Gretchen Wilson: "Redneck Woman"

Gretchen Wilson
"Redneck Woman"

One of the great hardships of being a relatively affluent white male is that, year after year, one feels deprived of truly galvanizing country-music anthems. Sure, it could be argued that the whole world is some kind of anthem to relatively affluent white maledom--no small compensation but not much help when the time comes for merrymaking of the terpsichorean or football-stadium-sing-along varieties. An interesting and atypical thing about Kenny Chesney, this year's biggest country star, is that his songs are so proudly about upper-middle-class pastimes and concerns, such as Caribbean getaways, the overlong workweeks of the corporate world, and nostalgia for one's college days. But even if country has now embraced Jimmy Buffet as one of its own, nothing turns country folk on quite like roots, and its roots are poor. So one needn't fear the demise of country's grand tradition of underdog anthems, a recent example of which is Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman."

Considering that our president has had considerable success by imitating a redneck, our ruddy-necked brothers and sisters might not have as strong a claim on underdog status as they did when civil rights leader Jeff Foxworthy was at his peak. Redneck women, of course, have a better claim than the fellows, as was demonstrated by the power discrepancies between the Brothers Duke and Daisy.

"Redneck Woman" is by no means a great country working-class anthem, partly because such songs are most powerful when they are both celebratory and combative. In other words, the most memorable redneck anthems respond to some real or perceived enemy, such as the hippies in "Okie from Muscogee" or the snobby ex-girlfriend in "Friends in Low Places." "Redneck Woman" isn't so much against the "high-class broads" and "Barbie doll types" it struts in contrast to as it is in favor of Gretchen Wilson, the song's co-writer and subject.

My wife says "Redneck Woman" is a good driving song, which I think is right, especially if the car contains a lot of women en route to a bachelorette party. It has built-in all-female gang vocals ("hell yeah!") and a slick Chuck Berry-in-a-honky-tonk sound that reminds me most of the Kentucky Headhunters, with a touch of early '80s new-wave chick country (Rosanne Cash, Carlene Carter, Juice Newton). Yes, it's more than a little workmanlike and occasionally forced, but not cynically so. And the verse on which Wilson eschews Victoria's Secret in favor of marked-down Wal-Mart lingerie because she "don't need no designer tag to make my man want me" is as spot-on as her casually muscular singing.

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