Welcome to The Argument, Stereogum’s new regular feature where Tom Breihan and Claire Lobenfeld discuss music topics in and out of the ’Gum-sphere. For its first installment, they revisit Sheryl Crow’s catalog on the heels of the release of her new country album Feels Like Home and the 20th anniversary of her debut Tuesday Night Music Club.

TOM: So Scott Lapatine, our fearless leader, has given us the idea to go in on the career and legacy of one Sheryl Crow of Kennett, Missouri. Her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club turned 20 last month, and her new country album Feels Like Home will debut in Billboard’s top 10 week. And as Scott points out: there’s a weird level of synchronicity between Crow and indie rock. Indie people have covered her songs: HAIM, Screaming Females, Oxes with Will Oldham, Joanna Newsom, and Robin Pecknold. She also had Liz Phair sing on a #1 song and showed up pre-fame as a big-haired backup singer on that Michael Jackson HBO special that I watched one billion times. (That last one isn’t indie, but it is awesome.)

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t feel like indie connects are necessary when we’re talking about Sheryl Crow. I don’t need indie rock to tell me Sheryl Crow is awesome. I know Sheryl Crow is awesome. (Also, that Screaming Females cover, much as I love them, is butt, and an Oxes cover doesn’t say too much about anything; I’ve seen those dudes cover the Vengaboys live before. [And yes, that was awesome.])

Here’s my thing about Sheryl Crow: I think of her, more or less, as a ’90s edition of Tom Petty: A middle-of-the-road rock songwriter who wasn’t necessarily a trailblazer or a deep soul but who cranked out irresistible radio-rock nuggets like nobody’s business. Things were messy in the ’90s, so she got all caught up in things like alt-rock radio and the Lilith Fair when maybe she would’ve just been allowed to be a kickass rock star in previous eras. And maybe that’s hurt her reputation a bit. But if you throw on The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow, which is one of my undying road-trip go-tos, you will hear just so much greatness. “If It Makes You Happy”! “Everyday Is A Winding Road”! “Strong Enough”! These might be songs that have thrummed in the background of your life for years, songs you didn’t even realize you loved, and then you find yourself singing along with them at top volume with windows down. She is a sneaky great, and she deserves to be remembered that way.

Also, my aunt was sorority sisters with her, a senior when Crow was a freshman, and she reports that Crow was “really nice.” You got that exclusive here, folks!

But Claire, what’s your take on Sheryl Crow?

CLAIRE: Well-said, Tom. But this has been a bit of a weird journey for me. When Scott suggested this, I revisited my favorite parts of Crow’s catalogue — primarily the insane triptych of “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Strong Enough,” and “Can’t Cry Anymore” from Tuesday Night Music Club, all of which I was pretty obsessed with after my dad bought it for me on cassette during one of our Sunday Tower Records trips (I was probably eight), but what I didn’t think about was that “All I Wanna Do” would be an awesome anachronism for me and how much that song kind of informed my adult life. It wasn’t until I revisited it that this flood of feelings I experienced as a kid watching that video, hearing that song, definitely not fully understanding what is a “good beer buzz early in the morning,” but the notion of “free-spiritedness” somehow seeping its way into my brain. And what grown-up women in my life, at the time, the song had reminded me of, all of whom were single, seemingly cool but also “old,” and that being an adult wasn’t as buttoned-up as I had previously imagined to me. What an impact! And goddamn, “A Change Would Do You Good” is total fire. So, I would agree with you about Tom Petty, but I would give him more credit than you have, especially when he and the Heartbreakers are responsible for insane jams like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “American GIrl,” and “Free Fallin’.”

