Country Music


The Song Into Outer Space

At the end of each of the over one hundred interviews, the filmmakers asked a final question: if you could send one song into outer space to represent country music, which song would it be and why? Here’s a compilation of some of the answers they received.

AIRED: September 22, 2019 | 0:33:23

- You know, when we were starting on this project

and started what turned out to be

a hundred and one interviews with different people

many of them singing stars,

great musicians, songwriters, producers.

We decided we wanted to ask each of them

a very unfair question.

The basic one, I mean, it sort of is:

What's your favorite country song, right?

But to just drop that on somebody without any warning

you can see that they're sort of like, it takes a while.

- Oh, lord.

Man, you don't really play fair do you?

Give me a minute, can you?

- Let me think just a minute.

- [Ken] Yeah, take your time.

- If I had to pick one song to epitomize country music

well, I'm not sure I could do it.

But I know it would be a George Jones song.

- And so, we finally came up with the one

in which the question is so long and convoluted

that it deliberately allows

the interviewee to start thinking

before you finally get to the question.

And so, it would be this: Okay, you and I,

NASA is sending a space probe

to the farther reaches of this galaxy and beyond.

And we're putting in that certain things that

a different culture, civilization,

billions of miles away, thousands of years from now

might come across that we wanna say this is who we are,

this is what we did.

And we'll put in the Declaration of Independence

or the Constitution.

Ken would want to put in the rules for baseball.

You know, other people would wanna do this.

But you and I are the two person team

that's gotta decide what country music song

are we sending into outer space to say:

This is country music.

- We asked everybody that if they were that

NASA scientist beaming out in the satellite

the one country song that the alien race should understand.

We got back the most amazing, amazing answers.

- What country song would I send out

into a time capsule for all time

and say this was country music?

I think every one of us would probably say:

He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

I don't think there's a better song

to represent country music than

He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

And I did not get paid to say that.

It's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

- No doubt about it, Crazy.

Crazy by Patty, by Patsy Cline

- [Man] Why?

- Because I think it's the perfect country song.

I truly think that Crazy is perfect;

The words, the melody, the way she sings it,

that's the song that I would, if I had to choose

that would be the song that I would send up

to represent country music.

- I would pick Coal Miner's Daughter.

I think Coal Miner's Daughter tells

the rags to riches story which is very American.

It tells a feminist point of view

about making it despite all odds.

It's 100% country, the sound of it, the song,

the melody, the instrumentation.

And all together it's,

exemplifies everything that's possible with country music,

how you can break through those barriers

and get across to people at times.

And when you really get across to people you can connect.

That rags to riches story, that's her real, true life story

becomes a song, becomes an album,

becomes a book, becomes a film.

That's incredible.

Noting more American than that.

- There won't never be another Merle Haggard either.

I think he's so different.

He wrote my favorite all time song.

♪ Today I started loving you again ♪

That's my favorite all time song.

It's just so easy.

Well, it's like if I was sittin' here

tellin' you the day I started lovin' you again.

I mean, it's just like, just like that, yeah.

- [Man] He's, it's a--

- And cryin' time again has just begun

'cause the day I started lovin' you again, yeah.

So, that covers my whole life, right there.

In that one little song.

And I think it's a verse and a chorus.

- Mule Skinner Blues, Jimmy Rodgers comes to mind.

It starts out with a bang and ends up with a bang.

And it has something to say and it's entertaining,

you know?

Has all the,

all the necessary components for a country standard.

♪ Good morning Captain

♪ Good morning Shine

♪ Do you need another mule skinner ♪

♪ Out on your new mud line

It's just good.

- Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.

- All right. - I think that'd be it.

- The greatest country song ever written in my estimation

I Can't Stop Lovin You, you know, by Don Gibson.

It's nothing without the melody

and the melody's nothin' without the lyrics.

And it's a perfect marriage of lyric and melody.

And it doesn't happen very often

and I don't remember it ever happening again.

But that song, I've used that as a kind of a model.

Don't force a melody on a lyric

and don't force a lyric into a melody that doesn't suit it.

But you put that melody and that lyric together

and boy, you got solid gold.

- How can you leave out Hank Williams?

That's an impossible question.

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill.

It's such a mournful song.

And it's a beautiful melody.

And he sings it great.

