If No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems was the album that defined Kenny Chesney’s career after 2002, “The Good Stuff” can definitely be viewed as the driving force behind the album’s success. Preceded by Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)”, “The Good Stuff” rose to the top of country music charts in September 2002 and remained there for 11 weeks. It later went on to become Billboard’s Number One Country Song of 2002, as well as to win Chesney the Academy of Country Music Award for Best Single. Undoubtedly, “The Good Stuff” was a huge hit, arguably the biggest of Chesney’s illustrious career, but to understand why it was so successful it is necessary to study the song’s structure, as well as the sentiment of the lyrics. The message promoted by the lyrics is one that resonates with the vast majority of Americans, as “The Good Stuff” stresses the importance of relationships and how alcohol should not be the answer to solving problems. These important themes, accompanied by the changing music to emphasize the mood of the song, work together to produce a song that makes listeners feel like they shared an experience with the narrator, eventually succeeding in resolving a relationship problem.
For starters, “The Good Stuff” is written in Verse-Chorus-Bridge form, a style that has been popular within country music since the 1990’s. It consists of two long verses, each followed by a chorus, then the bridge after the second chorus, and finally the repetition of “that’s the good stuff” to conclude the song. Chesney uses the relationship between the verses, choruses, and bridge to create a dialogue between a man in a bar and the bartender. The interplay between the different aspects of the song is what creates Chesney’s ability to be a storyteller, essentially creating the song’s emotional appeal. The first verse begins after a brief ten second instrumental introduction, signifying that the narrator, presumably Chesney, was recently in a fight with his significant other. He wanted to go to the bar to escape his problems, leading him to order “the good stuff”. The first verse ends 41 seconds later as the bartender tells Chesney “you can’t find that here”, and then the song transitions into the chorus until the 1:23 mark. The instrumental accompaniment of the introduction and the first verse creates a sort of somber mood, correlating directly to the problems the narrator is experiencing.
The musical tone of the first verse immediately transitions to create a more uplifting feeling as the song changes from verse to chorus, foreshadowing a change in the lyrics. The chorus is told from the point of view of the bartender, an older and wiser man, who tells Chesney that “the good stuff” is not the alcohol, but in fact the love shared and memories made with his wife. The wise words of the bartender are the first time that “The Good Stuff” promotes the ideas that alcohol should not be used as a crutch to deal with problems, and that personal relationships are where true happiness can be found. These two central themes create a foundation for the rest of the lyrics, and can be heard throughout the rest of the song.
The second verse starts a minute and 24 seconds into the song, and continues for 40 more seconds. Different from the first verse, the second isn’t just from Chesney’s point of view, but the bartender’s as well. It starts with a conversation between Chesney and the bartender, followed by the bartender telling Chesney that he “spent five years in the bar, when the cancer took her from me” (his wife). The song immediately transitions into the chorus and the bartender saying “but I’ve been sober three years now because the one thing stronger than the whiskey…” Once again, the bartender tells Chesney how the love of his family outweighs turning to alcohol in tough times, the most prominent message throughout “The Good Stuff”. The music of the second verse, and the subsequent chorus, both help set the tone for the bridge by being increasingly more upbeat. An electric guitar is introduced during this time, also presumably used to help build up to the bridge.
The bridge follows a ten second instrumental break, and is essentially the bartender telling Chesney to go home and make up with his wife/girlfriend. The climax of “The Good Stuff” comes during the bridge when the bartender tells Chesney to “look into those eyes so deep in love, and drink it up, because that’s the good stuff”. It is during this part in which the bartender gives Chesney the advice that the entire song has been building up to. This also signifies a point in the song in which the listener feels like they have experienced, and overcame, the challenges Chesney was facing. The bridge solidifies and emotional connection between the audience and the song. Following the bridge is the repetition of “that’s the good stuff” several times and an eight second instrumental outro. “The Good Stuff” is essentially a three minute and 19 second musical dialogue, a dialogue which reinforces themes important to everyday Americans.
“The Good Stuff” went on to be the best-selling single of Kenny Chesney’s career, which is saying a lot as he is currently eligible for the Country Music Hall of Fame. The song’s simple instrumental accompaniment and relatable lyrics allow Chesney to tell a story that reaches all kinds of people. The music of “The Good Stuff” starts off with a somber sound that transitions to more cheerful as the lyrics change following the first verse. One reason for the popularity of “The Good Stuff” may be the fact that it sounds like a traditional country song. Another may be that it was from an innovative album, not only for Chesney’s career, but the early 2000’s as well. No matter what it may be, it has to be acknowledged that “The Good Stuff” is a song that had success by reaching out to people on a personal level, and has had a lasting impact on Kenny Chesney’s career.
|0:00- 0:10||Intro||Acoustic guitar, drums||Sort of a simple, slow introduction; not much instrumentation|
|0:10- 0:51||1st Verse||“Well me and my lady had our first big fight”||Music continues to sound slow and somber; it builds up towards the end of this verse|
|0:52- 1:23||Chorus||“It’s the first long kiss on a second date”||Music sounds more cheerful; chorus from the point of view of the bartender giving Chesney advice|
|1:24- 2:04||2nd Verse||“He grabbed a carton of milk and he poured a glass”||This verse is from Chesney’s point of view, but it’s a conversation with the bartender; electric guitar introduced|
|2:05- 2:37||Chorus||“The sight of her holding my baby girl…”||This chorus acts as a buildup to the bridge; different lyrics from the first chorus; musical accompaniment becoming stronger|
|2:38- 3:07||Bridge||Very brief guitar solo followed by “When you get home she’ll start to cry”||Climax of the song; bartender gives the narrator advice to resolve his problems; explains what “The Good Stuff” actually is|
|3:08- 3:20||Outro||Repetition of the phrase “that’s the good stuff”||Repetition for effect; following the end of the bridge the song is basically over|
Patterson, Liz. “‘The Good Stuff’ by Kenny Chesney.” Songfacts. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1939>.
Rolling Stone Staff. “Kenny Chesney.” Rolling Stone. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/kenny-chesney>.