total absence) of
scholarly material on the subject. And while that


poses problems, it also offers opportunity for
breaking new ground through such devices as secondary
data analysis, researching what themes were popular
at a given time and relating them to the developments
in society at large.
One anecdotal but telling indication of the
appeal of country music to scholars is the Music
Library at the University of Colorado in Boulder. A
vast collection of books deals with music in many
forms but country America's own music merits only
three or four feet of space on the shelves.
While serious scholars at that university, such
as Hazel Barnes and David Hawkins, have attempted to
relate different types of music, art and literature
to different historical epochs Baroque art, music
and writing, for example country music has never
enjoyed the standing afforded even the transistory
subgroupings of rock music and certainly come no
where near attracting the attention scholars lend
"classical" and orchestral work.
Folk Connections
There is an occasional glimmer of understanding
of what country music is saying and how it relates to
society in a given time, however. A good example is


the book Carry It On. written by Pete Seeger and Bob
Reiser and published in 1985. The book is composed
primarily of labor movement songs and stories. To
their enormous credit, the authors decided to include
"9 to 5," a Dolly Parton tune which topped both the
pop and country charts in 1980, among the working-
class tunes included in the book. If the rhetoric in
the tune, which was on the country charts for 14
weeks, isn't a class-based political assertion, then
little else in music or literature qualifies either:
Nine-to-five, yeah they got you
where they want you.
There's a better world, you
think about it, don't you.
It's a rich man's game, no matter
what they call it.
And you spend your life putting
money in their wallet. 3
The possibility that the tune's popularity may
well have been based in the seething unhappiness of
female office workers escaped most scholars' notice,
but Seeger no mean scholar himself is properly
sensitive to such "pop" cultural commentary. The
apartness from the "good life" that was part of the


American psyche after World War II was evident in the
country music of that day as well. Hank Snow's "The
Last Ride" speaks of the death of a hobo who died for
want of medical attention:
I knew the fever had you, Jack,
But the doctor just wouldn't come.
He was too busy treating the wealthy folks
To doctor a worn-out bum. 4
Likewise, Snow's "Married by the Bible, Divorced
by the Law," which achieved the Top 10 in the country
charts in 1952, spoke to the lamented passing of the
sacredness of such vows, but no scholar of the era,
according to the literature available, has fully
exploited the potential for charting the state of
American society by examining the country lyrics of
the period under scrutiny.
Music and Values
As with some forms of rock and a wide range of
ethnic forms of music, individuals who adopt country
music as their own are marking more than an aesthetic
judgement. The fan, by opting to listen to country
music, is "buying in" to a set of values and styles.


A country fan, like a punk rocker with his orange
hair and leather jacket, is likely to adopt the
wardrobe and the other trappings of style of the
medium, boots and all. In many ways, becoming a fan
of country music involves lifestyle decisions, not
just exercising options of musical taste.
The same could be said other subcultures or
communities of interest. IWW Songs, better known as
"the little red songbook," for example, spoke more of
the heart and soul of the rank-and-file members of
the International Workers of the World than did the
author's of the labor group's more theoretical
essayists. And "Take This Hammer," a tune chronicled
by John and Alan Lomax, was cited by Seeger as
indicative of the mindset (or, more precisely, the
daydream) of black convict laborers in the early part
of this century:
Take this hammer, carry it to the captain,
Take this hammer, carry it to the captain,
Take this hammer, carry it to the captain.
You tell him I'm gone.
You tell him I'm gone.
Likewise, the music of various religious
communities is a bellweather of the particular sect's


religious orientation. Until the last two decades,
one could tell whether he was in a Catholic or one of
a number of Protestant Churches by looking about to
see how many hymnals were about. The Catholics', to
the degree they had any at all, were in Latin, while
many Protestant denominations' more exuberant music
signaled a different approach to worship.
While some the evolution of some such
subcultures was accompanied by attendant music, other
subcultures became intimately identified with a
single tune. Seeger is only one among many scholars
and non-scholars who links "We Shall Overcome" to the
civil rights movement of the 1960s, for example.
And individuals who opt for country music are
making a declaration about more than their musical
taste: Country, more than almost any other musical
variety, "says something" in the lyrics, and a
country fan who does not identify with what is being
said is about as unlikely to appreciate the music as
a stuffy conservative would have appreciated the
topical music of Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger during the
1960s. Country music is a fraternity, with its own
range agreed-upon values. Time and again, artists
interviewed about their criteria for selecting
material report "relating" to the lyrics or
determining that they reflect "the way life is."


Divorce, lost love, job or drinking problems and
a sort of Jeffersonian idealization of an agrarian
America in a simpler time are not the sole province
of country fans, but the music to which they listen
discusses such matters again and again. And while
hit records sell in the thousands, a tune such as
"Why Me Lord?" is a personal tune, addressing issues
at an individual, almost intimate level.
Edwards and Singletary are among scholars noting
that a shared musical taste can reflect shared
lifestyle decisions as well. Speaking of rock fans
in an analysis which fits country music fans as well,
the duo wrote, "Bonded by more than fleeting fancy,
radio audiences [of a particular musical format] can
constitute authentic subcultures, groups with shared
perceptions and lifestyles." In fact, the scholars
maintain, the existence of such subcultures has been
"recognized and in s sense 'legitimized' by" stations
adopting particular musical formats in the first
place.5
For the country fan, the lifestyle includes
visible trappings of dress; an observer may find a
few individuals who aren't wearing boots on a
Saturday night in a country honky-tonk where music is
featured, but he won't find many. And while there is
no way to quantify the observation, it is clear to a


long-time country-music observer that a fan isn't
"really" a fan as far as his or her peers are
concerned unless he or she knows something about the
singer as well as the song.
Paving Dues
Further, country fans demand that practitioners
of their music are genuine. "Paying dues" is a
requirement unique to country music. Few rock fans
would begrudge a new hero who bounded from suburbia
to the fore of the coliseum circuit, but a country
performer who sang of despair and hard times without
"being there" at one point or another would be
summarily dismissed as a phony. A lifetime of
listening to country music and watching others who
share my taste convinces me that the reason the
Osmond Brothers the musical equal of any other
group in the business have never succeeded in
country is that fans perceive that life has been easy
for them.
The typical country song, to the degree there
is one, deals with life's hardships, as the genesis
of the music is America's working class. Merle
Travis and his coal-miner songs dealt with one of the
most-dangerous and least-lucrative class of workers


in America; Merle Haggard found little "happy" to
write about when he reflected, musically, of his
prison experience. While an upbeat country tune
turns up occasionally, most of it deals with life's
tragedies, disappointments and outrages. Using the
tunes listed in the appendix as an example, one finds
only two tunes with basically happy lyrics in 1950
when 16 are listed; the same numbers for 1951 and
1952 are three of 15 and one of 12, respectively.
The only-occasional incidence of up-beat tunes
appears to prevail to this day.
The Lomaxes
Among the early scholars to address at least a
portion of what has come to be known collectively as
country music was John A. Lomax, who compiled and
wrote Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads in
1910. He and son, Alan, were responsible for
compiling a good deal of America's folk music and
putting it to ink and they were associated with the
Library of Congress's Archive of American Folk-Song
starting in 1933.6
Publication of Alan Lomax's The Folk Songs of
North America in 1960 coincided with the folk music
craze that followed the Kingston Trio's 1958 release