So, and it's got nice chord changes in it.

- Maybe Your Cheatin' Heart, Hank Williams.

You wanna really define what this is,

that to me is as about as pure

as I can think of it getting is Your Cheatin' Heart.

- As far as the greatest country song of all time

I don't know that I could actually name one.

I could maybe name ya a dozen

that would compete with each other.

But I'll just say two.

He Stopped Lovin' Her Today, a George Jones hit.

Cold Cold Heart, Hank Williams.

- Oh, but I love that song and oh, I love that song

and I love that song.

And in the end it turns out many of them like

He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

And many of them said

even though they might have been traditionalists

they liked a countrypolitan, meaning, you know,

very smooth Nashville sound piece by George Jones called:

He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

- Probably He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

That's the whole package to me.

It's amazing writing and a great record, yeah, yeah.

- He Stopped Lovin' Her Today by George Jones

is by far my very favorite country song.

Do you know the song? - Sure.

- Absolutely, it's marvelous.

- No brainer to me.

He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

I think it contains

every element of country music that I can think of.

It's a great lyric, it's a great melody,

it's a great story, it's a great emotion.

And nobody could a sung it like George Jones did.

- The epitome of a country song?

Probably He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

I don't know.

That's just what came to my mind.

- He Stopped Lovin' Her Today would be the ultimate song

that will be sung for ages and ages and ages to come.

- [Ken] Why?

- The man's brokenhearted, he's lost it all.

She was the greatest thing that ever happened to him

and now she's gone, you know?

'Cause he said he'd never.

♪ I said I'll love you 'til I die ♪

What a song to start with.

I mean, what a line to start with, you know?

And he stopped lovin' her today, you know, he died.

It's, you know, it's that to me

is the quintessential country song.

- I loved Kristofferson.

I loved his Help Me Make It Through The Night,

For The Good Times.

Curly Putman and Bobby Braddock He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

Vince Gill, Go Rest High On the Mountain.

I mean, these are songs that you wonder

how they, how these writers got to that point

that they could sit down and write those lyrics.

I do.

Merle Haggard, Mama Cried

and all these songs that this guy wrote.

And he's such a poet, you know?

And all these songwriters that I've mentioned are poets,

they're all poets.

- I would just put all of Kris's songs in a box

and just pull one out.


And that would represent it.

I think he changed the face of country songwriting.

And without a doubt, just pull out any of 'em,

it'll serve.

- Boy, if I had to say one song

represents country music to me

that would be a hard one to pull out.

But it might be

Merle Haggard, Sing Me Back Home Before I Die,

Sing Me Back Home Before I Die.

It's got that great simple country verse

and that great chorus.

And that one line: Sing me back home before I die.

It's like, you know, just like one more embrace before I go.

Just sing me back home.

- I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.

Hank Williams.

That was a good one.

I'm so lonesome I could cry, that's as country as it gets.

That's as country as it gets.

He was just absolutely great.

He hit it on the,

he hit the nail on the head with every one of his songs.

Idn't that amazin'?

29 years old.

He was just, he wrote gifts.

They were gifts.

- Lovesick Blues by Hank Williams

because it goes back to Emmett Miller,

it goes to Hank Williams.

It's got country, it's got blues, it's got a yodel.

That's a little break in the little yodel

is something that is so much a part a country music

whether it's Patsy Cline doin' it,

Jimmy Rodgers yodelin' and Hank Williams doin' it

or LeAnn Rimes doin' it in

♪ Blue

You know.

That is one defining thing about country music vocals,

there's a break in the voice.

So, that's my choice.

- It's a song called: I Can't Help It

If I'm Still In Love With You, Hank Williams song.

- I'm gonna go with

I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You.

I think that it has a little bit of that tone,

that country flavor that Hank had in his phrasing.

It's a heartbreaking story.

And a lot of country songs are about heartbreak

and loss and desire.

And it's a song about a man and a woman,

the oldest, most complicated relationship as we know it.

If I had to pick one of country music,

it's heartbreaking and it's beautiful

and it's steel guitar and story

and all the good stuff.

♪ Today I passed you on the street ♪

♪ And my heart fell at your feet ♪

♪ I can't help it if I'm still in love with you ♪

♪ Somebody else stood by your side ♪

♪ And you looked so satisfied

♪ I can't help it if I'm still in love with you ♪

- He Stopped Lovin' Her Today

the George Jones great cut that Billy Sherrill produced

that George didn't like, didn't think it would be a hit.

