Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter

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This post is the first in a Sunday series I’m starting titled, “Sundays Are For Church.”

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Eric Church. I’ve seen him in concert six times, one time even going all the way to London to see him as part of the Country 2 Country (C2C) music festival. I’ve got t-shirts, shot glasses, and posters with his name on them. For the past two Halloweens I’ve dressed up as Erica Church- a character I created who is his female counterpart. She also wears sunglasses indoors, an American flag scarf, and can rock a black leather jacket like nobody’s business. She’s also a BAMF so don’t even think about messing with her!

When people ask me why I love Eric Church so much the first reason I give is that he’s a gifted songwriter. I have immense respect for anyone who writes their own material no matter who they are. With Eric, it’s the depth and creativity of his lyrics that put him in a league of his own, especially nowadays. He’s an expert at crafting songs that make you sit back, shut up, and think. His lyrics are clever and filled with play on words, references to those who came before him, and personal experiences. Eric is one of those artists who sings about real things that have happened to him, making it easy for the listener to connect with his music. His songs are autobiographical- when he sings about an experience, you know he’s lived it.

I think that when people only hear the songs that make it onto the radio they’re quick to dismiss Eric’s songwriting ability. If you’re thinking “Drink In My Hand” when you first hear Eric Church’s name, then you’re not fully aware of his talent as a songwriter (no offense to “Drink In My Hand.”) In order to showcase Eric’s talent as a songwriter, I chose six songs that have never made it onto the radio (deep cuts, if you will) to discuss in detail. For each of these songs, Eric either served as the first writer or as a co-writer.

A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young– In this song, Eric asks his wife, “what the hell made you wanna love a man who was gonna die young?” At the age of 36, he’s surprised that he’s already outlived Hank and Jesus, who died at the ages of 29 and 33, respectively. He’s led a fearless life and he credits his wife for saving him from what should have been an early death, keeping him from going under, “when that current got too heavy.” Eric exhibits a strong sense of self awareness in this song that his wild past has caught up with him physically:

“In the mirror, I saw my surprise,
Who knew gray hairs liked to hide on a head that didn’t think he’d live past thirty,
If I make it thirty more, it’s the brown that you’ll be looking for, as you run your fingers through it and say, “slow down, honey””

It’s Eric’s ability to articulate this realization so well that I admire and why I respect him so much as a songwriter.

This song is from his album The Outsiders, which was released in 2014. For this album, Eric and some songwriting friends went to his cabin in North Carolina and cranked out 121 songs (!). A lot of these songs obviously didn’t make the cut as there are only 12 tracks on this album. I’m not sure which ones didn’t make it but I sure am glad that this one did.

Songwriters: Eric Church/Jeremy Spillman

Can’t Take it With You“- Let me start by saying that this is my all-time favorite Eric Church song. I can’t really put my finger on why. It’s just that every time it comes on, I can’t change the song and it’s pretty much been that way since the first time I heard it. Maybe it’s the guitar riff that pulls me in at the beginning and won’t let me go. Or maybe it’s the song’s relatable message. I guessing it’s probably a combination of the two.

It’s a breakup song, you know, that thing that country music is best known for. In this song, his girlfriend has left him- taking not only furniture but also intangible items as well. This is apparent in the song’s opening line, “never realized how much she brought to the table, ’til I went to sit my cup of coffee where the table used to be.” She also managed to take away opportunities for Eric like giving him a chance to make it all alright. It’s these things that aren’t really things that are the hardest to deal with when a relationship ends. The message here is that when two people split, you take with you more than just the physical items, like the “heirloom antique cradle” but also the memories associated with those items, like one day starting a family. Her leaving left Eric with no choice but to do the same (silver lining: there wasn’t much left for packing.)

“That old house is in the rearview,
Riding shotgun is her ghost,
Who says you can’t take it with you when you go?”

Songwriters: Casey Beathard/Eric Church/Marla Cannon-Goodman

Knives Of New Orleans” – Who knew a song about a man killing a woman and dropping her in the Pontchartrain (that’s a lake right outside of New Orleans for all you non-Louisiana geography buffs) could be so eloquently written? Or is that even what the song is about? What’s great about this song is that what’s really going on is left up to the listener’s interpretation. As Eric discusses here, all three of the songwriters on this song had a different outcome in mind when writing this song.

