The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [August 22]

Dan + Shay From the Ground Up

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up” +1 (Up 1)
  2. Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me” -4 (Up 1)
  3. Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan” -1 (Up 2)
  4. Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” -2 
  5. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink” +2 (Up 5)
  6. Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls” -3 (Up 3)
  7. Chris Lane – “Fix” -5 (Down 1) [Worst Song]
  8. Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.” -2 
  9. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +3 (Down 8) 
  10. Blake Shelton – “She’s Got A Way With Words” -3 (Up 1)
  11. Tucker Beathard – “Rock On” -3 (Up 1)
  12. Kenny Chesney & Pink – “Setting The World On Fire” -2 (Up 5)
  13. William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl” +3 (Up 3)
  14. Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” +2 (Up 4)
  15. LoCash – “I Know Somebody” -5 (Down 2)
  16. Zac Brown Band – “Castaway” +1 (Down 2)
  17. Luke Bryan – “Move” -4 (Up 4)
  18. Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” -2 (Up 2)
  19. Miranda Lambert – “Vice” +3 (Up 3) [Best Song]
  20. Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” -2 (Up 3)
  21. Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately” +2 (Up 3)
  22. Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” (Up 3)
  23. Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight” +2 (Down 4)
  24. Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be” +3 (Up 3)
  25. Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream” +1 (Up 1)
  26. Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time” -3 (Up 2)
  27. Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” -1 (Up 3)
  28. Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boots Fits” -4 (New to Top 30)
  29. Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song” (New to Top 30)
  30. Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer” +2 (Re-Entered Top 30 This Week)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -25

The pulse drops 11 spots this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week (Radio’s Purge of Quality Week):

  • Eric Church – “Record Year” +4
  • Kip Moore – “Running For You” +2
  • Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You” +3

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boot Fits”
    • Oh great, Granger is back. Yipee. I was kind of hoping he would just be a one-hit wonder and would go back to Texas. But we’re not that lucky. He follows up the irritating “Backroad Song” with a song that is slightly less annoying in the form of “If The Boot Fits.” This is straight up bro country with an embarrassing amount of auto-tune used on Granger’s voice. Then you have the half-assed modern country production and lyrics that center around a redneck Cinderella. It blows my mind a sub par, mediocre vocalist such as Dibbles is getting all of this airplay. But then again that’s right in country radio’s wheelhouse. Anyway it’s all very annoying and the song gets worse with each play. You can keep ignoring Mr. Dibbles. 1/10
  • Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song”
    • It feels like it’s been a while since Eldredge has been in the top 30. While he’s been going in the more trend chasing direction, I’ve found him to be one of the more palatable Nashville pop artists because of his strong vocals. Right up front I will say this song is an improvement over his previous two singles, although those weren’t going to be tough to top. “Wanna Be That Song” is a love song about a guy expressing his love towards his woman with various comparisons and analogies. It’s a tad on the sleepy side, but for a pop country song it isn’t half bad. If you listen closely you can hear actual acoustic guitars and dare I say some steel guitar too. You could do a lot worse, but this could have been better too if it didn’t rely so much on clichés. 5/10
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer”

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need a Drink” – Up 5 from #10 to #5
  • Kenny Chesney & Pink – “Setting The World on Fire” – Up 5 from #17 to #12
  • Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” – Up 4 from #18 to #14

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Eric Church – “Record Year” – Out of the Top 30 (& Done)
  • Kip Moore – “Running For You” – Out of the Top 30 (& Done)
  • Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You” – Out of the Top 30 (& Done)

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.”
  • Chris Lane – “Fix”
  • Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots”
  • Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without a Fight”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream” (It rebounded this week, but it could easily slip)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Florida Georgia Line & Tim McGraw – “May We All”
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Parachute”
  • Thomas Rhett – “Vacation” (Country radio does not want to play this. Nobody with a sane mind wants to hear it. Just end it already!)

Note: As you can see we have a new best song this week. Ultimately I was deciding between Tim McGraw’s “How I’ll Always Be” and Miranda Lambert’s “Vice.” I ended up going with “Vice” because of the stronger lyrics and having such a vulnerable song at country radio is a pretty rare site. The way it’s going it should have a shot at top ten, which is cool to see.

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s Pulse in the comments below. 

