Eric Paslay’s ‘Song About A Girl’ Makes Clichés Sound Fresh
Pickup trucks, tailgates, back roads, bonfires and alcohol: commercial country has been obsessed with a handful of topics for several years, and just about every sector of the business -- from the songwriters to the labels to radio -- has voiced some level of frustration about what seems to be a limited lyrical approach.
But it keeps working, and writers keep finding new ways to write about those topics -- or to use them as a starting place to talk about something else.
Eric Paslay’s new single, “Song About a Girl” -- released by EMI to radio via Play MPE on Feb. 3 -- puts yet another tack on the issue, as a sort of anti-bro-country approach: “This ain’t about tailgates/Ain’t about bonfires/Ain’t about souped-up cars, water towers/Or drowning in a bottle of Jack.”
It’s a song about a girl, which, Paslay points out, is that to which all those songs that use the clichés are ultimately leading.
“We always talk about the bonfire -- there’s nothing sexy about a bonfire unless your chick’s glowing in it,” he says. “There’s nothing sexy about a tailgate unless your chick is sitting on it, and there’s definitely nothing sexy about the rusty water tower unless your chick’s name’s written on it, you know? Every time we sing a line in a country song, it’s always about the girl. So we just decided to write a song about it.”
Jessi Alexander (Miley Cyrus' “The Climb,” Blake Shelton's “Mine Would Be You”) brought the title with her when she met with Paslay for a writing session at the Nashville-area home of fellow writer Gordie Sampson (Carrie Underwood's “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” Hunter Hayes' “Storm Warning”) in October 2012, the same month Paslay wrote Rascal Flatts’ “Rewind.” Alexander had also written Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck,” which Curb released to radio the next month, and she was already hearing negative feedback from other songwriters.
“I got a lot of crap for it in the beginning, when people saw the title, ‘I Drive Your Truck,’ ” she recalls. “I had friends like, ‘Oh, come on, Jessi. Are you writing truck songs now, too?’ Then, of course, when people hear the song, they know it’s so much more than that. But I think we all, as writers, are feeling a little boxed in by the topics.”
Oddly enough, the boxes became points of creative inspiration with “Song About a Girl,” which runs through a veritable laundry list of lyrical clichés -- hometowns, goodbyes, come-backs, the stars, the moon -- but always returning to its simple conclusion: “It’s a song about a girl.”
“We kind of turned brevity into a three-minute song,” says Paslay. “It’s just one line. The main point is that every song that comes on the radio today, you could say, ‘That’s about a girl.’ Like, ‘What’s this about?’ ‘It’s a song about a girl.’ If your kid in the back seat ever asks what this song is about, you just play them my song: ‘It’s a song about a girl.’ ”
And the kids may indeed be asking about a few topics in the song that were before their time. The first verse references Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and “coo-coo-ca-choos,” a shout-out to The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus,” a 46-year-old album cut that’s inspirational to many baby-boomer music executives but may not be familiar to a budding teen.
“Sometimes, the sound of the words will happen before the actual words,” Sampson notes. “So Eric will mumble something like, ‘Oo, oo, oo-oooh,’ and then it’s just about trying to find a word that fits in that hole, like ‘coo-coo-ca-choo.’ I remember reading an article about Shania Twain and Mutt Lange working together and them talking about that’s how she often would write, finding the sound of the words before finding the words themselves.”
“I’m hoping [“coo-coo-ca-choo”] makes people question and dig in deeper,” Alexander adds. “I mean, that’s what I did. When I heard different references about older artists, I was looking for them. So hopefully, it’ll bring a little light there.”