Darius Rucker: Five Songs That Changed The Way I Heard Music - Rolling Stone
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Darius Rucker: Five Songs That Changed The Way I Heard Music

Country hitmaker and Hootie leader recalls the pivotal songs from his past that shaped his world

Darius Rucker: Five Songs That Changed The Way I Heard Music

Darius Rucker recalls five songs that shaped his musical worldview.

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Darius Rucker may be best known for his 1990s work with Hootie and the Blowfish and his string of mega country hits over the past decade, but he loves everything from 1970s soul to 1980s alternative rock to 1990s hip-hop. As he preps for his upcoming summer tour with Lady Antebellum and a one-off Hootie reunion for Jason Aldean’s July 21st Atlanta blowout, Rucker got on the phone with us to break down five pivotal songs that forever shaped the way he hears music. 

Darius Rucker

“For the Good Times,” Al Green

As a kid, this was the first song that really made me want to be a singer. It was one of those songs I’d play 15 times in a row. Only much later in my life did I learn that Kris Kristofferson wrote it. That explained a lot to me. The story is that she’s leaving me, but let’s have one more great night for the good times. What gets me about the song is Al Green’s performance. I think it’s one of Al Green’s greatest vocal performances. He delivered so much in that song. You believe every word that he says. You believe that he’s living that moment, that he just left his house and his girlfriend said she’s leaving and he went in and he recorded that song. It really did make me want to be a singer. 

“So. Central Rain,” R.E.M.

I first heard this around the time that MTV had just started. We were stealing cable since we couldn’t afford it and I’m sitting around one day and this video came on. It was the first time I heard R.E.M. It was like the sun came up for me. At first, I really I thought it was a band from the 1960s. I didn’t have any money, but I went to everybody in my family to ask for some. We all lived around the corner from each other. I asked them all for a dollar or 50 cents so I could go buy [Reckoning]. 

When you get to the chorus and he’s singing “I’m sorry,” you can feel the pain in his voice. That was when I really, really, really knew that I wanted to be a rock singer. It was really a moment for me. I’d never heard anything like it before. I never heard anyone sound like that or anything even remotely close to that. I loved everything about the band, the guitar riff … the bass line is so smooth. I was instantly the biggest R.E.M. fan in the world just for that one song. Then I discovered all the others. 

“The What,” Notorious B.I.G.

It was the 4th of July and [Hootie and the Blowfish] were kicking it pretty hard at this point. It was 1994, I think, maybe 1995. I go to the Blockbuster since I’m home by myself and I’m looking for movies to rent. I get this movie called The Show by Russell Simmons. It’s basically a rap documentary with live performances. And I hear the Notorious B.I.G. It blew my mind. I got up the next morning and I was at the record store where I used to work when it opened because I had to buy this Notorious B.I.G. CD. I buy it and start listening and get to “The What.” I must have played it 10 times in a row. It was Notorious B.I.G. and Method Man. It’s my favorite rap song of all time. The R&B record [Back to Then] I made at the the turn of the century was because of that Notorious B.I.G. record. 

I probably still listen to that song at least twice every week. I’ll listen to it before I go onstage because it pumps me up. I’ll listen to it when I’m just chilling because it makes me think. It’s one of those songs where I always said, ‘If I ever get the chance, I’m gonna do it with Method Man.” I’d been into rap with Public Enemy, Beasties and all the great ones I love, but that was the one where I was like, “I didn’t know rap could be this great.”

“Old Silver,” Radney Foster

I can say for sure that the reason I’m having any success in country is because of Radney Foster. In 1992 he came out with Del Rio, TX 1959 and that record, it was the first time I started saying, “I’m going to make a country record some day.” It was all because of that album. “Old Silver” is on there. To me, that’s the consummate country song because I’m not even sure if he’s singing about a horse or a man.

Every time I sing country music I’m trying to be Radney Foster on “Old Silver,” because I thought it was such an amazing performance. When it comes on randomly today, I stop and listen to the whole song. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. I can’t begin to get enough of it since it’s one of the greatest country songs I’ve ever heard. 

“Mary and Omie,” Nanci Griffith

I was working retail around 1988, playing in the band on weekends and selling records Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I go into work one day and one of my co-workers puts on this Nanci Griffith record. I’d never heard her before. I’m walking to the back and I’m listening to this song. I get halfway to the back with my backpack and everything and I just stand in my tracks. I then turn around and walk back up front and go, “Let me see that record. How have I not been listening to this my whole life?” Her songwriting is so crazy, her vocals are so crazy, the production on that song is incredible. 

The reason that song is so great is because she’s telling this whole story of a post-Depression black family who lives in the Deep South and moves to Texas. Nanci is something special. She’s also one of the reasons I’m singing in country music today. When I heard that song I thought to myself, “I’m missing something.” Back then I was listening to so much alternative music like Hüsker Dü and the Smithereens and not much else. But “Mary and Omie” made me realize I should be listening to a lot more country music. I put it on almost every playlist I have. I get that song and I get Nanci. 

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