of "Tom Dooley." The Lomax book was among the first
attempts to give each segment of American society's
home-spun music its due, and the book was divided
into more than 30 segments, each addressing a
particular subculture during a particular era, such
as cowboys, Yankee soldiers and sailors, Southern
hillbillies, black spirituals and the blues. While
many of the descriptions are merely anecdotal, many
others discuss the tunes as a reflection of the work
and lifestyles of the music's authors. In his book,
Lomax credits B.A. Botkin for compiling the "folk-
say and regional writing (which) give the whole
panorama of American folklore" used in the folk-song
anthology. Botkin had compiled various segments of
American folklore in eight different volumes
published between 1937 and 1953. 7
The Lomax volume was clearly designed with
aspiring folksinger in mind (it even has instructions
on how to tune your banjo), but is organized in such
a way that a student of music in various periods of
American history reflected the songwriter's
background. Each of the sections is proceeded with a
few pages discussing the sub-culture from which the
tunes which followed emanated, sometimes described
the backdrop of a particular tune.
While The Folk Songs of North America does not


deal specifically with the era with which this study
concerns itself, the Lomax book does provide
illustration of how a song or collection of songs
were used to reflect the social, economic and ethical
situations of the individuals who wrote and sang
them.
Country Scholars
The magnum opus of literature on American
country music is Bill Malone's Country Music U.S.A.
which was his doctoral thesis at the University of
Texas in the early 1960s.. Malone, too, noted some
prejudice among academics on the subject, reporting
that the Southern Historical Association had ignored
the music until 1977 (when it invited Malone to give
a lecture-concert on the subject), and the respected
president of the scholarly group had referred to the
music as "hillbilly rabble," unworthy of scrutiny by
polite society and certainly beneath its scholars.
The invitation was a signal of sorts, Malone wrote in
1985, but "The millenium, though, clearly has not yet
arrived. Country music scholars still have far to go
in demonstrating the cultural relevance of their
subject."8
But Malone's massive volume is clearly the work


of a superb scholar, who set about his project by
tracing the folk background of country music and
taking the medium, step by step, through the early
commercial period, the era of Jimmie Rodgers, the
Depression, the singing cowboy years, the emerging
years of the music during and after World War II and
through the early 1970s. He used a similar approach
when selected to direct compilation of The
Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music.
which was a book and a set of records released in
1981. The collection of 16 album sides begins with
Eck Robertson's 1922 rendition of "Sallie Gooden" and
traces country music through Willie Nelson's 1975
version of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."
As a historian, Malone's efforts are properly
focused on describing the development of the music
itself. And while he frequently alludes to the
social and political situations which spawn the tunes
of various eras in American history, linking the
music with developments in society was not Malone's
primary ambition.
Country Music U.S.A. begins with "The Folk
Background Before Commercialism" and, in the revised
edition, tracks the medium through 1972, usually by
focusing on individual performers as they appeared in
the business. Malone himself notes there was little


research material available as he began his research
in 1961, and "Resource material was extremely
limited." His bibliography, which runs for nearly
100 pages of the book, indicates Malone used what
printed material he could locate, interviews with
performers and others involved in the business and
recordings themselves as the research base for his
book.
Other Scholarship
Less scholarly, but also an effort to trace
country music from its rural roots through the 1960s,
is The Country Music Story by Robert Shelton, once
the folk and country music critic for the New York
Times. Shelton's book, too, discusses country music
in its various configurations and at different times
in history, but the 1966 book is more anecdotal than
Malone's scholarly work.
The Illustrated History of Country Music is
more up to date than either Malone's or Shelton's
work (1980), but shares the same basic chronological
format. Assembled by seven authors under the
umbrella of Country Music Magazine, the history makes
sparse allusion to the social conditions which
inspired many of the tunes, although the book is


valuable in bringing the stories of some performers
and trends into 1980.
Among several country music reference books in
which the music is addressed alphabetically,
performer by performer, is The Harmony Illustrated
Encyclopedia of Country Music, published in Great
Britain in 1986. Although published on the other
side of the Atlantic, the book is probably the best
of the country music "encyclopedias" extant, as there
are far more individual entries (450 or so) than can
be found in most other books in the same format.
Rock Manifestations
Of particular use to this study is Rock of Ages
- The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll. which
concerns itself at considerable length with the black
music which began to move into the American
mainstream after World War II just as country music
was doing the same thing. The confluence of the two
movements, fans and detractors alike agree, was
personified in 1955 with the emergence of Elvis
Presley, who so dominated American music for a time
that other artists felt ignored.
The influence of Presley, and of others in the
medium, is gauged, of course, by how many records are


sold, and Billboard magazine has been the premiere
compiler of such numbers in country music since 1944.
Joel Whitburn's Top Country Singles 1944-1988 is an
extremely valuable source in determining which types
of music were attracting national attention from year
to year. A broader view is presented by Million
Selling Records from the 1900s to the 1980s. which
tracks the nation's most popular tunes from all
categories, not just country music. Although country
tunes did not (and do not) routinely achieve the
stratospheric stature of being million sellers, the
Joseph Murrell's book does not chronicle developments
in the medium with great detail, but it is useful to
see how country was faring in relation to the rest of
the music industry in a given year.
Both volumes offer the scholar opportunity for
secondary data analysis, as each identifies the tunes
which were popular at a given point in history. One
problem is that it is sometimes difficult to identify
the subject matter of a given tune from its title,
but my own collection of some 60,000 numbers should
provide fodder enough for identifying some
representative samples. The Country Music
Association research staff in Nashville librarian
Ronnie Pugh in particular sometimes knows of
particular tunes offhand, as well.


The Social Context
The evolution of country music discussed in the
studies mentioned so far did not occur, of course, in
a social vacuum. The point of the current enterprise
is to determine what relationship there was between
the music and evolving society and if, if at all, the
medium can serve as a mirror of social trends.
There is a temptation, of course, to try to be
precise, but in an effort such as this allegations of
precision would be deceptive. One could argue, for
example, that "Divorce Me C.O.D.," a hit for Merle
Travis in 1946, precisely reflected the marital
break-ups of that year, but many were more likely due
to the fact that servicemen returning from Asia and
Europe were confronting the fact that their spouse
and themselves had grown irrevocably apart during the
war. The fact that the song achieved the popularity
it did it was in the Number 1 spot on the country
charts for 14 weeks can be construed generally as a
social reflection, however, if it is true that music
which strikes a chord of personal reference in a
listener is likely to be listened to. That is not
too bold a presumption, since the converse people
like music concerning things about which they have no


personal knowledge is absurd.
Literature and scholarship about post-War
America abounds, of course, and there is probably a
book or article somewhere to validate almost any
assertion anyone wants to make about the era. But
this study will confine itself to works which have
proved themselves credible over time and to those
which deal with the emergence of Southern culture and
its trappings including country music into the
national ethos.
Among the more interesting are Joseph C.
Goulden's The Best Years 1945-1950. published in
1976, and Frederick Lewis Allen's The Big Change:
America Transforms Itself 1900-1950 published in
1952. Passing Parade: A History of Popular Culture
in the 20th Century." edited by Richard Maltby and
published in 1988, is occasionally intriguing, in
part because the book includes time-lines, graphs
matching individual years with developments in film,
mass media, music, fashion and design and sports. J.
Ronald Oakley's God1s Country: America in the
Fifties. published in 1986, briefly discusses country
music in the context of a description of the nation
in a variety of dimensions during that decade.
In addition, Robert K. Merton's discussion of
reference groups and social structure, a section of


