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Music / Toby Keith

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Toby Keith Covel (July 8, 1961 – February 5, 2024) was a prominent Country Music singer and songwriter.

He started out rather strongly on the Mercury Records label, sending his debut single "Should've Been a Cowboy" to #1. This song went on to become the most-played country song of the entire 1990s, but Toby proved to be no One-Hit Wonder. For most of the rest of the decade, he stayed with Mercury, landing hit after hit with remarkable consistency — between 1993 and 1998, only one of his singles failed to make Top 10. Among his biggest hits in this timespan were several ballads, such as "Wish I Didn't Know Now", "Who's That Man", "Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine on You", and "Me Too", with only "You Ain't Much Fun" hinting at the swagger to come in his later years. Keith then fell victim to Executive Meddling. He had recorded an album for Mercury, but they only liked two tracks, which were both put on a Greatest Hits Album. After another album's worth of material was rejected too, he terminated his contract with Mercury in 1999.

A change to DreamWorks Records initially flopped, with his first single for the label not even cracking Top 40. But at his insistence, it was withdrawn for one of the songs Mercury had rejected, "How Do You Like Me Now?!", which went on to become a six-week #1 smash and the biggest country hit of 2000. For the next five years, almost everything he released topped the charts and saw considerable crossover success. It was also at this point that he developed his more macho, swaggering style with edgier material such as the Country Rap "I Wanna Talk About Me" and the playful "Who's Your Daddy?", but the sensitive side never went away either, as seen in "You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like This" or "My List". Along the way, he hit big with the controversial "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)" and the Willie Nelson duet "Beer for My Horses", which made Nelson the oldest country act to have a #1 hit.

After DreamWorks records closed in 2005, he seamlessly moved to his own label, Show Dog Records (now part of Show Dog-Universal Music). Although the hits slowed some, he still managed to get a few more chart-toppers independently. Keith also scored a surprise viral crossover in 2011 when he made a video for "Red Solo Cup", which then dovetailed into radio airplay, but momentum since has slowed greatly.

Keith also owned several business ventures, including the Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill restaurant chain (named after one of his songs) and a line of mezcal.

Sadly, he passed away from stomach cancer on February 5, 2024 in his sleep, surrounded by his family. May he rest in peace.


  • Toby Keith (1993)
  • Boomtown (1994)
  • Christmas to Christmas (1995)
  • Blue Moon (1996)
  • Dream Walkin' (1997)
  • Greatest Hits Volume One (1998)
  • How Do You Like Me Now?! (1999)
  • Pull My Chain (2001)
  • Unleashed (2002)
  • Shock'n Y'all (2003)
  • Greatest Hits 2 (2004)
  • Honkytonk University (2005)
  • White Trash with Money (2006)
  • Big Dog Daddy (2007)
  • A Classic Christmas (2007)
  • That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy (2008)
  • American Ride (2009)
  • Bullets in the Gun (2010)
  • Clancy's Tavern (2011)
  • Hope on the Rocks (2012)
  • Drinks After Work (2013)
  • 35 MPH Town (2015)
  • The Bus Songs (2017)
  • Peso In My Pocket (2021)

Tropes present in his work:

