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To Blake Shelton: Be My Yellow Jacket

red river blue

OPINION

“Honey Bee” is the chart-topping lead single from Blake Shelton’s new album.  The melody is pleasant; the chorus has that repetitive, sing-song quality that makes for easy listening and quick recall.  The subject is innocuous – a lighthearted promise of love and commitment suited to a summer song and romance.

And yet I can’t help but feel that the song and the singer are somewhat incongruous.  I can imagine an infatuated youth crooning “You be my sunny day, I’ll be your shade tree. You be my honeysuckle, I’ll be your honeybee”, but it’s hard to imagine that 35 year old Blake Shelton would choose to express his affection in those saccharine terms.  In fact, the mental image is disturbing.  A 6′ 5″ solidly built honeybee would wipe out honeysuckle faster than the biblical locusts destroyed the crops of Egypt.

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For me, the song would be better suited to an adolescent singer.  I can imagine, for example, this year’s American Idol winner with a credible version of the song.  I seem to be alone, however, in this opinion.  “Honey Bee” is a clear commercial success, currently ranked among the top 10 tunes on country radio.   Still, I expected more from the reigning CMA Male Vocalist of the Year.  I expected a love song with some lyrical depth, approached from the perspective and with the insight of an adult.

I think that it must be difficult for singers to find songs that match both their persona and talent level.  Reba McEntire, for example, had a 2010 hit song “Turn on the Radio”.  This was another well written song, delivered with Ms. McEntire’s signature tone and clarity, but somehow not quite a fit.  One line in particular “Try to call, twitter me, text until your fingers bleed” just didn’t jibe with the queen of country music’s elegance. 

I have to believe that singers who are also songwriters have a major advantage here, and conversely songwriters who write for others are at a disadvantage in crafting lyrics that are a good fit.  Both the Shelton and McEntire songs were written by professional songwriters.

Charming as the song may be, I don’t really want Mr. Shelton to be my Honey Bee.  I’d rather he was my yellow jacket.  Honeybees are shortlived.  They sting once and die.  The yellow jacket, on the other hand, has staying power.  A honeybee look-a-like, yellow jackets survive that first sting and keep coming back for more. 

I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to the remaining songs on Mr. Shelton’s new album “Red River Blue”.   I hope and expect that there will be songs with more lyrical depth and that are more representative of the breadth of his talent.  I hope there will be songs that stay with me.

Be my yellow jacket, not my honeybee.

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Look for more in-depth discussion of songwriting on THN in the next few weeks….

Here is Blake Shelton with a live performance of “Honey Bee”.

28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for the review, and no worries, THN. Mr. Shelton is now happily married to singer/songwriter Miranda Lambert, who appears to be his one & only honyebee. :-)

    I’m not a fan of country music in general, but hopefully, Mr. Shelton’s other song is on that new CD, the song that asks, “Who are you when I’m not lookin’?” It’s a much more innocous take on the subject covered by The Police in the 80s (“Every Breath You Take). Blake Shelton’s song is deceptively simple; I hated it when I first heard it but it grew on me. You can actually hear all of the instruments on this song and the melody is pretty and uncluttered. It’s not overproduced as is so much music now, including a lot of country music (IMO). We can thank the DH for exposing me to so much country music. Try as I might, I cannot escape it, LOL! Thanks again for the review!

    July 20, 2011
    • Agree with you, kaitlin; “Who are you when I’m not looking” is a really nice song with a message. It’s a track on Blake’s 2010 album “All about Tonight”.

      July 20, 2011
  2. Singers who are songwriters definitely do have the advantage on longevity in the business. Besides having the ability to write a more personal song, artists are not totally at the mercy of the professional songwriters who are (understandably) eager to give their best songs to the hottest new artist at the time.

    Looking forward to the songwriter discussion!

    July 20, 2011
    • I think that you’re probably a better source than I for the songwriter discussion, Jenn. I’ll get it started, and then hope you’ll jump into the fray!

      July 20, 2011
  3. jonibug #

    Got a kick out of this article. Not a fan of the country guys who wear cowboy hats but I DL “Honey Bee” after I heard Blake perfrom it on The Voice and I completed the album on Itunes the minute it came out. I find I like it a lot. There’s a line about Orange Beach and the Florabama in one of his songs….I caught that right away!!! ;-) Pretty sure I don’t want to be stung by either a honey bee OR a yellow jacket but when it comes to putting ONE of them in a song, I’ll vote for the honey bee, thanks.

