MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 31: RASCAL FLATTS

If you were to tell me a year ago that one of my frequented genres of music over the year would be country music, I’d tell you to rack off, laugh in your face, and say ‘you got the wrong guy’. No seriously, prior to this year, I was dead-set opposed to quite possibly a lot of things country- except for a few Carrie Underwood songs here and there. For me, I assumed what country music would be and what it would be like. I didn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole, and so when the time came for me to compile a 100 top influential artist’s list, it was always interesting and eye-opening to say the least, whenever a country artist came around. Now here I am in October, 30 blog entries into this year-long (and most certainly longer!) project, and I’ve listened to my fair share of country music in that time period- Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, The McClymonts, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, even some odd few Kelly Clarkson songs. And what is my assessment of country music as of right now? It’s not too bad. In fact, the country that is indeed influential today, the artists that have left a stamp on music history- their music’s not that bad. Now my opinion about country music from people who are up-and-coming today may be a different story, and maybe I won’t be a great judge of artists of the ‘new’ country music. Nevertheless, what I have observed about country music from the 1990s/2000s (much of the country artists I’ve heard are from that particular era!), is the authentic and emotive nature of the songs and melodies. And now here in my 31st entry, I’ve decided to unpack yet another country artist- this time, trio Rascal Flatts have been blasted through my ears through the last week or so. In this short, albeit quick time that I have been able to make an holistic judgement, I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate the band and their undertakings of songs that are fun, but also songs that mean something too. A group that is standing tall in country music today, I’ve been further reminded of how real, honest, and emotive such a genre as this can get, and that my assumptions about country were dead wrong. A reminder that all of us can be better people whenever we assume less; Rascal Flatts are indeed a band to check out if you enjoy more older-school country music, artists who would’ve started out in the early 2000s than the artists currently in the Billboard charts today!

Maybe I’m just biased when I say that I prefer country artists and band that have been around for ages than country artists that are starting up right now. Maybe I’m being a little divisive and maybe, if I did listen to newer style country artists like Dan + Shay, Lauren Alania, Hunter Hayes, Maren Morris and a few others, maybe, just maybe my very own opinion of the state of country music could change. But what I will say is this- Rascal Flatts have heavily influenced country music as a whole, and their sound, probably more akin to artists like Tim McGraw and Keith Urban; is a sound that is a lot less produced and much more organic, which is a sound that I myself am always on the lookout for. Since I’ve started this blog series, I’ve realised something about myself that maybe, it took this series for me to become a bit aware of it- I don’t like heavily produced music- to the point where the instrumentations flood the track, and the vocalist is barely recognisable. Much of the music of today is littered with EDM styles and flavours, and maybe that’s ok to reach a younger and different generation, but for me who’s bordering on the big 3 0; there seems to be a sense of longing of something else rather than the mindless beats that flood the airwaves at the moment. Traditional country, aka 1990s and 2000s country, seem to fit the mould.

Martina McBride, Faith Hill and Shania Twain, all prominent back then and maybe not so now, nevertheless have inspired myself to have faith in country music again, as I’m reminded that the country music that I’ve grown to enjoy and love, is not the music I’ve assumed it to be- but rather something much more unique, exciting and heartfelt. Rascal Flatts is yet another artist (or rather, band!) that creates music with a more traditional edge, which is ok, and for me, very much welcomed. Since starting out releasing their music from 2000 onward, Jay DeMarcus, Gary LeVox and Jon Don Rooney have amassed plenty of hits and a fanbase like no other. They are quite possibly, alongside Lady Antebellum and Dixie Chicks (of which I am discussing about both in my blog series later), one of the most influential country groups in country music history. A few years shy away from 20 years in the business, Rascal Flatts know a few things about music, and from hearing their music, there is a sincerity and an openness about the band, and it just makes them very much real and likeable, and a band to enjoy if you enjoy all things country music.

