It's the bye week, so we've little to do but watch the Pac-10 and cocktail parties by any other name, take back every bad thing we've ever said about Boston College, and overanalyze the AM radio dial.
If you want my two cents, the definitive country music song is George Jones singing "He Stopped Loving Her Today." In general, classic country music addresses adversity, loneliness, and an upfront, sentimental, unembarrassed hokeyness.
Undercutting these themes, country songs often carry a message to the listener--sometimes a moral (see later Johnny Cash) and at other times a threat (see early Johnny Cash). Also adding to the tension between the bad and the good, country music often relies on a dark, even sly, sense of humor and is well known for catchy melodies.
Therefore, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" can lay claim to being the definitive country song because it relies so much on these traditional expectations of the genre, but then leads into a new, surprising level of meaning that rewards said genre rather than revolutionizing it--the song explores country music's limitations instead of exploding them.
The listener, familiar with the common theme of heartbreak and adultery in country music, prepares to hate this "he" of the title, this scheming dog who has stopped loving his woman after claiming he would love her until he died---that is, until Jones slides in with the line "they placed a wreath upon his door."
Now, already identified with and ready to defend the scorned woman, the listener must reverse course, regretting having thought ill of this faithful "he" who's being carried away in his coffin and sharing the loneliness of the beloved "her" knowing that it's too late to say you're sorry.
Damn, that's a fine trick.
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" was released in 1980, but sounds like it was unearthed, like it was forever playing in the back of your mind before you first heard it.
It's amazing how old things can surprise you. We've got another week to see how many surprises we have left.