Sam Hunt cap­tured the sound of sum­mer

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - EMILY YAHR

Defin­ing the “song of the sum­mer” is a fraught con­cept, with so many op­tions from so many gen­res — but there’s no ques­tion that one of the top con­tenders of 2017 orig­i­nated in Nashville.

Sam Hunt’s in­escapable “Body Like a Back Road,” a two-min­ute­and-45-sec­ond ear­worm in which a nar­ra­tor ex­tols the phys­i­cal virtues of his la­dyfriend, shat­tered records last week af­ter reach­ing 25 con­sec­u­tive weeks on the top of the Bill­board Hot Coun­try Songs chart, the long­est No. 1 streak in his­tory. The pre­vi­ous record-holder was Florida Ge­or­gia Line’s “Cruise” in 2012, at 24 weeks, fol­lowed by Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk On By” in 1961, at 19 weeks.

The chart, which has ex­isted since 1958, mea­sures ra­dio play and sales, and in more re­cent years, stream­ing. Spo­tify and Pan­dora num­bers prob­a­bly gave a big boost to “Body Like a Back Road,” which is also the third most-down­loaded song of any genre in 2017, sell­ing ap­prox­i­mately 1.4 mil­lion dig­i­tal copies so far. The track also spent three weeks at No. 1 on coun­try ra­dio, a rare ac­com­plish­ment in an era where hits are quickly shuf­fled off the top of the charts. So, how did it hap­pen? Even Hunt’s three co-writ­ers — Shane McA­nally, Josh Os­borne and Zach Crow­ell — still aren’t quite sure. (Hunt was un­avail­able to com­ment.) Crow­ell, also Hunt’s pro­ducer, said the song is “maybe 25 best-case sce­nar­ios at the same time”: Per­fect tim­ing as it hits its peak in sum­mer; a sound that fits on mod­ern coun­try ra­dio; and sat­is­fac­tion for Hunt’s fans who were crav­ing new ma­te­rial, given that he has barely re­leased any since his de­but mul­ti­plat­inum al­bum, “Mon­te­vallo,” in 2014.

“The moons lined up in our favour ... the world was re­ally want­ing to like Sam’s next song,” Crow­ell said.

Plus, he added, the song’s pre­cise, pared-down lyrics were ap­peal­ing. “I def­i­nitely think it’s sim­ple,” he said. “And sim­ple al­ways wins. That’s one com­mon thread from the be­gin­ning of mu­sic.”

In­deed, the song doesn’t mince words. Hunt briskly fin­ishes off the verses and puts all the em­pha­sis on the can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head cho­rus: “Body like a back road/ driv­ing with my eyes closed/I know ev­ery curve like the back of my hand.” But for a “sim­ple” song, the writ­ing process was com­pli­cated.

The track was born out of a song­writ­ers’ trip in Novem­ber 2016 to Charleston, South Carolina, as the four — who have writ­ten to­gether for years — looked for in­spi­ra­tion out­side of Nashville. One day, Hunt said, “I have an idea for a song, but I don’t know if you think it’s a cool idea.” He of­fered the ti­tle, “Body Like a Back Road.” Ac­cord­ing to Os­borne, the group was im­me­di­ately in­trigued.

“We were like, ‘Yes, we want to write that,’” Os­borne said. “It just sounded like a hit coun­try song.”

The four of them spent hours work­ing on the lyrics, and although the cho­rus stayed much the same through­out the process, the verses went through many it­er­a­tions. First, they had too many ref­er­ences to the road, so it felt over­writ­ten. Then they took them out, and the song was too loose. They rewrote some more.

Fi­nally, they left Charleston thinking the song was fin­ished. How­ever, a cou­ple of months later, Hunt still thought the lyrics needed to be pol­ished, and they went back to work.

The hard­est part was mak­ing it sound con­ver­sa­tional, a fre­quent in­gre­di­ent in Hunt’s mu­sic; he will oc­ca­sion­ally break into spo­ken word. Os­borne said they cracked the code when Hunt came up with the line, “Had to get her num­ber, took me like six weeks.” It might sound silly, but the lyric in­di­cates a longer story in a few words, and lis­ten­ers might be able to re­late.”

Os­borne said he has re­ceived a hugely pos­i­tive re­sponse from the writ­ing com­mu­nity in Nashville, and the song’s break­through is a good re­minder of the ben­e­fits of lighter songs, even if the in­stinct for Nashville writ­ers is to dig deeper. (Or, in his words, the goal is of­ten to “write a song where I play it at the Blue­bird and the crowd cries.”)

“But there’s some­thing to be said to be part of a song that’s part of some­one’s sum­mer va­ca­tion, or when they’re jam­ming out at the lake,” Os­borne said. “We talk so much as song­writ­ers that we want to make peo­ple feel some­thing — so many times we for­get that ‘happy’ is some­thing that peo­ple feel, too.”


Sam Hunt’s song of sum­mer “Body Like a Back Road” shat­tered records last week.

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