To discuss all 11 albums would be a fool’s decision. To use this blog to re-hash a history lesson and to explain my very own reasons why I believe they are influential can seem like folly when you can easily just google it yourself. Wikipedia and youtube and google can be your friend in discovering the songs for yourself, and you can find and realise that this band Rascal Flatts have indeed influenced artists of today- from Dan and Shay, to Hunter Hayes (link can be found here). And so, this post seems to be redundant right? Is there even a reason as to why I write and delve into all these songs and artists when the internet is just a click away? I mean, why write tons of info about my own opinion, when it’s just that- my own opinion? I mean, what does Rascal Flatts has that other country artists don’t? I’m not sure if I can answer all those hard-hitting questions, but what I will say is this- influential doesn’t necessarily have to mean influential on a global big scale- that is what the 20 artists’ I’ve separated from the rest are for- there’s no denying that artists from that category are influential. But within the hundred…well arguments can be made about the validity and place of any artist on that list. And arguments for and against can be very persuasive indeed. And every argument deserves to be heard at least once.

Rascal Flatts have impacted my own life in a very short period of time- and while they do have some feel-good ‘bro-country’ songs, the majority of their music stems from heartfelt and personal stories that make melodies connect with the listener. And yes, they have had plenty of radio hits in their time, but often, it isn’t necessarily the radio hits of the group/band/artist that speak to the listener, but rather, the ‘underground’ song that may not get as much of a radio attention as the band may have hoped. Nevertheless, Rascal Flatts are such a band that have delivered a wide enough discography so to have a lot of their songs speak to a lot of different people in all walks of life. ‘Prayin’ For Daylight’ was the band’s first single ever, and while the initial meaning of the song was for the persona to pray for daylight because their lover has left and they can’t sleep without them there; the song can still also be read in another way- praying for daylight not because of a lover, but because of just life- struggling through and not seeing a way out other than prayer. For often, people get a little vocal and irate if a song has a little bit of an ambiguous meaning, but I reckon that is what the strong suit is for Rascal Flatt’s discography as a whole. That songs can be interpreted by a wide array of people in any way that they see fit, and that’s ok. And that is basically why I believe this band is so successful and so influential- that their music can meet people in different places; and speak to their soul in a way that I’m sure only country (and CCM as well!) can! Rascal Flatts is one such band!

I don’t think much people listen to albums as people back in the day used to. Because of the absence to the continuous and at times unnecessary access to technology, listening to albums back in the day was considered a luxury, and thus, it was a really big deal to receive an album of whatever artist. Listening to an album from start to finish was something that people I’m sure only dreamed about. It was an album experience to listen from tracks 1 thru 12, and a story was weaved together and told. Not that now there isn’t a thread or theme throughout albums, but in this instant culture, songs are consumed rather than the album which is a shame. Rascal Flatts are such a band that has created albums that had a general feeling or story to them, while still delivering star powered songs for people who want to pick and choose which songs to listen to and which songs not to.

My first introduction to Rascal Flatts was their song ‘Life is a Highway’. With the band originally recording the song as a cover version (the original was by an artist I don’t know called Tom Cochrane) for the theme song to the 2006 movie Cars, this song was the first exposure I had to the band. And from there, the other songs came along, and as I heard more and more of this country band trio, I was more and more pleased, impressed and enamoured with their heart to create music that people from all walks of life and faith can relate to. Rascal Flatts also released to the world their own cover of famous song ‘Bless the Broken Road’, which shattered expectations as the song became one of their most charting of their whole career. Rascal Flatts have had the ability to take songs- whether they’ve written them or not, and make them their own, and their reinvention of the two covers (‘Life is a Highway’, ‘Bless the Broken Road’) is testament of their quality and skill, and a reminder that even cover songs can sound just as good, or maybe even more so, than the original.

