Anatomy Of a Hit: Why Jon Pardi's First No. 1 Was So Rare
When Jon Pardi’s “Head Over Boots” recently topped the Country Airplay chart in its 46th week, the achievement was remarkable on a number of levels. For starters, the song is a shuffle that jumps out of the speakers as one of the most country-sounding records heard on the radio in the last year. Additionally, it’s Pardi’s fifth single, but his first to crack the top 10, meaning label Capitol Records Nashville demonstrated the kind of persistence that is increasingly rare in the current record industry economy where “one and done” is closer to the norm when an artist fails to score a hit out of the gate.
Out of Pardi’s four previous singles, starting with “Missin’ You Crazy” in 2012, only 2014’s “Up All Night” grazed the top 10, peaking at No. 11 in 2014. The rest were midcharters.
“It is rare for an artist to get five singles without having a top 10,” says D.J. Stout, operations manager/PD at WSOC Charlotte, N.C. But he thinks Pardi “offers something that country radio needs more of, which is a bad-ass, true country singer.”
KCYY San Antonio operations manager Jeff Garrison says he’s “very proud of our format [for] not forgetting the essence of country music” by making this “real and authentic” song a hit. He’s also pleased that the team at Capitol and parent Universal Music Group Nashville (UMGN) “hung in there and had patience with Jon,” noting that their tenacity is “a testament to their faith in the music.”
Leading the charge in the now gold-certified single’s final months was Bobby Young, who was elevated to Capitol vp promotion from director of Southeast regional promotion in late May. He says that while Pardi’s previous efforts weren’t necessarily big national hits, each one built on the momentum of the previous songs.
“Every one of those singles … still had a life of their own,” he says, as evidenced by when Pardi would play them live and the audience knew all the words. “A year ago [he was] starting to have sold-out shows before this single even got traction,” says Young, which alerted his team that something special was there. Once “Head Over Boots” began picking up steam, strong sales, streaming and Shazam numbers confirmed that belief. “All the parts were there,” says Young. “It was just a matter of keeping radio engaged” during a long-haul single.
He admits that early in the life of the record the team faced pockets of resistance from programmers who said it was “a little [too] country” for them. But Young thinks their listeners were ready for something a little different since “we’ve been hitting them pretty hard as an industry with edgy, pop-sounding, bro-country records.” And as country as Pardi is, “he’s also very progressive in his production and sounds.”
Because the label has been “pounding” Pardi for several years at radio, Young also worried that programmers were initially thinking, “Oh, another Jon Pardi record.” But since “Head Over Boots” sounded so different and the hook was so strong, “the familiarity grew fast, but it never burned. It just continued to grow. It was a very cool thing.
“When stations started hitting 200 [or] 250 plays, we started seeing some research pop in different demos, and [the song began] outselling lots of records,” continues Young. “I remember we were probably in the 30s, maybe 40s, and it was outselling a majority of the current singles in front of it, all the way up to the top 10. So you share that information [with radio]. You just keep repeating it and repeating it.”
When the record hit No. 11, Young remembers having a conversation with UMGN senior vp promotion Royce Risser in which they decided to treat it like a No. 1 song and see where it took them. “We went out with that attitude and had the staff go out and say, ‘Hey, we’re taking this to No. 1. Here’s the week we’re going to do it,’ and just kept pounding [radio] with positive information … It all just came together. It was a perfect storm.”
During one white-knuckle week when the single was in the top 10, the team found itself down in spins on a Saturday, but pulled out all the stops in calling programmers Young describes as “believers” to make up the deficit. He adds, “We are so grateful and so appreciative of radio being as engaged as they have been with Jon.”
On the weekend it became clear that “Head Over Boots” would reach No. 1, Young says Pardi “rented a big, huge, monster suite” at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and threw a party.
Capitol West Coast regional Paige Elliott, who attended, said, “It was mostly just friends of the band at the party.” Fellow artists Brett Young, Cole Swindell and Stephen Barker Liles of Love and Theft “also stopped by to offer their congratulations … Above all, it was just a night for everyone to take some time and appreciate how far we’ve come,” she says. “We’re all so happy to finally be here.”
Adds Elliott, “At midnight Pacific, when the chart closed, seven of us were piled into an Uber, sitting in traffic on the Strip. Lee Francis [from] Pardi’s band said, ‘Oh hey, it’s midnight, doesn’t that mean it’s official?,’ and we all high-fived each other. I can’t imagine what the Uber driver thought was going on.”
WSOC’s Stout thinks Pardi’s current album, California Sunrise, contains “two to three more top 10s coming our way.” Young is hoping that the next single, “Dirt on My Boots,” is one of them. It goes to radio Sept. 6 in advance of a Sept. 19 add date.
As for Pardi’s future as a star in the format, Young says, “I think we’ve crossed that bridge. It [just] took four-and-a-half years.”