Today’s song and story come from a recent holiday drive. The song is 3 AM, one of the hit singles from the debut Matchbox Twenty album Yourself Or Someone Like You. In an odd bit of trivia, the song did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100 only because it was not released as a physical single in the US. But the song did very well and the album was a super smash hit.
Matchbox Twenty were a pretty important band at the time. While I think their proper classification is alternative rock, the term “post-grunge” is used a lot when talking about them. This was the shape of rock after grunge flamed out in the middle part of the 1990’s.
The story goes back to Thanksgiving Day, which was was back like two weeks ago here in the US. We were driving back from a Thanksgiving dinner in a car with me, my girlfriend, her sister and her sister’s kid (my girlfriend’s niece).
We were coming from a fairly remote part of southwest Missouri back to the one city in the region that we live in. Finding something on the radio on forlorn highway roads is always a chore. These areas are known for having country, talk radio or religious programming on the dial. And of course, FM stations tune in and out very easily out in these rural areas.
At one point a rock station came on and the song in question was playing. After a bit, my girlfriend’s sister asked her daughter what she thought of the song. Her response?
“It’s fine. It sounds like country music.”
It was a pretty funny observation to the rest of us in the car, who have all been plenty exposed to country music. But after a second I realized how telling of a statement it was from a 13 year old kid who probably isn’t up on the history of country music.
The point is obviously about the state of modern country music – is this where it’s at? Someone not alive in Matchbox Twenty’s heyday thinks that their stuff is representative of a different genre of music?
Country music takes a lot of hits these days. The bro-country phenomenon of the past several years was awful. There has been a long-running battle between the entrenched machine of the Nashville industry and artists wanting more creative freedom. Country also takes a lot of flak for representing “older” values as well as a slant towards conservative politics and a lot of the worse things associated with those, both fairly and unfairly.
But when someone on first listen to an old alt-rock song thinks it sounds like your genre? I think it speaks volumes about the genre. Granted, I’m not very up on country these days and if I do pay attention, it’s to more independent artists who aren’t part of the Music Row network. I don’t really know what’s playing on mainstream country radio these days. But from the bits and pieces I’ve picked up, it’s not a far leap to suggest that today’s country is yesterday’s alt-rock. That’s not an absolute statement, of course, but it’s probably fair.
There are probably a lot of larger issues about country music that warrant discussion but that’s not really what this post is about. It was just a funny comment that made me think “Wow, is that what country has come to?” And there may not be as much to it as I’m speculating, but I’d say there’s something to it.
I could wrap up by posting Rob Thomas’ actual biggest hit, but I won’t do that to myself or anyone else. Instead let’s bow out with a bit of country.