the 1965 edition of Social Theory and Social
Structure. provides an interesting and occasionally
relevant backdrop to this effort. Of particular
comfort for purposes of the current enterprise is
Merton's observation that "...the man of letters
[often] succeeds better than the social scientist in
depicting, in unmistakable and vivid colors, the
social situation which the scientist has abstractly
analyzed."9
Jimmie N. Rogers
A study by the chairman of the Department of
Communication at the University of Arkansas addresses
several of the same concerns as this effort. The
Country Music Message Revisited by Jimmie N. Rogers
was "an examination of the messages in the most
popular country songs from 1960 to 1987."10 The time
frame and the goals of that project and of this
differ in significant degree, primarily in that
Rogers did not seek to link any specific social trend
with any specific development in society. But
Rogers' is an extremely valuable work because he
identifies music as a communications process, and he
successfully links and categorizes themes and
situations which crop up repeatedly in the tunes of


the period he studied.
Linking Music and Society
What is left, of course, is to see whether
earlier studies specifically link country music with
the social trends of a given age. An extensive
review of the literature finds no such efforts,
although Emily Edwards and Michael Singletary in 1989
found some linkage between the attitudes of college
students and the sorts of music they preferred.
"Since the late 1960s," they wrote, "social
scientists have been interested in the social and
political implications of popular music. At a time
when the use of psychedelic drugs was expanding,
lifestyles were changing and war was being waged in
the East, it appeared that young people were looking
to popular music for leadership as well as
entertainment. Leaders of the political Right feared
that popular music had become the latest weapon in a
revolution designed to destroy traditional values,
while the political Left regarded the new music as a
lever for social change."11
The researchers found that the music of the 80s


to which young people were listening reflected a
variety of lifestyle decisions, at least to some
degree, and the researchers speculated that the same
could have been said of the music popular of the
1960s. It is no feat of daring, then, to suggest
that the music of the late 1940s and 1950s also
signaled, to some degree, the values its listeners
held, reflecting the lives they led.


Notes
1. Conversation with Charlie Pride, Pueblo, Colo.,
August 1979.
2. Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A.. Austin,
Texas, University of Texas Press, 1985, page 212.
3. Dolly Parton, author, copyright 1980, Velvet
Apple Music.
4. Hank Snow, author, copyright 1959.
5. Emily Edwards and Michael Singletary, "Life's
Soundtracks: Relationships Between Radio Music
Subcultures and Listeners' Belief Systems," The
Southern Communication Journal. Winter 1989, page
145.
6. Malone, page 128.
7. Alan Lomax, The Folk Songs of North America.
Garden City, New York, Doubleday-Dolphin, 1975,
page 597.
8. Joel Whitburn, Top Country Singles 1944-1988
Menomonee Falls, Wise., Record Research, Inc.,
1989, page 514.
9. Merton, Robert K., Social Theory and Social
Structure. New York, The Free Press, 1965, page
345.
10. Jimmie N. Rogers, The Country Music Message
Revisited, Fayetteville, Ark., The University of
Arkansas Press, 1989, page 242.
11. Edwards and Singletary, page 147.
An


CHAPTER 3
METHODOLOGY
The underlying premise in this effort is that
the emergence of particular topics in country music
after World War II was symptomatic of changes in
society at large. The clear objective, therefore,
was to identify which topic or topic began to show up
in the medium for the first time or, at very least,
more frequently than before the war.
The task was easily the most challenging
dimension of this project, although there was some
similar work done (dealing with another time frame)
by a communications scholar at the University of
Arkansas.
Potential Problems
An initial difficulty is with locating raw
material. There are, obviously, lists of what tunes
were popular enough to get on the chart, but even
such authorities as Joel Whitburn acknowledge that


records may be incomplete or inaccurate.1
A second difficulty is that the subject matter
of some numbers may not be obvious from the title,
and ascertaining what is discussed in the song may
be difficult or, in some cases, impossible. Some
material, especially from the mid- to late-1940s has
not been reissued, and even the elderly sages in the
medium don't recall all of the tunes.2
Third, the importance of a given tune may not
be reflected in its popularity, most conveniently
gauged on what position a song achieved on the
Billboard magazine chart and how long it stayed
there. Kitty Wells' 1952 release of "It Wasn't God
Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," for example, was a
landmark event in country music because it was the
first time a female soloist achieved the top spot on
the country chart, and it was with a tune about
infidelity at that. Even so, the release was only
on the chart six weeks, making it the fourth most
popular song of the year, at least from the
standpoint of chart longevity.3 The three numbers
which were on the charts longer were nowhere near
as significant, either as abstract phenomena or as
social reflections, but would show up stronger on any
quantifiable scale.4


There is also a problem with the charts
themselves, as the lists in the 1940s included many
tunes that were properly classified as "big band"
music, as opposed to true country. There is no doubt
that Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys enjoyed both a
pop and country music constituency, but whether
such performers as A1 Dexter (who recorded such
novelty tunes as "Pistol Packin' Mama'') are
accurately classified as country is open to dispute.
That is a question probably best left unanswered,
however, as such anomalies will show up repeatedly
in any chronicle of country music, and the fact that
such tunes show up on country charts is an indication
that at least some country fans were purchasing such
music. For the initial stage of the inquiry, then,
such tunes will be included in a separate category to
see what impact the have on the overall scenario.
Fifth, in some instances the messenger is more
significant than the message, which puts the
discussion back into Aristotle's terms of the mix
of ethos, logos, pathos and bathos in the appeal of
a given communication. Elvis Presley, as persona
in 1955, was arguably more significant a reflection
of the trend in the medium then than was any
particular tune he sang. In his case, and in
43


several others, the medium the performer himself -
was as much or more of the message than the lyrics.
"Elvis was an alien in Eisenhower America," one
observer noted.5 But since Hank Williams was the
overpowering presence in country music for much of
the period under study, it may be that the explicit
message conveyed and the message sent by Williams as
a personality were basically coincident. Williams'
musical products were, in large measure, unhappy
songs, and the Williams persona, too, was that of a
troubled soul.
It is worthy of note that the music charts of
some years were thoroughly dominated by a single
artist, who achieved a hit with every item released,
no matter the content of the release. In those
years in particular, it will be necessary to augment
the list of number-one releases with other material,
including songs which did well but did not actually
achieve the top spot and with the releases earlier in
the careers of emerging artists. Performers at the
Louisiana Hayride in particular may of use here, as
such artists as George Jones and Johnny Cash
started there, and many of their early releases were
basically of the same manner and style that would
prove enormously popular a short time later.


