Ka-Ching…With Twang: Morgan Wallen – One Thing at a Time

Remember how Drake and Chris Brown put out bloated albums in the 2010s which were designed to be buffets rather than a la carte? Now the practice has spread into country music: Luke Combs did it with 23 tracks released as a full album and two EPs tacked on either side of it, and of course Morgan himself gave us 30 tracks over a double album, which was bettered by Zach Bryan in 2022.

This is a tentpole release from man who has been number one for most of the last two years with his second album Dangerous (it helps that double-disc sets count as two discs when it comes to sales figures), but I’m not going to bother reviewing the album as a whole, as a cohesive unit that unfurls from section to section. It’s not what he wants us to do, and in any case there’s no cohesion.

Instead, inspired by something I read in Tom Gatti’s introduction to his book Long Players, I’m going to suggest playlists where you can drag and drop each of the 36 songs, 14 of which are Wallen compositions and 22 are outside writes. Apparently he cut it down from 42, so at least he realised he was being ludicrous even as he was being ludicrous. At 112 minutes, the ‘album’ is longer than a lot of movies, although not the blockbusters that Morgan is clearly emulating.

You can judge for yourself if it’s more Iron Man or Antman; he doesn’t care and nor do Big Loud, the label which suspended him then let him back after they realised that his success pays for the solo careers of Ernest, Hardy and all the rest of the writers who craft the Big Loud Sound.

The big tracks from One Thing at a Time already in the world have been Thought You Should Know and You Proof. You should consider the playlist ‘Mum I’m OK’ and also ‘Country Songs Written By Women For Men’ for the former, given that Nicolle Galyon and Miranda Lambert were in the room, and the popular playlist ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’ for the latter, which has had a superb run at radio: ten weeks at number one and number five on the Hot 100.

Thought You Should Know followed it to number one, proving that being caught using a rude word while having a drink problem doesn’t derail a career if you’re making money for the label and drawing people to country music.

Added to those two chart-toppers, which were Wallen’s seventh and eighth respectively (7 Summers would have been one had radio not stopped its run), eight other tracks have been rolled out by Wallen in the last few months, enough for a full album but only equivalent to about 30% of One Thing At A Time. Here are some playlist suggestions for these nine.

Last Night: ‘Songs Written by J Kash’ (he’s a friend and collaborator of Charlie Puth, which means Morgan gets amid lots of pop acts. He has the chart position to show for it, as this song is his biggest pop hit, reaching number three on the Hot 100)

I Deserve A Drink: ‘Songs Written by Brothers’ (here Devin Dawson and his brother Jacob, so the song will join songs by The Jackson Five, The Bee Gees and Jedward)

Don’t Think Jesus: ‘Country Boy Confession’

One Thing At A Time: ‘Cruising Down The Freeway To Get Over a Break-Up’

Days That End In Why: ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’

Tennessee Fan: ‘College Football Country’

Everything I Love: ‘Allman Brothers Banditry’ (it samples their song Midnight Rider)

I Wrote The Book: ‘A Country Way of Life, by Hardy’ (you can tell Hardy was in the room)

Now for the 26 tracks released on March 3, to ‘complete the set’. Again, Morgan does NOT want you to listen to all 36 songs in one go.

Born With a Beer in My Hand: ‘Country Music and Alcohol’ (a playlist which may need to be subdivided into grape and grain)

Man Made A Bar: ‘You know who would sound great on this breakup song? Eric Church’ (this will be a single)

Devil Don’t Know: ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’

’98 Braves: ‘Love is like Baseball’ (how about that line about Andrew and Chipper Jones?)

Ain’t That Some: ‘Rap-Influenced Country but Definitely Not Rap’

Tennessee Numbers: ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’

Hope That’s True: ‘Wish You The Worst’

Whiskey Friends: ‘Country Music and Alcohol’

Sunrise: ‘Do You Have To Let It Linger?’

Keith Whitley: ‘Quoting Old Songtitles’ (but at least it’s Whitley and not Brooks & Dunn or George Strait)

In The Bible (ft. Hardy): ‘Hallelujah Amen!’ (oh look, the Lord makes an appearance!)

F150-50: ‘To Have or Have Not’ (great title, so-so song)

Neon Star (Country Boy Lullaby): ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’

Wine Into Water: ‘Sorry Baby’ (‘wine into water under the bridge’ is a good idea but clunky)

Me + All Your Reasons: ‘Sorry Baby’

Money On Me: ‘Country Boy Confession’ (ironically, Big Loud are chucking money at him, although his tour is being promoted independently as far as I remember)

Thinkin’ Bout Me: ‘Rap-Influenced Country but Definitely Not Rap’ (if this is country, Lil Nas X should sue in spite of how Old Town Road is the biggest song this century)

Single Than She Was: ‘Meet-Cute’

Last Drive Down Main: ‘Dirt Rock’ (a genre Morgan has said was inspired by listening to The War On Drugs)

Me To Me: ‘Ashley Gorley was In The Room’ (if you want to sound country in the modern radio-friendly fashion, get Gorley on board. He adds some melodic heft to average songs)

180 (Lifestyle): ‘Rap-Influenced Country but Definitely Not Rap’

Had It: ‘To Have or Have Not’

Cowgirls (ft. Ernest): ‘Rap-Influenced Country but Definitely Not Rap’ (at least the title is country, although the melody and production are not. Fun fact: Ernest first broke through as a rapper.)

Good Girl Gone Missin’: ‘Ashley Gorley was In The Room’

Outlook: ‘Believe Me, I’ve Changed’

Dying Man: ‘Believe Me, I’ve Changed’ (look at how he’s ended the album with two proper songs. What a shame we had 34 before it to dilute their effect)

Will anyone remember these songs in ten or twenty years, or is it product for the Instagram/early streaming era? Judging by the gig at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville to promote the release of the album, Morgan added 13 of the 36 songs into his set, perhaps previewing his world tour that is surely coming to the UK as part of the cycle.

The title track, album opener (Born with a Beer In My Hand) and closing track (Dying Man) are there, as are Keith Whitley and Everything I Love (to prove Morgan has listened to music from before he was born), Me + All Your Reasons, Whiskey Friends, Tennessee Fan, Sunrise and Devil Don’t Know.

Thinkin’ Bout Me and 180 (Lifestyle) are two of the rap songs that aren’t rap, just like Burnin’ It Down by Aldean and Cruise by FGL weren’t rap but were huge pop hits. I don’t know if any non-country acolytes will investigate, say, You Proof or the Ashley Gorley co-writes, but Morgan doesn’t care. It’s a numbers game, as it is for Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Morgan, for better or worse, is now in that category of performer. Like Garth and Luke Combs, he’s bigger than country music.

It’s interesting that spring 2023 sees two big albums released by two kids from Tennessee: Miley Cyrus puts out her new album on March 10, which will depose Wallen. They are in the same school year (Class of 2011), as Miley is six months older. Miley is Dolly Parton’s goddaughter and seems to know exactly what she’s doing.

I just hope the people around Wallen, who is a father to a toddler, stop him from doing dumb things. He’ll make money until he doesn’t want to any more.

Hear my digested 14-track version of One Thing At A Time here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: