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Zac Brown Band’s ‘Toes’ challenges radio programmers with lyrics

Zac Brown at the Tabernacle in 2008. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Zac Brown at the Tabernacle in 2008. CREDIT: Rodney Ho

It’s a pretty crass word for the posterior and it’s not something you would want to throw around in earshot of your grandma. But it’s now heard regularly on country stations across the nation — including Kicks and 94.9/The Bull.

North Georgia’s Zac Brown Band, which is blazing the charts with its sun-drenched beach song “Toes,” starts the song thusly:

I got my toes in the water/ ass in the sand
Not a worry in the world/ a cold beer in my hand
Life is good today/ Life is good today.

Zac Brown Band's "Toes"

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It’s now at No. 19 on the country charts, according to Mediabase 24/7. The band’s first two singles “Chicken Fried” and “Whatever It Is” both hit the top of the country charts earlier this year. And the band’s album “The Foundation” has been certified platinum, meaning one million copies shipped to stores.

Atlantic Records did provide stations a “radio edit” where the “ass” is cut out and the word “toes” is repeated.

Wyatt Durrette, one of the four co-writers of the song, wrote to me in an email: “I’m ok with the toes-toes thing. If people like the song, they are going to buy it and they end up with the real version. So while it’s not the greatest, it’s not the end of the world either.”

Scott Lindy, program director at the Bull, tested the song with the “ass” word included a few weeks back but feedback made him decide to stick with the G-rated version during the daytime when more kids are in earshot. One person said whenever the song started while he had young children in the car, he’d switch the station immediately. This is not something any program director wants to hear.

Lindy said he does have a song on the playlist using the word “ass”: “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” by Toby Keith. But given the context of that usage, he has never heard a single complaint:

This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass
It’s the American way

Kicks has chosen to air the “ass” version of “Toes” all the time. I’ve left messages with the program director and his boss for comment and will update when I get them.

Kevin Daniels, operations manager at South 107.1, which covers northwest Georgia, said he remembers having a conversation with Zac, who told him he did not want an edited version on radio, that he’d rather it not be played at all. In fact, Daniels has not heard about a specific radio edit from the label.

“I was hesitant at first to play the song,” he said. But so far, so good. He has not gotten any bad feedback from his audience about it. In fact, he’s gotten some compliments from folks who are happy he is playing it without any changes. Right now, the station has “Toes” in medium rotation of three spins a day. “I like the song and the audience seems to also,” he noted.

Jaye Albright, a country station consultant out of Seattle for Albright and O’Malley, said he has heard more complaints from Zac Brown fans who object to the censorship.

“When radio starts to edit or tamper with a song, there’s a little bit of artistic protection from some listeners,” he said. “They’d rather hear it the way the artist intended.”

Plus, some programmers in more conservative areas are more wary of the use of the phrase “roll a big fat one,” implying the smoking of an illicit substance, over the “ass” line. Some stations are blurring that line out or simply not playing the song at all.

“This might be costing the song some airplay,” Albright said. (He does not consult any stations in Atlanta.)

The Oxygen Network has been using the word liberally, too, thanks to its show “Dance Your Ass Off,” which combines “Biggest Loser’ with “So You Think You Can Dance.” In print advertising, as a precaution, the network has referred to it as a** and omitted the “ass” word verbally.

The Zac Brown Band are playing a Verizon Wireless-sponsored free concert at Wild Bill’s Friday in advance of the Pep Boys 500 auto race. Folks who signed up online will be able to get in. I don’t think you can just show up.

They are also planning to headline a benefit concert for the fire-damaged Georgia Theatre in Athens at the Fox Theatre in Midtown. Details forthcoming.

27 comments Add your comment

Nancy

September 2nd, 2009
6:58 am

These kids are probably playing violent video games and hear who knows what kind of language at school. I doubt hearing the word as* will hurt them…………….

TOes

September 2nd, 2009
7:56 am

We actually had this debate at Book Club (3 of us have no kids, 3 have them-all under 10) I truly believe that these kids hear the word AS* all the time (not to mention words much worse)…and the thing is, they probably dont event realize that its a ‘bad’ word. I’m with Nancy.

Don

September 2nd, 2009
9:05 am

Censorship of any kind only sets the world backwards. I am way more offended by the overall stupidity of that Toby Keith song than the word as* actually being used. I always felt myself feeling a little dumber after hearing that song.
Good job by Zac Brown Band.

rocker

September 2nd, 2009
9:20 am

Nancy, you are exactly right….another case of something being made out of nothing. Just play the dang song like it was written.

