Brad Paisley has an uncanny way of clipping thoughtful, often witty, commentary out of society and dropping it into his songwriting. Roger Miller and John Prine are obvious influences, but he has expanded themes of the American Heartland, such as the working class, religion and social stereotypes, to reach a new generation. Through numerous studio records, from his 1999 debut We Need Pictures to 2017’s solid Love and War collection, he has commanded the airwaves with such classics as “He Didn’t Have to Be,” “Whiskey Lullaby” (with Alison Krauss), “Waitin’ on a Woman” and more. But what about those deep tracks which often get overlooked in the digital age of instant downloads and streaming services? Well, they simply fade away into history–but many of them are among Paisley’s best work.
10 Best Deep Cuts From Brad Paisley:
“Karate” (from 2013’s Wheelhouse)
A tale of abuse, this deep cut approaches the topic in much the same way Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” does: letting the humor ground the story in truth. It’s certainly empowering and especially compelling with the male perspective recounting the story (as opposed to a female narrator revealing the intimate scenes). The addition of a Charlie Daniels breakdown and sinister violin (harkening to the group’s signature “Devil Went Down to Georgia” song) makes the arrangement throwback but modern.
“A Man Don’t Have to Die” (from 2011’s This Is Country Music)
As a play on Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic–notably on such lyrics as “it’s six months short of thirty years when the boss man lays you off” and “it’s payments you can’t make on a house that you can’t sell”– the song doesn’t have a story you can nail down. It’s a culmination of thoughts and attitudes and people, rather than anything specific or fleshed out.
“The Pants” (from 2009’s American Saturday Night)
In classic Paisley fashion, he frames the male/female relationship around literally pants, sometimes with grease stains and sometimes with holes. “It’s not who wears the pants. It’s who wears the skirt,” he advises with the hook. Production is stamped with Paisley’s typical guitar licks and flairs, and it’s a wonder it was never a radio single.
“Famous People” (from 2003’s Mud on the Tires)
Another common thread line in plenty of Paisley’s work is making witty observations about celebrity culture. Here, he specifically targets the famous people, name-checking Ashley Judd and Dolly Parton, as he details his own small-town claim to fame. “I threw the winning touchdown pass the night that we won state, and I’m still signin’ autographs after all these years,” he singings, obviously tongue-in-cheek.
“One of Those Lives” (from 2011’s This is Country Music)
Don’t let the slick, glossy production fool you: the song is pretty dark and depressing. The song talks about St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Target House (which houses the family of patients) and how he shouldn’t complain about “having one of those days” when those kids are “having one of those lives.” It’s a simple, straight-forward presentation which makes it that much more relatable.
“Those Crazy Christians” (from 2013’s Wheelhouse)
Paisley has taken on a wide swath of themes in his career, but this is one no one saw coming. He takes on the hypocrisy of many self-proclaimed Christians (not the religion itself). It is rather unexpected, even for him, given country music’s traditionally conservative belief system. That’s what makes this moment so layered and complicated, a central conversation piece on his society-challenging LP that boldly tears down systemic deceit. But Paisley’s approach his heartfelt and urging, ultimately ending on a choir singing a hymn. There is good underneath all the facades.
The Devil is Alive and Well” (from 2017’s Love and War)
His most recent studio album is decidedly a mix bag. There is a haunting swell and honesty which soaks this traditional-bent song, however, about “hateful words that we all use.” With a backing choir, Paisley unleashes an utterly emotional and affecting performance. He reflects on all the savagery dominating the news cycle on- and offline. “I don’t know if you believe in heaven,” he later weeps on the hook. “I don’t know if you believe in hell. But I bet we can agree that the devil is alive and well…”
“Cloud of Dust” (from 1999’s We Need Pictures)
Right out of the gate, Paisley impressed with his debut album. Aside from the era’s big hits, it is this deep track, which talks about a farmer and his family’s struggle paying the bills, which really demonstrates his storytelling chops.
“No” (from 2009’s American Saturday Night)
Two words but oh, so powerful. It can tear your heart apart, destroy your world, but sometimes, hearing no leads you onto what is next. “Make no mistake, every prayer you pray gets answered,” Paisley sings. The story song weaves together different stories, starting with a child wanting a bike to a teenager sneaking way to smoke and then the emotional end of the grandfather.
“Tooth Brush” (from 2011’s This is Country Music)
In one of his more innocent, playful tales, Paisley reminisces about how love begins–with a toothbrush, which leads to a suitcase, a car “gassed up for Gatlinburg,” a chapel and then wedding bells. “Step by step, day by day, it all adds up along the way,” he states. It is perhaps one of his most overlooked records.