  • Affectionate Parody: He wrote a satirical song "I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again", which he sings in Willie Nelson's Signature Style at concerts.
  • Animated Music Video: The video for "American Ride" is done in a style similar to JibJab.
  • Anti-Christmas Song: "Jesus Gets Jealous of Santa Claus", which was co-written by one Keith Urban well before he became famous in the US.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Averted. "Beer For My Horses" seems like this, but it actually has a lot of basis in reality. Horse breeders have always given horses beer (Guinness is the preferred brand) as an appetite stimulant. The amount of alcohol in a bottle of Guinness, which is about enough to make a 150-pound man feel pleasantly mellow, will do nothing to a horse which weighs ten times as much and naturally produces huge amounts of enzymes that break down alcohol. The ingredients in beer (grains, hops, yeast and water) are all things a horse will gladly consume on its own, given the chance.
  • Badass Boast: Played with on "As Good as I Once Was": The narrator admits that he can't be a badass all the time, but he is put in situations where he still shows that, when pressed, he has at least some of his badassery left ("I ain't as good as I once was / But I'm as good once as I ever was").
  • The Bartender: The narrator in "Hope on the Rocks" is a bartender who professes to be a confidant for those who need to drown their sorrows.
  • Bowdlerize: All involving the word "ass". While it was notoriously untouched on "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue", a few other songs had it changed: "American Ride" turned "daddy works his ass off" to "daddy works his can off", while "Red Solo Cup" muted "Freddie Mac can kiss my ass". "Drunk Americans" originally muted it from the line "we don't give a rat's ass", but a later edit changed the first and third instances to "we don't care, we don't ask" and the second to "we don't judge, we don't laugh". "Red Solo Cup" also changed "And you, sir, do not have a pair of testicles" to "...pair of vegetables", presumably for Rule of Funny.
  • Better Partner Assertion: The message of "He Ain't Worth Missing."
  • Broken Bird: The Love Interest the singer is talking about in "Rock You Baby."
  • Broken Win/Loss Streak:
    • 1998's "If a Man Answers" was his first single to miss the top 40 entirely.
    • 2013's "Shut Up and Hold On" was his first single to miss the top 40 in a 14-year streak of hits that began with the aforementioned "How Do You Like Me Now?!"
  • Celebrity Cameo: Heather Locklear, of all people, plays the Love Interest in the music video for "Crash Here Tonight."
  • Christmas Songs: He recorded two holiday albums, Christmas to Christmas in 1995 and A Classic Christmas in 2007. The former was entirely original compositions, while the latter was a Distinct Double Album of covers: secular material on the first, hymns and carols on the second.
  • The City vs. the Country: "Upstairs Downtown" is about a female moving from the country to the city, and then moving back when she is dissatisfied with city life. Keith was later featured on Brantley Gilbert 's 2021 single, "The Worst Country Song Of All Time", which is a Parody of the common Country Music tropes from the lens of someone from the city. Keith sings towards the end, "My neck ain't red and John Deere is blue, and you're as country as caviar if you think that's true."
  • Cool, but Stupid: His reasoning behind recording "Red Solo Cup" was that it was both the stupidest and most awesome song he'd ever heard.
  • Country Rap: "Getcha Some" and "I Wanna Talk About Me" are both examples.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Subverted in "God Love Her." At the beginning of the song, the narrator is exactly this, and her mother even cries when she catches them together. But in the end, Love Redeems and she helps him reconnect with religion and turn his life around.
  • Dance of Romance: "You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like This" features a couple's Big Damn Kiss during one.
  • Disappeared Dad: In "Who's That Man," the singer drives through his old neighborhood after it's implied he's left his family, only to find his wife has remarried and his children are happy with their new stepfather.
  • Doo-Wop Progression: The verses to "Big Blue Note", despite being spoken, have this progression played by the backing instruments.
  • Drowning My Sorrows:
    • "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" and "Get My Drink On".
    • Inverted on "Hope on the Rocks", where he's the bartender observing the many folks who come in to drown their sorrows.
  • Dual-Meaning Chorus: The object in "Getcha Some" changes with each chorus. In the first, it's love. In the second, it's money to impress the Love Interest. In the third, it's babies after they've already fallen in love and want to start a life together.
  • Eagleland: Some of his songs "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue", "American Ride", "Made in America", etc. after his Face–Heel Turn fall straight into this category. (However, "American Ride" at least plays it for laughs.)
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Two examples:
    • His Mercury-era material is starkly different. Debut single "Should've Been a Cowboy" in particular sticks out for romantic cowboy imagery that he never revisited, despite being one of his most famous songs (he's done a few other cowboy/Western themed songs, most notably "Beer for My Horses", but none of them were romantic in the slightest). After this song he settled mostly into downbeat ballads about lost love such as "Wish I Didn't Know Now" or "A Woman's Touch", with only the occasional detour into uptempo honky-tonk with the likes of "A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action" or "Big Ol' Truck". Also, all of his Mercury albums except for Dream Walkin' have very dated sounding production with lots of keyboard and reverb, thanks to Nelson Larkin producing instead of James Stroud (who took over the production role on that album).
    • Even after he switched to DreamWorks, there was a notable transitory period: How Do You Like Me Now?! and Pull My Chain, despite hinting at a harder-edged approach with "How Do You Like Me Now?!" and "I Wanna Talk About Me" respectively, still contain a great deal of older-style ballads such as "When Love Fades" and "You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like This". The machismo and jingoism that defined him in the public eye for most of the 21st century didn't really surface until Unleashed, which kicked off with "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)".
  • Everyone Can See It: "You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like This" has "everybody swears/we'd make the perfect pair/but dancing is as far as it goes"
  • Feeling Their Age: "As Good As I Once Was" dives right into this:
    I used to be hell on wheels, back when I was a younger man
    Now my body says, "Oh, you can't do this, boy", but my pride says "Oh, yes you can."
