Toby Keith – “God Love Her”

Jim Malec | November 7th, 2008

Toby Keith Songwriters: Toby Keith and Vicky McGehee.

One of only two songs on That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy not co-written by Bobby Pinson, “God Love Her” finds Keith doing what he does best—being a not too bad bad-boy, loving strong on the same spunky everywoman who appears in many of his narratives (think “Whiskey Girl”).

While it’s true that “God Love Her” is far from an artistic departure for Keith, one of the things that gets lost somewhere between his big mouth and his recent propensity for extreme duds like “She’s a Hottie” is the fact that the Big Dog Daddy can actually write a pretty damn solid song.

And “God Love Her” is pretty damn solid.

Solid, though neither life-changing nor earth-moving; “God Love Her” fits well beside Keith’s better material, an uptempo romp that, for better or worse, has no intention of even pretending to be your grandpa’s country music. It is mainstream to the max, designed to appeal to all those whiskey girls disguised as 9-5ers, the ones cranking up the radio while they sit stuck in the five o’clock, after-work traffic.

To the extent that “It is what it is,” however, “God Love Her” is well executed, and here Keith once again proves that he has a unique talent for conveying a sense of urgency in his songs. When he sings, “Now she holds tight to me and the bible/On the back seat of my motorcycle,” he does so with a gripping dependence, as if the only thing keeping these two people moving down the road is the fact that they’re doing so together.

“God Love Her” embraces its fair share of clichéd themes, not the least of which is the preacher’s daughter who is baptized in dirty water, and certainly the extent of this song’s separation from its country roots is a topic that is fair game. But when looking at the song in the context of its natural musical environment—commercial, radio country—it’s easy to see that Keith is capable of tapping into a pool of narrative talent that is a step beyond his peers.

Further, while “God Love Her” may not be original when compared to much of Keith’s catalog, it does paint a true and engaging portrait of the modern everywoman character which he has, to a degree, defined and shaped.

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  1. [...] Love Her” is pretty damn solid. - The 9513 Toby [...]
  1. frozenphan
    November 7, 2008 at 10:11 am

    The music sounds like a Bryan Adams song that wasn’t good enough for one of Adams’ albums. And if you didn’t know the title, you’d swear Toby was singing “Gotta Love her” instead of “God Love Her”. blah.

  2. PaulaW
    November 7, 2008 at 10:31 am

    I used to read your reviews first then listen to the song (mostly because it’s hard to ‘really’ listen at work) but I’ve started trying to listen first, then read.

    That said – I did listen one time through on this and thought “typical Toby fare” – though fortunately, typical of some of his better stuff.

    I’d give it 7 out of 10 on a first listen.

  3. Drew
    November 7, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Love this song, and just like you said, it’s totally Toby.

  4. J.R. Journey
    November 7, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    This one just doesn’t do anything for me. Sure, Toby delivers, but is delivering mediocrity grounds for thumbs up? I feel this is one of the weakest tracks on his new album.

    And I think if this song had been releases in another time in country music’s history – removed from the dire times we are facing right now – it would be seriously panned. It sounds good compared to much of today’s releases, but really, how good does that make it?

  5. agent713
    November 7, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    JR, it makes it good enough to get up the charts and not offend in the process.

    After one listen it’s my favourite of Toby’s recent releases. I think this is a fair review.

  6. Blake Boldt
    November 7, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Contrast Keith’s recent output regarding the fairer sex with his earlier work, and it’s a great divide. One of his first chart singles, “Upstairs Downtown,” revolves around the story of a young woman attempting to leave town, find a job and otherwise be independent. Although by song’s end she’s suffered a setback, the story explores her strength of character and highlights a common occurrence in many lives (a theme later explored in the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces”).

    Now, Keith relies on songs where these young women are hotties and lovestruck ladies, part wild child and part good girl. Although I agree that Keith’s made a distinct definition of females on recent releases, I’m disappointed this is the picture he chooses to paint. One, maybe two, songs of this nature are all well and good, but the theme is a little tired in my opinion. I hate to knock an innocuous little ditty, but as Keith’s grown older, the women in his songs get younger. They’re less well-rounded and well-developed lyrically than ever before.

    The song itself isn’t offensive, and from a lyrical standpoint, Keith is a descriptive lyricist that gives it some slight artistic heft for all the reasons you mentioned. And I know many, many folks would disagree with me, but I’m not engaged by this character anymore.

