|Swept up in the weekday-morning scramble, Julie tries to avoid spilling her coffee as she climbs into the family SUV and cranes her neck to see if the children have everything they need for school. Backpacks. Lunches. Is that permission slip due today or tomorrow?… She starts the engine. The radio soothes her nerves with the final verse of George Strait's "I Saw God Today." But before the car makes it out of the neighborhood, that wholesome country song gives way to bawdy banter from a pair of over-caffeinated deejays. Julie switches to another station and prays that her little passengers were too busy squabbling to hear the off-color comments. After a minute or two, she jumps back to the country station, hoping for a sweet ballad about the joys of parenting, only to land smack-dab in the middle of "I'm Still a Guy," Brad Paisley's crass ode to masculinity. Turning it off, she sips her coffee and wonders, Where's "Jesus, Take the Wheel" when you need it?|
Discerning country music fans understand that frustration. In recent years the genre has produced some of the strongest pro-family sentiment on record. But to extract those 3 1/2-minute nuggets, we're just as likely to unearth tracks such as Toby Keith's leering "She's a Hottie." Trashy tunes such as that one often appear alongside the good stuff—either in a radio playlist or on a disc by an artist determined to toss in a little something for everyone.
Muddying the waters of that old swimming hole further, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine made a sobering discovery when they studied references to drugs, alcohol and tobacco in modern music. Next to rap, country songs mentioned those substances more than any other genre, including rock, pop and R&B. Indeed, mining for pro-family country gold can be a risky venture.
Fortunately, today's online technology gives families unprecedented freedom to buy only the positive tracks they want à la carte. Songs about holding our children tight … then letting them go. Songs about relationships that last and hard times that don't. It used to be that record labels had to release a cut as a single for the public to purchase it that way. Not anymore. People looking for pedal-steel melodies that value parents, cherish children or treat home as a cozy sanctuary will find them just a few mouse clicks away, thanks to services such as Amazon, iTunes and Rhapsody. In fact, in the spring of 2008, iTunes surpassed Wal-Mart as the country's No. 1 music retailer.
With that in mind, we scoured the country music landscape and submit for your consideration our All-Family Country Playlist—a worry-free collection of 20 songs sure to have toes tapping and eyes getting a little misty:
Track 1: "Family Tree," Michael James 3:13 — A high-energy pledge to grow and nurture a legacy of love that will weather storms and stand firm for generations to come.
Track 2: "Watching You," Rodney Atkins 3:55 — You've heard that values are caught more than taught. Here's a touching reminder that, for better or worse, our behavior rubs off on our children.
Track 3: "These Four Walls," Sara Evans 4:35 — A tired mom recalls youthful dreams of wealth and fame that didn't come true, yet realizes she got an even better deal in the process.
Track 4: "That's What I Call Home," Blake Shelton 3:17 — When life gets hard, there's no place like home and being greeted by faithful loved ones in Small Town, U.S.A.
Track 5: "Ellsworth," Rascal Flatts 4:01 — This bittersweet, story song offers glimpses of Americana as it tells of a woman with Alzheimer's who forgets things easily but vividly recalls being courted by the love of her life.
Track 6: "All the Fun," Paul Overstreet 4:03 — An enthusiastic explanation of why carefree singleness or a night out with the boys can't compete with the everyday excitement of family life.
Track 7: "Don't Forget to Remember Me," Carrie Underwood 4:00 — As a young woman leaves the nest, both mother and daughter say their goodbyes. Once she is on her own, the anxious girl turns to prayer.
Track 8: "Then They Do," Trace Adkins 4:31 — Frustrated parents wishing that their kids would "just grow up" are warned about how quickly time flies—and the deafening silence of an empty house.
Track 9: "Song for Dad," Keith Urban 3:56 — It's the singer's peppy, banjo-backed admission that he's becoming more and more like dear old Dad, which makes him feel proud.
Track 10: "Times Like These," Buddy Jewell 3:27 — Aware that time with our kids is fleeting, a father considers putting in extra overtime at work but decides to invest in his son instead.
Track 11: "Built to Last," Heartland 4:14 — At his grandparents' 50th anniversary party, a man develops a renewed appreciation for things designed to endure in a disposable society.
Track 12: "Who I Am," Jessica Andrews 4:15 — A woman's identity and sense of significance come not from achievements, but from her place in an honorable lineage.
Track 13: "I Think About You," Collin Raye 3:27 — Tired of seeing women objectified in the culture, the singer chooses to view actresses and models as the innocent little girls they once were—as sweet as his own 8-year-old daughter.
Track 14: "You're Gonna Miss This," Trace Adkins 3:45 — From sullen teen to restless newlywed to the harried mother of preschoolers, a young woman is continually cautioned to enjoy each station of life instead of longing for the next one.
Track 15: "Home," Tim McGraw 4:58 — Images of family togetherness, familiar sights and sounds, and recollections of a simpler time become an emotional oasis for a man on the go.
Track 16: "My Last Name," Dierks Bentley 3:30 — The singer wants to defend and honor his surname, realizing that he's one link in a precious multigenerational chain.
Track 17: "Mr. Mom," Lonestar 3:28 — In this playful affirmation of motherhood, a man thinks swapping roles with his homemaker bride will be a breeze, only to learn how hard the job really is.
Track 18: "Daddy's Hands," Holly Dunn 3:28 — A daughter pays tribute to her father, whose calloused hands—whether firm or gentle—always showed love.
Track 19: "Don't Blink," Kenny Chesney 4:46 — On his 102nd birthday, a wise man recalls how quickly the years pass, urging others to slow down and redeem every breath God gives them.
Track 20: "House of a Thousand Dreams," Martina McBride 3:52 — Desperate to do right by her family, a devoted wife and mother does more with less and realizes how blessed they are.
This playlist (compiled in mid-2008) is far from exhaustive, but it's a great starting point for young country music fans like Ben, a Michigan teen irritated by artists who "might have a couple really good songs [on a CD], but the rest is junk." In a letter to Plugged In this conscientious adolescent went on to say, "I try to keep it clean, avoiding songs with sex, swearing, beer, etc." These days, Ben—as well as frustrated parents like Julie—are in luck. Because legal downloads make it easier than ever to keep it clean.
If your family has been touched by wholesome country songs not on our playlist, tell us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org.