It's called the greatest country song ever recorded

or record ever recorded I think by a lot a people.

- He Stopped Lovin' Her Today by George Jones.

Brilliant, perfect country song.

- He Stopped Loving Her Today.

It hits on all, you know, the bells and whistles.

It truly does.

- If I were to choose just one country song

that this is how we should be remembered

I would think that the whole world agrees with me.

It would be: He Stopped Loving Her Today.

There's not one, not one beat

of not one bar that's not perfect.

It's, I mean, it's supreme, it's superb.

Everything about it.

And it just yanks your heart out.

And it was George's voice.

- I don't think I could boil it down to one.

I think The Dance is one.

I think He Stopped Lovin' Her Today would have to be one.

She Thinks I Still Care would be one of my choices.

Maybe if I favored myself I'd say

Dreamin' My Dreams by Waylon.

I would put any of those songs forward and say

these would go a long way toward explaining

why I love country music.

And when country music is good it's as good as anything.

It's as good as any kinda music there is.

- Crazy is my favorite country song

because it's the number one jukebox hit of all time

and also because I played on it

and did the agony of four hours with it.

But when you listen to it it's a melody

and it's a real feeling of emotion, you know?

I'm crazy, I'm crazy for lovin' you and all that.

- I might choose T for Texas for that one

because it incorporates so many of the elements

that Jimmy Rodgers carried on

and influenced country music later.

- Blue Yodel Number 9.

That song to me is a big representation of

you know, American music, you know?

You have this white front man who's singing

in a way that is combining lots of blues

and obviously lots a music learned from black folk.

But then you have these yodels in there, you know?

Which is from what an Alpine tradition?

And then you have these black musicians

doing this improvisation, you know?

This beautiful thing that didn't really exist before.

And, you know, those two things together

create this smash hit.

- I think it's gotta be Uncle Dave Macon's

Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy.

♪ All the time time time time time time ♪

♪ Keep my skillet good and greasy all the time ♪

♪ All the time time time time time time ♪

♪ Keep that skillet good and greasy all the time ♪

Don't you think?

- Circle Be Unbroken that has to do

not only with country and traditional country

but it has a church element to it.

It has a element of heartbreak.

That's, I think, the power of Carter Family.

- I would say Circle Be Unbroken

because circle and circle of life.

It's a story of burying someone

but it's about the eternal circle of life

and how it goes on.

And music is like that.

It gets passed down and passed around.

- Will The Circle Be Unbroken.

How many have said that?

- The yearning that embodies all country songs.

Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton.

It's a true story.

How many people today have to put together rags

to stave away the cold winter?

And as she watched her mom.

Sew that coat of many colors she said with every stitch

she knew that her mom was sayin' I love you Dolly.

- I was thinkin' The Green Green Grass a Home.

To me that's pretty much what country music used to be.

I don't know if it is now but at one time is.

I mean, it's got mama and home

and dying and a good sad melody.

So, I'd say that would be a good one.

Green Green Grass A Home.

- One of my favorite songs of all time

is Good Old Boys Like Me.

And that song opens: When I was a boy as Uncle Remus

would put me to sleep.

You know, the father is,

daddy would come in with gin on his breath

and his bible in his hand.

But Stonewall Jackson is hanging over the bed,

the confederate general.

But the tale being told is a Uncle Remus story.

Hank in Tennessee still mean a lot to me.

So, we have also the influence of Hank Williams

and the influence of Tennessee Williams there.

But first and foremost it's Uncle Remus in there.

And I think Bob McDill was tellin' the tale

of how deep the black influence is.

- Blue Eyes Cryin' In the Rain.

- [Man] Why?

Just a great song and it just represents country.

It just it tells a story of a lost love.

When Fred Rose wrote the song

I'm sure he had no idea it was gonna be such a monster.

I don't think any of us ever when you write somethin'

and well, it's good but, you know,

it never it'd be that big.

But that to me is

probably the greatest country song ever.

Wish I'd a wrote it and wish I'd a published it.

- The Wind Beneath My Wings.

I think that, when it came along I thought:

Why didn't we write this years ago?

