Song Review: Riley Green – “I Wish Grandpas Never Died”

The short version: “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” is a solid song, but has a foundation akin to a house of cards.

  • Writers: Riley Green, Lendon Bonds, Buford Green
  • Rating: 7/10

The long version: To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be back here talking about Riley Green again so soon.

And I’m admittedly torn about that. On one hand, this means that his current single, “In Love By Now,” is done, a song I rather quite liked. On the other hand, that song isn’t done due to a poor performance. In fact, there’s a part of me that’s happy that the country music industry has finally caught up with the modern world, at least in one instance.

While radio airplay is still the dominant force in country music, it’s no longer the only player in the game. Radio no longer determines the stars, but rather has to take a backseat and validate the artists that fans have already desginated as superstars, and we need not look any further at someone like, say, Luke Combs to see that.

Of course, it’s still a flawed system with its own set of politics and biases, hence why someone like Kacey Musgravs will likely never receive a radio hit. Still, a hit is no longer only determined by its airplay chart position. Yet that doesn’t mean we can ultimately discard radio yet, if only because, again, it’s still the dominant force in the industry.

Still, that doesn’t mean the country music industry knows what to do nowadays. When Maddie and Tae’s “Die From A Broken Heart” was catching attention last year, their record label decided to continue pushing “Friends Don’t” even though it was obvious what song was connecting with fans. Now that buzz is gone, and while that song is a single now, it’s not catching on in the same way as it was a year ago. Even the aforementioned Combs had to wait to release his smash hit, “Beautiful Crazy,” months after the studio version first garnered public attention.

Now, in the case of Green, we’re seeing it happen again, only this time there’s no need for facepalms or wonder, like Little Texas, what might’ve been. First off, Green finally released a studio version of an old fan favorite hit, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” after getting several requests for one. Second, that move payed off, as that song not only showed a strong performance on sales and streaming charts last Friday, but also coincided with the announcement of Green’s debut album. Basically, Green went from being a new artist (who we still don’t know much about, honestly) to someone worth watching in a matter of hours. More than that, however, the strong showing for it also gave someone at Green’s label the heads-up that this needs to be a single. Again, while I’m sad that “In Love By Now” never got its fair shake, it’s a smart investment overall.

Yet when it comes to “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” to be honest, I think I prefer “In Love By Now.” It’s a good song, but it’s also one that succeeds more for its execution than its foundation, because in terms of that category, this song is a tad shaky.

And to get my main criticism out of the way early, the writing is what both helps and hurts this song. Sure, the overarching sentiment of nostalgia is what’s made this song appealing to everyone, but it’s an instance where calling this “vague” wouldn’t be a compliment. You’d think this song would take on an entirely different meaning from the title alone (especially when Green has another song dedicated to his grandfather in “Numbers On The Cars”), but instead it’s just a list of things and sentiments Green wishes would come back to the world.

And let me stress that there’s a time and place for that kind of overly broad writing. Eric Church pulled it off pretty well with “Some Of It” earlier this year, for example. But that song succeeded due to the writing having the continuity behind it to effectively flesh out what it was trying to say. The writing of “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” on the other hand, is just incredibly jumbled and random, with the hook failing to really offer any sort of payoff whatsoever. Moreover, it also often coasts on common clichés in country music with fishing, trucks, Friday nights and even a line for the troops. Sure, that line about wishing country radio still played country music is gold, but the overall sentiment falls much flatter than it really should.

With that said, I still like this, and part of that extends toward Green himself as well as the instrumentation and production. I didn’t think much of him on “There Was This Girl,” but “In Love By Now” really showcased his warm, endearing charisma in a very effective way, and this song does too. Furthermore, for a song trying to speak to a deeper sentiment, again, the writing doesn’t ultimately do that, but the tones definitely hit their mark. The acoustics are warm and the pedal steel always cuts through, especially after each chorus. Sure, it may oversell a track that never really reaches the sentiment it’s going for, but the song at least opts more for warmth and humanity over bombast, and there’s something respectable about that.

For as critical as I’ve been of this song, I do like it more than I don’t, even if the paragraphs listing the positives aren’t as fleshed out as the ones listing the negatives. “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” is a good song, but I wish it had stuck the landing better, because it’s close to doing that. But the jumbled writing with no real discernible story makes this track come across a little more overwrought than it should, with Green’s straight-laced performance at least helping to lend some humanity to the track. Still, the sound is certainly agreeable, and it’s still miles better than the average song you’ll find on your radio dial these days. More than that, though, this will also undoubtedly be the song to help Green stand out from the crowd, and that’s something most male artists these days couldn’t do if they tried.

(Light to decent 7/10)

Pre-order Riley Green’s debut album, Different ‘Round Here.

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