Finally, a student of music must be extremely
careful to allow most of the material to speak for
itself. There is a tendency, especially among
interpreters with a point of view, to contort data
into forms which serve their purposes, ignoring
contravening and contradictory information in the
name of editorial tidiness. Although this
discussion will of necessity be somewhat subjective
- and there are few in the study of any sort of
literature which are not care must be exercised
to not to read overmuch into information which
sustains the anticipated outcome of the study while
disregarding contrary data. My personal experience
as a newspaper writer included dozens of instances
in which "studies" of all sorts concluded what the
sponsoring agency would have had them conclude
before the research started, and it is no great
existential leap to infer that the data was
manipulated to fit the conclusion rather than the
conclusion drawn from the data.
Others 1 Conclusions
Such scholars as Bill Malone and their
conclusions should be taken into account as well,


although converting their observations into some
sort of scale cannot be done if sheer popularity as
measured by successes on the record "hit" charts.
Malone's list was prepared for an anthology produced
by the Smithsonian Institution, however, and many of
the tunes he included enjoyed considerable commercial
success, even when they did not achieve the upper
levels of the country music charts.
Because the underlying task of this thesis is
to determine whether country music reflected the
social changes which occurred in America after World
War II, the initial task will be to determine where -
to the degree possible the medium was at war's
end. This can be done, to a degree, by examining the
tunes which made the charts in 1944, the first
year country charts were kept separate from other
popular music, and 1945.6 Although Germany
surrendered effective May 8, 1945, and Japan on Sept.
2, 1945, the first full year of "post-war" America
was 1946, which is the definition to be used in
this study. There was some lag time in returning
to a peace-time economy and national attitude
anyway, so counting 1945 as a "war year" may be
appropriate in the abstract. Likewise, there was
certainly some delay in the record industry gearing


up for peace-time business after the end of
hostilities. Of anecdotal interest is that the
industry, which relied on 78-RPM recordings to
circulate the work of its performers, had been forced
to curtail production for the duration of
the war because shellac which formed the surface of
phonograph records of the time had been in
limited supply during the conflict.7
Whitburn's list of charted songs is based on
Billboard magazine charts, and those remain the
most prestigious of their kind.8 But the book also
includes the chart position, if any, achieved by
tunes on three other publications' lists and whether
a tune also achieved a position on the pop charts.
One could argue, then, when gauging the relative
strength of a number in society, that factoring the
other charts into the equation would also be useful.
Doing so, however, would alter the demographics of
the audience under discussion. Because the purpose
of this thesis is to examine country music as a
reflection of the segment of society which preferred
it in post-war America, a tune's impact on the pop
charts will not be taken into consideration. This
will also avoid the awkward situation in factoring in
a tune which was released simultaneously by two


performers, one addressing the country and the other
the pop market.
Initial Calculations
Basically, then, the effort to identify
country-music releases which reflected social trends
will include the following:
1. Numbers which achieved the number one
sport on the country charts during a
given year.
2. Numbers defined as being particularly
significant by Malone and others, if
appropriate.
Because, at this point, it isn't known whether
application of such a basic formula will generate a
meaningful list of representative numbers, it may be
necessary to add additional categories on as
objective basis as possible to broaden the range of
study. If, however, a fairly comprehensive list can
be derived from the method as described here, it may
be unnecessary to consider additional criteria.
[Note: An examination of material conducted after


this paragraph was written established that a sizable
data base could be generated without including tunes
identified by other sources.]
Categories
For initial analysis at least, numbers will be
assigned particular categories which, in the author's
experience over the last 35 years, appear to
constitute the major categories of country music.
The general attributes of the major categories will
be described in the introduction to the list itself.
The same method was employed in 1989 by Jimmie N.
Rogers, chairman of the Communications Department at
the University of Arkansas, who labeled the tunes he
studied as:
"1. hurtin' love, 2. happy love, 3. cheatin' love and
4. livin'."9 Some of his list may work in this
study, although it is appropriate to merge "cheatin'"
and "hurtin' love" into one category called
"cheating," as both of those two Rogers' categories
are songs concerning romantic distress. "Happy love"
will be "classic love" for our purposes, while a few
additional categories will be added to characterize
the several other types of songs on the charts


between 1944 and 1956. The additional categories are
necessary because the scope of the current inquiry is
broader than Rogers' effort, which focused on the
particular types of tunes he listed.
The categories, then, will be: Classic love
tunes; novelty tunes; "cheating" songs; "drinking"
songs; work-related songs; old-west and "cowboy"
tunes; western swing tunes which fit no other
category; topical and political tunes, and "unknown."
If an examination of the lists generated in this
effort determines a significant number of tunes which
fall into a category not mentioned in these
categories, an addition category or categories will
be created to accommodate them as well.
Ongoing Presumption
The underlying presumption, of course, is that
music reflects what people of a given era are
concerned about. It unlikely, of course, that fans
of whatever ilk in whatever time were listening to
material which harbored no resemblance or relevance
to their lifestyles, values and attitudes. The link
between music and the attitudes of its fans will be
addressed in the discussion section of this document.
50


It is likewise necessary to demonstrate that
the post-war social order differed from that of pre-
war America, and that the situations country
performers were discussing musically were, in fact,
occurring in society. Examination of a variety of
demographic and social trends reveals that the most
telling statistic in this arena is likely the
national divorce rate, as broken marriages were in
many cases the result of romantic distress addressed
in the "cheating" songs of the post-war era.
There is, however, other statistical and
anecdotal evidence of the deterioration of the notion
of "traditional order" as an "accepted value." One is
the growth of(the "cats" movement, a rhythm and
blues-based musical subculture which began to break
down the distinctions between white and black music
and ultimately resulted in the emergence of Elvis
Presley as a performer so powerful he changed the
focus of the American music business, establishing
rock and roll as the nation's most popular music
genre.
But the Presley era, significant as it was, did
not begin until 1956, which is at the very end of the
period under study in this discussion. For our
purposes, then, we will look only at the charts and


at what Malone determined were particularly
significant tunes. If any of the problems mentioned
earlier, such as an inordinate number of "big band'
hits appearing on the relevant charts, some method of
dealing with them will have to be devised. It may
well be, however, that the problems pointed out will
not prove to be a major factor in the coming
calculations.


Notes
1. Joel Whitburn, Top Country Singles 1944-1988.
Menomonee Falls, Wise., Record Research, Inc.,
1989, page XV.
2. Johnny Western, radio personality and musician,
telephone interview, October 1989.
3. Whitburn, page 514.
4. Whitburn, pages 498-499.
5. Jane and Michael Stern, Elvis World, New York,
Harper and Row, 1990, page 8.
6. Whitburn, pages 498-499.
7. Bill Malone, Country Music U.S.A.. Austin, Texas,
University of Texas Press, 1985, page 181.
8. Jim Stricklan, performer and radio
personality, personal interview, Shreveport, La.,
October 1989.
Jimmie N. Rogers, The Country Music Message
Revisited. Fayetteville, Ark., University of
Arkansas Press, 1989.
9.