    July 20, 2011
    • Well, it’s certainly easier to rhyme with “honeybee” than it is “yellow jacket”! Glad to hear that you’re enjoying the album, jonibug. It’s #1 on the Billboard charts across all genres this week. I may just have to listen to the other songs!

      July 20, 2011
  4. Louise #

    This discussion is really enlightening. I always thought of Blake as a big, handsome and talented country singer who was famous in his own genre. Since his marriage and his big success on The Voice, he is the ‘it’ man. I guess I expected more in the way of a story-song from him on the release of this new CD b/c he is a country artist.
    The song is lightweight, IMO. He is better than that. I guess when you are getting songs from other writers that are really not stamped with your own signature, sometimes you get Honey Bee as a result.
    I hope he branches off into songwriting b/c he is a great talent and is so sweet. His album is now #1 across all genres on the BB200 chart this week and maybe one of his weightier songs from the hit CD will make it to the top of the single charts and we can forget about this faux pas Honey Bee.
    I’m going to check to see what Blake has written himself, if anything. BBL.

    July 20, 2011
    • He’s certainly having a great year so far! And he gave away one of the best songs of the last couple of years to Miranda Lambert. “The House that Built Me” was originally sent to Blake, but found its way to his then fiance. Huge hit, award winner,nice wedding gift!

      July 20, 2011
  5. tishtx #

    That’s what you get when you rely on formulaic songwriting watered down for the masses. Not my cup of tea.

    July 20, 2011
    • I think “Honeybee” is pretty generic, but I hear there are other songs on the album well worth a listen. I’ll let you know what I find!

      July 20, 2011
  6. Indigo81067 #

    Oh come on! I’m a devoted Taylor Fan AND Blake fan! Leave him and his songs alone. He doesnt write them but its COUNTRY MUSIC! And, he doesnt claim or WANT to be a songwriter. Its not his thing.

    If you dont get his music, you definitely wont get his tweets! Whatev….

    July 20, 2011
    • O’kay, now you’ve got me! Gonna have to check out the tweets. Was I too mean? I just don’t think “Honeybee” shows his talent to advantage; the song isn’t as good as he is. I happen to like the singer; just not enamored of this particular song.

      July 20, 2011
  7. Am I a loser if I confess that I’ve never heard of this guy? If he’s strickly country, that’s why. lol

    July 20, 2011
  8. Jenni Jac #

    No taylorhicksnews you’re not being too mean..just honestly stating your opinion which I tend to agree with.

    And yes Caryl you are a loser ;)

    Looking forward to more songwriting discussion.

    July 20, 2011
  9. haha, Jenni!

    July 20, 2011
  10. Came back here to say I’m glad you know and like “Who are you when I’m not lookin’,” THN. That song really grew on me. Here’s the thing … and my butt is gonna be late for work, LOL! Country music is not what it once was, as we know. We can probably blame Ray Charles for the initial shift, if “blame” is the right word. As commercial radio tanked further & further, good music had to go somewhere. It couldn’t go to rap-crap and it couldn’t go to boy band or middle of the road rock-schlock, so it came home to roost in Nashville and I think that’s a tremendous compliment to Nashville. It says a lot about the standards of music set there. The song lyrics are,, for the most part, clean (family friendly), and there is human soul in a lot of the music. Not all, of course, thanks to the greedy-grubbers, as I like to call them, including the song writing music mills. But country now has become so broad, it allows for multiple genres, and I can see why it has attracted Taylor. I’m looking forward to his newest outing, even though I am not, per se, a country music fan. You wouldn’t know it from this post, huh? ::-) I’m a rocker-blues-soul chick and will die happy that way!!! :-).

    July 21, 2011
    • There’s lots of good country music out there, I agree, and much of it doesn’t sound like traditional country. I’ll be interested to see whether Taylor can produce a fusion sound that will have enough of a country edge that it will be accepted by country fans and radio.

      July 21, 2011
  11. Louise #

    I checked on Blake’s songwriting and found that he started very young with ‘Austin’ but when I checked on the lyrics, it said it was written by two other men. So, I listened to some of his previous songs and found they fit him as an artist a lot better than his newest release.

