Is Yesterday’s Country Actually Today’s Rock?

Donny and Marie Osmond sang it best when they crooned “I’m a Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock N’Roll” in 1976, but is it possible that yesterday’s country is actually today’s rock?

Country music is typically characterized as coming out of the southern United States and mixing catchy dance tunes and ballads with simple and folky lyrics. Acoustic guitars, steel guitars, fiddles, and even harmonicas dominate the background beats of country jams and there is a big emphasis on listeners understanding and connecting with the lyrics. Traditional rock music, on the other hand, places less emphasis on the lyrics and more on heavy instrumentals. Rock music historically takes advantage of electric guitars, the electric bass, the electric organ, and even the electric piano. It usually has a strong beat and the overall vibe of the song is more important than the particular lyrics.

So if these two genres are seemingly so different, why do we think that today’s rock might simply be a derivative of yesterday’s country? Well, let’s take a look at the country greats and see what they have in common with today’s rock artists!

We have no doubt that everyone has their own opinion about who is considered significant to country music, but we think it is pretty safe to say that Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and Dolly Parton helped to define the genre. Despite an unfortunate passing at the young age of 29, Hank Williams managed to woo fans from across America with some of his greatest hits, like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and was both an instrumentalist and a vocalist. Like Hank Williams, other greats like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Dolly Parton were all talented singers and songwriters who put a large emphasis on heartfelt lyrics and singing songs about romance, heartbreak, and broken love affairs. Country songs are usually written in the first-person narrative and express a one-sided emotion, like Patsy Cline singing “Crazy” or Dolly Parton begging “Jolene” not to take her man.

This one-sided expression of self-emotion can be juxtaposed by rock n’ roll’s stereotypical lyrics focusing on sex, drugs, and living a typical rock n’ roll lifestyle. In the reigning days of rock music, being a drug addict and a rock singer went hand in hand, and bands like Motley Crue, Black Sabbath, and even the Beatles made careers out of singing about their addictions, substance abuse, and experimenting with psychedelics. The drug use mentioned in today’s popular rock songs is much more toned down than it was in the 70s and 80s, and there is a deeper emphasis on listeners connecting with lyrics and artists telling a story.

Gone are the heavy metal rock days of Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin and according to the Billboard Music Awards, some of the top Rock Artists of 2020 were Panic at the Disco, Imagine Dragons, and the Lumineers. The current focus for rock singers to tell a story with their lyrics and place less emphasis on the instrumental background is reminiscent of country singers, which is why we think that today’s rock is much more in tune with yesterday’s country.

Stream some new music on Disctopia and tell us what you think!