Just because an artist has one or two songs that are absolutely famous doesn’t mean the rest of their discography doesn’t hold up. Rascal Flatts have shown us time and time again why they are a country group that travels the line well between heartfelt songs and songs that are just plain fun to listen to. ‘This Everyday Love’, from the band’s self-titled debut album, speaks of the love that people who are just dealing with everyday life have, and we’re reminded that a love between people doesn’t have to be extravagant and grandiose, it’s just has to be given and received unconditionally and everyday (something that in this culture, isn’t fully understood or grasped entirely), while ‘Stand’, from the album ‘Life is a Highway’ is from (Me and My Gang– the most successful album the band has ever produced), speaks of resilience and standing in the midst of difficulty. ‘Things that Matter’, a lesser known song from the band’s 2009 album Unstoppable, is a timely revelation that often the things that matter in our lives isn’t the success, fame and money we have it out to be, but rather the relationships and friendships that form when we surrender our perfect ideologies of how we believe our lives should play out, and spend time with families and listen and connect with their stories, no matter how ugly and unsettling they may be. Also on their 2009 album is the title track that was used for the 2010 Olympics as the USA theme song (with altered lyrics of course), and ‘Why’, another standout melody full of emotion, as the band uses their platform to deliver songs that not only chart the radio charts, but also sink deep within our souls and asks us questions that need to be asked.

As bassist Jay DeMarcus unveiled the story behind the song ‘Unstoppable’, we’re reminded that ‘…the power of love – you can sit and write all day about it. I think we had to edit a lot of our thoughts because when you think about the ability of love being unstoppable, and all that love can do when everything else fails, even when you’re at your lowest point – I think that was the message that we want to get across. At the end of the day when all is said and done and everything goes to hell in a handbasket, you know that love will be there to pick you back up. That was kind of a cool thought. We had never approached it from that angle before. We sing about love a lot but never had approached it from that particular angle…’ The song itself has a Christian-style message to it- the band themselves are Christians and they’ve never shied away at hiding their own Christian faith. And the song ‘Unstoppable’ is evidence of this. ‘Why’ originally was going to be recorded by fellow country artist Faith Hill for her own 2005 album, but it didn’t meet the cut. Appearing years later on her 2016 album Deep Tracks, this Rascal Flatts penned song is as emotive as they come- a song about a life tragically cut short by suicide, and the song sung from the point of view of people left behind. While such a song like For KING AND COUNTRY’s ‘God Only Knows’, though about suicide, is nevertheless a hopeful one, because of the evidence that God in fact knows us all from the inside out and that we can turn to Him if we’re dealing with things that may cause suicidal thoughts, Rascal Flatts’ ‘Why’ is different- it’s asking the questions in a state of pain, never really knowing the answers, and asking the person who died if cutting life short was worth it- it’s a song that needs to be sung because the discussion of the messy parts of suicide and its aftermath needs to be addressed. And yes, it is songs like ‘Unstoppable’ and ‘Why’, even ‘Life is a Highway’ and ‘This Ordinary Love’, that makes me smile and see the relevance and necessity of the band in today’s culture, maybe more so now than ever before.

‘Here’ from their 2007 album Still Feels Good speaks of the nuances of life, and how often there are twists and turns along a journey from point A to B, and how at the end of the day, we’d have to ask the question- if we had our time again, would we change the experiences, however interesting they are, if we are to get to our destination sooner? Should we forsake the learning along the way for a quick outcome, or even a different one? ‘Everyday’ speaks about the love that these artists have for the team they have behind them, especially their families, and how the song reminds us all that it is the families we have in our lives that ‘save’ us each day, every time. It is a telling reminder to have those close to us in every circumstance; while a song like ‘Here’s To You’ is a homage to fans and a melody that honours the people who have been attending their concerts over the years. The band also gives us songs about relationships that aren’t necessarily to do with heartbreak or incompatibility, but rather, about relationships that work and stand the test of time- ‘Where You Are’ has lead singer Gary LeVox singing to his significant other, reminding her, himself and the world that the place where he wants to be is where she is. It is also a timely reminder for us all that this declaration that people divulge to their significant others is also one that should be uttered to God Himself- that if we are truly followers of Christ and love our God dearly, then all we want is to be where He is- our agendas falling when we realise that it is in the presence of Christ Jesus that we can be ourselves without any pretence. ‘The Day Before You’ (originally written by CCM singer-songwriter Matthew West- and placed on his 2005 album History) is a celebration of love in its finest and purest form, and how the band are thankful for all the moments before ‘the day before you’, because it is in the moments of singleness that events that are transpiring, are shaping us all into the people who will ultimately handle courtship, dating, engagement and marriage with grace and poise, that nothing prior to us being in a relationship is ever wasted in the grand scheme of things; while songs like ‘Compass’ and ‘Sunrise’, written by Diane Warren and Nathan Chapman (record producer for Taylor Swift’s earlier country albums) respectively, speak to the heart of connection and being human- ‘Compass’ alludes to the message of being the light and compass for someone who is struggling with life, while ‘Sunrise’ speaks of taking one day at a time in order to meddle out of difficulty and into freedom.

