The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: September 16, 2018

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Luke Bryan, “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” (5/10)
2. Dylan Scott, “Hooked” 0 (5/10)
3. Old Dominion, “Hotel Key” +1 (6/10)
4. Russell Dickerson, “Blue Tacoma” 0 (5/10)
5. Florida Georgia Line, “Simple” +2 (7/10)
6. Thomas Rhett, “Life Changes” +2 (7/10)
7. Cole Swindell, “Break Up In The End” +3 (8/10)
8. Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” +5 (10/10)
9. Chris Young, “Hangin’ On” 0 (5/10)
10. Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” +2 (7/10)
11. Maren Morris, “Rich” -1 (4/10)
12. Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” +3 (8/10)
13. Eric Church, “Desperate Man” +1 (6/10)
14. Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” 0 (5/10)
15. Kane Brown, “Lose It” +1 (6/10)
16. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” 0 (5/10)
17. Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” 0 (5/10)
18. LANco, “Born To Love You” +1 (6/10)
19. Jimmie Allen, “Best Shot” +2 (7/10)
20. Blake Shelton, “Turnin’ Me On” -1 (4/10)
21. Kip Moore, “Last Shot” -2 (3/10)
22. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
23. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
24. Kelsea Ballerini, “I Hate Love Songs” +2 (7/10)
25. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
26. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
27. Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” 0 (5/10)
28. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
29. Dan + Shay, “Speechless” 0 (5/10)
30. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
31. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
32. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
33. Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” 0 (5/10)
34. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
35. Craig Campbell, “See You Try” -1 (4/10)
46. Kenny Chesney ft. Mindy Smith, “Better Boat” +2 (7/10)
37. Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses” +4 (9/10)
38. Granger Smith, “You’re In It” 0 (5/10)
39. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
40. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
41. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
42. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
43. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
44. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
45. Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” (5/10)
46. Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” -2 (3/10)
47. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
48. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
49. Darius Rucker ft. Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Charles Kelley, “Straight To Hell” (5/10)
50. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +29
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -9
Overall Pulse +20
Change From Last Week -5 😦

Best Song (tie): “Drunk Girl” and “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (17 songs)

Gone:

  • Jason Aldean ft. Miranda Lambert, “Drowns The Whiskey” (recurrent)
  • Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Luke Bryan, “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” (holds at #1, but lost its bullet)
  • Dylan Scott, “Hooked” (max-spin week is over, should fall hard this week)
  • Thomas Rhett, “Life Changes” (down from #3 to #6)

In Real Trouble:

  • Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” (holds at #33, but only gained thirteen spins and lost points this week, and just seemed to have stalled out)
  • Craig Campbell, “See You Try” (holds at #35, but lost its bullet this week and has reached the dreaded “still outside the Top 30 after 20 weeks” milestone)
  • Granger Smith, “You’re In It” (down from #37 to #38, lost its bullet, passed by two songs, and has generally looked pretty weak ever since the Pulse restarted)

In Some Trouble:

  • Too many to count! We’ll deal with these individually below.

In No Trouble At All:

  • Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” (up from #51 to #41)
  • Michael Ray, “The One Who Got Away” (up from #39 to #34)
  • Kenny Chesney, “Better Boat” (up from #41 to #36)
  • Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” (up from #36 to #32)
  • Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” (up from #47 to #43)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • LoCash, “Feels Like A Party”
  • Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You”
  • Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” (7/10)
  • Brett Young, “Here Tonight”

Overall Thoughts: Who would’ve thought a chart this constipated would be this interesting?

I like to think of the country airplay charts as an escalator with no platform waiting at the top: Songs ride it slowly to the top without too many switches in order, and then immediately fall back to earth once they reach the top. Occasionally, however, a song decides it likes the view at the top and doesn’t want to leave, disrupting the usual order and causing a backup all the way down to the bottom. This, however, is an extreme version of such an event: Not only did Bryan decide to hang around an extra week at #1, but we’ve also got some stubborn recurrents and soon-to-be-recurrents (Rhett’s “Life Changes” and Jason Aldean’s “Drowns The Whiskey”) falling off playlists slower than average. Toss in Scott’s failed max-spin week, and there is not a lot of room for other artists to maneuver right now.

So why is this interesting? Well, with so many songs clogging up the airwaves and clamoring for all the spins they can grab, the week becomes a stress test for everybody else on the chart: In an extremely hostile environment where spins are extremely scarce, what do you do? Does your track have the muscle and momentum to keep pressing on, or do you spend the week playing defense and trying to hold on to the gains you’ve already got? If you’re in the latter category, you need to start asking yourself some hard questions about your song’s future.

So who should start worrying?