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31 thoughts on “The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [August 22]

  1. Glad to see a decent song at the top this week. Miranda’s song is great, but my honor of best song goes to I Met a Girl. Damn, what a great song. Worst song would be Move, but that could change soon as Vacation seems to be nearing top 30 territory. I have a funny and sad top 20 list planned for if Vacation gets in the top 30. Stay tuned.

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  2. My only disagreement is I don’t think American Generic Love Song should be ranked higher than Different for Girls. And that’s nitpicking

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    • The reason I have ACLS over DfG is because I feel the outdated ideas expressed by Bentley’s song is worse than the run of the mill, genericness of Owen’s song. Both are bad though.

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      • DFG offends me, period. For me it’s easily the worst song on radio. It’s not trying to be a stupid song, it’s trying to be serious and send a real message, and the message is terrible.

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      • “Different For Girls” is easily the worst of the two.

        “American Country Love Song” is held back simply by how generic and uninspired it is. But to Owen’s credit, when he’s not impersonating Shawn Mullins, his vocal performance is actually pretty good on this track. He actually sounds solid on the chorus in how he effectively articulates an intermingled sense of wonder as well as semi-melancholic longing as to the pursuit of such a connection. It’s a shame the lyrics give him so little to work with, but Owen at least sounds like he’s trying, and that’s saying something considering all the uninspired male vocals saturating the scene.

        “Different For Girls” is just lyrically insulting to the intelligence and absolutely banausic from a production standpoint.

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  3. Is it just me or is High Valley’s Make You Mine a knockoff of a Mumford and Sons song? Couldn’t tell you what the name might be, only reason I’m familiar with it was from a couple years ago working at my college radio station which played ‘alternative’ music. It was garbage. Wondering what you all’s thoughts were on that song. I can’t stand it. Too much hipster.

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    • It is! The song you’re thinking of is “I Will Wait.” That’s exactly what I was planning to point out in my review once it hit the top 30. The thing is I’ve heard other songs from them and this is probably their best, which doesn’t bode well for them.

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    • I also got a Mumford and Sons/Lumineers vibe from Make You Mine. Personally, I’d rate it a -1 (or 4/10). Not horribly awful, but far from a good song.

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    • I can’t stand Mumford & Sons in how they always try and pass themselves off as something deeper and self-important than they actually are.

      I especially dislike the passive aggression of many of their lyrics when it comes to relationships. They really rub me off the wrong way the same reason Passenger’s “Let Her Go” did: passing off as sensitive bleeding-heart-on-your-sleeve Hot AC fare but consisting of some really ugly intentions lyrically in trying to steal another’s woman or putting an ex down.

      That’s why the break-through of Sam Hunt and Old Dominion onto country radio is so detrimental. It further normalizes and romanticizes such behavior.

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      • I felt it was Tyler Farr’s “Redneck Crazy” that really brought this detrimental attitude to country radio first. It paved the way for Old Dominion and Hunt. I still get angry anytime I think about Redneck Crazy. Everything about it is disgustingly awful.

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        • Oh, for sure. I wasn’t intending to discount the dubious contributions of Farr’s breakout hit. It’s quite responsible too.

          At any rate, Mumford and Sons have regularly been the recipient of critical acclaim and I absolutely don’t get it any more than I don’t get “Montevallo” being a mostly critically acclaimed album.

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  4. I’d also rate WMM as the best song. For one it’s actually country, Vice is more AC. I liked Vice more when it first came out, and I love it as a contrast to DFG. I’m withholding final judgement on the song though until the album comes out. It’s sort of just a catalog of vices, rather than telling a story. If the album is telling a story, then it’s an excellent mood song, but I don’t think it works as well as a stand-alone.

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  5. On the move: majority of songs with a bullet (& up in audience/plays)
    No fight: Brad Paisley with another track dying in the Top 20
    iHeart Radio “On The Verge”: Lauren Alaina & “Road Less Traveled”
    “Love Can Go To Hell”: new Brandy Clark single

    #48 – Hot Shot Debut – Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
    #57 – New – Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled”
    #60 – New – Chase Rice – “Everybody We Know Does”
    Re-Entry: #58 – Toby Keith – “A Few More Cowboys”

    Top Country Albums:
    #1 – New – Justin Moore – Kinda Don’t Care
    #2 – Blake Shelton – If I’m Honest
    #3 – Chris Stapleton – Traveller
    #4 – New – Cody Jinks – I’m Not The Devil
    #5 – New – Dylan Scott – Dylan Scott
    (Cody Johnson is down to #24.)

