Ah, country music! I’ll put it this way—when I mention this genre I get the same response that I’d get if I’d mentioned Brussels sprouts or kale. Some people think it’s OK, some love it, but a lot of people turn up their noses! Well, if you don’t think you like country music you may want to reconsider your viewpoint. I have a hunch that some music you think is really fantastic is just country music in disguise!
Here’s a recent discussion I had with a rider after class. (I’ve had similar discussions too many times to mention even though I just did. Ha!):
Me: “What kinds of music would you like to ride to in class?”
Rider: “I like everything except country. I HATE country music!”
Me: “Oh really? Well, how about Whitney Houston? We could always do a cool-down to “I Will Always Love You.”
Rider: “Yeah! I love that song!”
Me: “Do you know that it was originally a country song way back in the early ’70s? It was written and sung by Dolly Parton.”
Me: “Yeah! And you know that Britney Spears song “Hold It Against Me”?
Rider: “That’s a great song!”
Me: Well, I’m pretty sure she ripped off this group called The Bellamy Brothers. In ’79 they had a hit on the country charts. The name of the song was “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me.” It’s pretty much the same premise!”
Rider: “Wow…really?” <laughs>
Me: “And every time I play Linda Ronstadt, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jamie Foxx, Kid Rock, Nelly, and Justin Timberlake you’re listening to artists who were heavily influenced by country music. In fact, some of them even had crossover hits on country radio!”
Rider: <mouth agape> “I had no idea! Maybe I do like SOME country music after all.”
In the nigh on 22 years that I’ve been instructing indoor cycling I’ve sprinkled country music throughout my playlists because I happen to love the genre and its many offshoots. And guess what? I never have had anyone roll their eyes during class, or grunt in disgust, or jump off their bike and run out the door when a country song is playing. So if you haven’t given country music a fair shake, I’ll share my enthusiasm for everything from “yee-haw twang” (traditional country and western) all the way through to “Americana.” I’ll be using my own labels for each sub-genre because it’s more fun that way. Almost all of these songs are available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and SoundCloud. So hold onto your hats, put them boots on, and let’s ride!
Can I get a whoo-weee and a hell, yeah? Back in the day artists like Johnny and June Carter Cash, Charlie Pride, Ronnie Milsap, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, and Lefty Frizzell were crooning it up and getting their twang on. Modern artists like Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Cam, and Blake Shelton are staying true to the traditional. All of the songs they sing tell a story, and it’s really great that the listener can understand every word that is being sung. This music relies heavily on steel guitar and fiddle and nothing is over produced. Here is one of my favorites.
Artist: Alan Jackson
Song: Chattahoochee (Extended Mix)
Album: Greatest Hits Collection
Take your riders along the riverbank at a zippy 87 rpm. Just keep them seated with a moderate amount of resistance on their bikes and ask them to ride to the rhythm of the song. They should feel like they’re pedaling through about 3 inches of gravel. Lofty heart rates and lots of sweat are rewarded with a cool drink at the end of this song.
I bet you’re familiar with Taylor Swift, Leann Rimes, Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish, Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks, Lady Antebellum, and Sugarland because they’ve all had hits on Top 40 radio. Country pop is alive and well and does a fine job of giving everyone a taste of “a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll.” Eddie Rabbit crossed over with “I Love A Rainy Night,” Alabama did it with “The Closer You Get,” Shania Twain gave us “Man, I Feel Like A Woman,” and Lee Ann Womack crossed over with “I Hope You Dance.” I’m a sucker for a success story, so I applaud artists who have mass appeal. If you do your homework you’ll find many songs that can provide a gateway to more hardcore country. Once you dip your toes in the water you might as well dive in!
This song by Faith Hill has a true country pop feel and I never get tired of using it in my profiles.
Artist: Faith Hill
Song: If You’re Gonna Fly Away
This song is intense so let your profile match it. Ride this one seated. Begin on a moderate hill and every 30 seconds cue a resistance add. Not too much each time, just enough to feel further engagement on the pedals. There will a total of six resistance add-ons and by the end of the song everyone will be yearning for the summit. No break during the song, but reward them when it’s done!
Ball Cap Country (otherwise known as Bro Country)
Well, now. This twang talkin’, overly produced music is the darling of the country radio airwaves right now. Almost all of these songs mention pickup trucks, painted-on jeans, smokin’ dope or drinkin’ whiskey, good lookin’ little girls with big blue eyes, and dirt roads. All these guys look like they should be changing the oil in your car rather than standing on a stage and singing to packed arenas of diehard fans! Florida Georgia Line seemed to be the forerunners of this sub-genre, soon to be followed by Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Jake Owen, among others. Well, I happen to adore Florida Georgia Line and I think they singlehandedly introduced the world to Fireball whisky. Here’s one of my favorite songs (and many remixes are available on SoundCloud if you want a more uptempo, electronic feel).