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” #12 39 164

Overall, I think Brooks is still in a good spot: The song is still young (13 weeks on the chart), and while it fell one spot to #12, it’s got plenty of time to recover. Brooks himself, however, is not young, so you wonder if he’s connecting with the younger demographic that country radio is courting.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Eric Church, “Desperate Man” #13 34 16

Church, on the other hand, needs to start worrying: This is the song’s second straight week of weak gains, and Church hasn’t been a consistent hitmaker for several years now (he’s only had two Top Fives out of five singles over the last three years). “Desperate Man” definitely had an experimental sound to it, and I’m not sure the experiment is succeeding.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” #14 89 119

Pearce is in a really tough spot: “Hide The Wine” has been going strong recently, gaining at least 650 points in the past three weeks, but it’s also aging (36 weeks on the charts), and we all know how hostile country radio is to female artists. I don’t think this song’s got a whole lot of juice left, and with Brown and Tenpenny looking strong behind it, I think it’ll be lucky to make the Top Ten.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” #17 -20 14
LANco, “Born To Love You” #18 45 97

These two tracks have basically moved in lockstep since I restarted the Pulse, and in truth they’ve barely moved at all:

Song 8/5 Position 9/16 Position
“Babe” #20 #17
“Born To Love You” #22 #18

It’s safe to say that this was not the reception either Sugarland or Swift expected from the radio, and even though it’s been on the charts a reasonable 22 weeks, the song already appears to be out of gas. It’ll gain a few more spots as the chart unclogs, but don’t expect this to get anywhere near No. 1.

I’m slightly more optimistic about LANco: They’ve still got a little bit of that “new artist” shine, and “Greatest Love Story” wasn’t the fastest climber back in its day either. Still, “Born To Love You” has been here almost 30 weeks now, and the climb isn’t going to get any easier from here on out. I think a Top Five peak around the 2018/2019 turn is their best-case scenario.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Kip Moore, “Last Shot” #21 16 142

Can this song just go away already? It’s still outside the Top 20 after 33 weeks, and Bentley, Stapleton, and even Midland are slated to leave it in the dust soon. This garbage will be lucky to make the Top 15, and we’ll all be better off when it leaves.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Kelsea Ballerini, “I Hate Love Songs” #24 2 -52

I’m not sure how to feel about Ballerini’s chances right now. Being at #24 after 25 weeks isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either, and her gains have been moderate to strong the last few weeks. (She’s also been one of the few female artists to earn consistent success in the face of the genre’s allergy to such acts.) I’m going to go with a glass-half-full outlook for now and say the song still has a chance at a high peak.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” #28 75 192

This dude’s so far ahead of schedule right now that even if he stalled at #28 for a while, he’d still have a pretty good shot at #1. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Tyler Rich, “The Difference” #30 -11 19

If I were Rich, I’d be really worried right now: He’s sitting on the very edge of the Top 30 after nineteen weeks, he’s had two straight weeks of sub-200-point gains, and he’s got a list of strong challengers coming up behind him (Dan + Shay, McCreery, Owen, and eventually Chesney and Urban). He’s best outlook is probably a peak between #5 and #10 after a 40+ week run, and that’s not how you want to start your mainstream career.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses” #37 1 40

Those wild horses had better start running a little faster: Watson’s performance has been lackluster to awful for the last months or so, and at 17 weeks the track is pretty old to be sitting at #37. I know “Outta Style” took a long time to make it way up the charts too, but right now I’m thinking #25 is about the best Watson can aspire to.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” #39 28 136

At some point, you have to realize that the audience is just not that into you anymore. Atkins is barely inside the Top 40 after nineteen weeks, and he hasn’t gained more than 300 points since the Pulse restarted. It might make it inside the Top 35, but for all intents and purposes this song is DOA.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” #40 60 127
Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” #42 10 19

Pardi’s got nothing to worry about: He’s only four weeks into his run, and while “She Ain’t In It” underperformed, this is the fifth single from California Sunrise, so he can always go back to the studio and ride some new-album buzz back to the top. Eldredge may have had a worse week than Pardi, but he’s got a stronger track record and his last single at least cracked the Top 5, so I’d wager that he’ll be fine as well.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” #44 17 27
Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” #45 -1 -4
Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” #46 -24 -18
Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” #47 10 56
Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” #48 31 62
Darius Rucker et al., “Straight To Hell” #49 -33 -17
Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” #50 27 30

Everybody below Cody Johnson is officially on notice: Nobody gained over 70 points, three songs lost their bullets, and only Rucker has any sort of recent track record to lean on.

If I had to pick two artists to make it out of this mess alive, it would be Bradbery (only three weeks on chart, includes Rhett’s star power) and Rice (only two weeks on chart, seems to be making steady progress). Everybody else has been floundering at this end of the chart for a while, and will likely start sinking sooner rather than later.

To close on a high note: Old Dominion will grab No. 1 next week (they announced their max-spin intentions yesterday). How the rest of the chart lines up behind them is anybody’s guess.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!