‘Changed’, from the album Changed, really allowed the band to express their Christian values and beliefs, and its great for such a band to do so in the mainstream arena and not be ridiculed for it- to put it bluntly, ‘Changed’ is a melody about faith and finding it in the form of surrender, hitting our knees and looking up to the Father in a sort of desperation. Maybe the song was really actually ridiculed for the faith message, maybe it wasn’t, but in all honesty, I am thankful for such a song as this- and the theme that once someone encounters a love so deep and wide, and long and high, and never-ending as the love of Christ, why shouldn’t someone be changed because of it? ‘Banjo’, a joyous song that employs the musical undertones of a banjo, was the first single off Changed, and is a song, according to Jay DeMarcus, as ‘…a sentiment about getting away from it all, getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and sort of breaking out and finding a spot way out in the country and drivin’ and drivin’ and drivin’ until you go so far you start to hear a banjo…’ It is about finding time to take the trek away from the busyness of life and to find and appreciate the things that the simpler life can offer. ‘Feels Like Today’, from their 2004 album, also delivers upon a theme similar to the simple life, as the band unravel the theme of peace and feeling like today could be the day of the rest of our lives, but we just can’t figure out why. While this song was obviously written with the mainstream market in mind, we all know as Christians that this ‘feeling’ is the peace that God gives, and that the knowledge that everything will work out is the realisation that the same God who made the heavens will take care of our innermost being.

Though much of the band’s discography delves into the happier side of relationships, there are songs throughout their discography that are about relationships that haven’t really all gone to plan, perhaps all written so that people who are really going through them can relate and understand that they are not alone. ‘Riot’, from their 2014 album Rewind, speaks of what could happen if lead singer Gary’s significant other leaves him- there’d be a riot in his heart, and is ‘…such a cool way to say that you’d be lost without that person- saying  it completely different, which is the key to a great song — finding something that is so ordinary, but saying it differently…’; while ‘What Hurts the Most’- a cover of the Mark Wills chart-topper, speaks about a lost love and what hurts is that they couldn’t see that the breaking of the relationship was a long time coming. ‘Are You Happy Now’, featuring up and coming country artist Lauren Alania, is perhaps I reckon the saddest song I’ve heard from the band, as we are met with the aftermath of a breakup and what happens afterward when the two ex’s taunt each other and ask the question ‘are you happy now’, implying that maybe the two personas in the song thought that the other was trying to intentionally sabotage the relationship for whatever reason.

Personally I reckon the songs that speak to me the most are the ones that have some kind of life message (or even a spiritual one), and there are a few from the band that stand out more so than the rest. ‘I Won’t Let Go’ is one such song that can definitely be depicted in a spiritual light, as the song speaks of a person (or is it God Himself) that will ‘…stand by you, I will help you through, when you’ve done all that you can do, and you can’t cope, I will dry your eyes, I will fight your fight, I will hold you tight and I won’t let you fall…’ As writer Jason Sellers divulges his own thoughts about the song, we see that the song was ‘…special to me because I’m a Christian. It felt like to me, because we didn’t define the character in the song, it could be a friend saying it to a friend, it could in some sense be God saying it to someone, it could be you saying it to your husband or wife … So in that sense, the song’s exciting to me, because it’s got an inspirational message. It says something good that lifts people up… We get emails from people – and I know a lot of artists and labels do, too – how a song touches someone’s life. I do this for a living, and I’m trying to make money … but when you get those kinds of stories and feedback, you really feel like you had some contribution. With an uplifting lyric like that, maybe it gives somebody hope to move forward and make it through another day, through whatever their trauma or disaster is, or even just getting tired in life…’ ‘Yours If You Want It’, though sounding very superficial and vapid upon first listen, is also a song that hits home for me recently. From their 2017 album Back to Us, the song is indeed a romantic one- about taking a chance on relationships and singing to a potential significant other about diving deep into a relationship that may not make sense to begin with.