Artist: Florida Georgia Line
Song: Round Here
Album: Here’s To The Good Times
This song lends itself to a climb at about 70 rpm on a moderately steep hill. Alternate between seated and standing climbs after each chorus. If you learn the chorus well enough you can serenade your class. Pretty soon everyone will be singing along with you!
Kenny Chesney really perfected this offshoot. He has made quite a good living singing songs about island paradise (“No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem,” “When The Sun Goes Down [feat. Uncle Kracker],” “Beer In Mexico,” “Coconut Tree [feat. Willie Nelson]”). Garth Brooks sang “Two Pina Coladas.” Alan Jackson knows that “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere [feat. Jimmy Buffett].” Zac Brown Band likes the island feel as well (“Castaway,” “Knee Deep [feat. Jimmy Buffett],” “Where the Boat Leaves From,” which is my personal favorite, “Toes,” and “Island Song”). Hell, even Blake Shelton sings a song called “Some Beach.” Buddy Jewell sings “Mail Myself To Mexico.” Anytime you play tropical country in your classes, riders can imagine the smell of salt air and suntan lotion. These are some of the most well-received songs I use. Here’s that Zac Brown Band track I mentioned. Let’s go to the beach for 3:43, shall we?
Artist: Zac Brown Band
Song: Where the Boat Leaves From
Album: The Foundation
This little ditty works on a flat at a brisk pace. No need to hang on to the tempo because this is a great recovery song. You can even cue a standing jog when the lyrics “pick me up” come ’round. Heart rates should be low and the mood light. No worries, mon! We’ve got this!
When I think of the big ole state of Texas I think about the trifecta of Lyle Lovett, Pat Green, and The Dixie Chicks. The first time I visited the Dallas/Fort Worth area my husband and I rented a pickup truck (because we were in Texas, after all). It was hot, I was riding barefoot with my feet on the dashboard as the thunderheads gathered on the horizon, and the world was golden as the sun hung low in the sky. I was messing around with the radio and the song “Wave on Wave” began playing. It was the first time I’d heard Pat Green and in that instant I became a lifelong fan. There are many country artists from Texas, but these three are my favorites so I’m going to include a video from all of them. See what you think, or better yet, see what you feel.
Artist: Pat Green
Song: Wave on Wave
Album: Wave on Wave
Ride this song at tempo, beginning on a slight hill and adding resistance after each chorus until you end on a challenging moderate hill. Riders might want a saddle break during the chorus so let ’em stretch, but when they return to the saddle they also return to the tempo!
Artist: Lyle Lovett
Song: In My Own Mind
Album: My Baby Don’t Tolerate
This song just begs you to turn that resistance up high and grind out a steep hill at tempo (60 rpm). Come up for a standing climb on the choruses. I love the music video that accompanies this song, so if you have video viewing capabilities in your studio this might really work for you!
Artist: The Dixie Chicks
Song: I Hope
Album: Taking the Long Way
This bluesy song works great as a cool-down. Riders can drop the resistance, slow down, breathe, and listen to the message. “I hope for more love, joy, and laughter / I hope we’ll have more than we’ll ever need / I hope we’ll have more happy ever after / I hope we can all live more fearlessly.” I really do hope you enjoy this song!
The Bakersfield Sound
This offshoot of country music was born in the honky-tonk bars of California back in the ’40s, but it really became popular and “mainstream” when Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Marty Stuart, and Dwight Yoakam began getting songs played in heavy rotation on country radio. Top 40 radio listeners got a taste of Buck’s music when The Beatles recorded his song “Act Naturally” and it became a hit. Mainstream bands The Grateful Dead, CCR, The Eagles, and The Flying Burrito Brothers incorporated this freewheeling sound into their own music.
I have to admit, I love everything about Dwight Yoakam’s music. This song that I’ve selected was on the iPod mix that I made in preparation for traveling across the US on my motorcycle. I was near the site of the battle of Little Bighorn, in Montana at sunrise, and this song began playing. Ahead of me lay the prairie, shimmering in the pinks and purples of the new day. I felt on top of the world with my bike beneath me and this song in my ears. It’s always interesting how a song will transport you back to a certain time and a particular feeling. This is the perfect example of the Bakersfield sound.
Artist: Dwight Yoakam
Song: Pocket Of A Clown
Album: This Time
This track is the perfect tempo for a steep climb to the beat (approximately 60 rpm). I like to do long jumps, or transitions, to this song in an 8 count. Riders will be breathless at the end, but the song is just under 3 minutes. We can do anything for 3 minutes!
Girl Power Country
Women have always had a say in country music, even though the genre is dominated by men. Themes of divorce, birth control, murder, and domestic abuse have never been off limits in their songs. Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, Patsy Cline, and June Carter Cash paved the way for more contemporary artists like Reba McEntire, Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis, and Barbara Mandrell. The next wave of women to dominate the charts included Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Terri Clark, Lee Ann Womack, The Judds, and Rosanne Cash. Many of these women are still putting out recordings, performing on stage, and garnering awards. That’s the way it is with country music. If you’ve still got the ability to write a song and the vocals to support it, your fans will remain loyal.
