Harmony quartet Little Big Town first appeared on our charts in 2002. Thirteen radio singles and four albums later, fans -- not radio programmers -- give the vocal group its first No. 1 song, as "Pontoon" (Capitol Nashville) steps 2-1 with 86,000 downloads sold (up 19%), according to Nielsen SoundScan, on Country Digital Songs.
That's the biggest one-week sum by a group since the Band Perry's "If I Die Young" rolled 89,000 on the Jan. 14, 2012, chart, making Little Big Town one of four groups to sell 86,000 or more since the Country Digital Songs chart launched in January 2010.
Previously, Little Big Town's best peak on a Billboard songs chart was via "Bring It on Home," which peaked at No. 4 on Hot Country Songs at summer's end six years ago.
On the radio-driven Hot Country Songs chart, "Pontoon" jumps 24-20 in its 10th week (13 million audience impressions, up 34%, according to Nielsen BDS). That's not as impressive as its sales rank, although not a slow climb, either.
The fans have always been at least slightly ahead of radio when it comes to the group, first demonstrated when the catchy "Boondocks" received a gold certification despite topping out at No. 9 on Hot Country Songs in late 2005. The album The Road to Here peaked at No. 12 on Top Country Albums, yet sold platinum-plus while "Boondocks" climbed the radio chart.
The quartet's last album, The Reason Why, debuted at No. 1 two years ago on Top Country Albums. The set's best radio showing, however, was a No. 6 peak on Hot Country Songs for "Little White Church."
For "Pontoon," success was set up with some big-time promotional pushes.
A featured performance with a pontoon party boat onstage at the June 6 CMT Music Awards gave the song its first major exposure while the track was chugging along at No. 40 in its fifth week on Hot Country Songs. Following the high-profile TV gig, digital sales pushed "Pontoon" 13-2 on Country Digital Songs (up from 26,000 to 81,000 weekly downloads sold).
Then, the group joined the Rascal Flatts summer tour, which runs through October.
Pennsylvania-based country radio programming consultant Joel Raab recommended "Pontoon" immediately to his clients. "It's a smash that defies explanation. Some songs just have 'it'," he says. "The melody is infectious. I couldn't get it out of my head after the third listen. The fun video may be inspiring sales, too."
The song's video premiered May 28 on CMT and the cable channel has aired the clip 167 times (through the July 2-8 BDS tracking week).
Mike Moore, PD at Entercom's KWJJ Portland, Ore., says that the song drew immediate response in his Northwestern market. "It's been (getting requests) from the moment we first played it. It's a perfect song for this region, with all the boating and fishing that goes on here."
Lance Houston, APD/MD at Clear Channel's WUBL Atlanta says that his initial reaction to "Pontoon" was more hesitant. "I didn't hear it at first -- at all. I just thought the processing and reverb on the song was odd and would stand out -- not in a good way. But, obviously, I was way off."
Despite his concern that the song might be too unique for his target audience, Houston believes that its quirky quality is attracting listeners. "In a world where we're all so busy, distracted and pulled in many different directions, it's nice to hear a song like this on the radio.
"Turn it up, sing along and forget about all the things in life that worry you."