Thomas Rhett continues his chart dominance, as for the second straight week he tops three of Billboard's main country songs charts (dated Jan. 23). "Die a Happy Man," co-written by Rhett as a love song for his wife, Lauren, leads Hot Country Songs (for a ninth week and eighth in succession), Country Airplay (for a fourth week) and Country Digital Songs (for a 10th frame).
Rhett's reign on Hot Country Songs is the lengthiest since Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" dominated for 13 weeks beginning May 9, 2015. The last solo male to rule the survey for at least nine weeks? Sam Hunt with "Take Your Time" for 11 weeks beginning Feb. 21, 2014.
"Man" tops Country Digital Songs with 60,000 downloads sold (down 39 percent) in the week ending Jan. 7, according to Nielsen Music. (Most songs were down in sales in the tracking week following the prior frame, which was surely aided by the redemption of gift cards received as holiday presents.) The song leads Country Airplay with 50.7 million in audience (up 4 percent). It's rare for singles to linger at No. 1 on Country Airplay, but Rhett manages the chart's first four-week command in more than 18 months since Luke Bryan's "Play It Again" (which hit No. 1 on the chart dated May 31, 2014).
WYCD Detroit PD Tim Roberts credits the strength of "Man" for its sustained success. "It's just a tremendous story. Times are difficult for so many people right now, so lyrically this track connects with a lot of our listeners. No doubt Rhett has the hipness factor going, and his star is on the rise. 'Die a Happy Man' has been researching extremely well, and there's no sign of it slowing down anytime soon."
HOT COUNTRY 'SONG' Meanwhile, Granger Smith attains his first career top 10 on two Billboard country charts and in his first visit to each list. "Backroad Song," written by Smith with co-producer Frank Rogers, marches 14-10 on Hot Country Songs and 11-10 on Country Airplay (up 9 percent to 31.5 million in audience).
"Backroad Song" debuted on Country Airplay on July 18, 2015 (at No. 58), released on the artist's independent label, Pioneer Music. Later in the summer (Aug. 12), Smith signed with BBR Music Group's newly unveiled Wheelhouse Records.
"Granger already had a large fan base and just needed a promotion arm," Wheelhouse vp promotion Teddi Bonadies tells Billboard. "This single was a great launch for him. I think that it's a simple, feel-good song with an identifiable hook, and there were already several key programmers onboard [early on]."
One of the initial believers was iHeartMedia senior vp programming and WUBL Atlanta PD Brian Michael. "We're 1,700 spins in, and ["Backroad Song"] is showing no burn. We added the record back in April and even at that time, before he signed to Wheelhouse, I noticed that the guy had a huge social media following and was already selling out concerts at 2,000-seat venues.
" 'Backroad Song' takes just one listen," adds Michael. "It grabs you immediately, and it started gaining traction right out of the chute."
Michael also credits Smith's comedic alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr., for enhancing the Dallas-born singer-songwriter's unique brand. (The character receives his own spotlight during concerts, complete with wardrobe changes.) "Dibbles allows me to veer off, hit that rumble strip a few times and go a few places where you're not supposed to go," Smith recently told Billboard.
Smith's first album for Wheelhouse is due this spring. Teases Bonadies, "All I'll say for now is that it's just steeped in great material."
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.