'Smoke' Rises: A Thousand Horses First Rookie Band to Reign on Country Radio This Decade

A Thousand Horses
Corey Wernecke

A Thousand Horses

Rookie country/Southern rock quartet A Thousand Horses becomes the first group (of at least three members) to send a debut entry to No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart this decade, as "Smoke" surges 2-1. The song crowns the tally (dated June 13) in its 21st week with a 6 percent gain to 46.8 million audience impressions, according to Nielsen Music.

The band is the first group to crown Country Airplay on its first try since Zac Brown Band arrived with the two-week No. 1 "Chicken Fried," which took over atop the Dec. 6, 2008 chart. Prior to A Thousand Horses, Maddie & Tae was the last act (either duo, group or solo) to send its introductory single to No. 1 when its "Girl in a Country Song" led the Dec. 20, 2014 list.


A Thousand Horses, which is currently opening Darius Rucker's Southern Style Tour (with Brett Eldredge and Brothers Osborne), will release their debut album, Southernality, on June 9. The quartet -- lead vocalist Michael Hobby, guitarists Bill Satcher and Zach Brown, and bassist Graham DeLoach -- recently told Billboard that its sound is a product of its members' musical upbringing. "Growing up in the Southern rock realm with Lynyrd Skynyrd [and] the Marshall Tucker Band, as well as Tom Petty and The Black Crowes, I think that's where a lot of our influences come from and that's what people hear [in our music]," says Hobby. "To me, that's one of the biggest compliments you can give, because I'm a big fan of those artists, for sure."

The second single from Southernality will be "(This Ain't No) Drunk Dial," which goes to radio on June 29.

Meanwhile, it's the first time in a year-and-a-half that soloists are blocked from the Country Airplay chart's top two. As A Thousand Horses celebrate in the winners' circle, Republic Nashville labelmate Florida Georgia Line lifts 3-2 with "Sippin' On Fire" (43.6 million, up 5 percent). Soloists had last looked in from outside the top two on the chart dated Feb. 1, 2014, when Zac Brown Band's "Sweet Annie" and The Band Perry's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely" ranked at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. The acts' domination wrapped a run of six consecutive weeks of duos or groups controlling the top two; Eli Young Band, Parmalee and FGL also contributed to the stretch.

Bookending the Country Airplay top 10, Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" climbs 12-10 (26.8 million, up 10 percent). With its new milestone, the group's seventh top 10 reinforces radio's support for the song -- which drew airplay on all 150 Country Airplay reporters in the tracking week -- after many media outlets had, due to misjudging the song's lyrics, widely overstated programmers' avoidance of it. "Crush" has led the airplay/sales/streaming-based Hot Country Songs chart for five weeks; on the June 6 tally, sales accounted for 58 percent of its activity, followed by airplay and streaming (21 percent each).

Meanwhile, Jake Owen's "Real Life" jumps onto Country Airplay at No. 29 (9.1 million in first-week audience), marking his highest launch of 18 career entries. The '90s-alt-rock-leaning track (Sublime reportedly influenced the sound Owen was seeking for it) bows benefited by hourly plays May 26 on participating iHeartMedia stations.

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update newsletter -- sign up here.


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