"Goodbye Earl," a tongue-in-cheek track about women who kill a friend's abusive husband isn't exactly in heavy rotation at several country stations, with some banning it outright.
"It's one of the things where some of the gatekeepers take it more seriously than the audience does," Lon Helton of Radio & Records, a radio trade publication, tells the Los Angeles Times.
Although "Earl" is presently number eight on Billboard's pop-singles chart and number two on the country chart, many country stations are playing the single less frequently than would be expected from a hot group like the Dixie Chicks. Helton says about 20 of 149 country stations tracked by his magazine are ignoring "Earl" altogether. (The video, starring Dennis Franz, Lauren Holly and Jane Krakowski, however, is an unqualified hit and tops the most-requested list at cable music networks.)
The song, the second single off the Chicks' Fly, tells the story of two gal-pals who take justice into their own hands when they spot their friend Wanda sporting a black eye thanks to violent hubby Earl. The two women decide on the perfect revenge: They kill Earl with a poisoned helping of black-eyed peas.
"The audience knows that it's kind of tongue-in-cheek and that the Chicks are having some fun," says Helton. "I think the public knows the Chicks have a great, edgy attitude."
In fact, the song's controversial subject matter even had officials at the Chicks' record labels, Sony Nashville and Monument Records, unsure about releasing "Earl" as a single. The band's manager, Simon Renshaw, says the companies gave the go-ahead only after the trio performed the rollicking song (along with its celeb-packed video) at the Grammys.
Now, however, the group has the support of its label. "Controversy is [what] the Chicks are all about. They have an irreverent sense of humor," says a Sony Nashville rep.
Meanwhile, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports the group for starting a dialog about spousal abuse.
"Many battered women feel trapped and feel that violence is their only option to get away from the abuser," executive director Rita Smith tells the Los Angeles Times. "We don't want them feeling that way. We want stations who play the record to tell their listeners that there is a hotline number they can call if they've been a victim of violence."
Many stations are doing just that whenever they play "Earl."
John Pellegrini, the program director at a York, Pennsylvania, station is not playing the record. "My question is, what do we do a song about next, school shootings? Just a fun one--one that might raise awareness?"