Anatomy of a Hit: Craig Campbell’s ‘Outta My Head’
Kristin Barlowe

A single’s chart history is measured in weeks and milestones, but never in beards. So when Craig Campbell’s “Outta My Head” began what ultimately became a marathon journey up the Country Airplay chart, it was funny -- at first -- when one of the song’s writers, Brandon Kinney, decided not to shave his beard for the life of the single. It became less funny (to Kinney’s wife, anyway), when it spent a near-record 54 weeks on the chart, by which time Kinney’s beard reached the bottom of the V on a V-neck t-shirt and he could have easily passed for a cast member of “Duck Dynasty.”

“Outta My Head” peaked at No. 15 on Sept. 23, then spent another three weeks bulleted at No. 16 on the chart before finally dropping off in mid-October. Two weeks later, at a charity event in Nashville, Campbell helped Kinney finally shave off the beard.

By that time, Kinney wasn’t the only one ready to pull his hair out. The staff at Campbell’s label, Bigger Picture, was also frustrated, but ultimately celebratory of the victory they’d achieved for the singer in a high-stakes game with a song label president Michael Powers says “wouldn’t quit.”

The track's 54-week run up the charts comes in just behind record-holder Lee Brice’s “Love Like Crazy,” which boasts the longest run in the chart’s history at 56 weeks. But Campbell’s song did set a record of its own. The 49 weeks it took to reach the top 20 earned it the distinction of having the slowest top 20 climb in the chart’s Nielsen BDS-era history (since 1990).

Because it was his fourth single, and with just one previous top 15 to his credit, Powers says, “This was a critical record for Craig. We knew the clock was ticking.”

About 25 weeks into the life of the record, the staff began hearing from stations -- including spin leader WDSY Pittsburgh -- that it was doing extremely well in their research. Those results weren’t a surprise to the label staff, which had achieved a similar outcome when it pre-tested the song prior to shipping it to radio.

From there, Powers says, “We were able to start proving . . . that this thing is not giving up . . . When we found out we had a top-testing record in five or six major markets, that’s when we said ‘No matter what it takes.’

Once the record got into the top 30, Powers says, “It really started to sell. We went from 4,000 or 5,000 digital downloads a week to way up over 12,000 to 15,000 . . . Every indication was that this was a very strong record.”

Along the way, there were challenges. For starters, Powers says, “We lost our bullet four or five times, maybe more.” Later, as the record began to approach the one-year mark but was still ascending the chart, some of the early supporters that had accrued massive spin counts on it felt they needed to back it down to recurrent.

“We would lose two of our early believers and gain two new ones,” says Powers of that time. “We got up there as far as we could. But when your 20 top spinners, your early believers, [have] been on this thing for 1,000 spins, there’s really not much [more] you can ask them to do . . . We were doing a lot of treading water.”

By then, Powers said, they had a “split panel,” on their hands, which he describes as “half the stations dying for a new single, and half the stations that you just spent 25 weeks beating up on it [finally] going ‘You were right, we missed it. It’s a hit.’”

His reaction to the record peaking at No. 15 after such a long battle was a combination of disappointment and pride. “We could have lost it at 40, at 30 or 25,” says Powers. “At one point we looked at each other and said, ‘If we can’t get this top 20, it does Craig no good. Let’s push, push, push.’ . . . We’re proud that a record that should have, could have and tried to go away at 30 was sitting in the top 15.”

Campbell adds, “Although it took a little longer than we’d hoped, we knew in our heart of hearts that it was a hit. It’s a testament to our team and the song itself that it stayed around as long as it did. We refused to let it go down without a fight.”

The label will ship Campbell's next single, "Keep Them Kisses Comin,'" to country radio before the end of the year.