    Billboard Canada Country National Airplay:
    #1 – Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King (2nd week)
    #2 – Sam Hunt (2nd week)
    #3 – Jon Pardi (2nd week)
    #4 – John Barker Band – “Lawn Chair Lazy” (highest canadian song)

    Country Tracks Top 40 Australia:
    #1 – Troy Cassar-Daley – “Things I Carry Around” (2nd week)
    #2 – Doug Bruce – “Bad Weather” (up from # 26)
    #3 – Alice Benfer – “Amamoor Creek” (Ep: Cowgirl Rockin’)
    New album: Troy Cassar-Daley – Things I Carry Around (08/26)
    New album: The Viper Creek Band – Just Press Play (08/26)
    New album: Amber Lawrence – Happy Ever After (09/30)

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  6. What a weak crop of songs this is. To my ears I would say the McGraw song and the Morgan song are the only +3’s on this chart and even those I wouldn’t say are great just pretty good. Seems to me that the number of really bad songs has decreased lately but the number of 0 to -2 songs has almost taken over the chart.

    What a sorry state of affairs mainstream country has become.

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  7. I’d probably rate “How I’ll Always Be” as the chart’s best song at the moment, but I’m eagerly awaiting the impact of “Kill A Word” as that is easily another +4 from Eric Church and my personal favorite from “Mr. Misunderstood”. If Chris Janson hangs in there, “Holdin’ Her” will be an easy silver with William Michael Morgan claiming the bronze.

    “Vice” has cooled on me a little due to the production, though it’s still a solid song. I do admittedly hope that the sound isn’t exactly indicative of her forthcoming album as a whole, but i’m fine with her using the effects she did since they do fit the premise of the lyric.

    *

    Despite the staggering week-to-week pulse decline, I actually remain optimistic about the remainder of the year trajectory-wise.

    We’ve easily had more quality #1 hits this year over any year since 2011 already. Sure, we still have terrible #1 hits like “Fix”, “Home Alone Tonight” and “Dibs”, but the point is between the end of 2011 and now, even most of the best #1 hits were merely passable or good as opposed to great. You had to mostly settle for agreeable offerings like “I Don’t Dance”, “Goodbye In Her Eyes” and Rucker’s cover of “Wagon Wheel” instead, and it was a rarity you’d get a “I Hold On” or a “Sweet Annie”.

    Next week, a -5 song will be gone to make up for the loss of “Record Year” this week, and I also don’t see “If The Boot Fits” lasting much longer with its atrocious sales. That should help adjust it.

    As for Brett Eldredge’s latest, it’s staggering that it’s already in its fourteenth week on the chart and has only reached #29 thus far. “Drunk On Your Love” only needed 21 weeks to reach #1. Granted this is a slower song and doesn’t have as much of an identifiable hook, but I certainly expect Eldredge to be higher up at this point. Or, to put it another way, Brett Eldredge and his buddy Thomas Rhett released the lead singles to their sophomore albums a mere week apart. By now, Rhett is already preparing the release of a fifth single (granted “Vacation” has flopped on radio big time, but still…) while Eldredge is still in the earlier stages of a third single run. If that doesn’t underscore who has much more momentum between the two, I don’t know what does.

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    • Thomas Rhett momentum is fine. Radio wasn’t going to respond well to Vacation but I can guarntee provided they don’t release South Side. But I guarntee whatever he’ll release will sell well (like Vacation) and will go up the charts quickly.

      As for Brett Eldredge simple reason why its going slow Ballad in Summer. Nothing more nothing less.

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      • It was plainly obvious “Vacation” was going to flop at radio, though the solid sales are certainly encouraging to Valory. I fully expect “Playing With Fire” or maybe “The Day You Stop Looking Back” will follow as a safe fifth single for radio.

        The point I was making is that, despite releasing the lead singles to their respective eras a mere weak apart, Rhett is on the verge of having his fifth single leapfrog Eldredge’s third single on the airplay chart. It suggests Rhett may be encroaching on A-list status (album sales remaining his main setback) while Eldredge remains far from it.

        *

        The slow ballad excuse really doesn’t hold any water in my eyes. “H.O.L.Y.” is the single biggest country/”country” hit of the season by a wide margin. Dan + Shay’s “From The Ground Up” has also been one of the more successful singles commercially over this season. Keith Urban is on his fourth single with “Ripcord”, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”, and it is off to a flying start relative to airplay.