I just feel fortunate that I got to see Zac and the band do “Toes” (and their other songs) live at his bar/restaurant on Lake Oconee (where I live) about five years ago. It was back when they were unknown to everybody except us in the Lake Oconee area. They put on some incredible performances and I thought to myself that if these guys can ever break through and get on the radio the sky is the limit (they aren’t like a good portion of the current “hunky” country stars that made it on their looks……they actually have songwriting skills and musical skills……you know TALENT).

My son-in-law worked at Zac’s Place back in those days. I’ve met him and the band and I can attest that they are great down to earth people (Zac gave my son-in-law a guitar). If y’all have not seen them live you need to. Zac can absolutely SMOKE on that acoustic guitar.

Absurd Hero

September 2nd, 2009
9:23 am

Wasn’t there a country song that repeated “badonkadonk” ad nauseam recently? How is saying “ass” in non-sexual terms in any way a problem?

Jackie

September 2nd, 2009
10:13 am

whoever sings the song saying mana gets her rocks off watching desperate housewives is much worse. I could not believe my ears when I heard that.

Rodney Ho

September 2nd, 2009
10:21 am

That’s Toby Keith’s “American Ride,” now at No. 7 on the country charts.

Levi Lowrey

September 2nd, 2009
1:06 pm

There were two versions released to radio, and it is up to the station to play the version that they wish. Hopefully any anger, caused by a single word, will be directed to the correct parties. Let the artists create. If you don’t like it, turn the channel.
As for me, I am more offended by the lack of pedal steel on country radio.

Bill

September 2nd, 2009
4:10 pm

People need to take a chill pill and worry about things that matter a little more in this country. They should be worried about the amount of violence in our neighborhoods and drugs in our schools and parks for a start. The word ‘ass’ isn’t going to corrupt little Jimmy and Susie.

Di

September 2nd, 2009
5:48 pm

I am fortunate to live in an area where I can pull in multiple country radio stations. About half are playing the unedited version and half the edited version. Some are muting “roll a big fat one” and some are not. It’s kind of weird because usually I am kind of laid back about this sort of thing, but for some reason I am appalled at the censorship. There are several other songs played that say a$$, damn, hell, etc. and don’t get censored. I’ve never heard Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” get muted for “smoking funny things” or Hank Jr’s “Family Tradition” muted for “Hank why do you roll smoke”. Is kicking back and just enjoying life worse than promoting violence and illegal activity like vandalizing someone’s pick up truck in Carrie Underwood’s “Before he cheats”. Or how about Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene” or “Gunpowder and Lead”. (two songs which I love by the way). Or how about Trisha Yearwood’s “Georgia Rain” about 2 teenage kids sneaking out and having sex. How is sitting in the sand on one’s a$$ worse than most of the country songs out there? I am 48 years old and very consevative, but a$$ is not a bad word. Get over it. I am so disgusted that I refuse to listen to the stations that are playing the edited version. Leave the songs the way the artist intended!

Lady Strange

September 3rd, 2009
1:06 pm

This is one of the reasons I won’t listen to The Bull anymore, cause they censor the songs. Thank goodness Kicks knows how to play it correctly. Now if they’d only replace Cadillac Jack with a real DJ.

Institution

September 3rd, 2009
1:33 pm

Be happy you get country at all. The big markets in the US have 0 country music stations. The cencorship here in Atlanta is amazing. You wouldn’t know it unless you traveled somewhere else. This whole “ass” debate was settled about 20 years ago. Stations elsewhere are not censoring songs with “sh*t” in the lyrics either. Occasionally you will hear the F word, but not if it’s really clear. That is the next hurdle. Oh wait, Atlanta is still stuck on “ass”. Get with the times already.

Dave

September 3rd, 2009
5:10 pm

The consultant mentioned in the story, Jaye Albright is a SHE not a he. She used to be a he years ago, but had surgery so she could become a she.

atlBOY

September 3rd, 2009
9:00 pm

“the overall stupidity of that Toby Keith song”??

what’s stupid about it i guess is that you obviously hate america

John

September 7th, 2009
1:50 am

Zac’s Hometown radio station in Dahlonega spins his entire CD … unedited. Great stuff…

Jay F. Burton

September 13th, 2009
9:57 pm

Love Zac! Love the music! Hate censorship! I play in a duo called “Menace to Sobriety”! We enjoy our non-famous status because we get to play what we want. I am a Gulf War veteran, My wife was injured in Iraq and is still at Walter Reed Hospital! What the Hell are we fighting for if someone is censoring music and books and radio and TV… don’t they all have a dial or an “OFF” switch?!?!? Wasn’t I born in the United States of America?!

