In my northerner mind, country songs are all about heartbreak. Or drinking. Or God. Or trucks. Or the South itself. Likewise, it wouldn’t be hard to find a southerner who looks at the north as Godless, Frenchified dandies hell-bent on socialism. As it ends up, the stereotypes are somewhat true: There really is a divide in the way the regions view themselves, and you can get a fascinating insight into culture by analyzing country music versus pop music.
This duo of infographics from Very Small Array charts out locations mentioned in the song titles of Billboard #1 hits. The first map shows the places mentioned across any genre of top hit. The second is just for country music hits:
Now maybe it’s fair to say that we’re all a bit obsessed with the South, but I’m guessing most of you could spot which map is which, solely by the dots. (And you could also spot which songs on the general map are on the country hits map, too.) It’s clear, country musicians love singing about the South, and they’re particularly precise in their geography of Texas–El Paso, Abilene, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Galveston, and Luckenbach each make between one and 14 appearances over the last 60 years. Meanwhile, pop hits frequently dream of other shores, including Paris and London but also, mysteriously, the Volga river. Moreover, country hits are obsessed with teeny tiny towns–seemingly, the more obscure, the better and more authentic? Meanwhile, pop hits focus almost solely on the big cities. (And we’ll bet the one mention of El Paso was a cross-over country hit.)
Political scientists often talk about the city/country divide–about how those in urban areas vote differently than those in rural areas. But charts like these start to get at the very different aspirations and reference points that make that divide so pronounced.
Another fun and fascinating part of these graphics is the Country Hits’ breakdown of the 12 most common words used across all of the genre’s songs titles. Romantic tropes like “love,” “heart,” “man,” and “woman” all make an appearance, sure, but “angels” and, the absolute best, “wheel” (which I think should totally count for “truck”) sneak in the list as well.
So while this northerner may have been wrong about drinking, I did hit the nail on the head with the South’s obsession with heartbreak, religion, trucks, and the South itself. And I think four out of five really isn’t that bad, at least for a rude, fast-talking, city-dwelling Yank such as myself.
[Image: Everett Collection/Shutterstock]