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COUNTRY music history...in six songs!

Updated on May 2, 2009

COUNTRY music has a STORY inside each song

Country music is all about the STORY. Country songs have a PLOT. Unlike other genres, country songs literally tell stories that are easy to understand and universal in appeal.

More than all other genres, the stories in country songs have a plot, a tale of some sort in every song, much in the same way that many books or newspaper articles' goal is to take you on a journey through someone else's story.

There are hundreds of successful country artists, but here are four performers from past decades who were part of the key to country's growth and long-term

"Fulsom Prison Blues" - Johnny Cash (1963)

JOHNNY CASH took the old fashioned style of early country from the hillbilly 1930's and 1940's, added the fans of country legend HANK WILLIAMS from the 1950's and forged his own path for country in the 1960's and beyond.

Watch and listen to Johnny's "Fulsom Prison Blues" on this page, as it was performed live inside maximum security penitentary Fulsom Prison, to an audience of convicted murderers and other criminals.

Listen to how Cash relates to the crowd by singing a song he wrote about the very place they spend their days and nights!

If you have time, listen to "A Boy Named Sue" also from Johnny Cash. This song became so huge that it crossed over from country radio and became a giant pop hit on Top 40 radio in 1968. Click here to listen to the story of "A Boy Named Sue" the only hit song ever to be recorded on stage in a prison!   Read that song's lyrics here

KENNY ROGERS began as a rock singer in the 60's, but found his niche in the 1970's as one of country's biggest and brightest celebrities.

Listen to Kenny's story of what "The Gambler" learned (video on this page) and find out happened to him on that long train ride, one dark night. Watch the video by clicking this link and on the same page you can read the lyrics as you listen to the song.The whole story is right there with the lyrics on the screen so you can learn what the other passenger on the train learns (!).

"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" - The Charlie Daniels Band (1980)

COUNTRY ROCK: In the late 1970s and 1980's there was a huge convergence of the country and rock styles to form a sub-genre called country rock. This movement spawned country rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd (their signature hit contained one of the most revered and longest guitar solos of all time, in their classic "Free Bird"), The Marshall Tucker Band ("Heard It In A Love Song"), Molly Hatchet ("Flirtin' With Disaster") and the group CDB, commonly known as...

...the CHARLIE DANIELS BAND: Long before American Idol, there was a fierce musical fantasy competition between a fiddle player and Satan. The whole story is told by Charlie in his country rock hit from the 1970's, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" in the music video on this page.  While you watch the song, read along with the lyrics here so you won't miss any part of the story. 

GARTH BROOKS was country music in the 1990s, becoming the largest force driving the success of his career and of the entire country music industry for more than a decade. One of his best known tunes, "Friends In Low Places", has become a sing-along at millions of bars and wedding receptions.  Another one of his songs, "Ain't Goin' Down" is guaranteed to whip his concert audience into a frenzy, like at this performance.  Read the lyrics to "Ain't Goin' Down" here.

TAYLOR SWIFT: Recently I was at a check-out line at Wal-Mart, and in the magazine rack I spotted the latest copies of Cosmopolitan, People, Country Weekly and TV Guide. Each of those print publications target a decidedly different audience. Yet, ALL FOUR magazines had more than one photo of Taylor, two of them pictured Ms. Swift on the cover! That should demonstrate her incredible popularity at this moment. Taylor Swift is only 19 and her career only BEGAN in 2006.

Click this link to listen to Taylor's latest single, "Love Story", which topped both the country AND pop charts in the spring of 2009. On the same page you'll be able to read the lyrics as the song plays.

Becoming a "Crossover Artist"

This characteristic of an artist being popular in more than one genre is known as "crossing over", and the artists that make this transition, like Taylor Swift who crossed over from country to pop. She and many before her (like Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and Garth Brooks) all eventually became known as "crossover artists".

Crossing over occurs in all musical genres, where an artist goes beyond the genre in which they're popular and crosses over into another (usually pop) genre.

This is a valuable attribute to the record labels and the artist because if you become a crossover artist, it means your music can sell to one genre and then to another, thus making the record company and the artist even more money, while attracting millions of additional fans and followers in the process.

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