  7. Chris N.
    November 8, 2008 at 12:06 am

    @Blake: Writer to writer, you shouldn’t give away these insights for free. That’s good stuff.

  8. leeann Ward
    November 8, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Yeah, Blake, you should have saved that great insight for Country Universe!:) I agree, by the way.

  9. Jim Malec
    November 8, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    “Upstairs, Downtown” finds a young woman venturing out on her own, struggling, and running back to the safeness of the world she left behind when things get too hard. The character in that song doesn’t go back to “the wood” because she’s learned a life lesson about how what she wanted all along was there in the place she left behind–she goes back because the world she found “downtown” was too hard to deal with.

    It also paints her as somewhat naive and ill-prepared, and at the end of the song she’s gained nothing–which is, if we’re talking about this in a literary context, one of the primary criteria for defining character development. How has the character grown or changed? How is the character a different or better person than she was at the outset? What lessons has she learned?

    None of that happens in “Upstairs, Downtown”–the character just goes home.

    Further, I don’t think what happens in “Upstairs, Downtown” is a common life expierience–to the contrary, I think most young woman in that situation will bear down and do what they have to do to make things work. That’s strength, even if born out of pride, when you put your feet against the pavement and do what you have to do to pay the bills. That’s a real, rounded, powerful character. And I think a more accurate depiction of the modern woman than is drawn in the song you’re referring to.

    So I think you’re misreading “Upstairs, Downtown,” and I don’t think there are a significant number of other Keith songs that paint female characters in the light that you’re implying, although I admit to not being fully up-to-speed on Keith’s early-career catalog.

    Now, I don’t think “God Love Her” is a literary masterpiece, but it does show someone who is following her own path, making her own choices, and living with them. It’s not easy, and she’s probably made some bad ones, but they’ve brought her to where she is today. And that’s why it works.

    See, Keith is speaking directly to his audience–these are the same women who are caught up in a point of transition between their wilder younger days and the more settled women they are becoming. They’ve made a lot of choices in their time, they’ve lived through a lot of tough times.

    And that’s why they’ll sing along with this when they hear it on the drive home–never forget that there are two reasons why we listen to music: self definition and self elaboration. This serves both of those purposes for the women in question…it is all at once who they are and who they want to be (because most of them probably aren’t as “wild” as the character in this song, though that doesn’t meant they wouldn’t, perhaps, like to be).

  10. Josh
    November 8, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    wow…one person started a comparison of “upstairs, downtown” and it’s one individual’s detailed viewpoint to another. Guess this serves well with the masterminds of song writing and structure. However, after a listen for me, I consider it a typical TK move overall. I DO agree with Blake about the change of roles TK has been using among women now compared to the past. Guess he’s getting “too big for his britches”?? I dunno…I honestly am starting to feel towards him what I’ve felt towards Kenny Chesney: same ol stuff with nothing new to add except 1 song that shines out of the entire project.

  11. Leeann Ward
    November 9, 2008 at 10:28 am

    I think the thing that makes “Upstairs Downtown” seem stronger than what you’re saying, Jim, is phrases like “Life’s too short to keep hangin’ around” instead of something like “Life’s too hard. to keep hangin’ around.”

    Unfortunately, I know women who fall into both categories, the ones who end up back home for awhile and ones who bear down and push through. I think it’s a generality to say that women are prone to do just one or the other, since it’s more about personality rather than gender.
    Ultimately, though, I agree that Toby songs aren’t necessarily ever forward thinking when it comes to characteristics of women–not now and not then–though I’m not a Toby Keith scholar either.

  12. Blake Boldt
    November 9, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    The female in “Upstairs, Downtown” appears to be more transitory to me, and the return at song’s end doesn’t seem final. To hazard a guess, I’d say that her desire for independence vacillates during this awkward stage in life, and that her story is still incomplete. She’s eighteen years old, after all. Cutting the ties that bind is complicated, and sometimes it takes a few tries, so I feel it would be unfair to conclusively claim that the character fails to solve the riddle soon after striking out on her own. But that’s neither here nor there, in the space of the four minutes Keith is given, he presented an independent-minded (although lacking-in-resources) young female, one that’s driven by more individualistic desires than the “her” in “God Love Her.”

