Looks like there is a cross over class of 2008 brewing in country music. Unlike more recent years the flow is coming over to country instead of the other way around (ala Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, and Carrie Underwood). Seems four former pop chart toppers are trying to break into the country set. Jewel, Jessica Simpson, Darius Rucker and Kid Rock have all released singles to radio’s number one format. Each with differing levels of success.
Country radio has always been fickle to pop. On one hand they love being associated with the hip and now. On the other hand what the audience tends to really embrace is the traditional hat acts.
History has allowed a few special songs to sneak through and blossom in country. In 1974 Olivia Newton John broke through with a string of top tens including “I Honestly Love You” and “Have You Never Been Mellow.” Ray Charles leveraged great songs and duets with country stars for a few hits in 1985. And The Bellamy Brothers started with a pop number one in 1976 (Let Your Love Flow) before putting out ten Billboard country number ones. In more recent years the pop invasion has been in the form of duets (‘NSync with Alabama in 1999) with “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You, and Jennifer Nettles with Bon Jovi with the number one “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”
However few artists, if any, that have been able to maintain much of a streak. However in the last few months it looks like there’s a couple of rockers that may have a shot. A few other pop beauties are hitting and missing.
Jewel released her debut country single to critical success but radio was relatively cautious with the song “Stronger Woman” on the album “Perfectly Clear.” The album debuted at #1 on the Country Album charts and the single stalled out at #13.
Jessica Simpson is facing a similar response, Although first week sales have yet to be released for her country album “Do You Know” the lead single has also stalled in the teens. To make things more difficult there are disputed reports of her being booed by country fans in Wisconsin and rumors of a show business feud with country music’s darling Carrie Underwood.
Amazingly there are two artists breaking through the noise with pure hit songs. Kid Rock finds himself with the 2008 song of the summer and country radio has jumped on the bandwagon for the ride on a heavily sampled homage to Skynyrd and Warren Zevon with “All Summer Long.” Most country programmers will admit the song if far from traditional country but is so fun it gets a pass. It doesn’t hurt that Kid Rock already has 2003’s hit “Picture” in rotation on many stations. That song (with Sheryl Crow) was a major pop smash that only charted at 21 in Billboard and ended up having much more longevity than ever expected. Don’t expect another country song any time soon from Rock but he’s now chalked up two biggies.
Now comes a country debut from Hootie and The Blowfish front man Darius Rucker. “Learn to Live” is a fantastic, mainstream country sounding, batch of solid music. The project (he swears this is not just a “project” but a “career change”) has not been over sold. “The label and I agreed we were not going to over hype this we were just going to put it out there.” He says. The lead single “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” is now on the cusp of becoming an unlikely number one that should stick around after it’s peak. Almost all of the album’s 12 tracks are co-written by Rucker and some of Nashville’s finest. Seven of the cuts could easily become top hits on the radio where playlists are often cherry picked by middle aged dudes that probably were into The Blowfish to begin with.
Expect the single “All I Want” to follow “Don’t Think” and have similar success. The fun song wisely features Brad Paisley’s picking and screams the answer to the question “can he have more than one?” Yes! It will be interesting to hear that song when Rucker join’s Paisley on Tour in the coming months.
Other potential number ones include “It Won’t be Like This For Long” (a “daddy” song that’s already getting some prerelease tributes on YouTube), the inspirational singalong “While I Still Have The Time” and a new twist on the country drinkin’ song called “Drinkin’ and Dialin’.” Rucker has a strong break through and it’s all on the merits of getting it all right: great vocals, solid country production, and hit song writing. All that and it’s nice to note he’s breaking through as the first African American to crack country’s top ten since Charley Pride in the 80’s.
Rucker: A Country with potential longevity
Simpson: C- Country’s core wants something real.
Jewel: C OK, but not embraced.
Kid Rock: B+ for the Big hit.
Don’t Miss: “ I Hope They Get To Me In Time” a brilliantly written (the only track on the CD not penned by Rucker) life flashes before your eyes surprise that will be a dark favorite for some.