But I hadn’t really thought about S. Crow that much until now, tabloid-fodder aside. She really lost the thread for me with “Soak Up The Sun.” In her defense, by 2002, if it wasn’t in the zone of Blonde Redhead or Cam’ron, I really didn’t care, so I found her pop switch particularly offensive (same goes for Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I?” and Jewel’s “Intuition”). I pushed her out of my head for a few years, the truth of her value erased from my memory. As you stated before, “These might be songs that have thrummed in the background of your life for years, songs you didn’t even realize you loved, and then find yourself singing along with them at top volume with windows down.” It was hearing “Strong Enough” being blasted by disgruntled neighbors who hated our late night parties in this punk-frat (no better way to put it) that I used to hang out at in college. I think the two girls in the apartment in between the two floors we co-habitated on were finally pissed at us. But instead of driving anyone to the brink of anger, as I assume they planned to, we were all like, “Holy shit, this song rules” and proceeded to play it on repeat until a few of the dudes learned how to play it on guitar. When HAIM covered it, it made me love those girls even more. It’s almost like you’re all in on a secret.

And she’s definitely infused that secret bad assery into her new album Feels Like Home. I am not a country expert by any means. You can find more than one Patsy Cline box set in my apartment and Wayne Hancock’s “Cold Lonesome Wind” is one of my all-time favorite songs — albeit, off the strength of a Rose McGowan movie — so I am not entirely sure where this measures on the pop-country scale. Much of it feels like a “Sun”-informed pop album with hokey notions of country flavor, particularly lyrically (“looks like the whole dang town’s / in the mood for a beer / it ain’t the weekend / it ain’t even 2-for-1 night / guess we’re just drawn to / that heavenly neon light” — dog, I know you like drinking, but this sounds almost pandering). “Gunpowder & Lead,” this is not. But again, I don’t really know where in the genre this falls.

I know you like Miranda Lambert — and I’m sorry if I’m being reductive, but she’s the one I’d be trying to ether if I were coming into the mainstream country landscape. Have you checked out Home at all? Where do you think Sheryl fits in the country scene? And do you think this record’s any good?

TOM: Claire, please do not think for a second that I am shoveling shit on the good Tom Petty name. Petty is my dude, and if I think Sheryl Crow is cut from the same mold, that doesn’t mean I believe she’s his equal. As much fire as there is on her greatest hits album, it’s still not up to the level of fire on his greatest-hits. Also, can we talk about “Picture” for a second? Because the Kid Rock duet “Picture,” possibly Crow’s biggest hit of this millennium, is the song that first brought her (and, to a lesser extent, Kid Rock) to country radio, which is where she’s now attempting to build her house. And it’s an absolutely dead-on classic-rock road-crust duet, the closest thing she has to a “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” (This makes Kid Rock her Stevie Nicks, which is maybe another conversation altogether.)

But I love your “All I Wanna Do” story, which got me thinking about the Liz Phair connection again. When Phair and Crow joined forces on “Soak Up the Sun” — and I was not too into Dipset to sleep on that song, which, to my ears, fits right in with everything she’d been doing — it made sense. That didn’t mean Sheryl was a secret indie rocker, though; it mostly fit with the quiet jukebox-queen classic-rock streak that Phair had in her music from the very beginning. And now that I think about it, the barroom scene in “All I Wanna Do” isn’t that far away from the one in Phair’s “Polyester Bride.” If these two had worked together more, maybe Crow wouldn’t be chasing that Darius Rucker country-crossover money and Phair wouldn’t have disappearing into the cable-TV original-score netherworld. (Also, I watched that video a whole lot of times in the punk-frat where I spent my last two college years, and my housemates complained less than they did when I was watching the “Bad Boy For Life” video.)

But so the country album! It’s good. It’s not great. And it’s really the only thing for Sheryl to do if she doesn’t want to live on the state-fair circuit for the rest of her creative life (or to sign to Merge or whatever). Most of the stuff that always made Crow great — the plainspoken conversational tough-chick lyrics, the greasy road-house arrangements, the unshowy big notes, the entire idea of laid-back car-radio singalongs — has disappeared from whatever remains of mainstream rock, and it’s found a place in pop-country. Also, a wise person (possibly a YouTube commenter; I forget) said this of Nelly’s guest verse on Florida Georgia Line’s massive summer jam “Cruise”: Nelly didn’t go country; he’s from St. Louis, so he was always country. Crow is from the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. She was always country, too. And if it makes her happy, it can’t be that bad.

