Five Great Rock/Country Crossovers

Colin Meloy of The Decemberists
Colin Meloy of The Decemberists
Photo by Mark C. Austin

It's strange, but unless you're a musician, it seems like there's hardly any crossover between fans of country and rock. In fact, if you ask people what kind of music they like, especially if they're mostly rock fans, a lot of the time their answer will be "anything but country."

But the musicians know where it's at. Just a cursory look at indie-rock will show you how much country, Americana, and related genres have worked their way into our modern definition of rock music. Not to mention every now and then you get some awesome crossovers between the genres. Here are five songs even "anything but country" will probably love.

5. Morrissey, "The Loop" You could always hear small elements of Americana in Johnny Marr's jangly guitar work when Morrissey was a member of the Smiths, but Moz really engaged with the genre once he struck out on his own.

"The Loop" is one of his greatest songs, and a live favorite to this day. Its riff has an excellent country-western swagger, appropriately looping round and round throughout the song. The best part, though, is how understated it is compared to some of Moz's more dramatic works, conveying a powerful message through its simplistic words and music.

4. R.E.M., "Country Feedback" R.E.M.'s most popular work came from a combination of their bouncy college-rock sound with the increasingly pervasive Americana influences that infiltrated their early-'90s output. Singer Michael Stipe once called "Country Feedback" his favorite song by the band, and it's not hard to understand why.

It's a perfect cloying ballad, with Stipe's agonizing voice almost downplaying the pain of a failed relationship through his sprechgesang delivery. Only when he devolves into crying "I need this" does Stipe puts forceful emotion behind his voice, as the song ends on a masterful guitar solo. It's backed throughout with a perfectly applied steel guitar that builds the backbone of the song and completes the entirety of the atmosphere.

3. Metallica, "Mama Said" Say what you will about Metallica's mid-'90s albums and their experimentation outside the metal genre. But some of the songs they came up with during that period were gold, and one of the best was one of their most outside-the-box experiments. "Mama Said" is essentially a solo, country-inflected acoustic track performed by front man James Hetfield, written for his deceased mother. The emotional anguish he pours into his performance is enough to tear at your heartstrings no matter how jaded you were or are about later Metallica.

Hetfield himself is a longtime fan of country music, and delved into it a bit more with a performance of his late friend Waylon Jennings' "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand?" Even though it might not be quite appropriate for Metallica, it would be great to hear Hetfield indulge those tendencies on a solo record one day, based on how well these two tracks turned out.

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2. Elvis Costello, "Poisoned Rose" Perhaps more than anyone else on this list, Elvis Costello has immersed himself in country and Americana. When he decided in the '80s to ditch his backing band the Attractions and producer Nick Lowe to join up with a handpicked ensemble of session musicians and producer T-Bone Burnett, resulting album King of America was absolutely brilliant and unlike anything he had done before. "Poisoned Rose" is just one standout from the record.

Incidentally, Costello's interest in the genres had always been evident from his earliest days. Elements of it can be heard on his debut record My Aim is True and his first recorded song, ""Radio Sweetheart," is a classic-country-influenced dance tune that hardly anyone else remotely associated with the punk scene in England could have ever gotten away with playing.

The Decemberists, "Down by the Water" Taking the R.E.M. approach to infusing Americana into their music, a few years ago the Decemberists turned out a hit with "Down By the Water" from their album The King is Dead. It's easy to pinpoint the exact cues they took from Out of Time and Automatic for the People in several tracks on that record, and they even convinced Peter Buck to appear.

That being said, it was a brilliant move for the indie-rockres, and opened their sound up to a whole new world and a new audience. Decemberists are currently on hiatus, but the world could definitely use more music from them in this vein when they reconvene.


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