Maren Morris Debuts at No. 1 on Top Country Albums, Tim McGraw Tops Country Airplay

Robbie Klein
Maren Morris photographed on Dec. 15, 2015 at Le Sel in Nashville.

With "Hero," Morris is the first rookie to debut at No. 1 this year, while McGraw earns his 28th radio leader with "Humble and Kind."

Singer-songwriter Maren Morris's debut major-label, full-length album, Hero, becomes the first launch album to debut atop Billboard's Top Country Albums chart in 2016. The set starts with 37,000 copies sold in its first week (ending June 9), according to Nielsen Music. On the all-genre, multimetric consumption-based Billboard 200, Hero opens at No. 5 with 45,000 equivalent album units.

"I am still in shock at the response to Hero," Morris tells Billboard. "This album is everything I had envisioned when I first thought about making a full record. I couldn't be more proud, and I'm so grateful."

"Debuting Maren at No. 1 is significant in many ways," says Sony Music Nashville chairman/CEO Randy Goodman. "Maren was our first signing since I took over [in the role on July, 8, 2015], and that set the tone for us to become a high-functioning team. We talked on day one [about] how we had to have an early breakthrough. So, on that level, Maren's debut is a huge step forward for our team and for a most deserving artist."

Maren Morris Delivers Anthemic '80s Mercedes' on 'Today'

The 11-song Hero, led by the No. 5 Hot Country Songs hit "My Church" (up 8-6 on the June 25 chart), and with all cuts co-written by the 26-year-old Morris, is the first debut album to arrive at No. 1 on Top Country Albums since Sam Hunt's Montevallo bowed at the summit with 70,000 sold (Nov. 15, 2014). The last female to start atop the tally was Sugarland lead vocalist Jennifer Nettles, whose first solo album, That Girl, debuted at No. 1 with 54,000 sold (Feb. 1, 2014).

When considering only female artists with no prior chart history, Cassadee Pope, the first female to win NBC's The Voice (during season three in 2012), was the last to begin at No. 1 on Top Country Albums, with Frame by Frame (43,000; Oct. 26, 2013). Before Pope, the last female soloist to bow at No. 1 with her first charted album was Kacey Musgraves, with Same Trailer Different Park (43,000; April 6, 2013).

In pure sales, Cam's debut full-length album, Untamed, narrowly edges Morris' Hero for the biggest start by a rookie female this year. Untamed debuted at No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart dated Jan. 2, 2016, also with 37,000 sold. (It moved slightly more than Hero's opening-week sum before totals were rounded).

THEY'RE 'UP': Dan + Shay's second studio LP, Obsessed, enters Top Country Albums at No. 2 with 26,000 sold. (It also enters the Billboard 200 at No. 8 with 33,000 equivalent album units.) The duo's first album, 2014's Where It All Began, debuted and peaked at No. 1 on Top Country Albums (29,000) and No. 6 on the Billboard 200. Meanwhile, Obsessed's lead single, "From the Ground Up," becomes Dan + Shay's third Hot Country Songs top 10, jumping 16-9.

NICE 'KIND' OF RECORD: Tim McGraw notches his 28th No. 1 on Country Airplay,  as "Humble and Kind," which won the CMT Awards' video of the year trophy on June 8, jumps 4-1 in its 21st week, increasing by 11 percent to 44.8 million in audience.

McGraw extends his record for the most Country Airplay No. 1s, dating to the chart's Jan. 20, 1990, inception. Behind McGraw's 28, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson and George Strait each have 26, followed by Blake Shelton with 22.

Notably, "Humble," written by Americana/country singer-songwriter Lori McKenna, is the first Country Airplay No. 1 to be penned by only one person in more than four years, since Taylor Swift's self-authored "Ours" topped the March 31, 2012, survey. Before "Ours," Swift notched the prior one-writer No. 1 "Sparks Fly" (Nov. 26, 2011). That was just after Shelton's "God Gave Me You," originally a Christian hit for its lone writer, Dave Barnes, ruled Country Airplay for three weeks beginning Oct. 29, 2011.

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

Evidencing just how rare it is for a country hit to be written by just one person, "Humble" is the only song on the June 25-dated Country Airplay chart, which runs 60 positions deep, that is credited to one songwriter. The trend has been declining for decades, as recently analyzed here when "Humble" topped the Hot Country Songs chart, which encompasses airplay, sales and streaming data, on April 23.

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

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