In any case, pop-country (non-Taylor division, anyway) is in a rough place right now, taken over by soft-batch Ken dolls like Luke Bryan. Its greatest signs of hope are steely-eyed real-talking spitfires like Miranda Lambert and Kasey Musgraves. And on Feels Like Home, Crow plays a sort of cool older-cousin to ladies like that, and it works reasonably well. But the extreme compression and shiny production of current Nashville product doesn’t quite mesh with Crow, and I wish she could just go straight to Tom Petty’s arena-stomping elder-statesman status. Sadly, that winding road seems to be closed to female veterans. Maybe there was something to that Lilith Fair thing after all, and we shouldn’t have made fun of it just because Meredith Brooks.

CLAIRE: Maybe Lilith Fair was the riot grrl of arena rock and too many people (myself, included) get hives from the hippie craft fair vibes, so it never hit right. I do remember feeling utterly weirded out by patchouli and crochet tops en masse when I went in 1998. But, sharp as my memory can be, I couldn’t tell everyone who was on the roster at that year’s Jones Beach edition. Sarah McLachlan, natch, as she was H.B.I.C. of the whole, and Missy Elliott, who I will never forget, particularly because she wore all the costumes from every Supa Dupa Fly video, but mostly Natalie Merchant. I don’t have a single clue what she’s doing now, but if the lane stayed open, I think she could tear the roof off of Madison Square Garden, peasant skirt sweeping across the same stage I’ve seen people from Paul McCartney to Kanye West destroy.

But there are certainly not enough women who have transcended that zone. It’s lowkey why I’m disappointed to see someone like Miley Cyrus eschew her familial legacy (that of her godmother Dolly Parton, not of her Achey Breaky Dad) for Rihanna rejects. For a long time, I was Miley 2.0 would also be Taylor Swift ether ’cos her woe-is-me judginess is so irksome to me (own your badness, Taylor!! You will meet way cooler dudes, trust), but I’d rather just see them in the country-imbued Bey-Katy-Rihanna zone together. And you know what? There’s a song on the final Hannah Montana album called “Need A Little Love” and it features Sheryl Crow. The lady’s got reach. S may not have a direct influence on Taylor, but you can’t tell me there isn’t a little bit of “All I Wanna Do” in “22″ or the spirit of “Can’t Cry Anymore” in “Trouble,” right?

Comments (68)
  1. This is some kind of great. Her Greatest Hits compilation is killer.

  2. I didn’t even bother reading this. I just came here to say that think pieces or whatever this is categorizes as have officially jumped the shark with features like this. Eavesdrop in on a long-winded conversation about Sheryl Crow between two writers? I respect y’all as writers but at this point, what isn’t fair game to be discussed, and why does it need to be discussed at all?

    • That said, I’d greatly appreciate a future argument over the merits of S Club 7 and maybe Samantha Mumba.

      • Nothing needs to be discussed, they just want to because they like her. This is art, and they feel something for it, so they write about it. There really doesn’t need to be any other pretense

  3. I enjoyed this

  4. Sometimes I feel like the worst thing to do in the Stereogum universe is dislike any kind of music. It’s like everybody, even NSYNC, Sheryl Crow, and Coldplay, gets a trophy just for making an album.

    But some music just sucks. Sheryl Crow is tedious, bland, and has zero personality. Her songs are all ripoffs of much better artists. She’s going country like Hootie did, because she has no real fans, and that’s the move you make when you have no ideas left. Wonder how all her new country fans will feel if somebody points out her liberal political opinions? Will she stand up for what’s right, or become even blander to appeal to her new demographic? Let’s face it, she’s no Joni Mitchell or Patti Smith. She’s middle of the road blech.

    A recommendation for this new feature: Try having the two people arguing disagree more. Surely someone at Stereogum thinks it’s safe for knowledgeable music fans to ignore Sheryl Crow’s entire discography?

    • She has a relative handful of really catchy songs, and Corin Tucker has acknowledged her music as a “guilty pleasure.” That’s pretty much what Sheryl Crow has going for her (humongous bank account aside). Okay, she does seem like a nice person, but she basically makes the same kinds of songs over and over. She rarely takes artistic or emotional risks; she’s the epitome of safe music. The above conversation between Tom and Claire is completely silly and disposable. Did this conversation really happen, or am I essentially reading a script?