The newer female artists span the range from slick (Carrie Underwood) to sassy (Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, Kellie Pickler, Gretchen Wilson) to traditional (Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland, Ashley Monroe, Cam). Many of these women write their own music, most of them play at least one instrument, and all of them have something to say. It’s really difficult for me to pick just one artist and one song, because I have a favorite song from each of them! Here’s one that I’ve found is versatile enough to use again and again. Plus, Miranda Lambert is one strong force to be reckoned with!
Artist: Miranda Lambert
This song, with your enthusiasm, will fire up your class for sure! This is a great standing climb at tempo (approximately 63 rpm). The beat is driving, so once everyone latches on to it your class will be riding as one and the energy will be electric. It’s balls-out, gutsy riding…you know…the fun stuff!
I’m a total sucker for novelty songs. They have clever lyrics. They exude tongue-in-cheek humor. They usually have a sense of irony that just tickles me to no end. It really seems like the country music world has the lock on this little slice of the pie. The songs always speak to a particular topic (Toby Keith wants to get a word in edgewise in “I Wanna Talk About Me,” Lee Ann Womack has a thing or two to say about her ex-boyfriend’s new fiancée in “I’ll Think of a Reason Later,” Johnny Cash sang about “A Boy Named Sue,” Brad Paisley just wants to fish in “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” Shania Twain gives men an instruction manual in “Any Man of Mine,” and, my latest favorite, Maddie & Tae are fed up with stereotypical “bro country” sentiments so they sing about it in “Girl In A Country Song”).
There are so many novelty songs in country music from which to choose, which is great when you’re putting themed ride playlists together. You will literally be able to find a humorous song on any topic! Here’s one I use every Thanksgiving because it’s all about family and it cracks me up…“One more baby’s all right with me / We’ll just add another branch to the family tree.”
Artist: Darryl Worley
Song: Family Tree
Album: I Miss My Friend
Just look at that bpm…this song is great for climbing at tempo (60 rpm). It could also be used as a recovery song or a fast flat. However you slice and dice it, let your riders catch the lyrics. They’ll put a smile on, for sure!
There are so many more sub-genres of country music I’d love to talk about, but there just isn’t enough bandwidth. I do hope you check out the nooks and crannies of country music that you may not be familiar with because there literally is a goldmine of great music there. Briefly, here are a few more categories:
Friends in Low Places – Garth Brooks, Red Solo Cup – Toby Keith, Parking Lot Party – Lee Brice, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off – Joe Nichols, Alcohol – Brad Paisley, Day Drinking – Little Big Town, Bartender – Lady Antebellum, It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere – Alan Jackson, just to name a few. There are a few hundred more, for sure!
Anything by Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Ricky Skaggs, and the entire soundtrack from O Brother, Where Art Thou? This sub-genre has deep roots in English and Irish music and is played acoustically. There’s some great instrumental warm-up music to be found here.
This incredibly lively and infectious music includes Creole and zydeco. Check out the Cajun Playboys, Doug Kershaw, The Savoy Family Band, as well as Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy singing “Plus Tu Tournes,” Hank Williams with his hit song “Jambalaya,” and Mary Chapin Carpenter singing “Down at the Twist and Shout.”
Music Mafia or MuzikMafia
This informal band of musicians exploded onto the country music scene in the early 2000s. MM was founded by Big & Rich (“Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy”). Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy (he was the forerunner of “hick-hop,” which has now been adopted by ball-cap country artists) were also a part of this group when it began. Artists who have been given the title “visiting relatives” and who have collaborated and/or performed with the original bunch include Kid Rock, Bon Jovi, Jewel, Wynonna Judd, Keith Urban, 3 Doors Down, and Velvet Revolver. There is some incredible music by these artists working together and separately that dominated the country music airwaves and crossed over into Top 40 radio for years. If you’re not familiar with the music mafia I hope you give their repertoire a listen!
The foundation of this sub-genre is a folk/country/alternative blend of music that is light on electronica and heavy on lyrical reliance. The term “Americana” is relatively new and includes music by Chris Stapleton, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, and Sheryl Crow, just to name just a few. Most of the dozens of artists that fit into this category really cross all musical genres and just don’t fit comfortably into a rigid musical category. Some of my favorite artists fall into this niche and I’m finding more artists all the time (I’ve even heard that some of Bruce Springsteen’s and John Mellencamp’s music has been called by this name, and that’s pretty awesome!).
Below is a list of some of my favorite country songs that comprises all of the offshoots I’ve included above, and they all work really well in cycling profiles. We’ve compiled a bucket playlist of country songs on this Spotify playlist (with over 120 songs and growing).
Did we miss a favorite? Let us know in the comments below!