What’s Making Me Happy: Discovering Classic Country

Following the model of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and, to a lesser extent, the Make Me Smart daily podcast, I want to remind myself that there are things that bring me joy. These posts are meant to be quick hits that identify and/or recommend things—usually artistic or cultural, sometimes culinary—that are making me happy in a given week. I am making this quick format a regular Friday/Saturday feature at least for the at least next few weeks.

This week: Atlanta Burned Again Last Night

I’ve written here before about my love for country music, and particularly for country that that these days might be termed classic. My personal inflection point was 2003, at which point my listening to mainstream country radio largely fell away though I still tune in sometimes while I’m driving to see if I can catch older songs. One of the local country stations rewards this gamble more often than not, playing a variety of songs that skew older and with multiple shows per week dedicated to classic country. My favorite part of these shows is getting, occasionally, to stumble across a song I’ve not heard before.

Exactly that happened this week. From 1983, I give you “Atlanta Burned Again Last Night,” by Atlanta:

In some ways it is a pretty typical catchy country song waxing lyrical about a romantic engagement now gone. I wouldn’t go quite as far as Wikipedia in describing “a teenaged boy’s sexual initiation by a married woman” as a “common theme in country music,” though there are certainly broad similarities to a song like Garth Brooks’ “That Summer.” However, the lyrics here are both more explicit and more pointed about the impropriety of this particular adultery with both parties seeing other people and him not yet 18:

She was over thirty
He was barely seventeen
She was in her second marriage
He dated a high school queen.

These lyrics alone would be enough to make me happy, but what makes it art is the confluence of this subject with the song’s title making reference to and co-opting Sherman’s destruction of Atlanta in 1864.

Atlanta burned again last night
And all the water in the ocean
couldn’t put out the fire this time
They gave in to sin again, but lord it felt so right
When Atlanta burned again last night

The absurdity of the entire package is why I can’t stop laughing.