CHAPTER 4
DATA
A total of 145 tunes achieved the number one
spot on Billboard magazine's country charts from Jan.
1, 1944, though the end of 1956. The range of time a
song could hold the top position within a single
year, of course, is theoretically as briefly as a
single week or as long as 52 weeks.
Chart Longevity
In practice, however, a tune would usually hit
the number-one position for a few weeks after taking
several weeks to get to the top and several more to
drop off of the charts entirely. "Cold, Cold Heart,
for example, a Hank Williams hit in 1951, was the top
song among country releases only one week but was on
the chart somewhere for a total of 42 weeks. Such a
pattern is far from unusual, and the general rule is
that a tune which hits the top of the charts stayed
popular for at least two months. In any case, any
number one tune in the years under study was a


significant release for the year in terms of length
of time on the chart, sales and airplay.
Although the trend toward one-week stands at
the top has been apparent in recent years a total
of 48 country tunes got to the top in 1988, for
example -tunes in the late 40s and early 50s tended
to stay at the top position for some time. The most
top tunes charted in the years 1944-1956 was 18 in
1953, but all save two stayed at the top longer than
one week.
Chart Turnover
The fewest top tunes in a single year among
those being studied were the six numbers who made it
to the top in 1946 and in 1948. The latter was an
extremely unusual year, however, as Eddy Arnold
fielded five of the six tunes to make it to the top
of the charts, and his five hit releases held the
number-one spot for a combined total of 41 weeks.
The chart statistics, as the accompanying
charts indicate, show surges in the number of
"cheating" songs in beginning in 1946, when the songs
of romantic distress made up about 30 percent of the
total hits on the chart that year. The topic peaked


in 1949 and leveled out a year later.
The surge in "cheating" songs, examination of
the data indicates, was closely paralleled by a surge
in divorces after the war, which rose dramatically in
1946 and began to edge down a year later, stabilizing
in 1950, the same year the percentage of cheating
songs stabilized. The correlation is not perfect, as
the biggest year for divorce 1946 was three years
before the biggest year for cheating songs 1949.
But the numbers are consistent with the observation
that the topics in the music reflected what had
happened in society, not what predicting what was
going to happen. The metaphor of a "barometer" fits,
but only if it is the recording kind, the sort that
isn't read until the next morning or, in this case, a
year or two later.
Summary List
The following summary lists are based on Joel
Whitburn's compilation of the top country hits for'
the years 1944-1956,1 with additions as appropriate
from Bill C. Malone's Smithsonian Collection of
Classic Country Music.2 A handful of tunes charted
more than once. Versions charted by different


artists are listed again, but a version by one artist
which fell from the top spot and later reclaimed the
position is listed only once.
Definitions
For purposes of classification, the following
definitions will be used:
Classic Love Tunes discussing romantic
relationships in a positive light.
Cheating Tunes discussing infidelity or some
other "wrong" incurred or inflicted by the
protagonist at the hands of a would-be romantic
partner or a romantic partner.
Novelty Tunes with a light-hearted gimmick,
including seasonal pieces.
Rockabilly Tunes combining elements of rhythm
and blues and country to form the early forms of
rock and roll music. "Rockabilly" is a
combination of the terms "rock" and "hillbilly,"
and was applied to the first releases of Elvis
Presley and other pioneers of rock as well as to
such artists as Johnny Cash, who made brief
incursions into that medium.
Drinking Songs involving consumption of


alcohol as a response to some personal
misfortune.
Swing Music of the big-band era as applied to
country music, most notably by Bob Wills and the
Texas Playboys. The term in this context also
applies to instrumental music, as most country
instrumentals allude musically to Wills and his
contemporaries.
Topical Tunes referring to specific events or
developments, such as World War II. The
category
also includes numbers referring to work and
working conditions.
Religious Tunes involving religious themes
involving faith, as opposed to pleas for divine
intervention to solve a problem.
Cowboy Musical themes from movies and numbers
involving idealization of agrarian living and
lifestyles.
Unknown Tunes unknown to author from which no
inference can be drawn from the title, and which
are not discussed in references available.
The specific titles from which the following
lists have been gleaned are contained in
Appendix A.


Number One Charting and
Other Influential Country Tunes: 1944-1956
1944
Tune Categories:
5 topical
4 classic love
2 swing
1 novelty
1 cowboy
1 unknown
14 songs total
1945
Tune Categories:
5 topical
3 classic love
2 swing
2 novelty
1 cheating
1 drinking
1 unknown
15 total
1946
Tune Categories
2 swing
2 topical
2 cheating
1 drinking
1 novelty
8 total
1947
Tune Categories
3 classic love
3 novelty
2 cheating
1 cowboy
1 swing
10 total
c;q


1948
Tune Categories
5 classic love
2 cheating
7 total
1949
Tune Categories
8 cheating
4 classic love
2 cowboy
1 religious
15 total
1950
Tune Categories
5 cheating
5 classic love
3 novelty
2 swing
1 cowboy
16 total
1951
Tune Categories
5 cheating
5 classic love
2 novelty
1 swing
1 cowboy
1 religious
15 total
1952
Tune Categories
5 cheating
4 classic love
1 swing
1 cowboy
1 unknown
12 total
60


1953
Tune Categories
8 cheating
5 classic love
5 novelty
1 swing
1 drinking
20 total
1954
Tune Categories
5 cheating
2 classic love
1 novelty
1 unknown
9 total
1955
Tune Categories
3 classic love
3 cheating
2 drinking
2 topical
1 cowboy
1 rockabilly
12 total
1956
Tune Categories
7 rockabilly
2 cheating
2 classic love
11 total
61


Divorce Rates
Of all of the social indicators for which
statistics are kept and available to relate to
topical trends in country music, the national divorce
rate is likely the most appropriate. It is, after
all, the only government statistic that addresses
broken hearts, the topic frequently addressed in the
music.
Here is the rate of divorce per 1,000 married
couples in the years preceding World War II, the rate
during the war and the rate following the end of the
conflict: 3
im 1:?
1940 2.0
1941 2.2
1942 2.4
1943 2.6
1944 2.9
1945 3.5
1946 4.3
1947 3.4
1948 2.8
1949 2.7
1950 2.6
1951 2.5
1952 2.5
1953 2.5
1954 2.4
1955 2.3
62


Table 2.1
Incidence of Cheating Songs in American Country Music
1944-1954
Cheating Songs as Percentage of Tunes Achieving No. 1 on Country Charts
Songs about infidelity and other romantic distress increased dramatically in number and enlarged
dramatically as a share of total sales of country music records after World War II. At the same time,
the nation was witness to an unprededented surge in the number and in the rate of broken marriages.
Before World War II, country tunes which openly discussed infidelity were extremely rare, but the tunes
began to achieve a good deal of popularity in the latter days of the war and in the first years of peacetime.
Source: Author's classification of songs topping the Billboard magazine country chart from 1944-1954, with addition of
tunes cited as significant by country scholar Bill Malone.
63


Table 2.2
U.S Divorce Rates
1944-1954
Year 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1952 1953 1954
The divorce rate in the United States soared at the end and immediately following
World War H The rate among U.S. residents had achieved the rate of 2 per 1,000 for the
first time in American history in 1940, but rose to more than twice that in 1946, the first
full year of peace. The rate then turned downward and moderated into the 1950s. The
peak in the curve illustrating divorce statistics is paralleled by a similar peak in the ac-
companying chart depicting the rise in the popularity of "cheating" songs during this period.
The peak in divorces came in 1946 and the peak in cheating songs in 1949. A case could be
made, therefore, that the music reflected a social trend.
Source of statistics: U.S. Public Health Service
64


Notes
1. Joel C. Whitburn, Top Country Singles 1944-1988.
Menomonee Falls, Wise., Record Research, Inc.,
1988, pages 513-517.
2. Bill Malone, The Smithsonian Collection of
Classic Country Music. Washington, D.C., The
Smithsonian Institution, 1981, pages 8-46.
3. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health,
Education and Welfare, cited in The World Almanac
and Book of Facts. New York, Newspaper Enterprise
Association, 1957, page 313.


