The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [Sept. 12]

When Kelsea Ballerini gets her third (hollow) #1 hit while hundreds of artists that are more talented get ignored…

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

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -31

The pulse improves two spots this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Thomas Rhett – “Vacation” -5

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Jerrod Niemann & Lee Brice – “A Little More Love”
    • Well I never thought I would see Jerrod Niemann in the top 30 of an airplay chart again. I thought “Donkey” had tanked his radio career into the ground, but apparently radio isn’t ready to quit him yet. In all actuality, this song is in the top 30 because Niemann is saddled with Curb Records’ lone, remaining artist resembling anything close to a star, Lee Brice. Because why waste time promoting Mo Pitney when you have two retreads from five years ago that could be pushed instead? Curb logic! No wonder Tim McGraw left them in the dust. As for “A Little More Love,” this is your run-of-the-mill, generic, feel good love song that is a dime-a-dozen. I probably get five songs that sound just like this in my inbox a week from independent artists trying to land in the spots Niemann and Brice are occupying. Soulless, safe crap like this song will be forgotten as soon as it takes it’s 45 week run up through the top 30. 2/10

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls” – Up 2 from #4 to #2
  • Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” – Up 2 from #10 to #8

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Thomas Rhett – “Vacation” – Out of the Top 30 (to #31 and probably done soon)
  • Blake Shelton – “She’s Got a Way With Words” – Down 3 from #9 to #12
  • Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me” – Down 2 from #3 to #5

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

  • Blake Shelton – “She’s Got a Way With Words”
  • Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me”
  • Zac Brown Band – “Castaway”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately”
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry”
  • Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night”
  • Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word”
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”


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

25 thoughts on “The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [Sept. 12]

  1. Nadia Lockheart September 14, 2016 / 11:47 am

    Trigger is absolutely right that “Peter Pan” reaching #1 on the Hot Country Songs mongrel chart is remarkably unimpressive when you consider the broader context.

    None of her singles have been certified Platinum yet. “Peter Pan” wouldn’t have went Top Forty on the Billboard Hot 100 if not for the sales discount. And “The First Time” has still failed to reach the halfway mark to a Gold certification in equivalent sales.

    There just isn’t any indication that Kelsea Ballerini is going to blow-up into the next Taylor Swift-like success story in country/”country” music. Her sales simply don’t reflect that and until she demonstrates at least some relative longevity with her sophomore level, her success at this point has been a fluke in my eyes. Her duet with Jason Aldean may do the trick in building on her radio success. But up until this point, Ballerini’s returns have been remarkably unimpressive for an entertainer who is supposedly taking Taylor Swift’s former seat as one of three so-called “tomatoes” country radio is willing to perennially play and represent the genre as a whole.


    I’ve been telling everyone before that the best way to evaluate a single’s true level of success and net appeal is by comparing its airplay peak with its mongrel (Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart) chart peak. There is the occasional caveat when a single crosses over and receives airplay on another radio format and, in this case, when a single is discounted sale-wise but, overall, it’s a very accurate measure of true success I’ve been finding.

    Or, to put it another way…………………..when a single’s final airplay peak is eight or more positions higher than its final Hot Country Songs peak, that’s an obvious sign of a Pyrrhic victory. In contrast, if a single’s final airplay peak is basically equivalent to that of its final Hot Country Songs peak without the inflation of a sales discount………………….or a single’s final Hot Country Songs peak is superior to that of its airplay peak and it isn’t solely based off of front-loaded first and second-week sales……………………you know that single is a legitimate hit that has organically connected to the broader listening populace.

    If not for that discount, “Peter Pan” would be at #4 or #5 instead on the Hot Country Songs chart below “H.O.L.Y.”, “Different For Girls”, “Setting The World On Fire” and possibly “Make You Miss Me”. That’s certainly, in fairness, not as bad a divide as the #1 Airplay/#10 Hot Country Songs peak disparity of Chris Lane’s “Fix”, the #1 Airplay/#8 Hot Country Songs peak of Dustin Lynch’s “Mind Reader”, the #6 Airplay/#14 Hot Country Songs peak of Kenny Chesney’s “Noise” or the #17 Airplay/#28 Hot Country Songs peak of “Real Men Love Jesus”. But it nonetheless underscores how just because a song is the most played song on country radio doesn’t mean it’s the people’s choice of the week.


