Chart Beat

Tim McGraw Tops Hot Country Songs, Merle Haggard's Sales Surge

Tim Mcgraw
Eric Gebhart/ABC via Getty Images

"I kept blubbering," says Mcgraw of recording the song "Humble and Kind."

Tim McGraw's "Humble and Kind" crowns Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart (dated April 23), rising 4-1. The ballad was performed by McGraw at the 51st Annual Academy of Country Music Awards (April 3), broadcast on CBS, complete with a string section, recreating the uplifting vibe of the recording.

"Tim delivers again, as only the best do," Big Machine Label Group president/CEO Scott Borchetta tells Billboard. "He never stops looking and never stops creating, becoming one of the most prolific artists of his generation. I spoke to him shortly after this song surfaced and he knew he found something incredibly important. Then, seeing him at the ACMs … I've never seen him so energized."

Following McGraw's performance, "Humble" hikes by 69 percent to 64,000 downloads sold in the week ending April 7, according to Nielsen Music (slipping 1-2 on Country Digital Songs). It also hits the Country Streaming Songs top 10 (13-7) with a 26 percent burst to 2.1 million U.S. streams. It retreats 10-11 on Country Airplay but with a 9 percent gain to 27.2 million in audience.

"Humble" is a landmark Hot Country Songs No. 1 for McGraw, becoming his 26th leader, lifting him past Dolly Parton (25) and into a tie with Alan Jackson for the seventh-most No. 1s dating to the chart's 1958 inception as an all-encompassing genre ranking. George Strait reigns with 44 leaders.

Lori McKenna Brings the Solo Songwriter Back to No. 1 on Hot Country Songs

ON 'FIRE': The ACM Awards sparked several artists, including Chris Stapleton, who gave the final performance of the night with "Fire Away." Stapleton took home trophies for male vocalist, new male vocalist, album (Traveller) and song of the year ("Nobody to Blame"). Traveller vaults by 149 percent to 59,000 sold and rules Top Country Albums for a 17th week.

After ACM entertainer of the year winner Jason Aldean performed his new single, "Lights Come On," at the festivities, the track launches at No. 1 on Country Digital Songs (70,000), marking his sixth leader on the list. On Hot Country Songs, "Lights" leaps 43-7, becoming his 24th top 10.

'IDOL' TALK: Also on Hot Country Songs, Trent Harmon, the 15th and (perhaps) final winner of Fox's American Idol, debuts at No. 33 with "Falling," co-written by (perhaps former) Idol judge Keith Urban. With 23,000 downloads sold, the track enters Country Digital Songs at No. 16. Additionally, Harmon's versions of Justin Timberlake's "Drink You Away" and ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" sold 6,000 and 5,000, respectively.

"About mid-way through the Idol season, I discovered some videos online of Trent performing Conway Twitty and Marty Stuart songs," Borchetta recalls. "When I saw him on set the next day, I asked him about those videos. He said, 'I was waiting for you to ask me about singing country!' From that point on, we started exploring more southern songs for him to perform, including Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Simple Man,' Chris Stapleton's 'Tennessee Whiskey' and Timberlake's 'Drink You Away.' Those were the moments that launched him up in the weekly [Idol] rankings and felt the most comfortable for him as an artist. He’s a country boy at heart and that's the record we're going to make."

RADIO SOUNDS: Cole Swindell's "You Should Be Here" tops Country Airplay for a third week, despite a 1 percent loss to 45.5 million.

Meanwhile, in its 44th week, Lee Brice's "That Don't Sound Like You" enters the Country Airplay top 10 (11-10; 27.2 million, up 9 percent). Only five songs have completed longer trips to the top tier than Brice's eighth top 10, with one by Brice: his 2010 No. 3-peaking "Love You Like Crazy," which took 46 weeks. Chase Bryant's "Little Bit of You" (5-4) set the mark when it reached the top 10 in its 47th week (March 19).

HAGGARD REMEMBERED: Finally, Merle Haggard, who passed away April 6 at age 79, posthumously claims giant gains in multiple metrics. His album sales soar by 692 percent to 22,000 for the week; his song sales bound by 2,050 percent to 87,000; and his on-demand audio and video streams vault by 1,389 percent to 16.4 million.

Haggard, who achieved 38 Hot Country Songs No. 1s, the third-most in the chart's history, and 16 leaders on Top Country Albums (second-best), bows at Nos. 1 and 2 on the Country Catalog Albums chart with 20 Greatest Hits (6,000 sold) and 40 Greatest Hits, V. 1 (4,000), respectively.

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