CHAPTER 5
DISCUSSION
The point of the current enterprise is to
determine, first, if a cultural medium country
music in this case can be used to trace
developments in society itself and, if so, if any
noteworthy changes were tracked by the medium in the
years immediately following World War II. Put more
abstractly, the central question is whether modern or
contemporary rhetoric reflects developments in the
society which produces (or popularizes) such
rhetoric.
Musicians As Observers
The case that country music in particular -as opposed
to orchestral or "pop" music -represents the
lifestyle and experience of those who perform and
listen to it is strengthened by the fact that the
most-influential practitioners of the craft wrote, the
tunes themselves; the music was not the product of
professional writers in Nashville, Tin Pan Alley or


anywhere else. When Hank Williams penned "Move It On
Over," a song about a man ordering the family dog
aside to make room for himself in the doghouse,
Williams was writing about an argument with his wife.
It was not an abstract idea, it was life experience.
On the other emotional extreme, such tunes as Leo
Payne's "I Love You Because" was about Payne's wife,
Myrtle. It was not a tune inspired by some abstract
thought or a snappy line which popped into the
author's head.
The songwriter of the years after World War II
painted his own picture of the world, and the lead
sheet was his palette. And the pictures he fashioned
were not representations of some model or some ideal.
They were, instead, drawn from experience, hard
travelin' included.
A Clear Trend
The data cited in the preceding chapter are
undeniably clear on one point, that the number of
references in one form of contemporary rhetoric -
country music dealing with marital infidelity and
other forms of romantic distressed increased
dramatically in the United States after World War II.
67


Before the conflict, according to such scholars as
Bill Malone, country music dealt with happier themes,
but "cheating" tunes emerged as a strong element of
the country market as America's soldiers and sailors
returned home.
The next question is whether there is any social
gauge some set of hard statistics with which to
seek to discover a link between what the
practitioners of country music were singing about and
what was happening in society itself.
The data appear to indicate that in some major
areas there is scant, if any, evidence of a link
between social developments and the rhetoric of
country music. For example, there was a dramatic
increase in the number of crimes reported as the war
ended and the nation reverted to a peace-time
economy. Even so, there is no evidence in the data
that country music dealt with crime and punishment -
as the rhetoric sometimes did then and still does -
with any greater frequency than before or during the
war. Basically, crime rates soared but country
songwriters took no discernable note of the fact at
the time.
But divorce rates the only national statistics
which deal with affairs of the heart -increased
68


dramatically in 1946 and continued to outpace the
pre-war numbers into the 1950s. While it is absurd
to suggest that marriages fell apart because of songs
about divorce alone, it is not improbable that the
trials and breakdowns many marriages had gone through
inspired songs on the subject. (The war itself,
after all, inspired a good number of songs, but it
isn't likely that the songs inspired the war.) The
data appears to indicate, in fact, that the increase
in the number of divorces gave rise to an increase in
the number of country tunes discussing the subject.
(Although the subject is beyond the parameters
of the current discussion, the notion of a medium
providing sanction, a sort of "permission," to its
audience is worthy of parenthetical note and,
perhaps, additional study. Did Hank Williams'
musical discussion of the ongoing problems with his
wife, Audrey, make it "all right" for the listener of
the tune to consider or practice infidelity? If the
concept of "intimate medium" is correct, Williams on
the jukebox is much the same as Williams having a
beer and discussing the problem with the listener in
person.)
69


The end of World War II altered American society
in a number of ways, and the shift in demographics
and lifestyles appears was not without its influence
on most of the cultural institutions of America,
country music included.
One change was that the geographical isolation
of the music to rural America ended as many of the
farmboys, their new wives in tow, packed up and moved
to the city. "In a very real sense, America's rural
population was liberated by the war, especially in
the South, where poor white and black tenant farmers,
sharecroppers and mill workers left their meager
farms and jobs and trekked to the urban areas in
quest of better economic and social conditions...
"The population movements of World War II
brought Americans into closer contact with each
other, intermingling differing cultures, and
contributing to the breaking down of regional
differences... Rural and small town Americans found
themselves subjected to increasingly irresistible
pressures to conform with the new society that was
taking place."1
The "new society" was increasingly an urban one,
and even regional subcultures became at home in the
cities, the result of rural workers moving the nearby
70


urban canters to take advantage of the job
opportunities offered in war-related industrial
establishments during the war or in the plants which
addressed America's burgeoning consumer demands as
the soldiers returned.2
Other Media Developments
The stresses of the new order of American
society manifested itself in other sorts of media,
not only country music. Such pre-war media mandates
as the Motion Picture Production Code, which had
declared that justice -if not happiness -prevail by
the end of the film, fell into disuse as Marlon
Brando and his sorts of movies replaced those of
Shirley Temple and her releases as the nation's most
popular fare. Mae West, Jean Harlow had never been
shining examples of what the code sought anyway:
"No picture shall be produced which will lower
the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the
sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the
side of crime, wrong-doing, evil or sin. Correct
standards of life, subject only to the requirements
of drama and entertainment, shall be presented."3
The realities of life began to surface in
71


country music, as well, just as the medium began to
attract significant enough a portion of the American
audience to merit serious industry attention. One
indication that country was coming into its own was
the decision of Billboard magazine to begin charting
country tunes on a separate list in 1944, something
the publication the industry Bible had never done
before.4
Unhappiness Goes Public
Unhappiness and its manifestations -such as
marital infidelity and divorce was part of the
social order before World War II, too, but it was not
until the end of the conflict that America went truly
public about it in its music. While folk tunes would
deal occasionally with infidelity and the like, most
commercial music sought to be as morally uplifting as
the movies mandated by the production code, and "I
Want To Be a Cowboys Sweetheart," a pre-war release,
would not be supplanted by such tunes as "It Wasn't
God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" until after the
conflict.5
"It was true that the divorce rate was rising;
in the year 1900 there was one divorce for every 12.7
72


weddings, as compared with one for every 2.6 weddings
in the abnormal postwar year 1946 and one for every
4.1 in the more normal year 1949. But even the 1900
figures give no idea of the black disfavor in which
divorce was held in the average American community.
A marriage might be a nightmare to both partners, but
it must go on and on: That was the decree of public
opinion. As a result, there was hardly an American
town of any size in which one could not point to a
middle-aged or elderly couple who had not spoken to
one another in years..."6 In short, there had long
been sentiments similar to those expressed in Tex
Williams' "Divorce Me C.O.D.," but the industry had
been wary of a tune that acknowledged the fact until
1946.7
And this is the crux of the matter: Did the
demonstrated increase in the number of country tunes
about life's troubles marital and alcohol-related
to be specific reflect developments in society
itself, or were the tunes simply academic topics
selected by the authors of the songs on whimsy?
Musical Reflections
While efforts to determine if researchers have
73


addressed that question in relation to post-war
America and country music turned up nothing, the
question of whether a particular kind of music
reflects a particular social view has been the
subject of considerable academic inquiry, in part of
the product of society's unease about young people's
fascination with rock music.
As mentioned earlier, the question was studied
by Emily Edwards and Michael Singletary in 1989, and
they concluded that the lyrics in the rock music they
studied did serve as a sort of mirror of the social
and political values of the people who listened to
them. However, the researchers also noted, the
notion that musical lyrics and contemporaneous
lifestyles may be linked did not attract scholarly
scrutiny of the sort they applied until the 1960s.a
In short, music of that era was speaking to
young people in terms with which they related. And
so, 20 years earlier, did the music of the country
artist speaking to his own. For example, "Hank
Williams had a way of reaching your guts and your
head at the same time," according to pop music
practitioner Mitch Miller. "No matter who you were,
a country person or a sophisticate, the language hits
home."9
74


