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249 - South of No North: Country Music's Favourite States

February 26, 2008, 4:11 PM


Off the top of your head, how many songs do you know that mention US states, either in their title or in the lyrics? Here’s how far I got:

• “It Never Rains In Southern California” (The Mamas & The Papas?) • “Paris, Texas” (Ry Cooder) • “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns” (by The Cramps, although only in the ‘cleaned-up’ version for radio and tv: “I’ve been a drag racer in Tennessee” replacing the reference “on LSD” on the album version) • “Alabama” (Neil Young) • “Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd’s response to Young’s lamento) • “West Virginia” (John Denver) • “Birmingham” (“The greatest town in Alabam’,” according to Randy Newman) • “Colorado Girl” (Townes Van Zandt) • “Georgia On My Mind” (Ray Charles) • “Johnny B. Goode” (who lived “Down in ‘Ouisiana“)

This totally unscientific sample seems to confirm what this hopefully better-researched map visualises – even though it deals only with states mentioned in country lyrics: that Southern states are sung about much, much more often than Northern ones.

Many thanks to Allen Garvin for discovering and sending in this gem. “I love this map because Texas rightfully takes its place as the largest state in the Union”, writes Mr Garvin, who keeps the map on his website (here).

True, but I think that Tennessee has gained more in size than Texas has, relatively speaking.

• The winners seem to be, in order: Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana. • West Virginia normally is much smaller than Virginia, but here is almost twice the size of its parent state. • All the traditional (deep) southern states seem to be represented fairly well, with the notable exception of an atrophied Florida – all those vacationers from the North preclude the profitability of serenading the Sunshine State. • California seems to be doing relatively well, with a number of ‘in-between’ states receiving some mention: Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio. • Every other state (i.e. ‘The North’) put together barely seems enough to fill Tennessee. Canada is about the size of Colorado. Mexico is much larger, almost as big as California.

Very few people are neutral about country music – it’s either loved or loathed. It can also be seen in a post-emotional way, as an expression of genuine Americana, living folklore, it’s been used as a yardstick in a variety of scientifical studies.

Mr Garvin has held on to this remarkable map for some years, and unfortunately can’t provide a link to its original context, so it’s difficult to judge the map’s scope and seriousness. The map did remind me of another, more notorious piece of universitary research a few years ago, which did seem to demonstrate a correlation of country music with suicide (“Country music is hypothesized to nurture a suicidal mood through its concerns with problems common in the suicidal population (…)” More here).

A tear in my beer, indeed.


249 - South of No North: Co...

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