  5. I never really indulged in Sheryl beyond the radio hits, most of which I do love (I should probably invest in that Best Of..).

    But one of my favorite bands of the 00′s was a Japanese band called Love Psychedelico whose sound was very much in debted to Tuesday Night Music Club era Sheryl. It was a shameless adaptation, to the point where I’d often say they pulled off Sheryl Crow better than Sheryl Crow did. (Check ‘em out if you want:


  6. I think her song “Home” is pretty good, if you ever get the chance to check it out.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Hey, thanks to “Home” I heard her complete albums in the nineties, and they have some great songs. Then, she released “Soak Up the Sun” and her 2002 record C’mon C’mon… and to me, that was the end. Now that she has a country album, all I can think is “Every song must be a country Soak Up the Sun”.

  7. I used to think that everyday was just routine or quotidian, and not a winding road. Sheryl Crow changed all of that.

  8. Wow, I never thought about Sheryl Crow like that before. Next time I’m in the car, I’ll put in her greatest hits CD and ruminate about the divide between mainstream and indie culture. I will realize that, truly, every day is a winding road. And this discovery will lead to further discoveries, such as my blossoming desire to engage in various fun activities, commonly referred to as just “fun”. Perhaps I am not the only one? Perhaps I will make new friends and we will all engage in fun activities together, while listening to Sheryl Crow. I, for one, look forward to this day, and when it finally arrives, when I am engaging in fun activities like getting jerked off in the parking lot of a cheap motel listening to “Picture”, Crow’s seminal duet with Kid Rock, with my new friends who I am simultaneously jerking off in return, and we are all being jerked off together, I will cry out in orgasmic relief and whisper a silent prayer of thanks for both Tom Breihan and Claire Lobenfield, and the day I stumbled across this conversation. God bless you both.

    • Upvote for mixing in the word “seminal” in its proper context between lines about jerking off.

      Word hilarity at its best.

    • Upon visiting this page, I first felt the urge to satisfy my boredom by reading the column. Upon finishing the column I was rather upset by the overtly contrived “conversation” between the two editors over a topic which – though I wasn’t initially convinced – am now certain deserves no space either on this website or in any cob-webbed alcove of the infinitely large realm of the internet.

      But this comment changed everything. Thank you adddo, you have restored my faith in humanity.

  9. I can only assume you’ll be discussing the merits of Counting Crows next.

  10. Lance Armstrong

  11. Sheryl brings me back to a very nostalgic place, I love her. Look folks, you really don’t have to like her, but why are you getting on Stereogum for posting this? Obviously, they write the content, they can do whatever the fuck they want. No one is claiming this is “essential” listening (whatever that means). If you don’t want to read it, then read something else.

  12. Damn we can’t even talk about Sheryl Crow without mentioning Yeezy.

  13. I probably like Sheryl Crow more than most commenters here, but even I’m not going to bother with this one. Sheryl is in no way “indie” to your predominantly North American audience (even k-pop, which I love your posts on, could kind of be considered indie in the sense that it isn’t well known). But Sheryl has had no impact on indie music and hasn’t even been much in the popular consciousness for about ten years, so I’m just scratching my head at the subject of this feature’s debut. And to those who would say, “if you don’t like it, read something else”, that’s why I’m commenting – I’d like to read some thoughtful discourse on something else more relevant to the audience here.

  14. Love Sheryl Crow. On my teenage bedroom wall, besides posters of Cobain and Dylan and Marley, was one of Sheryl.

    With the likes of Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Kacey Musgraves, how is pop-country in a weak place right now? When has there ever been a trio as killer as that? Granted you still have the same douches you’ve always had like Luke Bryan, but that never changes.

    • I see your Swift/Lambert/Musgraves and raise you a Lynn/Ronstadt/Parton circa 1967-68.

      • You may have me there. But were Ronstdadt and Parton really hitting their stride that early? I don’t listen enough to their early stuff…I don’t think of either as really coming into their own until the mid 70′s. Though Musgraves isn’t peaking yet either.