"Hits home" is the key phrase, as a lyric is
essentially meaningless however pleasant or
unpleasant unless it addresses something present in
the listener's own reality. And country music does
that, as most of it "is about something, it tells a
story" to which the country consumer can relate.10
Edwards and Singletary found that the same
consideration is at work in the sort of music radio
stations select to broadcast. "Knowledge of radio
audiences and the radio music formats they listen to
can be interpreted on the level of social
understanding, as well as reaction to market forces."
One rock band's fans, for example, "form consensual
groups and some of these consensual groups, those
linked in diverse and important other ways (lifestyle
characteristics, political preferences, etc.) can be
thought of as a music subculture. Not only do these
people share a common music preference, they revel in
their identity as [in this case] 'Dead Heads'."11
Buying In
Basically, people who opt to listen to certain
sorts of music "buy in" to more than the music alone,
they frequently demonstrate an affinity for the set
75


of values and lifestyles which accompanies what the
singers are saying. In country music and rock, the
"buying in" is often accompanied by such visible
declarations as grooming and clothing styles. In the
1960s, there was little difficulty discerning a Merle
Haggard audience from a one attending a Bob Dylan
show. The dress of the audience would have been one
give-away, but actually an observer needed to venture
no further than the parking lot to determine which
sort of performer was singing inside the auditorium.
The bumper stickers alone would have furnished the
answer.
The upward trend in the popularity of drinking
and cheating songs on the country charts, then, is
likely not merely coincidental with the rise in the
divorce rate and liquor consumption which accompanied
the end of the war. The music, like other tunes in
the folk tradition, was "representative of the then-
current community, according to Dean and Nancy Tudor
writing in Grass Roots Music. The music dealt with
situations in real life, including attitudes,
standards of conduct, ideals of behavior, social
practices and family ties.12
76


The data in the preceding section illustrates an
upward trend in cheating songs from the end of World
War II until 1955, although the trend does not follow
a perfectly progressive line. Part of the reason for
that, logically, is that the lyric of a tune is not
the only thing the only thing which sells it. Gene
Autry's "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" was the
best-selling tune of 1950, for example, but it is
difficult to characterize the catchy novelty tune as
a social reflection. Likewise, "Chattanoogie Shoe
Shine Boy" was a major hit for Red Foley that year,
although it twangs no strings in the country fan's
emotional soul it was basically a snappy tune with
clever lyrics.
The trends (as graphically illustrated in the
prior chapter), rather, are discernable in the tunes
with lyrics that address the human and social
conditions of a given year. And while some neural
leap is necessary to associate the rise in popularity
of music about infidelity and romantic distress with
the nation's rising divorce rate, it would be foolish
to presume the converse, that country fans were
buying millions of records about topics of no impact
or interest to them. When George Jones hit in 1955
77


asking "Why baby, why baby, why baby, why, you make
cry baby cry baby, cry baby, cry," he was touching a
nerve, grabbing people.
Travis as Observer
Perhaps the vanguard tune of the post-war
cheating song era was Merle Travis1 "Divorce Me
C.O.D.," which dealt with a still-delicate subject in
a lighthearted way, using a series of acronyms to
fashion a lyrically clever tune. But it was surely
no mere coincidence that the tune hit in 1946, the
year the war ended, saw a surge of divorces as
returning soldiers and sailors returned to formalize
by signing the papers of divorces wrought by their
extended absence. Travis's lyrical forte, in fact,
was reality, as he is best known as the author of
"Dark as a Dungeon" and "Sixteen Tons," both "work
songs" about the mines of his native Kentucky.
Hank and Lefty
The end of the war, likewise, did not signal the
beginning of cheating on one's spouse or girlfriend
or women being propositioned, but it was the first
78


time the fact such things happen was acknowledged in
a commercial medium. In that sense, Hank Williams'
"Hey Good Lookin'," and Lefty Frizzell's "If You've
Got the Money, Honey, I've Got the Time," were
landmark songs, in that they both were bald
suggestions of a romantic binge.
The message of Frizzell's tune, which got to
number three on the country charts and was also the
third-most-popular juke box record in America in
1950, are accurately reflected in the title: The
singer is suggesting partying until the cash runs
out, and "when you run out of money, I'll run out of
time. "
The Williams number, which peaked at the eighth
spot in 1951, is also based on more-or-less a
hedonistic premise: "Hey good lookin', whatcha got
cookin', howsabout cookin' something up with me?" The
suggestion that anyone would consider "cookin' up
something" with anyone other than his spouse had
surely been made thousands of times in real life over
the years, but it took the liberating influence of
the war and its aftermath for such propositions to
achieve celebrity in a mass medium. Only eight years
before, Bob Wills' "Take Me Back to Tulsa" had
sparked controversy among country fans because it
79


discussed beer, according to country scholar Bill
Malone.
Williams, reported Malone, "was the most
dramatic symbol of country's post-war surge," and
most of his tunes dealt with personal romantic
problems which were rarely discussed in public before
the war. The turbulence of his marriage to Audrey
Sheppard in 1942 inspired many of Williams' tunes,
according to Malone and other observers of the singer
songwriter, including "Your Cheatin' Heart."
The titles of most of Williams' hits, all of
them in the top 15 and most in the top five spots of
the country charts between 1947 and 10 months after
his death in 1953, reflect romantic distress or
infidelity or some other deeply personal problem:
"Move It On Over" 1947
"Honky Tonkin'" 1948
"I'm A Long Gone Daddy" 1948
"Lovesick Blues" 1949
"Mind Your Own Business" 1949
"My Son Calls Another Man Daddy" 1950
"Why Should We Try Anymore?" 1950
"Cold, Cold Heart" 1951
"I Can't Help It" 1951
80


"Hey Good Lookin'" 1951
"Honky Tonk Blues" 1952
"Settin' the Woods on Fire" 1952
"Your Cheatin Heart" 1953
"I Won't Be Home No More" 1953
Williams was capable of an occasional "happy"
song, such as 1952's "Jambalaya," but the vast
majority of his hits were either on the sadder side
or suggestive of a short-term relationship, sometimes
hinting at cheating to boot.
Changes in the Music
Such themes were in marked contrast to the
popular tunes of such groups as the Carter Family,
which rose to national prominence between 1934 and
the original group's dissolution in 1943 with such
tunes as "Keep On The Sunny Side," "The Wabash
Cannonball" and "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue
Eyes."
And although country/gospel remains somewhat of
a force in country music to this day, such groups as
the Bailes Brothers an enormously popular and
influential quartet in pre-war America with such hits
81


as "Dust on the Bible did not retain their appeal
at the high level to which they had become accustomed
after the conflict.
As the graphs in the preceding section indicate,
divorce had been on the rise in America for some time
before World War II, and, in fact, the rate of failed
marriages per 1,000 Americans per year had ranged in
the 1.5 vicinity for the 15 years between 1920 and
1935. By 1940, the figure had crept up half of one
percent, but more than doubled by the first full year
after the war when couples estranged during the
conflict Hank Williams' first wife among them got
legal divorces.
One fact to keep in mind when viewing the
numbers is that divorce (for almost everyone who gets
one) is not an annual event, so cumulative figures
may be more meaningful than annual statistics.
Divorce As A Social Index
While there are other criteria with which to'
gauge the social developments of a given age -ranging
from alcohol consumption to library use -the divorce
rate is probably the best index to utilize in this
study, as it alone among long-rang statistics kept by
82


