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8 Dramatic Twists in Country Songs We Didn’t See Coming

Well, that escalated quickly. We’ve never been quite the same after listening to these country songs with surprising (and oftentimes dark) endings.

“Two Black Cadillacs” | Carrie Underwood

From “Before He Cheats” to “Church Bells,” Carrie Underwood is the queen of revenge tales. Her 2012 hit “Two Black Cadillacs” had us clutching our funeral-appropriate pearls with its big reveal in the chorus: a man’s wife and his secret mistress — who you thought were grieving alongside everyone else — conspired against him and his unfaithful ways by murdering him. They left the secret at the grave, and we were left with our mouths agape.

While you might think that artists have a clear ending in mind when writing a song like this one, it doesn’t always happen that way, Underwood told CBS Detroit’s WYCD. “It was so much fun to write and just be in that room, and we didn’t really know what to expect or where we were headed or what we would end up with,” she said. “… You’re sucked in, from the beginning, from the music, and it’s just, you know something’s going to happen.”

“Papa Loved Mama” | Garth Brooks

Judging by song title alone, you might think “Papa Loved Mama” is a sweet retrospective about two parent’s lifelong and undying devotion for one another. In reality, everything about this early Garth Brooks single is sheer chaos, from its accelerating instrumentation to the plotline. Long story short: Dad’s a truck driver who is on the road a lot. Mom gets lonely and has an affair. Dad comes home with flowers and a bottle of wine one night to discover that his wife isn’t there. He finds her with her lover at the local motel, and in a fit of rage, drives his truck through the hotel’s wall.

“A Boy Named Sue” | Johnny Cash

How Johnny Cash joined forces with enigmatic Playboy cartoonist and children’s author Shel Silverstein is a story in and of itself, but as unlikely as their bond may have been, their collaboration “A Boy Named Sue” was an even unlikelier hit. The novelty song opens with a man lamenting about the fact that his ne’er-do-well dad named him “Sue.” He reflects on a childhood in which he was mercilessly teased for his name. The protagonist decides that the only way to take care of the matter is to find and kill the man who named him.

He spots him at a bar, and the two get into a nasty fight. But then his father tells him, “Son, this world is rough/And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough/And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help ya along/So I gave ya that name and I said goodbye/I knew you’d have to get tough or die/And it’s the name that helped make you strong.” It was in that moment that the protagonist realized his weakness was actually his strength all along, and father and son embraced — even though Sue still hates his name.

“The Bridge” | Dolly Parton

While Dolly Parton paints her Tennessee mountain home as idyllic, her early inspiration as a songwriter oftentimes came from a dark place. One of her lesser-known songs “The Bridge” is a response to an old-time English murder ballad originally called “The Bloody Miller,” which is sung from the perspective of a murderer who pushed his girlfriend off a bridge. Ballads like this one caught on in the Appalachian Mountains, especially as Scotch-Irish immigrants settled in the area, where adaptations of the original songs traumatized generations of young listeners like Parton.

In Parton’s song, we finally hear the perspective of the woman. The beginning of the song sets the listener up to believe that this is going to be a romantic story about a couple whose love grows out of a first kiss on a moonlit bridge. It isn’t until the second to last verse that we learn the woman is ending her own life on that same bridge after her boyfriend left her. The song feels just as dark in 2020 as it did in 1968.

“Don’t Take the Girl” | Tim McGraw

Boy meets girl. Boy wants girl to go away. Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl” begins and ends in two very different places.

Johnny is an 8-year-old who just wants to fish with his dad, but his plans are foiled when one of the neighborhood girls asks to tag along. He begrudgingly tolerates her until he eventually realizes he’s in love. Fifteen years later, they’re married and about to bring a baby into the world when the “girl,” now a woman, develops complications during childbirth. We’re left with an uncertain image of Johnny in the waiting room praying, “God, please don’t take the girl.”

Another twist we didn’t see coming: McGraw recently asked newcomer Blanco Brown to perform the song together. “The Git Up” singer said “Don’t Take the Girl” was one of the first country songs he heard when visiting his grandmother in rural Georgia. The result was fantastic.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” | George Jones

This classic country song is best described as a sonic sucker punch to the gut. The listener is introduced to a man who is still yearning for his ex, long after she left him. But one day, the smile returns to his face, which is no longer wet with tears. Finally, he stopped loving her. Good for him. And then we realize the grim reason for his new disposition upon reaching the chorus: He died. You’ll never forget the first time you hear this song.

Ironically, a song about death revived George Jones’ slowing career after he went six years without a No. 1 hit. Jones was skeptical about recording such a morbid song at first, but it clearly grew on him — “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is etched into the headstone of his own grave.

“The Chicago Story” | Bobby Bare

Bobby Bare’s “The Chicago Story” opens with poignant scene: A wife drops her husband off at the airport for military duty overseas. The song is written from the perspective of a casual airport spectator who’s struck by the sadness of the situation. While we don’t really know what’s next for the couple once the wife sends her husband off, it quickly becomes clear: She grabs a dime and calls the man who she’s been having an affair with to let him know that her husband is finally gone. A Dear John letter of the cruelest kind, it’s one of many straight-talking songs that earned the Opry member the nickname “The Springsteen of Country.” 

“Three Wooden Crosses” | Randy Travis

In the first verse of “Three Wooden Crosses,” you learn that among the four passengers on an ill-fated bus bound for Mexico, only one will survive. The farmer, teacher, and preacher all perish in the crash, but the sex worker is spared. Those who died each left something behind, including the preacher, who handed the sex worker his blood-stained Bible upon passing. In the bridge of the song, we learn that the woman has passed that same Bible onto her own son, who became a preacher.

The song’s hook creates room for listener introspection, and “Three Wooden Crosses” was the first Christian label release to reach the top spot on the Billboard Country Singles chart. Randy Travis relates to the song to his own baptism.