I wanted to dig into the ins and outs of the first hits of major country artists. I’ve always heard that country artists need to have something snappy, uptempo, and catchy for their first hit. For some reason I have always heard the general formula in Nashville is to have something uptempo for the first hit and then come back with the heartfelt ballad for the next.
I’m sure this formula works in most cases. In general, there are really talented people managing the singers in Nashville. Those managers and suits know what to do to turn a singer into a star.
With this post, though, I wanted to dig a little deeper and check out the actual results from 50 of country’s biggest acts of the last 50 years. I gathered info on these artists and their first singles to chart somewhere on the charts. These first single releases weren’t all major hits.
Included also in the research is the artists’ first top 15 hit on the charts. Their first major hit. I picked 15 because I thought it was generally a good indication of a major impact on country radio. That’s not always the case. There are instances when artists have had a hit in the top 30 or so and it’s had a huge impact. There are times new artists have had number one hits and that hit has had no lasting impact.
The results of the data are interesting.
Let’s check out a few of those interesting tidbits…
Country Music Research: First Hit
Maybe You Need a Mid Tempo Song
I was surprised to learn that 26 of 50 artists actually had their first hit with a mid tempo song. This totally flies in the face of the need for a snappy, upbeat song out of the gate.
You’ll notice the likes of Blake Shelton, Billy Currington, Clint Black, Garth Brooks, and others actually kicked off their careers with slower songs. I paired up the slow and mid tempo songs all as mid tempo songs for this exercise. Unless a tune was noticeably upbeat I kicked it over into the mid tempo designation. A Better Man by Clint Black is one of my faves.
This isn’t to say a snappy song won’t be an artist’s first big hit. Of the 50 artists included in the research there were seven first hit singles that were up tempo and went all the way to number one on the charts. Not bad for a first big hit.
The crazy thing? Seven mid tempo songs that were first hits also went to number one on the charts.
You know. From this data it seems the speed of the song may not matter too much on that first hit. There were nearly an identical number of uptempo and mid tempo songs that became first hits for artists. Of these fifty first hits there were 7 uptempo songs that made it all the way to number one on the country singles charts and 7 mid tempo songs that reached the top spot.
The Topic of The First Hit
I tried to include the topic of the fifty artists’ firsts hits.
These topics were all given by me with my interpretation of the songs and their meaning. I probably missed on a few, but probably got things right for the most part.
There were 28 songs about love in some way of the songs that became the first big hit for artists. Love if obviously something that impacts many people out there and it’s no surprise love conquers the hit list here. Artists like Brooks & Dunn, Keith Urban, and Martina McBride all sang about love for their first big hits on the country charts.
Also heavy on the list is the number of songs about life in general. Ok, I know Life is a pretty general topic. I used it to generalize songs that weren’t about love or any of the other common themes, but were more about…life. Examples include Walk A Little Straighter from Billy Currington and Here In The Real World from Alan Jackson.
There is also a good hint of heartbreak on the list. What would a good country hit be if it weren’t about heartbreak and heartache? Songs include Sticks And Stones from Tracy Lawrence and Prayin’ For Daylight from Rascal Flatts.
The First Attempts at Hits
A very interesting 25 of the 50 songs included on the list were first singles for the major artists, but did not make the top 15 on the country singles charts. I’m not sure why, but that stat kind of amazes me. We’re talking about artists like Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, and others that didn’t make it to the top 15 on the country charts with their first singles.
If these artists couldn’t even crack the top of the charts their first time out there is no reason to get disappointed if you’re a country artist trying to get a hit out there. It’s not easy.
What are Your Thoughts?
What do you see in the data?
Share your thoughts on the findings in the comments.
I’d love to discuss what I missed.