Shane

September 16th, 2009
12:39 am

@atlBOY, I think Don was talking about that new Toby Keith song American Ride. Which, even though it is very catchy, is pretty stupid; at least I hope that is what they were trying to say, otherwise other wise I think they may need a boot in their ass. I love Zac Brown though and I think people should get over it and except the fact that ass is a word and it being in a song is not going to ruin the children of America. I mean they are making drug busts in middle schools these days! Don’t you think that there are some more important issues that could be addressed.

Nikki

September 17th, 2009
3:08 pm

It’s not like we don’t hear way worse words all day long….I love the song!

Jacob

October 1st, 2009
10:56 pm

I don’t mind the “profane” lyrics…. but I actually like the radio version better. It sounds less forced to me.

Cyndi

October 17th, 2009
8:38 pm

i really can’t believe what i’m hearing…oh we hear it everyday, so it’s ok???where are your morals? where is your sense of right or wrong? yah i do hear it in songs,and i know it’s wrong,but to hear it repeated so often…it offends me! When i heard the edited version… i couldn’t be happier!!! to each his own…but somebody has to draw the line somewhere!!

cgc

October 30th, 2009
3:13 am

I can not believe the stations are doing this. We find the song funny and with all that goes uncensored on radio and tv this is just not right
I love country music and may quit listening to our local station

Country Boy

November 14th, 2009
7:54 am

Cyndi thanks for your comment, I’m with you just because somethings done wrong in music more than once doesn’t make it right. I was sick when I heard the unedited version. I loved the song on the radio realy liked it so last night I spent $12 and bought the CD but when I heard it without my 7 & 4 year old girls in the car I was still so discussted I broke it and threw on the side of the road. I would have give it away but I hate supporting trash, If Zac were to read this I think his music could be good he just needs to grow up.

Country Boy

November 14th, 2009
7:58 am

And to me toes in the water toes in the sand/clay makes perfect sense,If your feet are in the water at the edge sand or clay have to be at the base of your feet. You don’t have to be deep to comprehend that.

Angella

November 22nd, 2009
7:53 pm

My 5 yr old LOVES this song. He walks around the house singing it…and I can’t really yell at him. He knows it word for word and luckily doesn’t really know what “big fat one” means, but we made a deal (after he sang it at church and his sunday teacher heard him) that he only sings the full version when it is on the radio. If he sings it around the house he has to say “butt” LOL! It is funny but then again it’s not. As a parent you have to pick and choose your battles sometimes and this is one of them. I choose to let him enjoy the song!

PS – if anyone knows where I can get a copy of the radio edit version please post. He wants it for xmas and I am having a hard time finding the radio edit version.

Thanks!

Happy Holidays!

George

November 24th, 2009
6:37 pm

I find it hard to beleive that he can talk about drinking alcohol (a comon subject in country music), You can talk about sex and killing people, but people are so upset with the word ass? Get real.

Dave

December 1st, 2009
3:27 pm

A couple of really good points brought out… We (and I’m talking about all people everywhere) are really good at desensitizing ourselves. Rationalizing that we hear it every day in school/public, so what harm could it be to hear it at home or in the car. Wat a sad state we are in when we begin to think that way.
I in no way intend to force my ethics and morals on anyone else, but I whole heartedly believe that radio stations and other media sources have a RESPONSIBILITY to their community to censor things that don’t belong in the public. It IS America, and we do have rights. We have the right to say/print what we want but we have the right to be free from hearing things that are obscene or offensive. No, we aren’t talking about naked people doing obscene things in public here, but letting it slide is one step closer to us talking about that.
It’s a great song. You have the right to hear it the way the artist intended it, so exercise that right and buy the CD. But if you are going to play it in a public/free forum like TV and Radio, then take the moral/ethical responsibility that comes with it by censoring. When radios and radio stations have the capability to set ratings and rating limits, then you can eliminate the censorship.

I love the song as played on my local stations. I won’t buy the CD because I’d rather not hear it that way.

Krisitn

January 18th, 2010
1:13 pm

Yes, we have all become desensitized to so called swear words, but if you’re that worried about what your kids are repeating then teach them right from wrong! My 4 year old sings this song and without me even mentioning it she has switched the word to “butt” herself! We can’t expect radio and television to parent our children, that’s our job! Besides, did anyone even listen to this song? Because if you did you should be less concerned about the use of “ass” and more concerned about “roll a big fat one”… how do you explain that one to your kids? I’ve just told mine it was about smoking and left it at that.