Written by Erin McAtee. 15 April 2015.
Luke Bryan‘s Crash My Party was one of the most successful albums of 2013, reaching Platinum certification just one month after its release. The album boasted 6 number-one singles and helped bring a new subgenre, “bro-country“, to the forefront of country music. One of these singles, “Drink A Beer”, emerged as a unique and emotional song, largely contrasting with the “party” mantra implied by the title. While this song diverges from the overall message of the album, it provides Bryan with a springboard to go a new direction with his music in the future.
Ironically, Bryan’s most heartfelt song yet was not actually his own writing. The co-writers, Jim Beavers and Chris Stapleton, were trying to create a song for Crash My Party that wasn’t about a party. “The beautiful thing about Luke Bryan recording this song is that it was written from a fictitious place”, said Stapleton in an interview with Radio.com. Luke took the lyrics and gave them life, due to his personal experiences with loss and grief. Before the release of “Drink A Beer”, Bryan’s tragedies had yet to be publicized. But the song provided him, and his audience, with a coping mechanism for life’s difficult moments.
Bryan lost his brother to a car accident in 1996, just five days before he was supposed to leave for Nashville to start his music career. This changed everything for Luke, who decided to stay at home and go to college instead, graduating to work on his father’s peanut farm. In 2001, Tommy Bryan pushed his son to chase his dream, actually firing him from the farm in order to persuade Luke to head back to Nashville.
Six years later, Bryan was set to debut at the Grand Ole Opry, the go-to venue for country musicians. His sister Kelly organized a group of over 100 friends and family to go watch his performance. A few days later, she passed away at home due to unknown causes. Luke’s direct empathy with the lyrics in “Drink A Beer” provides the song with significant depth and Bryan with an outlet to further connect with his audience.
The song follows a standard verse-bridge-chorus format, commonly heard throughout country music today. This allows Bryan to communicate his emotion in three different ways. After an acoustic guitar introduction, Bryan begins the first verse with his deep, smooth voice, describing his sense of confusion with losing a friend. He then uses his musical expression to give the lyrics life outside their meaning. For example, the first stanza ends with “So I just hung up the phone”. At the end of each stanza, Bryan lets his voice drift off to a quieter volume, representing the emotion and “down” feeling during a hard time.
The verse then flows directly into the chorus as a bass guitar and a male harmonizer join in for the next portion, entering when Bryan sings “…sit right here”. Bryan returns to his bro-country roots here, rhyming simple words and describing a man’s method of coping with a hard time by spending time alone. However, the addition of the harmony part helps show the listener that he is really not alone in his grief. His lengthy pause in the chorus before singing “drink a beer” helps give the listener a picture of how he handles his grief. The pause can be considered a heavy sigh during a time of contemplation, or a moment to collect emotions before continuing to talk about a loss.
The bridge takes a different turn, directly addressing the loss by acting as a personal eulogy, while the rest of the song hints at a tragedy. The change in music here to a higher pitch can be interpreted as pain from the loss, or even implying that the friend is in a “higher place”. Each portion of this song is sung in 3-line stanzas, sometimes with an additional fourth line to transition into the chorus. This breakdown, as opposed to the more common 2-line stanzas, creates a unique flow that helps to differentiate this song from many others heard on the radio. Other slower songs, like “Like a Cowboy” and “She Don’t Love You”, are broken down into groups of four. These structures generally rhyme in couplets or groups, and leave little room for instrumental transitions between lines. Bryan’s usage of 3-line stanzas allows for some transition music, making the song seem more intimate and allowing the listener some time to contemplate the lyrics just spoken.
Bryan’s intentions with the song were explained in an interview with ABC’s 20/20, where he said that “he wanted to let people know they weren’t alone in their sorrow”. His empathetic and kind nature is furthered through his desire for his openness in “Drink A Beer” to help others move down a positive path. The lyrics perfectly mimic a common reaction to grief; not knowing how to handle it. The song isn’t exclusive to Bryan and his tragedies, which makes it so relatable to his audience. Every listener has a specific and unique memory this song evokes, and without wallowing in the sorrow, Bryan provides a supportive shoulder to lean on.
Luke Bryan’s willingness to be more vulnerable with his music has caused his personal life to become much more public. The song continues to have significance in Bryan’s life now, as his brother-in-law passed away suddenly in November of 2014. Through this tragedy, Bryan adopted his 13-year-old nephew as his own son in February. While coming forward about his tragedies was likely emotionally taxing, it has allowed him to explore a whole new side of his music and prove that he is so much more than just a party boy.
|0:01||Intro||Acoustic Guitar||Song opens with soft guitar picking the melody. The guitar slows and quiets at the end of the intro, making way for Bryan’s vocals.|
|0:13||Verse 1||“When I got…”||Instruments continue at same volume, changing chords before Bryan starts his next line. Lengthy pause in vocals between the third and fourth lines, and again between the sixth and seventh lines.|
|0:40||Chorus||“So I’m gonna…”||No pause between the last line of the verse and the beginning of the chorus. Harmony with second male voice appears starting on the word “sit”. Addition of bass guitar playing chords on the beat.|
|1:00||Instrumental Interlude||Slide Guitar||Slide guitar swings its notes over the acoustic guitar plucking the same melody as in the intro.|
|1:12||Verse 2||“Funny how…”||Similar to Verse 1, but with the inclusion of some slide guitar accents in the middle and at the ends of lines|
|1:39||Chorus||“So I’m gonna…”||Similar to the first chorus, but at the end Bryan holds out “beer”. Slide guitar also continues to highlight the phrases|
|1:59||Bridge||“So long…”||Entrance to bridge highlighted by light electric guitar. Bryan holds out his words much longer. Harmony continues here until the last half of the last line of the bridge, where the instruments stop playing and Bryan holds out a note.|
|2:32||Chorus||“Sit right here…”||No inclusion of introductory phrase “so I’m gonna”. No harmony here, just Bryan and the picking of the guitar, making the song seem more intimate and personal.|
|2:50||Outro||“Drink a beer…”||Bryan repeats “drink a beer” over the slide guitar swinging out some notes. The last few seconds of the song include some cymbal and fades out with the guitars.|
Finan, Eileen. “At Home with Luke Bryan.” People 06 Nov. 2013: 44-50. Web.
“Luke Bryan Opens Up About the Two Tragedies That Nearly Broke Him.” Interview by Janice Johnston, Emily Whipp, and Alexa Valiente. 20/20. ABC News. KVUE, Austin, Texas, 4 Nov. 2013. Television. Transcript.
“Luke Bryan Discusses His Two Family Tragedies.” Interview by Robin Roberts. In The Spotlight with Robin Roberts. ABC. KVUE, Austin, Texas, 6 Nov. 2013. Television.
Smith, Courtney E. “Behind the Song: Luke Bryan – ‘Drink A Beer’” Radio.com. CBS Local, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.