Music

APPRECIATION: Kenny Rogers

by Marcus K. Dowling

I believe that new is boring and that history is inspirational. These opinions are not necessarily the views of the Couch Sessions. “Marcus Dowling appreciates…” celebrates the memories that define the future. Enjoy.

There was once a period in history where the music industry thought that Kenny Rogers was a pot-smoking hippie who threatened the sanctity of country music. In changing absolutely nothing and allowing history to both catch up to him and pass him by, he’s become one of music’s most beloved performers. Rogers, as the counterculture icon turned “The Gambler,” remained timeless by standing still. Though the story is most commonly told today by the likes of rappers Eminem and Snoop Dogg, country’s tales of rebellion foretell the history of hip hop and deserve appreciation.

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1969’s “Just Checked In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” is a spiraling acid rock yarn featuring silky vocals, typical fare for the era. However, for the Houston-born Rogers and his band The First Edition, their pop image left them at the fringes of country style and sound. Even deeper was 1972’s poignant and powerful “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” a story song retelling the fictional tale of a self-aware, paraplegic Vietnam veteran’s hopeless rant against his cheating wife. Anti-establishment to the core, his existence at the fringe of country and pop soon became both iconic and important.

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Leaving Third Edition in 1976, the country pioneer went pop. The entrepreneurial spirit of Reaganomics-obsessed 80s America played right into the once “devil may care” Kenny Rogers persona. An outlaw like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, the country roots of stereotypical Americana pushed them to the forefront, and, of the quartet, Rogers likely made the most effective representative. White-haired, ruggedly handsome and a smooth crooner, heartbroken ode “Lucille”paved the way for a slew of the best outlaw-to-mainstream crossover anthems of all time.

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A starring role in 1977’s cowboy-turned-card shark story The Gambler‘s theme is iconic. “Knowing when to hold ‘em and knowing win to fold ‘em” is now not just a song lyric but time-worn advice. Next single “Coward of the County?” The ultimate tale of attempting peace but just being pushed too far and having to fight. The soon thereafter 1980 mega hit and Lionel Richie-penned “Lady?” Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” for the adult contemporary set, drenched in beauty. The Bee Gees unfortunately wrote 1983’s “Islands in the Stream” for a deceased Marvin Gaye, but the bittersweet recipients of the incredibly moving song? America’s 80s sweethearts, hit machine Rogers and the proud, smiling, mammary-overloaded cuteness that is Dolly Parton. 18 years later, it’s still one of the most impressive country to pop Billboard charting singles ever.

Appreciating Kenny Rogers is to know that modes of life change and morality is a slippery slope. Artists following the Rogers ideal? The legends that prove that embracing creative freedom may likely lead to being the icons that allow history to ride their coattails in defining its legacy.