I think it's a great song.

I, you know, I am nothing without you.

You are the reason I exist.

The guy that wrote it told me

he was trying to make up with his wife

and write this song that would please her

and show him how much he, how he really felt about her.

And it was his idea.

I said: Did it work?

He said: No.

And that's the sad end to a great story.

- Alan Jackson, Where Were You

When The World Stopped Turning.

It was the entire feeling

about what happened to 9/11.

And it is a song that encapsulated

every feeling we had in four minutes.

And it's absolute perfection and emotional beyond belief.

- Personal favorite with me is:

Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine.

- I also happen to love the song Hickory Wind.

You know, Hickory Wind is so about longing.

It's about nostalgia in the best sense

because we don't wanna live there

but we carry with us a sense of place, a sense of home.

Even if it doesn't exist anymore.

♪ I started out younger

♪ at most everything

♪ All the riches and pleasures

♪ What else could life bring

♪ But now when I'm lonesome

♪ I always pretend

♪ That I'm gettin' the feel

♪ of Hickory Wind

I mean, that just says it right there, you know?

What beautiful, beautiful words.

- The one that occurs to me as you say that is

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

by Lulu Belle and Scotty.

That just, it's simple, it's direct.

It tells the story in very few words.

And it's heartfelt.

♪ Have I told you lately that I love you ♪

♪ Shall I tell you once again somehow ♪

♪ Have I said with all my heart and soul how I adore you ♪

♪ Well darlin' I'm tellin' you now ♪

- Is it You're the Reason Our Kids are Ugly,

Dropkick Me Jesus Through The Goal Posts of Life?

I love those songs too, you know?

I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal

But I'm gonna Be a Diamond Someday.

I love those paradox songs, you know?

I used to collect even the worst ones of those.

And country you can say all the songs about

you know, the dog died, you know, mama's died,

my wife went away, my house burnt down,

the train, I missed the train, you know?

Yeah, in some sense those.

But they're sharin' experience in the song.

But I don't know,

I think there's a lot a different threads to it.

It's a lot more complicated and intricate.

It's just not intellectualized in the same tedious degree

that other forms of music are, you know?

- I think my favorite song in the whole world is

How Great Thou Art.

And I didn't know why for a long, long time.

But I think it's because it keeps you in your place.

♪ Oh lord my god when I in awesome wonder ♪

♪ Consider all the world's thy hands have made ♪

♪ I see the stars and I hear the rolling thunder ♪

♪ Thy power throughout this universe displayed ♪

♪ Then sings my soul my savior god to thee ♪

♪ How great thou art how great thou art ♪

♪ Then sings my soul

♪ My savior god to thee

♪ How great thou art

♪ How great thou art

- I'll Fly Away. - I'll Fly Away.

- I'll Fly Away, yeah.

It's such a positive thing.

♪ Some glad mornin' when this life is over ♪

♪ I'll fly away

♪ To a home where joy shall never end ♪

♪ I'll fly away

♪ I'll fly away oh glory

♪ I'll fly away when I die

♪ Hallelujah by and by

♪ I'll fly away

I know so many of the people that sing country songs,

great country singers that can sing

I'll Fly Away With you just in a minute.

It's like the drop of a hat, they know that song.

- The Chair, George Strait.

To me, it's the perfect country song

and it's a one sided conversation

where you just hear the voice of the man.

He says: Oh, excuse me I think you've got my chair.

Oh, that one's not taken I don't mind if you sit there,

I'll be glad to share.

And he keeps the conversation keeps going

but you only hear his side of it.

And it's like, oh, can I drink you a buy.

Oh, listen to me, can I buy you a drink?

Is what I mean.

And he keeps going and they, oh yeah I like the song too.

You wanna dance?

It's like, oh no, I'll be glad to drive you home.

And he drives her home.

And the very last line of the song is:

Yeah, I like ya too.

And to tell you the truth that wasn't my chair after all.

It's brilliant.

- What really makes a country song magic

is when the right song finds the right singer, you know?

When Don't Close Your Eyes found Keith Whitley

that collision of, you know, planets

is what takes a song from being a great song

to being a song that will be great for all times.

And I think that's a great example

of great country songwriting, great country voice,

great instrumentation.

Just, it's country.

- And then you've got the greatest love song ever written.