the government closely tracks
a major manifestation of so deeply personal an
activity as marriage and its demise. An increase in
alcohol consumption may, but does not always, reflect
growth in personal unhappiness in a given society, as
it can also reflect an increase in the discretionary
income available for liquor. But growth in the
divorce rate does signal personal distress (or, at
very least, an increased willingness to dp something
public about personal distress), as divorce almost
always reflects one degree or another of personal
unhappiness. This sort of unhappiness was clearly a
theme of increased use after World War II, as
romantic discord became a major topic for Williams
and other practitioners of his craft.
Elvis and the "Cats"
Supporting the notion that country music
reflected the changing society of post-war America
was the development of other social elements which
also mirrored shifting attitudes. The "cats" musical
movement, for example, combined the rhythm and blues
tradition of blacks in the American South with
country, creating the "hybrid, undefinable
83


phenomenon" known as Elvis Presley. "[H]e was
generally billed as the 'Hillbilly Cat'."13 The
title was an attempt to signal his appeal to both the
traditional "hillbilly" audience that still made up
much of country's clientele and to the younger
listeners who had been drawn to black-influenced,
solid-beat, bluesy music in ever-increasing numbers.
Such early Presley hits as "Heartbreak Hotel" were
musically different from mainline country tunes, but
the lyrics which were about broken romance could
have easily come from Hank Williams' pen.
The early 50s likewise saw the stirrings of what
would become the beatnick movement, in which the
values adopted by a generation which had endured the
depression were rejected by their progeny in
wholesale quantities. "Like the Parisian
existentialists of the 1940s they were an
esthetic/radical movement of dissent whose rebellion
took a cultural movement than a directly political
form...the Beats aimed to shock and innovate in art
and literature and in the way they lived." 14
And, fortunately or unfortunately, the country
lyrics which would have "shocked" polite society a
generation before World War II, lost much of their
punch at the end of the conflict. Tunes like
84


"Lovesick Blues" werent noted for shocking people;
they simply told stories about how real life really
is.
85


Notes
1. Bill Malone, Country Music U.S.A.. Austin, Texas,
University of Texas Press, 1985, page 177.
2. Ibid.
3. Richard Maltby, editor, The Passing Parade: A
History of Popular Culture in the 20th Century.
New York, Oxford University Press, 1989, page
106.
4. Joel Whitburn, Top Country Singles 1944-1988.
Menomonee Falls, Wise., Record Research, 1989,
page XIV.
5. Whitburn, page 515.
6. Frederick Lewis Allen, The Big Change: America
Transforms Itself 1900-1950. New York, Harper and
Row, 1969, reissued 1986, page 13.
7. Whitburn, page 513.
8. Emily Edwards and Michael Singletary, "Life's
Soundtracks: Relationships Between Radio Music
Subcultures and Listeners' Belief Systems," The
Southern Communication Journal. Winter 1989, page
147.
9. Patrick Carr, editor, The Illustrated History of
Country Music. Garden City, New York, Dolphin
Books, 1980, page 104.
10. Hank Thompson, telephone interview, July 1990.
11. Edwards and Singletary, page 145.
12. Dean and Nancy Tudor, Grass Roots Music,
Littleton, Colo., Libraries Unlimited, 1979, page
202.
13. Malone, page 249.
14. Maltby, page 131.
86


CHAPTER 6
CONCLUSION
The goal of this study has been to determine
whether the contemporary rhetoric of country music -
the lowest and most vulgar type of tunes extant, to
hear many "cultured" people speak of it was saying
something about the larger society of the time
immediately after World War II.
The process, as previously explained, involved
classifying the major successes of that era in terms
of sale or of influence, comparing the basic themes
with the basic themes of the country music before the
end of the war.
Obvious Perils
Any attempt to infer social significance from
literature is a dangerous undertaking, as the appeal
of the story, poem or song may have nothing to do
with the substance of the message. "I like the beat"
is as good as explanation for buying a copy of, say,
"Divorce Me C.O.D." as any other.
But when the lyrics in a given musical medium -


and particularly in country music where the words
have always been of major if not cardinal importance
- discuss particular matters again and again and
again, then the words must be "grabbing" people, they
are likely saying as much or more about the listener
and purchaser of the tunes as about the performer.
And the possibility that the lyrics, the contemporary
rhetoric, are taking reality and putting it to music
grows into a likelihood when the topics are new, when
they have not been discussed at any noteworthy length
in a medium before.
Postwar Changes
The crime rate rose in America after World War
II, but country music did not respond with songs on
that topic. The role of American blacks changed in
society after the conflict, but again the music did
not respond. Veterans flocked to college and society
went on a materialistic binge at the end of the
conflict, but those facts could not be gleaned from
the lyrics of country tunes.
Love, in fact, remained the centerpiece of the
country table after the war, just it had been before
the conflict, just as it had been, in fact, since the
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musical subculture evolved. But the dramatic
difference in the post-War lyrics was that love was
no longer only the celebrated ideal. Such
singer/songwriters as Hank Williams continued to
write of the emotion, of course, but this time for
the first time in country music on a large scale -
love had become a source of pain. Hank Williams
tunes were about love, all right, but they didn't
discuss idyllic romps in the meadow:
"Today I passed you on the street
And my heart fell at your feet.
"I can't help it if I'm still
"In love with you.
"Somebody else was by your side,
"And he looked so satisfied.
"I can't help it if I'm still
"In love with you."
One music scholar characterized the lyrics of
country tunes as "ghost-written love letters,"
proclamations that the listener felt but was
inadequate to put to words and music himself. And if
that is true, the same mass-produced but "intimate"
medium described by Jimmie N. Rogers had a flip side.
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On that side was the woe a rejected lover felt but,
like his romantically successful colleague, could not
articulate himself.
Hearts and Numbers
There is, alas, no study or book of statistics
enumerating broken hearts. The closest the
government comes to applying arithmetic to romance
are marriage and divorce statistics. So it was to
the latter numbers this effort turned to try to
determine whether the surge in country songs about
romantic problems after World War II had been
accompanied by a surge in broken marriages. As the
previously cited data indicates, it had been.
The possibility remains, of course, that the
rise in the divorce rate and the increase in the
popularity of "cheating" songs was merely
coincidental, but the viability of that assertion
fades as the process repeated itself year after year.
Still, there is nq "smoking gun" linking the music to
the social trend. Even so, to argue that songs about
romantic distress had nothing to do with events
outside the songwriter's head is difficult. One
would have to argue, similarly, then, that surges in
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the popularity of pro- or anti-war songs have
nothing, necessarily, to do with wars going on when
the songs were written or that tunes extolling the
brotherhood of man in the 1960s had nothing to do
with the buoyant civil rights movement of that era.
Other Questions
The most fascinating question remaining is
whether the cheating songs and the divorce rate after
the war signaled something new about Americans1
attitude toward romance and its trappings. It may
have been, for example, that 2 percent of American
marriages fell apart each year before the divorce
rate achieved that figure after World War II, but
perhaps before the war people simply didn't get
divorced because of social pressure. An analogous
situation may be one reported by police agencies over
the last decade, an overall increase in the number of
sexual assaults reported. However, police and
students of criminology don't really know if sexual
assault has been on the rise or if women are simply
more willing to report it now than they have been
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