On Aug. 7, Oliver Anthony of Farmville, Virginia, recorded a song out back on his farm next to a pond with a dog at his feet. He had made others in the past which hardly anyone noticed. He loaded this one up to YouTube ― and by the end of the first weekend, more than 2 million people had seen and heard it.
Close to 50 million people have heard “Rich Men North of Richmond” — in less than two weeks.
What made this one song from an unknown country singer stand out and strike such a chord with millions of people of all races, backgrounds and creeds so quickly?
The first time I heard it, it sent a chill down my spine ― and not many things chill my spine anymore. I heard his voice and didn’t really pay much attention to the words, just like most music heard for the first time. But it grabbed me and wouldn’t let go — and I am not much of a country music fan either.
Anthony let loose a full range of emotions and experiences that everyday people immediately recognize as authentic. A Babylon Bee meme captured it perfectly: “Country Music Industry Confused By Man Actually From Country Making Actual Music.” A music executive offered Anthony $8 million for his song, but he turned them down, saying it would defeat the purpose of his song in the first place.
It is music from the heart and the soul. It had all the elements of a poignant lament from a man who has self-admittedly had struggles with mental health, depression and alcohol abuse. There are far more many millions of people in America who can relate to him than they can to a super-successful, rich, Ivy League-educated, Harvard Law guy.
But “Rich Men North of Richmond” is far more than a sad country song about a guy getting fired from his job, dumped by his wife and finding his truck totaled by his teenage son. It has the backbone of a shrill rebel yell but is tempered by good old common-sense wisdom (“It’s a damn shame”) from an old soul grandmother or grandfather of any race.
Somehow, Oliver Anthony has managed to combine the following words into a lament, an anthem, a rallying cry and a paean to an America of days gone by where truth, honesty and personal responsibility were respected, not chided. This is a “protest song” not against war but against powerful people telling other less self-important people what to say, what to do, what to teach their kids and which car to drive at the same time telling them what a terrible place America is to live.
It is a cry for community and reestablishment of a tolerant, caring nation. Whether it becomes a rallying cry in coming elections remains to be seen — in which case every incumbent of both parties in Congress 90 miles north of Richmond should be worried simply because, to the average man or woman, it doesn’t look like any of them care about what is good for the nation as a whole, only themselves and their political party or faction.
Maybe Oliver Anthony is a modern-day prophet calling on America to repent of its sinful ways. Even if it is not the next “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Anthony’s plea for neighbors to treat each other as friends, if not family, is a good suggestion for all of us to follow.
“I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day
Overtime hours for bullsh– pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away
It’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is
Livin’ in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
Lord knows they all just wanna have total control
Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do
And they don’t think you know, but I know that you do
’Cause your dollar ain’t shit and it’s taxed to no end
’Cause of rich men north of Richmond
I wish politicians would look out for miners
And not just minors on an island somewhere
Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat
And the obese milkin’ welfare
Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds
Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds
Young men are puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground
’Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down”