    • seak05 September 14, 2016 / 12:04 pm

      HDD has a new revenue chart, you should check it out. Basically it attempts to calculate and then rank songs based on the novel concept of how much money the bring in, rather than just the amounts sold/streamed. Anyways “Pan” is a gold certified single. It’s not my favorite by any stretch, but it’s not unreasonable for it to have gone #1 on radio. And half the songs on the overall hot 100 chart are also discounted, so that seems like a poor reason to knock this song’s positioning on the overall chart (& it’s not the only discounted song on the country chart either).

      Anyways sales and radio aren’t exactly looking for the same thing. Sales are driven by positive reaction, while radio is more interested in minimizing negatives…they don’t want you to switch stations. Polarizing songs tend to sell well (& it’s not about quality of song), but aren’t great for radio. Two good examples recently are Vice & Vacation, both have sold/streamed well, but also generate high negatives, so radio doesn’t love them.


      • Nadia Lockheart September 14, 2016 / 12:38 pm

        It definitely deserves to go #1 at radio, don’t get me wrong. It rose much quicker than either of its two predecessors “Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Dibs” did.

        The point I was making is that “Peter Pan” clearly wasn’t the “People’s Choice” of this past week as reflected by the half-off sales inflation. As Trigger pointed out in his Saving Country Music commentary regarding her song, it was the only song from her debut album to receive the half-off treatment during the course of this past week. And none of her surrounding chart rivals have followed suit: with “H.O.L.Y.”, “Setting The World On Fire”, “Vice”, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”, “May We All”, “Different For Girls” and “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” among others all remaining priced at $1.29.

        Now, you ARE right that Ballerini isn’t alone in playing the half-off gambit. Though most of her closest chart rivals haven’t done so, William Michael Morgan’s “I Met A Girl” is currently discounted at 69 cents as well. So is Tucker Beathard’s “Rock On”. Morgan’s chart rise is still impressive from a perseverance and going-against-the-tide standpoint, but the discount definitely spoils the end narrative somewhat. And Beathard’s debut chart performance smacks as a complete fluke.

        In the end, yes: a hit is still a hit. But instances like those of Kelsea Ballerini and Tucker Beathard smack closer to Pyrrhic victories in terms of how costly it was to make them breakout radio successes with weak returns to show for them thus far.


        • seak05 September 14, 2016 / 12:49 pm

          I think the HC songs has a purpose, but it also tends to reward big name artists who can do a promo radio airplay. Bc sales are usually highest in the first week, but radio airplay is low. So the promo airplay boosts the radio airplay “artificially”. I like looking at the charts and they can definitely be indicators of success, but caring that much about #1 vs #2 is sort of silly. By any metric “Pan” is a hit, “Fix” was a radio hit, but not a sales hit, and opposite for “Vice”. Just different.


          • Nadia Lockheart September 14, 2016 / 1:20 pm

            Yes, but I’d add “Vice” is the bigger overall hit because it takes more of the long view in terms of success.

            “Vice” has succeeded in getting many to talk about Miranda Lambert and her forthcoming album after a small string of secondary single duds during the “Platinum” era. “Fix” did nothing to generate water cooler conversation surrounding Chris Lane save the approximately 6,000 who bought it during its opening week. And “Peter Pan” is somewhere in-between but I’d argue closer to Lane than Lambert.


          • OlaR September 14, 2016 / 1:35 pm

            The Chris Lane album sold 10.200 units so far.
            David Nail 19.400, Dylan Scott 12.700, Cody Jinks 14.900 & Drake White 13.800 units.
            (Source: Roughstock / 09/12)


          • seak05 September 14, 2016 / 1:47 pm

            I prefer Vice, but so far “Pan” has outsold it in both pure sales, and sales plus streaming (and Pan was certified gold before the itunes sale price). In pure sales as of right now “Pan” has sold 459,000 copies and Vice 268,000. Vice is of course younger and might (probably will) pass it, but really hard to argue that Vice is a bigger hit at this point. Especially considering that Vice is a lead single off an album vs 3rd song. You’d expect it to generate more buzz.

            Kelsea isn’t remotely in Taylor’s league, and Miranda is still very much a bigger star. Kelsea’s second album will be crucial for her from a career perspective. But those things don’t change the facts about these two specific songs. “You Should be Here” was a bigger hit than Hunting, Fishing, but it doesn’t change who is the bigger artist.


    • Raymond September 14, 2016 / 1:19 pm

      Slight correction if you look on Kelsea Ballerini Wikipedia page. “Love Me Like You Mean It” is platinum and “Peter Pan” will probably be Platinum by years end. She’s getting noticed more and more people and I do fully expect more people to get behind her and support her (the way Black River has promoted her has been perfect).


      • Nadia Lockheart September 14, 2016 / 1:27 pm

        I forgot about the sales-plus-streaming certification change. Thanks for clarifying.