    Is he allowed to put out a song of fluff? Of course! But IMO this song came at a time where he could have had a monster if it were a little deeper or fit his talent more. JMHO.

    Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline; Blonde on Blonde recorded in Nashville) and Van Morrison’s (Pay the Devil) also threw their hats into the country ring with a lot of success. Songwriters both, at the time the albums came out, fans said wha??? but remembering that Dylan was influenced by Hank Williams, much of what Dylan writes can also be accepted by the country music fan.

    From an article published in 2004 on CMT Country, songwriter Bob Dylan’s music was reviewed for it’s country roots. One line grabbed my attention b/c it relates to songwriting fitting the artist: ‘Dylan has always been the kind of songwriter that country songwriters at their best are: writers who graphically present the human drama set to song.’

    Here is the link to the full article: http://bit.ly/pLOifT Dylan Country, A Good Place to Be

    This is not a critique of Blake Shelton as a country singer. IMO, this is a discussion of songwriting and if the song and it’s lyrics chosen by any artist fit the artist.

    Come back and comment if you get a chance to read the CMT article.

    July 21, 2011
    • I read it, Louise. Here’s my favorite part of the article:

      “There have always been roughly two kinds of songwriters in Nashville: the poets and the carpenters. The poets write from inspiration and from life. The carpenters can turn up at a 9 a.m. Monday co-writing session to knock out a song about a teen-aged pregnancy or a pick-up truck or a dead dog.”

      I guess I’m a fan of poetry, then. I think that the songs that come from real life experience and that are relatable are the ones that stay longest in my memory.

      July 21, 2011
  12. I feel that God smote me on the way home from work this evening. Turned on the radio (no Reba pun intended), and the guest DJ on Sirius was none other than Blake Shelton who, among many other songs, spun his #1 hit Honey Bee. Take THAT, THN!

    July 21, 2011
  13. tishtx #

    Read the article, Dylan Country, a Good Place To Be. Here’s what really stood out for me:

    “There have always been roughly two kinds of songwriters in Nashville: the poets and the carpenters. The poets write from inspiration and from life. The carpenters can turn up at a 9 a.m. Monday co-writing session to knock out a song about a teen-aged pregnancy or a pick-up truck or a dead dog. Dylan pointed out the difference to people in Nashville.”
    http://www.cmt.com/news/nashville-skyline/1489290/nashville-skyline-dylan-country-a-good-place-to-be.jhtml

    That says a lot. The poets stay with us forever, Van Morrison, nuff said.

    July 21, 2011
  14. I actually do like some country, but since I moved to Texas right about the time Urban Cowboy came out, I got REALLY burned out on it. I used to two-step and everything. I even went back to Long Island for a visit and wore a cowboy hat everywhere. God, I was obnoxious!

    Guess it’s time to get over it and venture back into the country waters.

    July 21, 2011
  15. Louise #

    I’m attracted to certain country songs and artists. Keith Urban, for example. I looked at his discography and he is a strong writer but he is also a passionate performer. He also crosses over very well. He was huge before he married Nicole Kidman so that’s not why he’s a favorite.

    And, Paul Simon comes to mind. The poet of our time scored a major hit with Graceland, the lead single from the album. Although the most of the album is devoted to South Africa and highlights their entertainers (Lady Mombasa), the the lyrics in title song, Graceland, are epic. Elvis is where it all started, I assume.

    Not trying to lay it on too thick in order to display how fluff Honey Bee is but there are songwriters who write from their life experiences whose music transcends labels of ‘country’ music.

    July 22, 2011
  16. What tish said! And oh yeah, what Dylan said too! :-)

    July 22, 2011
  17. Louise #

    Have a great weekend. :-)

    July 22, 2011
  18. Blues Rider #

    “Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind,
    Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves,
    The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach,
    Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.

    Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
    Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,
    With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
    Let me forget about today until tomorrow.”
    — Bob Dylan

    Painting Images through poetry. Songwriting at its finest.

    Ultimately it’s the artist that chooses/agrees to record a song. Or is it?

    July 23, 2011
    • So beautiful, Blues Rider. It helps to see the words on the screen, stripped from the music. Thank you.

      July 23, 2011

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