        • I think you might have a stronger case with Ronstdadt, Parton, and Emmylous circa ’74-’75. Not because Emmylous is better than Loretta, necessarily, but because of the timing with the other 2, as I said above.

          • Honestly you could probably just say that whole late 60s early 70s era is probably the only one that can compete in terms of great women country singers. Or I guess the mid 90s too in terms of crossover successes like Shania, but she’s also my least favorite so I don’t really want to give her credit. I rep Patsy Cline til I die. Winchester, VA represent!

    • I was subjected to quite a bit of country over the summer, and the Swift/Lambert/Musgraves trio offered some of the few relative bright spots. Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift’s duet “Highway Don’t Care” was the only song I genuinely looked forward to hearing each time, though. Sheryl Crow’s “Easy,” on the other hand, was one I got tired of fast. I would gladly sacrifice an infant if it meant I’d never have to hear that song again. Hopefully it won’t come to that . . .

      The bitterest moment, however, came when a Neko Case song started playing and somebody else just reached over and immediately changed the station. I was too appalled to even say anything in protest.

  15. what happened to this site?

  16. ether? I saw this word a couple times in Claire’s writing and it is bugging me, is this a typo or am I missing something?

    • I think she means “either,” but that is the least of the following sentence’s problems:

      “For a long time, I was Miley 2.0 would also be Taylor Swift ether ‘cos her woe-is-me judginess is so irksome to me (own your badness, Taylor!!”

    • No I believe she means ether, as in Nas’ diss track at Jay-Z “Ether.” It’s used as a verb in hip-hop circles i.e. when a rapper destroys another rapper in a verse they “ethered” him

  17. Why are you even mentioning her on this site? The Tom Petty comparison was ridiculous. TP has been on the road 40 years and Sheryl Crow screwed everyone she could to get to the top. You know she’s never actually written any of her songs right? Look it up. Especially her first 2 albums.

  18. Bullshit.

  19. can’t wait for the meredith brooks deconstruction!

  20. I find it annoying when people tell someone how to run their website/blog but things have gotten out of control on here lately. I saw stereogum’s post about Katy B pop up in my Facebook news feed and I initially thought it was about Katy Perry and was not at all surprised. This realization made me sad. I’m all for pushing the boundaries on what is “Indie” but you have to draw the line somewhere

  21. This would be a good podcast.

  22. Oof, this stream is a clear example of “Don’t read the comments.” Such hostility. :/

    That said, Sheryl Crow undeniably played a big part in my life as a music fanatic. Hers was the first concert I ever attended, at age 13. It was incredibly fun, as was the whole “Tuesday Night Music Club” album. (Let’s give props to the followup as well.) “Strong Enough” and “I Shall Believe” were like security blankets to me.

    Thanks, Tom and Claire, for writing this. Haters gonna hate, but good music lives forever.

    • Plenty of people will grow up saying their first concert they went to was “The Wiggles.”

      Maybe we should start having the editors discuss that for next weeks segment.

      • This is actually one thing I’ve found a little annoying about some of the articles here. They have a habit of writing about shitty music in the past as if their tastes as dumb preteens are still relevant. I liked blink 182 at one point, and I still listen to their albums for nostalgia purposes, but I’m not going to write or read a think piece about them as if their music is anything more than teen-targeted pop songs with a side of potty humor.

        I think it’s okay to like any kind of music, but sometimes it’s plain silly to try to give our tastes higher meaning. A lot of music nerds don’t quite grasp this concept.

    • The comments have been the best part of this article.

      And yeah, Sheryl Crow technically opened up for The Rolling Stones when I saw them at one of my first concert experience. But I’m not proud of it.

  23. I agree, this is bullshit. A Sheryl Crow retrospective that excludes “If It Makes You Happy”? R.I.P. MUSIC JOURNALISM.

  24. Sheryl Crowe’s fine, the first two, maybe three albums provided radio hits that are better than average, a few of which I actually kind of enjoy hearing from time to time. Funny watching everyone flip out…though I didn’t exactly read the article.

  25. I think we have reached peak poptimism.

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