Steve Earle is one of the most interesting country artists I've come across. Even though he is considered a one hit wonder in the mainstream, he is very successful in the country scene itself. However, his one crossover hit, "Copperhead Road", was a big hit and one of the most unique country songs out at the time. A lot of people give Garth Brooks credit for bringing dark themes to country music when he came out with "Thunder Rolls" in 1990. However, this song came out in 1988, 2 years before Thunder Rolls. So while I do like Thunder Rolls and consider it a bold song, I do think that Steve Earle deserves more credit then Garth Brooks for going in a dark direction. With that, lets take a look at one of the 80's most famous country songs, Copperhead Road.
First of all, when I call this a country song, I feel that I am using that term very loosely with this song. Honestly, the second half of this song almost feels more like a hard rock song then a country song. I mean, even the beginning kind of makes me feel like I should be bracing to rock out. I do hear country elements with the mandolin but the drum work gives more of a rock feel. Steve Earle's voice really is on that thin line between rock and country in this song. On the one hand, I hear that classic country sounding voice, but on the other hand his singing could fit very well in a hard rock or metal band of the 80's. Then after the second chorus is where this song goes big time rock and roll. The drums are heavier and the guitar gets heavy as well. However, the guitar still has enough of that twang in it to remind you that this is supposed to be a country song. What I really like about the music is how well the 2 genres are blended together in this song. No genre is over powering the other and nothing sounds or feels out of place, giving the song a very good flow. As far as the music goes, this is very unique style that isn't that common in country music, not even today.
Now the lyrics is where this song gets dark. Basically this song is about a man named John Lee Pettimore III telling his life story. He starts out talking about how his father and grandfather were bootleg moonshine makers. His grandfather comes only twice a year on Copperhead Road to get supplies to continue to making moonshine. His grandfather got ambushed and killed and his father died in a car crash while delivering moonshine. After this, Pettimore enlists in the army on his birthday, thinking he was going to get drafted anyway, and does 2 tours of Vietnam. After which, he returns home and starts growing Marijuana as implied by ( I take the seed of Columbia and Mexico). He then uses tricks he learned in Vietnam to make booby traps for anyone who wonders down Copperhead Road. What I really like about these lyrics is how well the story is communicated. I can tell what is happening and it flows very well. If there is one song that can have a movie based on it, it's Copperhead Road. I also like the fact that Stever Earle was willing to do a song that wasn't all that uplifting compared to a lot of other country songs of the 80's. This is a dark song about a family basically living the crime life.
I am not the biggest country fan in the world, but I got to say, I really like this song. It has a really unique sound that isn't done that much even today. The combination of rock and country in this song makes it truly unique, even by today's standards. For it's unique lyrics and amazing combination of rock and country, I give Copperhead Road a 5 out of 5.
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