A defense of Kid Rock

Believe it or not, in response to Matt’s post, I’m going to mount a defense of Kid Rock.

Kid Rock is, like me, from Michigan, and released his first album in 1990. He was in the Detroit area, and I had just started college at the University of Michigan, not too far down the road. His debut was on a major label, or at least distributed by one, so he got plenty of local press. However, the album went nowhere and Kid Rock was dropped.

He moved to an independent label for 1993’s The Polyfuze Method, which is when we ended up one degree of separation from each other. I was fighting the University bureaucracy at the time, trying to book musical acts at the student union. A kid who joined my committee was in a band that had gotten some attention, and had also started his own label. One project he was working on for the label, which I don’t think ever got off the ground, was a Hank Williams Sr. tribute record featuring local talent. He was telling me about it, and was excited because Kid Rock had agreed to participate. I scoffed at the notion and asked what he was going to cover. I was told he was going to do “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle.” After a bit more scoffing mixed with a some amazement that Kid Rock had ever heard the song, the guy told me that, actually, Kid Rock loved Hank.

Needless to say, this struck me as very strange. His most famous song at the time was “Yodelin’ in the Valley,” which, title notwithstanding, is not country–it’s a straight rap number about…well, this is a family site.

Anyway, Kid Rock continued to work very hard, and half a decade later had his breakthrough. Even though I wasn’t always crazy about his music (although I liked some of it) I respected him because I’d seen, from a short distance, how hard he’d worked to get where he was.

Sure enough, another album down the road comes “Picture,” and country radio picked it up. I imagine a lot of people were surprised by this. I may have been surprised that country radio picked it up, but I wasn’t surprised that he’d done a straight country song because I knew from way-back-when that he was a country fan.

So I’m not sure it’s fair throw him in with the other interlopers. He’s got some roots, there, and he first hit the country chart back in 2002. It makes a lot more sense to me than Jessica Simpson.

Now, “Picture” is at least a country song. “All Summer Long” is not, but you can’t blame Kid Rock if country stations have decided to play it–I’m sure he’s happy to be exposed to as broad an audience as possible, but he doesn’t program the radio playlists. And you can dislike the song (I don’t care for it myself), but you can’t fairly accuse him of “ripping off” “Werewolves of London” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” He’s singing about a time in the past that he associates with those classic rock songs, and he uses the songs to highlight that. He mentions “Sweet Home Alabama” in the song and the video shows a turntable spinning Excitable Boy. In spirit, I would say it’s very close to “I Walk the Line (Revisited)” by Rodney Crowell, which uses generous portions of its namesake.

I’m back on board that ’49 Ford in 1956
Long before the sun came up, way out in the sticks
The headlight showed a two-rut roadway, back up in the pines
First time I heard Johnny Cash sing “I Walk the Line”

Speaking of rap guys and “Sweet Home Alabama,” didn’t the Geto Boys sample that song?

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2 Responses to A defense of Kid Rock

  1. mattmck01 says:

    I kinda like “Picture” actually. I sing along everytime I play it on-air. However, that’s mostly because I like Sheryl Crow. (yeah, yeah I know I’m a dork)

    You are probably right about the Crowell thing being similar, but I did a spit-take when I read that! I realize its probably because I like Rodney Crowell and don’t like Kid, but contrast that line from “…(Revisited)” with this from “All Summer Long”

    And we were trying different things
    We were smoking funny things
    Making love out by the lake to our favorite song
    Sipping whiskey out the bottle, not thinking ’bout tomorrow

    How eloquent.
    I will admit that I laughed (in a non-derisive way) every time I heard that song in which Kid rhymes Heineken with Yzerman. Hockey rap is always a good thing.

  2. joygoat says:

    The Geto Boys did indeed sample Skynrd on “Gangster of Love” but I believe it was after they got sued by the Steve Miller Band for originally using The Joker and redid it.

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