Dueling Tim McGraw Singles Debut on Country Songs
Dueling Tim McGraw Singles Debut on Country Songs

In a rare promotional double-take, Tim McGraw debuts a pair of singles on Billboard's Country Songs chart.

But, will both be hits?

"Truck Yeah," McGraw's first single for the Big Machine record label, arrives at No. 22 as his best entrance without another artist; he launched higher (No. 13) only with "Feel Like a Rock Star," with Kenny Chesney, earlier this year. McGraw's previous best start on his own came courtesy of "Grown Men Don't Cry," which opened at No. 30 in March 2001 (and went on to become his 13th of 24 No. 1s to date). "Truck" revs up with 12.3 million audience impressions at 101 of the chart's 128 reporting stations, according to Nielsen BDS. (It also bows at No. 6 on Country Digital Songs with 54,000 downloads sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.)

Meanwhile, as McGraw's unsettled contract dispute with Curb Records continues, the label recently issued "Right Back Atcha Babe" as a new single from his most recent album, "Emotional Traffic." The song debuts at No. 59 on Country Songs with 329,000 audience impressions at 15 monitored stations. The set stormed Country Albums at No. 1 in February and has sold 252,000 to date. (It currently ranks at No. 28 on the chart.)

Although McGraw has praised "Traffic" as "certainly one of the best records we've ever made," the disparity between the songs' chart arrival leaves no question as to which one has the early momentum.

"McGraw has turned the page, even if the judge hasn't yet," says Brian Jennings, PD of Clear Channel's KZSN Wichita, Kan. The station played "Truck" 31 times in the July 2-8 chart tracking week. It has not yet spun "Back." "The Curb single will not survive at radio," he boldly predicts.

Still, the Country Songs chart has seen previous labels issue competing singles when an artist has moved on to greener pastures. It's been a long time, however, since that scenario played out.

When "Behind Closed Doors" became a prosperous crossover hit for Charlie Rich on Epic in 1973, his previous label, RCA, successfully mined its back catalog for songs he'd recorded but had been shelved a decade earlier. Of Rich's first seven Country Songs No. 1s (1973-74), three were celebrated by RCA despite his then-current status as an Epic artist. Around the same time, Clive Davis threw a party in Nashville to announce that he'd signed Sonny James to Columbia after nearly 20 years and 21 No. 1 singles (1953-72) on Capitol. As James scored his first Columbia No. 1, however, Capitol issued five singles in rapid succession (though none rose higher than No. 30).

How might McGraw's entry in this type of derby play out?

Going by sonic clues, his two new singles couldn't possibly be more different. "Truck" is a summertime sing-along that will undoubtedly become a fan favorite, especially on tour, while "Back" is a smooth-groove, medium-tempo love song. Both styles have served McGraw well, however, as he's taken party anthems like "I Like It, I Love it" to the top, as well as sensitive ballads like "Live Like You Were Dying."

Perhaps more key to predicting success is that Big Machine's "Truck" has the vigor of being a lead single from a highly-anticipated new album, and one that will receive all-out promotion from his new label, while Curb's "Back" is the third single from an album ("Traffic") that's been on the market since January. Potential advantage: "Truck." Then again, "Traffic" did deliver the chart-topping "Felt Good on My Lips" and the No. 5 hit "Better Than I Used to Be," the latter song peaking as recently as late last month.

Programmers might also harbor the expectation that "Truck" will become a summer smash and, as heat and humidity fade into the first chills of fall, take a second look at "Back," a possible better fit for that less frenetic season.

Regardless of how radio decides how to handle two simultaneous singles and whether there's room for both, even from a format staple, until the courtroom rules with certainty and finality on McGraw's contract dispute with Curb, it's tough to tell.

At the start, it looks like "Truck" is in higher gear.