What is the best kind of station to tune into on a long, lonesome drive? It depends on personal tastes, of course, but there is a definite sense of satisfaction to be found in a classic country station. Many country singers draw from a long, rich narrative tradition, so one is much more likely to encounter story-songs in this genre than any other. Thus, one can expect to listen to engaging tales a mere few minutes in length, and the fact that they are told through music simply makes them easier to latch onto. There’s nothing quite like hearing a satisfying story on the radio when a person is all alone and eager to return to loved ones.
Several singers spring to mind when considering this type of music. One of the undisputed masters is Kenny Rogers, who established himself as an accomplished balladeer decades ago. Of his many richly drawn story-songs complete with vibrant characters and a riveting plot, the most enduring has been “The Gambler,” in which a man relates his encounter with a grizzled poker player on an evening train ride. Not only is this tale of a newly forged friendship between men who share a hobby entertaining, it contains some very practical advice that can be applied to everyone, not just those with an enthusiasm for card-playing.
On the other end of the age spectrum is Taylor Swift, a promising up-and-comer who has been writing her own songs since her early teens and has a singular way of getting the heart of teen loves and anxieties. She has built a reputation as a wholesome singer-songwriter who speaks for the geekier members of her generation. Her most potent anthem is “You Belong With Me,” made far more poignant by the music video that accompanies it. Here, we see an ordinary girl pining for the friend she secretly loves and wishing he would understand what a great match they would make. For anyone who has experienced a burning crush, this certainly hits home.
These are only two examples out of the dozens of country singers whose stories fill the airwaves. Others include the deep-voiced Randy Travis, gentle Alan Jackson and effusive Dolly Parton, to name just a few. The beauty of it is that one needn’t know who the singer is to appreciate a good country song. It’s easy to just sit and listen to a string of unknown songs and soak up the colorful characters and twisty plots that emerge. It feels a bit like gathering a campfire as people swap stories. It’s great when a new one comes along to catch a person by surprise, though hearing the same song multiple times means being able to sing along. Either way, this music makes a great traveling companion.