In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking some of our favorite songs about cowboys.
There was a time when I would listen to the Dixie Chicks in a sort of secret way, changing the station when a popular single started to play in the company of others. I’m not sure what nonexistent reputation I was trying to protect, but by 2002 I no longer cared—as a devoted Fleetwood Mac fan, a cover of “Landslide” changed my mind. Looking back, I have no idea how popular the Dixie Chicks were then or if that cover was the sort of thing to help or hinder the band’s career. I do remember, though, that only a year later, lead singer Natalie Maines boldly (for the time) shared some stage banter opposing the invasion of Iraq: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all,” she said. “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
A media frenzy ensued and many country music stars and fans voiced their outrage toward the Dixie Chicks. Meanwhile, Maines stood by her words with the support of Dixie Chicks bandmates Martie Erwin Maguire and Emily Erwin Robison, and by 2006 the women came back with the hit single “Not Ready To Make Nice,” which directly addressed the kerfuffle, as well as the documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing. Watch this. Don’t pretend you’re too good for it, because your reputation is probably as nonexistent as mine. Just watch it, because it’s moving and well done and with any luck it will do the same to you as it did to me, and you’ll find yourself thoroughly exploring the band’s back catalog, which is where I found the violin and banjo-laden “Cowboy Take Me Away” from 1999’s Fly.
The song makes it clear why the Dixie Chicks were so commercially popular. With a quiet opening that revs up to a mid-tempo country-pop groove, featuring violin jams and Maines’ distinct voice, it’s unarguably radio friendly. And, perhaps, it’s because I came to this song with a deep appreciation for three woman who were not only talented, but also unafraid to speak their minds, that I found it to be so much more than your typical, pining country song about a dreamy cowboy. To me, it’s always been about the drive to live an extraordinary life. (Cheesy, sure, but it is a pop-tinged country song, after all.) And if you find the right cowboy to do that with, the kind that isn’t Toby Keith or George W. Bush, kudos.