♪ Because you're mine I walk the line ♪

I mean, what more can a man say about a woman

than because you're mine I walk the line?

You can talk about how pretty her hair is,

blue eyes, all you kiss good, I don't care what.

Because you're mine I walk the line.

I love you, you're my love, my wife.

And I'm gonna do the right thing.

How much more can you love a woman than that?

- I have to pick one of my dad's songs.

So, I would say I Walk The Line.

It's that, let's shoot it into space.

They'll know.

- Two of my principal nominees for quintessential

country music song

would be Hungry Eyes

written and performed by Merle Haggard.

Country music emerged from the bottom.

And so it's talkin' about Okies.

And hard work.

The dad is tryin' to get things for his family.

His mom's eyes tell the child

about all the things that she can't have and yet.

It's loving.

So, and you can never go wrong

with pickin' a Merle Haggard song.

The other one that I would pick would be

Sunday Morning Comin' Down

written and the performance by,

Kris Kristofferson.

It's written by a guy who was a Rhodes Scholar

and the rhyming scheme is very different,

A-A-A-B, you know?

Usually it's couplets and it was A-A-A-B.

There's lots of just alliteration.

As a sleepy Sunday sidewalk with Sunday mornin' comin' down.

You know, there's a lot of those things

that are very literate

and yet they don't draw attention to themselves.

So, I mean, just as a sheer act of writing it's incredible.

Saturday Night Sunday Morning is essential

to understanding country music.

This has got a little bit of both.

Usually however Sunday Morning

is where you find your redemption from the Saturday night.

He's on the outskirts of all of that, right?

He's down about as far as you can get

after he's fumbled through his closet

to find his cleanest dirty shirt.

He's down.

And he sees a kid cussin' at a can that he is kickin'

Cussin' at a can that he's kickin', alliteration, right?

Then he smells the Sunday smell of someone fryin' chicken

and then at a park he sees a dad

with a laughin' little girl that he was swingin'.

And then he's outside a church, not inside the church,

outside the church and hears a choir singing.

And it's all bringing back in him these memories

of something that's gone from his life now

because of whatever the twists and turns that its taken.

There's nothin' short of dyin'

half as lonely as the sound as a

sleepy city sidewalk with Sunday mornin' comin' down.

I mean, that's you're down.

It's a quintessential, if not quintessential

it's one of the greatest country songs ever.

- I don't think I have a favorite.

You know, people ask me what my favorite film is

and I can't do that.

It's as bad as asking what's my favorite daughter

and I have four of them.

And so, the films are like children.

And I can go through an episode,

today we we're working on an episode and, episode seven.

And it has He Stopped Loving Her Today in it.

It has Jolene by Dolly Parton.

It has I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton.

It has an amazing array of songs

that when I hit them I go: This is it.

This is the one that's perfect.

And so I love being able to say:

You know what?

It's not one it's many.

And that's, you know, who we are.

- I have so many country songs that have meant so much to me

but if I was to, you know, play a song

from a visitor from outer space or from another country

maybe not as a way to explain country music

but as a way to demonstrate the greatness of it

He Stopped Loving Her Today would be it.

It's a very smart song.

It's a very basic human song.

And it's very smart.

And how they approach it.

Oh, and it has the talking section, you know?

You always want that in a country song.

It has a little bit

of all of the great elements of country music.

- The question being that you're asked to pick a single song

which is always ridiculous.

Of the genre, country music

to send it out into the outer limits of the solar system

or beyond wherever it lands in the galaxy in the universe

to represent country music.

So, that's an absurd kind of set of parameters.

But given that I'll say

Lovesick Blues by Hank Williams Sr.

would to me give somebody some idea, an inkling of

the various longitudinal and latitudinal points

on the globe that's country music,

the world of country music.

♪ Hey lord I've got 'em

♪ I got the love sick blues

there's just somethin' about it's still,

but there's an edge to it, it's rockin'.

- [Ken] When we've done all our other interviews

we've asked everybody that if they were that NASA scientist

and sending out the one country song

to be beamed to the universe

what would you like to tell the other lifeforms?

- Can I send the artist with it?

(Willie laughing)

Just kiddin'.


- [Ken] No, we want you here, we want you here.

Don't go, don't go. - Okay, all right.


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