Fluff And Fun: Adkins Defends Country Ditties
In the mid-'90s, Joe Diffie earned the nickname "Ditty Diffie" thanks to a string of fun but lightweight hits that included "John Deere Green," "Pickup Man" and "Bigger Than the Beatles."In the mid-'90s, Joe Diffie earned the nickname "Ditty Diffie" thanks to a string of fun but lightweight hits that included "John Deere Green," "Pickup Man" and "Bigger Than the Beatles." Now such tunes are back in a big way on country radio, with Capitol Nashville artist Trace Adkins leading the charge.
Many of these uptempo songs have quickly zoomed up the airplay chart, indicating that they are striking a chord with listeners.
Adkins had a huge hit earlier this year with "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" (sample lyric: "Got it goin' on, like Donkey Kong/And ooh wee, shut my mouth, slap your grandma"). On its heels, Capitol released "Swing" from Adkins (sample lyric: "Swing batter batter/Swing batter batter/Swing batter batter/Swing").
"Swing" has been joined on the chart in recent months by such titles as Steve Holy's "Brand New Girlfriend" ("Playing kissy kissy, smoochy smoochy, talking mushy mushy about nothin' ") Jake Owen's "Yee Haw" ("If you know what I'm talkin' about y'all/How 'bout a yee haw") and Rascal Flatts' "Me and My Gang" ("We live to rock/We rock to live"), among others.
Adkins says such songs, which he calls "fluff," are "just for fun ... People just want to be able to take a mental time-out these days and just listen to something that will put a smile on their face and is not going to bring them down."
Radio programmers like WYRK Buffalo, N.Y., PD Wendy Lynn agree. "My listeners have had a more positive reaction to the upbeat and light message songs," she says. "With the current tone and state of the world right now, I tend to enjoy the lighter side myself."
But KIIM Tucson, Ariz., PD Buzz Jackson has some concerns about the ditties' lasting impact on the format. "Novelty songs sell records," Jackson says, "but they don't make long-term radio hits." He worries that such songs may be "preventing a better record from getting heard."
While plentiful right now, ditties have not entirely taken the place of more meaningful songs. Such titles as Big & Rich's "8th of November," Gary Allan's "Life Ain't Always Beautiful" and Rodney Atkins' "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)," all of which carry a message, are becoming hits.
It's that mix of "fluff" and substance that has always been a hallmark of the country format. Even Adkins has tried to balance his output, interspersing hit ditties like "Hot Mama," "Chrome" and "Rough & Ready" with more lyric-driven offerings like "Then They Do" and "Arlington."
Still, XM Satellite Radio PD Jon Anthony says programmers are still sometimes surprised by what the audience likes. "Many times programmers will make some rational decision on a song's 'IQ' value without putting it to their audience to find out," he says. "Sometimes it's just entertaining, and that's as simple as it needs to be to be a hit."