        In fact, glancing at the Top Ten of the digital chart at the moment, a whopping NONE of them are what you’d call “rave-ups” or up-tempo tracks traditionally synonymous with summertime. You have two melodic mid-tempos (“Setting The World On Fire”, “Peter Pan”), and the remaining eight are either ballads or softer mid-tempo fare with ballad-esque attributes (a.k.a. Adult Contemporary fare). Radio programmers may admit fatigue with slower songs, but they remain superior selling songs.

        Either way you slice it, Eldredge’s current single has been off to a very slow start and he oddly seems to have lost a considerable deal of momentum since he hit big with “Drunk On Your Love”. It’s as though that single was something of a gift and a curse for him: a gift in that it happened to have a sticky (albeit annoying) hook, but a curse in that it also exposed him as a blatant trend-chaser settling on inoffensive mediocrity when it comes to radio singles. It may promise instant gratification, but often backfires on entertainers when they fail to capitalize on those returns by producing career hits that offer something more and, thus, become interchangeable with most other competing male peers.

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    • The caste system at country radio is really something to behold. Like your Eldredge-Rhett example is the fact that ‘Head Over Boots’ debuted in the airplay top 40 last November the same week as Luke Bryan’s ‘Home Alone Tonight’ and ‘Boots’ hit #1 last week while Bryan has seen ‘Home’ hit #1 the follow up go to #1 and now a third single make the top 20 in the same time frame. It’s a really bizarre way to do things and I don’t see how it benefits either radio or the labels. There needs to be a great paring back of the acts that get airplay if they are going to continue to give such huge spin totals to the biggest hits every week. This is what top 40 radio has always done where they play the hell out of the hits and then have a very tight playlist of new music with a fair amount of recurrents mixed in. But country wants to have it both ways and that leads to the strange results.

      And it’s made more ridiculous because everybody knows that the fix is in and most of these songs that take forever will eventually make it to the top five at least, so these songs are just basically in some kind of a holding pattern for several months.

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    • Thomas Rhett: buzz…but “Vacation” is a warning sign. The song is selling but not setting the sales charts on fire.
      Brett Eldredge: (like Cole Swindell) slow but steady decline & not much buzz. The next album/singles will show the way for both guys. My (un-)popular prediction: both careers will fizzle out.
      The biggest joke is Chris Lane. The album sold 7.800 units (according to Roughstock). The “new” Elvis Presley album 10.600 units & Dylan Scott 9.200 units.

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      • Eldredge has a distinctive voice and likeability going for him, but I agree he is going to have to produce a hit of substance as soon as possible if he has any hope of building a foundation for a lasting career on country radio. Otherwise, he’s just going to get lost in the shuffle of many other interchangeable fresh-faced male chart rivals.

        I’m sympathetic of why Cole Swindell decided to swing heavily in a more sentimental direction with his current album given all the negative scrutiny surrounding bro-country cliches. The problem is, he swung too far in the other direction without really cultivating his own identity as an entertainer. Almost all of “You Should Be Here” is interchangeably boring and yawn-inducing much like Lady Antebellum’s second and third albums were (I called them Lady Ampleboredom at the time), with only “Flatliner” and “No Can Left Behind” (to a lesser extent “Broke Down” since it’s at least guitar-driven) clearly distinguishing from the repetition. Otherwise, it’s virtually all overproduced Adult Contemporary pap with nary a trace of pulse or muscle.

        Cole Swindell will do alright this particular era with “Middle Of A Memory” selling well, and still having reasonably accessible remaining choices with “Broke Down” and “Stars”. But after leaning way too heavily on minor-key, drowsy cuts this go-around, he’s going to need to strike a balance with his third album while continuing to up his maturity game if he hopes to stick it out for the longer run. I think it’ll be quite the challenge.

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          • It was entertaining back in the day seeing how thin-skinned many were when I brought up that nickname in musical discussions concerning the group on message boards like Pulse! Awwwwwwwwww, the memories! 😉

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          • The Pulse is still pretty thin-skinned. I don’t have an account, but I like to lurk sometimes. There’s a few good folks there with good, well-thoughout opinions. But there’s a lot of stick in the mud types who would definitely get pissy about your Lady A reference.

