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Song Review: Darryl Worley – “Keep The Change”



After a string of seven singles that failed to break the Top 10, Darryl Worley goes back to the well of “common sense” populism he’s best-known for. With songs like “I Just Came Back From a War,” “If Something Should Happen” and “Have You Forgotten” among his most memorable touchstones, the subject matter of “Keep The Change” should come as no surprise–Worley’s not afraid to write about issues that are in the news, and he certainly doesn’t shy away from espousing his political views.

A logical addition to that series of politically charged narratives, “Keep The Change” uses then-candidate Obama’s campaign slogan from the 2008 presidential election (“Change”) to hammer home its message: America was founded on certain principles that should never be toyed with. To that end, the song hits on all the right talking points in order to be an anthem for the Tea Party crowd; there are mentions of freedom, God, “those who died” and the pledge of allegiance, a subtle nod to the founding fathers and a subtle knock against progressivism (Worley slyly disavows the nation’s supposed “progress”).

The trouble is that “Keep The Change” relies on much of the same dubious logic that has underscored similar songs from country music’s recent history. Like Worley’s “Have You Forgotten” (which linked Iraq to 9-11) and John Rich’s “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” (which criticized the government for “shutting Detroit down” while implying that the government shouldn’t have bailed out the banking industry), “Keep The Change” builds the case against its political and ideological adversaries on purported actions and accusations that aren’t supported by fact.

Worley cites the bailouts of the nation’s financial institutions as one of his prime examples of out-of-control government. But that example offers little weight in a song clearly directed at President Obama and his supporters when the bailouts the song refers to weren’t initiated by President Obama, but by then-President Bush.

It’s not the politics of the particular issue that are cause for unrest here, but the way in which Worley consciously twists the truth in order to support his central theme. It would be one thing if this song was a protest against what Worley sees as out of control government and spending, but it’s not; this song is about how liberalism is bad for the country. That’s why the entire lyric is tied together with the slam-dunk hook of “keep the change,” a direct rebuttal to the President’s core message.

And, if Worley’s going to make the case that liberalism–and, specifically, that liberalism supposedly espoused by President Obama–is bad for the country, he should not use as his prime example something that was initiated by a different (and conservative) president.

“Keep The Change” also perpetuates the fallacy that “change” means something like communism; by saying, “Gonna keep our God, our freedom… y’all can keep the change,” Worley’s implying that someone intends to take those things way. It’s difficult to have a meaningful political discussion when the dialog quickly devolves into little more than, “Liberals are trying to take away my freedom!” and when “those who died” becomes nothing more than a catchphrase used to inspire some feeling of nondescript patriotism.

To that end, this song celebrates the same dismissal of knowledge and thought that has been steadily creeping into the genre in recent years. When Worley preaches that he’s “Just an average joe/So [he’s] smart enough to know…,” he’s downright reveling in the fact that he’s not an intellectual. The sentiment expressed is that it’s better to be dumb and faithful than educated and inquisitive.

Finally, one has to wonder this: if everything in America is so good that nothing needs to be changed, why does Worley spend so much time in this song talking about what’s wrong with America? He says that the country could end up in “a pile of rubble,” and that “America’s in trouble,” and that the little man is drowning, and that the people are angry, and that the “fat cats on the hill” are “busting out the blocks that were laid as a foundation of this nation.”

Sounds like a lot of things need to be changed…

…unless, of course, he’s implying that all of those ills have come upon us in the last two years.

“Keep The Change” attempts no solution to any of the issues Worley raises. The song simply assumes that if we could hold on to some idyllic (but undefined) point in our history, we’d be better off.

Political statements like “Keep The Change” make it easy to rally behind a banner of patriotism, but they offer no help in developing a national discourse that encourages respectful, well-reasoned debate. To the contrary, songs such as this stir up fear and resentment while offering little hope for the future; if, after all, the answer is “do nothing”–if the answer is to change nothing–then it seems we can never hope or expect to be better or more than what we once were.

Jim Malec is a journalist whose work has appeared in American Songwriter, Country Weekly, Denver Westword and others. He is the founder of American Noise and former Managing Editor of The 9513.

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