Music

How ‘Keystone’ Cops a Laugh in Riley Green’s Amusing ‘Damn Good Day to Leave’

When Riley Green played football for Jacksonville State in Alabama from 2007-2009, he was known to hang out with a fellow quarterback he found amusing.

“We were in football practice, and we’d be real hot,” Green remembers. “We’re miserable, and he’d say, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get out of practice and get down to Weiss Lake in Centre, Alabama, down the road and sit down on the pier and have a cooler of Keystone next to me.’ I always thought that was so funny because that’s really cheap beer, and it’s not like you would brag about drinking Keystone. I just love that character in songs, being specific about things that you would almost be proud of that aren’t that nice.”

That character is the protagonist in “Damn Good Day to Leave,” an energetic heartland-rocker that turns a breakup into a shoulder shrug and a day well-spent. It fit the mood of the day when he wrote it in March 2022 at 50 Egg Music with Nick Walsh, Erik Dylan (“There Was This Girl”) and Jonathan Singleton (“Beer Never Broke My Heart,” “Out in the Middle”). 

Green brought the “Damn Good” title and set the tone for a breezy day of work. “It was a really easy song to write, because we all kind of got the idea right off the top,” he says. 

They kicked in from the beginning, writing it in a linear fashion over a classic arena-rock chord progression. They also wrote it with classic instrumentation. “No laptops, none of that,” says Walsh. “Four guys, four guitars. Just made it happen.”

“Damn Good Day to Leave” cast the end of a relationship counterintuitively in the opening verse, recounting the darker textures that one typically associates with a split: rain, getaway taillights breaking for the horizon and Hank Williams singing train songs. That’s Hank Senior, not Hank Jr.

“That was the epitome of the sad, I’m-blue-and-lonely, he-left-me type song,” Green says. “Everything he did had that kind of vibe to it, you know, so I thought that was a good little reference in the song.”

But the text quickly set those dark images aside. As the woman leaves, the protagonist sees nothing but blue skies: “You picked a damn good day to leave me,” he sings in a line that overlaps two sections.

“It feels like the end of that verse and also feels like the beginning of the chorus at the same time,” notes Walsh. “It just bleeds together so perfectly that you can’t really tell, which is kind of a cool thing.”

The chorus employs the cooler of Keystone and a fishing trip while the guy adjusts to his newfound freedom. In the process, his enjoyment in the split feels reminiscent of Brad Paisley’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song),” Old Dominion’s “I Was on a Boat That Day,” Luke Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours” and Mike Ryan’s current “Way It Goes.”

The writers didn’t see the subject matter’s similarities at the time, but they wouldn’t have shied away from them either.

“We’ve got four or five country song [topics] that work over and over and over again,” Singleton says. “They work for a reason: because that listener believes that every time.”

Verse two introduced a familiar male/female argument over the TV. The protagonist recognizes his ex-girlfriend won’t be interrupting the big game anymore, and it set up one extra piece for the bridge, where they returned to TV watching — no more episodes of The Bachelorette. Green now has the freedom to watch John Wayne marathons.

“The toughest part of trying to write for radio is to write something that’s universally personal,” suggests Dylan. “And I feel like this song is universally personal because everybody has went through a breakup of some sort, female or male. I think women are going to love this song, too. Because we did make it funny enough, and there’s some moments in the song, I think a girl will roll her eyes and laugh.”

“Damn Good Day to Leave” was ideal for Green. It incorporated an interesting melody that stayed within a short span. “I don’t live in a place that’s very rangy,” he says. “I try to sing things that sing well and sing easy.”

“Damn Good Day” was also written in a way that let Green establish his personality in the performance. “His delivery is very interesting,” says Singleton. “If you’re not giving him a chance as a songwriter to kind of sort that out on his own — even if you kind of have a lyric going on and you know how it goes in your head — because he’s such a stylist, when he does it, it kind of comes out different. Even if you play it a certain way, he’ll go ‘Oh, you mean like this?’ And every time, if you’re not saying, ‘Yeah, that’s it,’ then you’re doing the wrong thing.”

They made a guitar/vocal work tape — Green intentionally stayed away from a demo, leaving space for producer Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Kane Brown) to interpret it later. They ultimately decided it needed a strong slide-like sound, and Huff brought in former Southern California studio musician Dan Dugmore to play lap steel during the tracking session rather than waiting to overdub him later. Dugmore had a prominent place in the sound of the performance, and he gave it a little extra personality, punctuating the Hank Senior reference with a train-whistle sound. He also gave a unique lift at the end of the intro, just before Green starts singing. 

“There’s a little reverb on it and a little delay, but he’s just taking the bar, just going, ‘Whoop!’ ” says Huff. “It’s kind of the opposite. Guitar players [usually] slide down the neck; he’s sliding up the neck.”

Drummer Jerry Roe provided spacious punch, much like Kenny Aronoff on John Mellencamp’s 1980s recordings or Max Weinberg on ’80s Bruce Springsteen cuts. Green delivered the lead vocal later in just two or three takes, and when he sings, “I guess I’ll miss The Bachelorette/Well, what a shame,” on the bridge, it’s OK if it sounds more like “I guess I’ll miss the bass, the red whale/What a shame.” 

“You need to go to North Alabama,” Dylan quips. “You’ll understand all the words.”

Huff had Green change “Damn good day to leave” once near the end of the vocal, just to do something different. That move came in handy later. One radio station wanted “damn good day” changed to something else before they would play it, so Nashville Harbor president/CEO Jimmy Harnen asked Huff if there were options.

“I thought he was punking me,” says Huff. Fortunately, that one alteration near the end of the song worked, and Huff flew it into the rest of the single. “So,” Huff notes, “there’s one station in America playing, ‘It’s a mighty fine day to leave.’ ”

Nashville Harbor officially released “Damn Good Day” to country radio via PlayMPE on Feb. 14. It debuted at No. 57 on the Country Airplay chart dated March 30.

“We definitely thought it had tempo and felt like it could be radio, but it really wasn’t decided as a single until Jimmy started playing it for some radio PDs and folks,” Green says. “Everybody was like, ‘Hey, when can we play this?’ As an artist and songwriter with a record deal, that’s something you kind of dream of.”

It even beats a cooler of Keystone. 

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