  • Fish-Eye Lens: Used extensively in the video for "I Wanna Talk About Me", replete with Undercrank.
  • Future Loser: "How Do You Like Me Now?!" plays with this trope, as he's grown up to be a famous musician while the girl he idolized in high school who never gave him the time of day is unhappy with her adult life. The video drives it home even harder than the song alone.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Toby Keith pulled the musical equivalent. His music used to be clean and family-friendly, but in the 2000s he took on a "bad boy" image and ran with it, along with lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek music videos accompanying them, starting with subtle innuendo ("Getcha Some") and gradually progressing to the point where just about any new song from him sounded like pure Straw Conservative propaganda, was a blatant exercise in Crosses the Line Twice, or both. Somewhere around his departure from DreamWorks, he began to soften again, with occasional exceptions such as "American Ride," which at least had the decency to lampoon both ends of the political spectrum.
  • Henpecked Husband: In "You Ain't Much Fun," the narrator complains his wife and her demands were a lot easier to deal with before he sobered up.
  • Hospital Hottie: The video to his 2005 hit "As Good as I Once Was" features Toby – who had just been badly beaten by a muscleman during a bar fight – trying to pinch the ass of a sexy paramedic. When the nurse turns around and looks, Toby goes into a seizure and loses consciousness; his losing his battle to stay awake is seen from Toby's perspective, as he blacks out with the iris out.
  • The "I Love You" Stigma: "Crash Here Tonight," a Serenade Your Lover song with the singer trying to express his feelings in a way that won't freak out his Love Interest. The title comes from the way he expresses his interest—if she's interested, too, she should just crash at his place (platonically).
  • Idiot Ball: Keith's character in the video for "A Little Too Late," wherein he attempts to seal his ex-girlfriend inside a small, walled off room in the basement and leave her for dead ... only to find out he has actually sealed himself in the walled area. (As he tries to apologize in vain, she leaves the basement to call the police.)
  • Ignorance Is Bliss: "Wish I Didn't Know Now" has the narrator wishing he'd never found his partner was cheating on him, because he doesn't want the relationship to end.
  • The Lad-ette: The subject of "Whiskey Girl" (and "God Love Her", by extension).
  • List Song:
    • "My List" is a literal example, as it contrasts a to-do list of household chores and a list of things the narrator really wants to do ("Go for a walk, say a little prayer / Take a deep breath of mountain air…").
    • "I Love This Bar" is a list of the various types of characters seen at a local bar (e.g. "We got winners, we got losers / Chain smokers and boozers / And we got yuppies, we got bikers / We got thirsty hitchhikers…").
    • "That's Country Bro" lists off various country music artists.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: From "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue": "'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way."
  • Love Nostalgia Song: "We Were in Love," about the intensity of young love.
  • Misogyny Song: "How Do You Like Me Now?!" has been interpreted by some as this.
  • Mocking Sing-Song: The fadeout to "How Do You Like Me Now?!" features this progression played on a Hammond organ.
  • Piss-Take Rap: "I Wanna Talk About Me", and he has a decent flow too.
  • Poe's Law: His war-on-Christmas song, "Have I Got a Present for You", which he performed on The Colbert Report, has been treated as if it's actually serious by many, despite promoting murder and generally being as parodic of Eagle Land as you can get. There's also the aforementioned "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue".
    • "American Ride" also got some heat from the politically-minded, but as Keith himself pointed out, the song lampoons both the left and the right.
  • Product Placement: "Red Solo Cup" is basically a commercial.
  • Pun: Shock'n Y'all is a pun on the military term "shock and awe", hearkening to its Iraq War-adjacent release date.
  • Record Producer: He was produced by Nelson Larkin and Harold Shedd on his first two albums, then co-produced with just Larkin on the third. He co-produced with James Stroud from Dream Walkin' through the new tracks on his second Greatest Hits Album. Keith largely produced by himself afterwards, with assistance from Lari White (best known for her 1995 hit "Now I Know") on White Trash with Money, bluegrass musician Randy Scruggs on his 2007 Christmas album, and frequent cowriter Bobby Pinson on 35 MPH Town.
  • Rock-Star Song: "Honkytonk U" is a firsthand account of Toby's rise to the top.
  • Self-Plagiarism: "God Love Her" has a very similar melody to "Whiskey Girl". Both songs even feature The Lad-ette as a protagonist, but with different contexts.
  • Sexual Euphemism: "A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action" is exactly what you'd think it would be about.
  • Slow "NO!": Occurs in the video for "As Good as I Once Was" when Toby spills his beer.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Cryin' for Me (Wayman's Song)", a tribute to basketball player and musician Wayman Tisdale, opens with his answering machine greeting.
  • Straw Critic: "The Critic".
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: "You Ain't Much Fun":
    Now, I'm fixin' the sink, and I'm mowin' the grass
    You even made me a list and I'm bustin' my...
    Well, all broke down, tail's been draggin'...
  • Too Dumb to Live: At the end of the music video for "As Good As I Once Was", Toby grabs a female paramedic's ass, so she pinches off his IV, which knocks him out.
  • Toplessness from the Back: The video for "Who's Your Daddy?"
  • Trailer Park Tornado Magnet: Referenced in "Trailerhood": "When the storm starts gettin' bad and you hear those sirens hummin' / Grab a six-pack and a lawn chair, there's a tornado comin'."
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change:
    • "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" goes from E-flat to E near the end as the song's tone changes to happy.
    • "Lost You Anyway" goes from D to E at the first chorus, and again to F-sharp on the second chorus.
    • "Red Solo Cup" goes from A to B on the last chorus.
  • Twist Ending: The verses to "American Soldier" all sound like they're just building up a hard-working family man who provides for his family... until the Title Drop on the chorus sets up the soldier themes that dominate the rest of the song.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • "American Ride" has both "gets her rocks off" and "the fit's gonna hit the shan".
    • "Getcha Some" refers to children as "curtain climbers" and "tricycle motors."
  • Wrestler in All of Us: A non music example, in the early 2000's Toby made a couple of appearances in TNA Wrestling, culminating with him delivering an impressive looking vertical suplex to Jeff Jarrett.