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          • I never understood the big deal about things of that sort.

            I get why forums and discussion groups must have ground rules: especially concerning conduct, avoiding repetitive posts and not digressing wildly from the topic at hand. But that particular community got way too fussy with rules to the point they were inhibiting certain conscientious forms of free speech. It felt too much like babysitting and I just felt I didn’t belong there anymore as my outlook on commercial country radio deviated too much from the consensus.

            In fairness, though, the country community on Pulse is primarily more concerned with the commerce side of the equation and chart-watching, and less with artistic discussion. And that’s not even intended as a knock on them. The business side matters equally as much and they are excellent when it comes to analyzing charts, callout statistics and evaluating release strategies and the backdoor side of the music business.

            But I’m more interested in reviewing and discussing music in a way that’s unfiltered and thorough. It is of my opinion that Pulse falls significantly short of achieving that.

            If I had the equipment and finances to achieve it, I would create a YouTube channel that reviews country music in a way inspired by The Nostalgic Critic. Doug Walker is a foremost inspiration of mine and I think we direly need a critic in that vein on YouTube centered around both tearing apart terrible country/”country” releases in an over-the-top way, while also praising in a level-headed way the gems out there.

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          • Ok I am a huge fan of Lady Antebellum (not ashamed) but I do find that nickname pretty true as I was bored by Lady Antebellum.

            Thin skinned definitely describes a good portion. I am willing to admit I am a chart watcher first and foremost. But a couple of days ago, I sawthe whole Ronnie Dunn covering an Ariana Grande song and I thought it was a desperate move to remain relevant and then I basically got proven wrong and laughed at (when someone says LOL it seems like their laughing at you which is annoying at best downright discouraging at worst). I love Pulse, but if there is one thing I’ve noticed about Pulse is they are very protective of criticsm from their divas (Brittany Spears, Carrie Underwood, Mariah Carey) and at times its sickening because it seems like if you give the slightest criticism you’ll get shamed.

            I try to give opinions on song but I have basically forced myself into chart watching so I avoid saying anything controversial or get in an argument with some of the posters.

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          • Meh, I don’t see the big deal about Ronnie Dunn covering an Ariana Grande song (“Tattooed Heart”) personally. You can be any age and appreciate songs from all sorts of other artists across other genres: as ultimately it comes down to the song. If the cover were to utilize EDM or a rap verse from Rae Sremmurd, THAT would be different, but I interpret this as a sincere reinterpretation of a song in which the theme and lyrics stood out to him. No issues there!

            As a whole, though, completely agree about how protective they are of their favorite artists to the extent where openly sharing a counterpoint is akin to betrayal. Carrie Underwood fans especially! A considerable number of Carrie Underwood fans on Pulse (and elsewhere) just can’t seem to handle the notion that a particular song of hers now and then just doesn’t hold up well and then defensively bring up her male chart rivals as evidence of how great she is in comparison. Or they’ll regularly cite that she has 25 #1 hits between Billboard and Mediabase on all charts as though chart success is indicative of being immune to criticism. And so forth.

            And like I’ve said before, I do not at all subscribe to the whole “political correctness” line of argument that Donald Trump and countless others are positing and that we need to “man up” and stop being sensitive about everything. That is sexist balderdash. But that said, I feel like plenty of Pulse needs to acknowledge that opinions are just that: opinions…………………..and that as long as you’re not denigrating other members or merely writing up ad hominems on artists that serve no purpose to the discussion at hand, they need to lighten up and realize critical contributions are equally as important as business-related ones like those of Roughstock and Taste of Country are.

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  8. A brief rundown:

    +5- none
    +4- I Met a Girl and Head Over Boots
    +3- How I’ll Always Be and 80s Mercedes
    +2- From the Ground Up, Peter Pan, Vice, Lovin’ Lately, and 21 Summer
    +1- You Look Like I Need a Drink and Without a Fight
    0- It Don’t Hurt Like it Used To, Castaway, A Little More Summertime, Livin’ the Dream, and Wanna Be That Song
    -1- Make You Miss Me and Setting the World on Fire
    -2- American Country Love Song, Sleep Without You, and Song for Another Time
    -3- Different for Girls, H.O.L.Y., She’s Got a Way With Words, and Rock On
    -4- I Know Somebody, Middle of a Memory, and If the Boot Fits
    -5- Fix and Move

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