In Revelations, the ominous closing book of the Bible, there are several signs that point toward the end of the world. As somebody who tracks the trends of popular music, I can spot my own signs that might precede the demise of the planet as depicted in the disaster flick “The Day After Tomorrow,” and certainly Kenny Rogers scoring a Top 20 country hit in 2006 might give me pause.
Not that Rogers isn’t a great singer with a long chart pedigree who deserves a shot at chart success these days, but when he released his latest disc, “Water & Bridges,” in March, it seemed to me that Kenny’s hard-core fans would buy it, but country radio would ignore it like they have recent discs by other country stars of old Merle Haggard and George Jones.
When I heard “I Can’t Unlove You” on a local powerhouse country station a few weeks ago I thought to myself, “That sounds a lot like Kenny Rogers, but it can’t be — country radio doesn’t play old dudes like Kenny — so who the gosh darned heck is it?”
When the tune ended, I, and the rest of the country fans listening in the Valley, were told that it was indeed Kenny Rogers, and I immediately peered through the windshield trying to spot the four horsemen of the apocalypse on the horizon.
Popular music is a cruel, cruel world where old artists are put out to pasture like aging racehorses who can’t make their owners money anymore. Once they fall out of favor in the shifting trends of pop culture — which these days moves faster than a speeding e-mail — “classic” artists are left touring casinos and releasing records that radio won’t play anymore, because the flavor of the week always tastes better than week-old Juicy Fruit.
But in today’s country music, where a new genre called “country pop” rules the airwaves, Kenny Rogers — who was country pop before country pop wasn’t cool — can now get enough airplay to land him in the Top 20. It’s certainly the country comeback of the year, thus far.
Rogers’ “I Can’t Unlove You” is a pleasant tune that wouldn’t be out of place on albums from young country pop acts such as Rascal Flatts, Billy Currington and Craig Morgan, all of whom can be described as “young hunks,” something that Rogers hasn’t been since his “Gambler” days in the ’70s. (Before you get upset, ladies, Rogers is still a trendsetter — check out
www.menwholooklikekennyrogers.com — and he’s still a hunk, I guess. My mom thinks he’s a good-looking gentleman, but he’s not the young hunk that publicity folks at record labels like to market to CMT and country radio.)
Which is why I am hoping that this is a new trend in country music — let’s bring back some of the genre’s stars of yesteryear who are still making great music, older singers like Haggard and Jones, and put them back on the radio and in the video countdown on CMT.
They may not have biceps like Kenny Chesney, but their voices are still better.