In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking some of our favorite songs about cowboys.
I grew up in Texas, raised by a family suffused in George Strait and Randy Travis, and attended a high school ruled by “ropers” who dressed in colorblock snap shirts and Rockies jeans, and who made Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” our goddamn senior song. I have a rather tenuous, deeply ingrained relationship with country music and “cowboys” that can be downright misanthropic. Which is why, for me, Country Teasers’ “Anytime, Cowboy” suits this week’s purposes perfectly.
A scabrous art-punk band from Scotland, about as far removed from the heartland as you can get, Country Teasers doused country music in arch dissonance, taking traditional cornpone riffs and rendering them into brittle, distorted needle-pricks that most closely resemble the abrasive repetition of The Fall’s earliest records. Lead songwriter Ben “BR” Wallers (who’s still kicking around as The Rebel) would rant over these licks in a sneering style that owed more to Johnny Rotten than Johnny Cash—and with lyrics that, in what is always the greatest caveat to Country Teasers newcomers, trample on racist and misogynist taboos with deeply cutting irony.
Wallers sings about nasty things from the point of view of nasty people, mocking them in the process. And for the most part, he escapes condemnation by brunt of his wicked sense of humor and his overarching philosophy of indiscriminate hatred toward all mankind. That said, Country Teasers can be a difficult band to play for the uninitiated without a whole lot of exhausting contextualizing.
“Anytime Cowboy,” from the band’s 1995 debut The Pastoral—Not Rustic—World Of Their Greatest Hits, actually counts as one of the least controversial Country Teasers songs—though superficially, it’s still plenty sexist. Wallers sings of both cowboys and city boys, riding town to town and working all day, and the women whose job it is to help take their load off. “When he says, ‘Are you ready?’ / Her line is ‘Anytime, cowboy’,” Wallers sneers, and there’s nothing in the song’s two brief verses to suggest that he’s joking.
And yet, it’s all a put-on: Wallers has said he will “adopt a bad character to satirize bad characteristics in white male society”—and in this case, that’s the reduction of women to servants and sexual objects that’s the undercurrent to so many “cowboy” songs. Still, even if you’re not in on the joke, I find “Anytime Cowboy” way less offensive than something like, say, Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me).” And I definitely find it more enjoyable to listen to—even if it takes some explaining.