        It still doesn’t diminish my overall point, however: that Ballerini just isn’t selling like someone you’d expect to represent the trifecta of so-called “tomatoes” governing women’s presence on country radio.

        One thing Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood all have in common is their ability to produce consistent Platinum albums, sell out large shows and inspire intense water cooler conversation on her own. Kelsea Ballerini has yet to achieve any of these things. Granted Miranda Lambert didn’t do so from the onset either, and Kelsea Ballerini COULD still grow in popularity. I just don’t expect her to get more popular than she already is, personally.

        I think Maren Morris has higher probabilities of doing so, actually, though I also have my doubts with her.


        • Robert September 14, 2016 / 2:30 pm

          To be fair, you also have to look at the overall climate of music. Carrie Underwood doesn’t have a platinum single from her latest era either, but they are all gold and have become big radio hits.


        • Raymond September 14, 2016 / 9:02 pm

          I don’t get it. I mean she’s no Chris Stapleton or Sam Hunt but she’s doing solid all things considered. Usually most new artists don’t instantly sell a bunch of copies right away.


  2. Nadia Lockheart September 14, 2016 / 12:04 pm

    Anyway, onto the rest of the Pulse…


    “Vice” definitely needs to be considered in the Hot Seat as well: given its radio updates this past week.

    It lost spins and audience for three consecutive days between Sunday and Tuesday and is presently about a million off from its audience peak to date. It DID gain 73 spins today, but only retrieved a negligible 39K in audience as well.

    It could pick up a second wind due to its excellent sales. But, as I initially presumed would happen, this song is simply proving too polarizing with radio listeners. The mean country listener already tends to discriminate against the so-called “tomatoes” at higher rates than their male counterparts but, outside of that, “Vice” has more in common with Sturgill Simpson than Sam Hunt and, thus, it’s probably a case of “too much at once” syndrome with many listeners.

    Still, even if this does prove to be the end of the line for “Vice” at radio, this has to be seen as a successful comeback because it has succeeded in having everyone talk about Miranda Lambert again.


    “Castaway” is definitely over.

    It is 1.1 million off its audience peak and has been steadily losing spins and airplay over this past half a week.

    It’s just a ho-hum case of “been there, heard that” with listeners and Zac Brown Band island songs. There’s no creativity behind the lyrics of “Castaway” so it just felt like a re-run to many listeners I think. And because Labor Day had passed, the last thing most listeners want to hear at this time is a song that boasts of tropical getaways.


    I have no idea why Valory is wasting their time with “The Weekend” for Brantley Gilbert.


    • Josh Schott September 15, 2016 / 12:35 pm

      Brantley Gilbert’s days as a radio star may be done. He hasn’t had a radio hit in ages and hasn’t adapted his style like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line have done since bro country died. It’s safe to say “The Weekend” has bombed, not only on the airplay chart, but it’s sales aren’t that impressive either.


      • Nadia Lockheart September 16, 2016 / 1:42 am

        I don’t think that’s entirely true.

        “One Hell Of An Amen” reached #1 barely over a year ago in August 2015. So it hasn’t been THAT long since he has made a measurable impact.

        Still, it did require a 37-week run to make that happen: which is absurd for an entertainer who sold albums like an A-lister at that time. And he is now in the midst of back-to-back underachievers: with the barely Top 20 “Stone Cold Sober” and the current release “The Weekend”.

        It remains absolutely odd to me to see radio treat someone who has sold albums like an A-lister as a C-lister. I’m certainly not complaining in this specific case since “The Weekend” is gawd awful, but it made absolutely no sense why it required three-quarters of a calendar year to get an accessible power ballad like “One Hell Of An Amen” to the top.


  3. Justin W Adams September 14, 2016 / 12:44 pm

    I would have to pencil in MOVE in as worst song instead of I know somebody. Not that I like that song either


    • seak05 September 14, 2016 / 12:50 pm

      Diff for Girls is to me the worst song (and their are some pretty bad songs on this chart), for attempting to glorify gender stereotypes as some form of being sensitive.


      • Nadia Lockheart September 14, 2016 / 1:33 pm

        It’s probably “Different For Girls” with me too because it tries to pass itself off as a meaningful song.

        But damn, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” puts up quite a challenge. I’m truly despising its early success.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Amanda September 14, 2016 / 4:31 pm

      I agree wholeheartedly, Justin. I Know Somebody is bad, but Move is just, well…..a steaming pile of shit. And to think I actually enjoyed Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day. Move just proves Luke Bryan is a forty year old man child who needs to grow the hell up.


