Track Marks 2020: “One Night Standards” by Ashley McBryde

Track Marks is a recurring feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

Country music is about form. It is constrained and traditional. It is so standard that, yes, it all can sound the same.

So what makes interesting country is a song that plays with its subject. A song that plays with rhyme. One that’s clever and smart and self-aware of the constraints that it lives in.

Standards and Rhyme Scheme

“One Night Standards” starts on a down note. The steady beat and first few bars let you know that this is not a happy tune. This might be a tune about heartbreak. Except then, it’s not.

The lyrics start with rules:
I aint gonna stay for the weekend
I aint gonna jump off the deepend
I aint gonna ask where you ring is
Thing is,
we all got secrets

The rules are simple and repetitive. I ain’t gonna times three.

Depending on how one breaks the line, we either get a AABBA rhyme scheme or an AAA with a strong internal rhyme. In either case, it notifies the listener that this isn’t going to be just single syllabic rhymes all the way down. Like all good country music, this is colloquial speech transcendent with complicated rhyme and wordplay.

The next lyric is three-line double rhyme that leads into the same form:
You don’t want to hear about my last breakup
I don’t want to worry about space you take up
I don’t even care if you’re here when I wake up

This three-line scheme is repeated and extended into the chorus with a multisyllabic rhyming that inverts out into the final line:
It’s just a room key
You ain’t gotta lie to me
Why can’t you just use me?
Like I’m using you

Repeated once more, with exceptionally tight lines, again with multisyllabic rhymes:
How it goes is
Bar closes
There’s no king bed covered in roses
Just a room, without a view

Until the final couplet:
I don’t wanna number you ain’t gonna answer
Let’s just stick to the one night standards

So, conservatively (not counting for internal rhymes), this scheme might be: AAABBBCCCDEEEDFF.

Again, these aren’t simple, single-syllable end rhymes. Many of them scan the same way with the same upbeats and downbeats.

The overall effect is that this isn’t a simple song: This is a goddamned sonnet set to music. This is a country villanelle.

Standards and Subject

There is no explicit hope for love in these lyrics. There can’t be. The lyrics deliberately turn the fantasy of love upside down:

Well, I ain’t Cinderella, but who is?
Call me what you want, if the shoe fits
I ain’t gonna say I never do this,
’cause truth is,
A lonely makes the heart ruthless

This is a song that strips away the idolatry of a simple love song, and what’s more, it knows it.

Beyond the wordplay about the hotel or Cinderella or even the rules of the relationship, there is the play on the song itself. It’s a song about a one night stand, but it consciously refers back to not only the standards of a rule-based relationship, but the standards of a country songbook. The songs that everyone can play. Everyone knows how they go. You know, the standards. And while most standards are love songs, this is an anti-love song.

There’s a joy in listening to clever lyrics. There’s a satisfaction in hearing the perfect rhyme. But we can’t divorce the form from the subject: transactional sex in a motel room to fend off the loneliness for one more night. Ultimately, that’s where the song hangs in your heart: A song that could easily be a standard. And a song that appeals in its cleverness but whose cleverness can never escape its own lonely, ruthless human heart.