There is an openness to ‘Yours If You Want It’, as we see that often, allowing yourself to unveil every part no matter how ugly or damaged, is something that can be difficult in this time. You don’t want to get hurt, you don’t want to be vulnerable because what happens if you are hoodwinked. But for me I am understanding that to be vulnerable, be it for a potential relationship, or just in life in general, is something that we should do, not because of anything else we may want in return, but rather, being open and honest, real, raw and unfiltered, is what I reckon is the foundation of all relationships, platonic or romantic. To be able to say to someone, ‘here’s my stuffed up life, it’s yours if you want it’ takes a lot of guts and courage, and a lot of trust that the other person won’t use and abuse the openness. It may take time, it may mean a few broken hearts along the way, but in the end, being open has far better results than being a closed-off hermit. Then there’s ‘My Wish’- arguably the song that has impacted me the most from the band if I’d have to pick one. It is arguably the song with a lot of hopes and dreams, an open letter of sorts to someone in need. Initially written about the writers daughter, the song is universal, and that’s a good thing. It is a song for the person who’s struggling, for someone who may not feel the unconditional love that should occur between family. It is a song that I’m sure will change lives for the better, and is the ‘mainstream’ version of worship singer Alisa Turner’s song ‘My Prayer For You’. ‘My Wish’, for lack of a better word, is indeed a prayer between the lines. Upon hearing such a song, I was impacted greatly, and have taken on this song as one to hopefully live by as I’m sure God has worked on me through the melody, as I’m sure He’s working on other people through this song as well.

With as much success that the band has had over the years with their own music, Rascal Flatts have always had a hand in philanthropy and giving back to the community- by filming a PSA with Little Kids Rock, they have helped and supported disadvantaged U.S. public schools and their own fight to support music education. The band is also supporting acts like Make A Wish Foundation, as well as contributing countless hours of their time to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville Tennessee- they’ve even put a lot of time in the Hospital that their surgery centre was re-named ‘Rascal Flatts Pediatric Surgery Center’ in honour of their longstanding involvement with the hospital. For it is things like these, outside of music, that really sparks interest in a band or solo artist. It is what people do outside of music that people make judgements upon. And I’m sure I do that as well- even if the music is great, if their personal life doesn’t line up with what is being sung, then I guess that’s the deal-breaker for me. Maybe I can’t just separate the art from the artist as much as I think I could’ve. Nevertheless, Rascal Flatts have contributed to society, and it is their extra activities as well as their music contribution to not only country, but music as a whole, is what I reckon will continue to bring along other newer fans of their music, as well as the band themselves influencing other up and coming artists along the way. As bass player Jay DeMarcus relays, ‘…it always makes you feel good. Any time that you’re recognized for any of the work that you’ve done, and it’s touched somebody in some way and inspired them to do something, I’m very, very, very proud of that…’ Lead singer Gary LeVox also chimes in to say that it means a lot to him that songs of the band’s are still being sung- years later- ‘…you think about some of these songs that people are getting on American Idol with, you know, songs of ours that they sing, or The Voice. You know, some people are still singing “Broken Road.” That song, to think about, it was already 10 years old by the time we got it…’

Rascal Flatts is a band where fame and everything that comes along with it doesn’t seem to faze them. They just keep delivering songs full of meaning and heart as Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Jon Don Rooney provide songs that deliver heart as well as joyous rousing fun. For I have been impressed this last week of the staying power of this trio- songs from their earlier albums, and songs like ‘My Wish’, ‘What Hurts the Most’, ‘Where You Are’ and ‘This Everyday Love’, still have reach and durability even now in 2019. And with songs overall like ‘Unstoppable’, ‘Changed’, ‘Life is A Highway’ and ‘Yours if You Want It’, at your disposal, what’s not to love about the band? And so now it’s over to you all. What have you all thought about Rascal Flatts? Does this band make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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