    • Josh Schott September 15, 2016 / 12:36 pm

      “I Know Somebody” is worst for me because the amount of auto tune used on it hurts my music loving soul.


  4. OlaR September 14, 2016 / 1:17 pm

    #10 – LoCash – “I Know Somebody”
    Congr…well…#16 on Hot Country Songs, #33 on Country Digital Songs, the album sold 16.200 units (Source: Roughstock).

    No New Entries: Chase Rice is back (#59) & Gary Allan (#60)

    TBP is down in spins & audience (no bullet, down to #44)
    EYB is down in spins & audience (no bullet, down to #45)
    RaeLynn lost the bullet (down in spins & audience) but is up to #52
    Toby Keith is still meandering (#56, no bullet)

    Top Country Albums:
    #1 – FGL – Dig Your Roots
    #2 – Blake Shelton – If I’m Honest
    #3 – Chris Stapleton – Traveller
    A couple of albums bounced back: Cole Swindell (#5), Joey + Rory (#6), Kelsea Ballerini (#7) & Jake Owen (#11).
    New: Various Artists – Mud Digger Vol.7 (#19)

    Canada Country National Airplay:
    #1 – week 5 for Bentley/King
    #2 – Blake Shelton
    #3 – Jake Owen
    #6 – Washboard Union – “Shot Of Glory” (highest canadian song)
    (All chars Billboard)

    Country Tracks Top 40 Australia (Country Music Services):
    #1 – Doug Bruce – “Bad Weather”
    #2 – Aly Cook – “Kimberley”
    #3 – Troy Cassar-Daley – “Things I Carry Around”
    #38 – Dolly Parton – “Pure & Simple” (only track american track)

    New Album: Tim Hicks – Shake These Walls – Open Road – 10 tracks – Released (09/09)
    The quality of canadian country music is dropping like a stone. The formula: follow-the-nashville-leader. Faceless & soulless pop with banjo, loud guitars, drum loops & boring lyrics. The new Tim Hicks album is no exception to the rule.
    The first single “Stompin’ Ground” sounds like a bad Brantley Gilbert rock-track with gravel-vocals & laughable lyrics. The rest of the album follows Luke Bryan. The only highlights are the uptempo tune “Don’t Make It A Love Song” & the melodic “Forever Rebels” (despite the shallow lyrics). 2/10.


    • OlaR September 14, 2016 / 1:29 pm

      Oh my…chars=charts & only track american track=only american track.


    • Nadia Lockheart September 14, 2016 / 1:32 pm

      I’m glad you brought up the rapidly declining quality in Canadian mainstream country music.

      The trend truly has been alarming. Bro country’s influence has been spreading throughout the format like canary reed grass on native habitat. I just can’t get my head around something like the James Barker Band’s “Lawn Chair Lazy” passing off as the #1 Canadian song on the chart last week! =(


      • OlaR September 14, 2016 / 1:46 pm

        It’s not getting better. Dean Brody with “Bush Party” will be a massive hit.
        Lyrics (according to
        B-U-S-H P-A-R-T-Y
        We’ll have some F-U-N tonight
        Everybody welcome in the VIP line
        Out here in the woods
        Up here there ain’t no velvet rope
        Just a big bonfire down this all grass road

        It’s a secret place where the music goes
        It goes, it goes, it goes, it goes:
        boom boom boom ‘neith the big blue moon
        And we stomp our boots, sippin on baccardi
        Yeah me and you steal a kiss or two
        Crash under the roof, up against the roots of a georgia pine tree
        Yeah come on down, out side of town
        to our bush party
        (The rest is not better.)

        There is no “canadian” identity in the music. Why not sing about a canadian beer brand. The songs on the Tim Hicks album sound like the 1001 Ashley Gorley, Ross Copperman, Rhett Akins & the gang tracks on every other mainstream album.


  5. FeedThemHogs September 14, 2016 / 4:09 pm

    LOL at the top picture. Because you can never have too much #PhelpsFace.

    Didn’t Neimann briefly appear in top thirty with Blue Bandana? Or is my memory deceiving me? That was a song that I sort of enjoyed actually. But either way like you said, it shocks me that Curb still pushes Brice so hard. Jesus Christ give Mo Pitney some promotion. He’s supposed to have released Everywhere as a single, but I’ve yet to hear anything about it. Anywhere. I did hear his previous singles (Country, Boy & A Girl Thing) every so often on a station out of Paducah KY, but nothing so far on Everywhere. Come on Curb, throw us a bone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott September 15, 2016 / 12:37 pm

      “Blue Bandanna” got close to the top 30, but it just missed out. It peaked at #32.


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