When Bad Songs Happen To Good People
March 3, 2016
The invite came last minute, as these things in Nashville often do, but she had me at Garth – as in Brooks. Monarch Publicity’s Cindy Hunt – a Leadership Music 2015 classmate of mine – had an extra ticket to the Second Annual “First And Worst” songwriter showcase. In addition to Garth, the three other featured players weren’t exactly slouches, starting with Bobby – as in Braddock, a man whose middle initials should probably be HOF since he’s in nearly every music and/or songwriting-based Hall of Fame imaginable, with the possible exception of Polka. Then again, Braddock still plies his trade quite successfully, so I wouldn’t pull the Polka possibility off the table just yet.
Jessi Alexander – whose credits include “The Climb” for Miley Cyrus and 2013 Song of the Year winner “I Drive Your Truck” – was there, too, along with Lee Brice, who recorded “Truck” and who co-penned Garth’s 2007 single, “More than A Memory” – the first-ever song to debut at #1.
So with all these award-winning, talented, and successful songwriting luminaries on one stage at the same time, what were we treated to? Well, for starters, the worst song they’d ever written by their own admission – as if any of these people had a single ounce of lousy in them. All of this wasn’t just for the fun of it either, as the City Winery crowd would ultimately determine whose worst song was the absolute worstest, crowning one of the four the coveted “Crappy” Award winner.
Most importantly, the night was a fundraiser for Music Health Alliance, an organization that assists artists and musicians seeking health care. Most have never had any, and during the past four years, the organization has helped secure $10.8 million – as in MILLION – toward health care resources for more than 4,100 clients. I cleverly added a link above so you can donate if possible; it’s interesting to note that for every $1 contributed, Music Health Alliance is able to provide $30 in resources.
But enough about fundraising, let’s get back to bad songs from great writers. Brooks kicked off the round of worsts with a tune called “Anybody But Bill,” fictional advice to a wife about who she could turn to in her hour of need, should he die unexpectedly. “Bill,” as the song quickly explains, used to be a Jill, so Garth implores his wife, “You’ve got to trust me on this one, baby, don’t make me put it in my will. Go and have a good life baby, with anybody but Bill.”
I have to say, as awful songs go, that one was pretty strong – and funny as hell. Acknowledging that the bar had been set painfully high, Brice offered up a tribute to anybody who’s a long-suffering fan of a perennially losing team, but who still loyally shows up to tailgate – and eats well. Brice proceeded to crank out “The Odds Are Low, But The Steaks Are Good.” Excruciatingly corny, with multiple meat references, Brice measured up to the aforementioned bar and then some.
Not to be outdone – and with some powerhouse names to drop just in case anyone doubted her – Jessi Alexander unholstered a tune conceived at 3am on Miranda Lambert’s bus as she, Miranda, and Ashley Monroe decided that was the perfect time to write a Song Of the Year candidate. Things went sideways – as they so often do at 3am when heavy alcohol consumption is involved – and the result was a song Alexander never properly titled, but could safely be called “Dear Sober.” Many references to drinking and futile attempts at temperance were included, such as “Dear Wagon, you’ve been draggin’ me along and I finally fell off. It was good while it lasted, it is time to get blasted, forget all of those things I’ve done wrong.”
I think you get the idea. I also think it’s not humanly possible for Jessi Alexander, Miranda Lambert, and Ashley Monroe to come up with a crappy song, no matter how late/early it is, or how much alcohol is involved. I’d actually like to hear this one fully produced, but I’m guessing the odds of that are low, and the steaks aren’t all that good, either.
Braddock went deep into his personal songbook and even had a sideman for his “worst” entry. A noted songwriter in his own right, Rafe Van Hoy joined Braddock for a cliché-ridden, schmaltzy tune that Braddock remembered the two of them collaborating on in the 70s. The objective, said the forward-thinking Braddock, was to write an absolutely terrible Country song; possibly the worst-ever. As they performed “Avalanche Of Romance,” it quickly became apparent that Braddock is and always will be in full command of his craft. For, this is the man who gave us “He Stopped Loving Her Today” – widely considered the best Country song in history – while on the other side of the spectrum, “Avalanche” is indeed one of the worst, as evidenced by this intentionally awful lyric: “So gather up the children and tie down the hound. An avalanche of romance, a landslide of love, we got off our big rocks with one little shove.” Later, Braddock sealed his "Crappy" fate when he shared the first song he ever wrote - at age four - in honor of a teacher at school named Mrs Tidball, which when sung, sounded like ... well, you get the idea.
Aaaaand … we had a winner.
The evening wasn’t over yet, though, as several more rounds ensued, with Garth singing “That Summer” and later backing up his wife, Trisha Yearwood, while she belted out a cover of The Steel Drivers’ “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” – co-written by Chris Stapleton and later recorded by Adele. Stapleton was a late scratch from the “First And Worst” event, so Garth and Trisha, apparently not yet worn out from an ongoing World Tour playing 20,000-seat arenas two or three times a night, stepped in and stepped up. Yearwood also sang “Nothin’ ‘Bout Memphis” with Alexander; later Alexander’s husband, Jon Randall, joined her and performed “Whiskey Lullaby,” which he of course, co-wrote with Bill Anderson for Brad Paisley.
Brice gave powerful acoustic renditions of “I Drive Your Truck” and “More Than A Memory,” and herein lays the connective tissue that is the magic and awesomeness of these kinds of events. Brice was sitting in between Brooks – for whom we earlier mentioned, he wrote “More Than A Memory” – and Jessi Alexander, who penned “I Drive Your Truck.” The mutual respect and genuine appreciation all three had for each other was obvious and palpable.
But for the evening’s signature goose bump moment, once again Braddock took the prize, singing his most famous composition. Quick aside and a confession: I started in Country radio just as “He Stopped Loving Her Today” became a single. At the time, I was not the least bit a fan of Country music, and something as stone cold Country as that song – with the lyrical content and painful interpretation that only George Jones could deliver – was not initially appealing to a 20-year old Hard Rock fan. But the song is so good, so irresistible, no matter what your musical taste, that one ultimately becomes a believer – and a strong one. It simply can’t be helped. I went on to play “He Stopped Loving Her Today” on the air hundreds of times, and I saw Jones sing it live on several occasions.
But there is something special about seeing the person who wrote a song so famous – and so perfect – sing it themselves. And watching Craddock perform “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was one of those bucket list items I never realized needed to be checked off until it was. I also learned from Braddock that Jones’ recording of the song was a years-long process, and that the mid-song recitation came late in that process. It was an ironic moment, hearing the evening’s “Crappy Award” winner also sing arguably the greatest Country song ever written in the same night. It also compelled the crowd to give Braddock a well-deserved – and lengthy – standing ovation.
Oh, and there was another big winner too; the biggest of the night: Music Health Alliance, which raised $100,000. Not a bad haul, considering all that (air quotes) horrible music we all had to suffer through.