    I contend that the very basic theme, a maturing youth (often female) moving towards independence, is a common life experience that’s illustrated in a number of country songs (“Wide Open Spaces” and “Don’t Forget to Remember Me”, for example). The young woman in “Upstairs” is a representative character, with a background of humble beginnings, an attachment to her home and a stubborn pursuit of dreams all noted in the verses. She may not be fully-developed, but I would still argue that her character is expounded upon more than in “God Love Her” or any number of Keith songs. I’d argue that, as cliché as it sounds, living through those experiences taught her lessons that may not prove fruitful immediately, but could reap rewards eventually. A certain beauty lies in many story songs we encounter daily. Three minutes only provides a slice of life, and we’re left to imagine what becomes of the characters involved.

    But of course, in these days of instant gratification, songs are designed to die right after the last note. And in that sense, “God Love Her” works (as you noted very well) because it’s a blunt instrument meant to entertain for a short period of time. It’s very possible that this particular woman’s life is lived out of her own convictions and decisions, but of course, that idea isn’t fully fleshed out at all in “God Love Her.” She’s seeking independence and springs from humble beginnings, but she’s not developed any further. Heck, the reason given for her uprooting is youthful insanity, at least at the beginning stages of the courtship. You argue that the audience will connect with this song, and I agree, but for entirely different reasons. The song is catchy and paints a simplistic picture that listeners can latch onto and easily dispose of before the next block of radio commercials. But as for the song having an appeal to the female audience the only choice the lead female character makes revolves solely around her attraction (love?) towards this mild rebel. In fact, the final part of the second verse shifts quickly to how she’s affected him, implying that she’s simply a reactionary figure in his life. I just can’t see her being quite the appealing character as in the song mentioned above or any number of country songs depicting women. If this is the transition/life change to which women are connecting, that’s an unsettling truth about females who follow country music.

    Bottom line: this song, along with “Whiskey Girl,” “She’s a Hottie,” etc. are designed as ditties that provoke strong, but short bursts of enjoyment with no nutritive value, and they’re not attempts at a strong attachment to the plotline or the characters involved. The woman in “God Love Her” isn’t following her own path, she’s following the path of the narrator, as evidenced by the lack of details about her as a person and the other choices and sacrifices she’s made along the way. If, as you say, Keith is defining the “everywoman”, here she is motivated solely by romantic desires and rebelliousness against a seemingly rigid childhood. Is that who women are? Is that who they want to be?

    While the “yearning-for-freedom” youth is not explored in any of Keith’s other songs (to the best of my knowledge), the general focus on female characters has often been explored. Women were generally viewed as peers, not precious sex objects, in his past material. Women are presented as laudable for their unwavering love (“A Woman’s Touch ”), deserving of respect (“He Ain’t Worth Missin’”) and worthy of equal footing in romantic relationships (“Me, Too”). You’re absolutely right in your statement is “God Love Her” is lightweight lyrically, but Keith’s creative enough to keep an average theme from making an atrocious song, and all in all it’s not so disagreeable. But it’s disappointing to know he’s been so much better in the past.

  13. Dan Milliken
    November 9, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    Man. I don’t know what has suddenly made everyone at Country Universe obsessed with leaving huge comments here. We’re giving Jim quite a workout!

  14. Dylan Gramm
    November 10, 2008 at 3:54 am

    I like this. We get like four articles for the price of one.

  15. Mirandas2cool
    November 13, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Not bad, better than some of Toby’s other newer songs. It fits Toby’s voice to. I like it ;)

  16. Mayor Jobob
    November 15, 2008 at 4:15 am

    Toby’s Back! (not that he left!).

  17. AK
    November 20, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    It’s been a few days since anyone replied to this thread, but have any of you had the chance to catch the video to this song?

    Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but insinuation of fornication in a church? That’s pretty low even for Toby’s standards.

    I’d venture to say that the release of Toby’s “White Trash with Money” album marked the end of his career as an artist. Since then, his presence is becoming more and more of that of a “has-been” with too much to say that really doesn’t make the listener feel a thing emotionally.

    Take a listen to “Whose That Man”. I’d venture a guess you wouldn’t even equate the Toby who sang those lyrics with the Toby who released “She’s a Hottie” some months ago.

  18. John
    January 22, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    This is so Toby Keith. It fits his voice just fine.

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