What if I try to read “All the Pretty Girls,” by Kenny Chesney, as a work of flash fiction? I can already hear you. “That doesn’t make sense, Benny! That song isn’t a story song!”
The Song Itself
“All the Pretty Girls” is performed by Kenny Chesney, and if SongFacts is to be trusted, written by Nicolle Galyon, Tommy Lee James, and Josh Osborne.
But fair warning: SongFacts omitted the Oxford comma; judge its trustworthiness accordingly.
Regular readers (and my usage of the plural is likely too generous) may have noticed that so far, all of my Flash Jukebox articles have been for female singers or groups, and tend to be from country radio.
This has not been intentional — at least not entirely. I choose songs that catch my attention in some way, and since I tend to listen to country radio, I tend to choose country songs. The lack of male singers is because, in my opinion, male country singers in recent years suffer from a lack of memorable performances.
I do not necessarily mean a lack of talent. There are many talented male singers in the genre, but since the rise of “bro country”, many of the artists and much of the material is so interchangeable as to be forgettable. I am not the only one who feels this way: in fact, Sir Mashalot posted a Youtube video several years ago highlighting this:
Meta-Song as Story
If my complaint is that modern country songs by male singers are too similar, then I must have picked this Kenny Chesney song because it completely different from everything else I’ve heard, right?
Strangely, this song’s subject matter is not really particularly different from typical bro country fare: girls, booze, partying, and pickup trucks.
Actually… my first thought was how similar this song is to the works of another artist: Tom Petty. From its straightforward refrain with repetition of key phrases, to its themes of youthful disillusionment, substance abuse, and coming of age, the song is reminiscent of Petty’s work.
A particular turn of phrase at the beginning of the song, “All the pretty girls say ‘I hate my hair’/ Talking to the mirror in their underwear” instantly brought to mind Mary Jane, looking down on the pigeons in Market Square as she put on that party dress.
So am I saying that I like “All the Pretty Girls” because it reminds me of Tom Petty? No, but my first impression may mean that I like this song for reasons similar to the reasons that songs like “American Girl” and “Learning to Fly” stick in my head.
And perhaps theme is a major reason for this. “All the Pretty Girls” is a snapshot of young adult life in a small town. In its roughly 305 words, it captures the coming-of-age experience in a small town.
There is the desire to escape small town life for the glitter of the big city. “I’m going to L.A.,” say the titular pretty girls, but “I’m home for the summer… don’t blow my cover.” These girls hope to make it in an American city second only (perhaps) to New York for its make-or-break reputation, as soon as they can “get out of Dodge.”
Meanwhile, the small-town “lost boys” are single-minded: as the song bluntly puts it, “I just got paid… I wanna get laid.” The words of the sheriff and the preacher — representative of the laws of man and God — are powerless compared to the word of the pretty girls.
In the end, though, the pretty girls and lost boys are simply youths trapped in a typical small town, trying to fill an emptiness. They “shoot out the lights”, drink whiskey, and in the end, seek to end their loneliness together. “‘Somebody hold me,’ all the pretty girls said.” Somebody. Anybody.
These themes are powerful because they resonate not only with people who grew up in a small town, but with anyone who has been lonely, or wanted more out of life than what they have. Nostalgia is also a powerful force for anyone who has looked back on the “good old days” of his or her youth.
A typical story, even a flash fiction story, has a plot, setting, and cast of characters. This song barely has any of the above, and then only in the vaguest terms. Yet it resonates because of the themes it invokes, and because the vagueness turns the “lost boys” and the “pretty girls” into Everyman.