Listening to Johnny Cash at the moment, I’m reminded of a thought I’ve had a few times, which is that one of the odd differences between Britain and America is that for all British people like to think of themselves as nature-lovers (“England’s green and pleasant land” and all that), and think of America in terms of its big cities, the rural is almost completely missing from our music in a way it isn’t in the US.
Oh, we have lots of songs *about* the country — you’ll only find Cliff Richard out in the country, the Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, and so on — but all those songs are about the country as a place to escape from the city, and they’re as idealised as the California of the Beach Boys.
What we don’t have, and what a lot of American music has always had, is music where the rural life is taken for granted as a background for the songs, so in Busted Johnny Cash or Ray Charles can sing “I got a cow that’s gone dry and a hen that won’t lay/And a big stack of bills getting bigger each day”, or in Movie Magg Carl Perkins will offer to take his date to the cinema on horseback. And this is the background for almost all blues and country music right through the 60s (not quite all — there’s an urbanised strain of blues that comes along in the 50s, but a *lot* of blues still assumes knowledge of the rural lifestyle as a background). And this is still true today for a lot of it — listen to Steve Earle and a lot of the songs are about things like trying to cope when the farm is repossessed, and the same goes for a lot of the music I hear on the radio when I visit my in-laws in Minnesota.
I know Britain is far more urbanised than the US, but it’s surprising that I can’t think of *any* British songs taking rural life as an everyday background assumption, rather than as a subject of the song. The closest I can think of is Love On A Farmboy’s Wages by XTC, and even that is clearly set in a DH Lawrence past (“shilling for the fellow who brings the sheep in” twelve years after British currency went decimal). Other than that… well, there’s “I Got A Brand New Combine Harvester” by the Wurzels…
I wonder why this is?