“Tonight, a bleeding memory
Is tomorrow’s guilty vein
Your auburn hair on a faraway sea wall

Screams across the Pontchartrain” 

It doesn’t matter what you think the guy in this song did, you just know that he’s done something and that he’s now hiding out in New Orleans because of it. He repeats the line, “I did what I did” throughout the song, indicating that he’s dealing with some inner demons because of what he’s done. Images of a woman with auburn hair and hazel eyes are haunting him. Who is she? Well that’s up to you to decide. The fact that Eric allows for the listener to come to their own conclusion about the narrative of this song is a testament to his creativity as a writer.

This song is from his most recent album Mr. Misunderstood, which was released as a surprise on November 3, 2015. I saw that it had been released (via CD in the mail) to a handful of select Church Choir members that morning. Thankfully it was uploaded to iTunes later that night and I downloaded it right away. I didn’t even have to listen to a few songs before deciding to make the purchase, I knew that I wouldn’t regret it and boy was I right!

Songwriters: Eric Church/Jeremy Spillman/Travis Meadows

You Make It Look So Easy“- I’m convinced that someone once told Eric Church to go and write the greatest love song he could think of and he came back with this. Throughout the song he lists all of his negative qualities: he has a hard head, he overreacts, he puts up walls, he’s hard to love and even harder to live with. He’s not really doing a good job of selling himself! Yet his wife still loves him all while making it look easy. It probably doesn’t hurt that she’s got a hard head too because if anyone knows how to deal with a hard headed man it’s a hard headed woman.

“You’re my compass when I’m lost, my anchor when I get tossed,
And the right way when all I can do is wrong” 

With lyrics like these, it’s easy to see why this song made my list. That Mrs. Church sure is a lucky lady!

Songwriter: Eric Church

Dark Side“- The fifth song on this list, and second from The Outsiders album, is “Dark Side.” Eric sings about his dark side, you know the one, hanging out in the corner of your mind, as he describes it. Whether or not we choose to admit it, we all have a dark side- we all think thoughts that we maybe shouldn’t and know that if anyone ever heard these thoughts that they would probably have us committed. It’s for that reason that Eric’s dark side “don’t ever see the light of day.”

The song ends with a warning to anyone who ever tries to mess with his son (he now has two). If you’ve ever seen him perform this song live you know that he introduces this song by talking about his family and how he loves them so much that he would do anything for them, even kill for them. This sentiment comes through in these lyrics:

“All you thugs and ugly mugs, dealing drugs and makin’ noise,
You can kill each other all you want, but if you touch my little boy,
You beggin’ for this bullet, Will be the last thing that you say,
Before I
Let my dark side
Come out to play”

Whew! It sends chills down my spine just typing out that verse. I know one thing’s for sure- I don’t ever wanna see Eric’s dark side!

The end of the song also perfectly bleeds over into the beginning of the next song on the album, “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness),” which also serves as another excellent example of Eric’s ability to write a damn good song.

Songwriters: Eric Church/Travis Meadows/Jeremy Spillman

Over When It’s Over– I had originally planned on just focusing on five songs but I realized that I hadn’t included a single song off of the Chief album on this list. You’re probably familiar with Eric Church’s hit “Springsteen,” which is his most popular song from this album and arguably his most popular song to date. I may be breaking my own rules by including this song because I think I did hear the live version of this song on the radio once though I still don’t think it qualifies as a “hit” so it makes the cut.

If I could switch places with another person for just two minutes and 40 seconds, it would be Joanna Cotten just so I could sing this duet with Eric. Joanna has a set of pipes on her and it’s her powerful voice that really makes this song, in my opinion. The song is about a relationship ending despite how hard they tried to make it work- they had it in the air but they just couldn’t land it. It’s over.

It’s no so much what this song is about that earned it a spot on this list but rather the descriptive language used throughout it to describe the breakup. The split is compared to a “white flag,” “a stop sign,” and “the last long drag on a Marlboro light.” As well as a “blank page when you’re outta words.” And of course there’s the realization that there was no way they could have made it work because there “ain’t no map gonna ever bring us back from where we are.” As Eric sings:

“This ain’t no gone for good drill or no goodbye false alarm” 

It’s plain to see that these two are done.

Songwriters: Luke Robert Laird/Eric Church

 

I hope that I’ve done Eric Church and his songs justice with this post. Picking just six songs to focus on was difficult and even now I’m not so sure if these were the best ones for what I had in mind. This is also not a list of my favorite Eric Church songs either- that list would contain some of his hits like “Kill a Word” and the previously mentioned “Springsteen.”

Stay tuned for more posts in the “Sundays Are For Church” series!

Currently listening to: Eric Church, of course!

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