Sam Lowry Hunt is from a little town in northwest Georgia called Cedartown, located about an hour’s drive from the Alabama border. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the town has a population of just under 10,000 people.
The town is the county seat of Polk County and comprises almost seven total square miles, with most of that being land and just a tad bit being water.
This is the town where Sam Hunt grew up, played football and first fostered an interest in country music.
A cursory Google Maps search reveals several backroads, farm roads and state highways running through the town and its surrounding areas. There’s even a road called Cave Spring Road which runs up against Dry Creek.
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All that to say, Sam Hunt should know what a backroad is. Clearly, after a quick listen to his now record-shattering single “Body Like a Backroad,” he does not.
“Body Like a Backroad,” which Gone Country has covered before, is a hick-hop afterthought that derives its only songwriting gimmick and solitary shred of metaphorical resonance from comparing a woman’s body to the curves of a country backroad (and if you think my explanation is redundant, you should check out the Genius annotations for this song).
I don’t know what type of fancy backroads Sam Hunt has been driving out in Georgia, but as I’ve written before, my family is from one of Georgia’s neighboring states, and the only things I’ve seen on those Tennessee backroads are empty Bud Light cans, old campaign signs, lots and lots of gravel, roadkill, occasional construction, cigarette butts, lots of dead ends and the occasional fishing pole.
It is a confusing metaphor, to be sure, but that’s not the main grievance I have with this song (which boasts four writing credits) today. As of this week, “Body Like a Backroad” has become Sam Hunt’s fourth No. 1 on the Billboard “Hot Country Songs” chart and has just surpassed Florida Georgia Line’s record for the longest charting No. 1 single on the “Hot Country Songs” chart’s history.
“Body Like a Backroad” has now spent 25 weeks atop the chart, beating the 24-week reign of FGL’s “Cruise” in 2013 and the previous record-holder since the chart began, the 19-week stay of Leroy Van Dyke for “Walk On By” in 1961. The song, while not unlike the utter garbage one passes while driving on a real backroad, is now historic.
In other words, it took 52 YEARS for FGL to break Van Dyke’s record, and a mere four years for Hunt to surpass his Bro-country forefathers on the chart. That’s not to say that Hunt or FGL are better artists than Van Dyke. This new development is less an indictment on whatever artistic visions Hunt has than it is a damning look at the radio chart system in country music today.
A song like “Walk on By” would not have a chance today on country music radio. It features actual music and lyrics more substantive than “Hey baby you a song, you make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise” and “The way she fit in them blue jeans, she don’t need no belt, But I can turn them inside out, I don’t need no help.”
And, while all artists may covet chart-topping hits in one way or another, it sounds like “Walk On By” was at least written with the intention of longevity. Indeed, the song has been covered by Martina McBride, Conway Twitty, Dean Martin, Hank Williams, Jr. and Asleep at the Wheel. It’s been considered a country standard for decades.
“Body Like a Backroad” and “Cruise,” on the other hand, will go down in history as purely artifacts of their time, like “Achy Breaky Heart.” Both of those songs were written and engineered and delivered to radio with the intention to go to No. 1, despite the fact that there are no country elements to either FGL’s song or Hunt’s pathetic attempts at banging notes together on GarageBand. It sounds soulless because it is soulless—it was created to make money and sell spins and concert tickets.
And hey, if all Sam Hunt wants is chart success and money in the moment, he has that right. The old anecdote about why Sir Michael Caine made “Jaws: The Revenge” comes to mind. Nothing wrong with making money. (Or maybe he doesn’t. Hunt has said recently that he would be “taking a break” from music after the mammoth success of his first album “Montevallo.”)
But I don’t know a single person that unironically likes “Achy Breaky Heart” now, and it’s only been 25 years since that song’s release. Give it another 25 years, and that song will most likely fade to obscurity just like the novelty songs of the ‘60s have now.
In much the same way, “Body Like a Backroad” will be the answer to a barroom trivia game 25 years from now and Sam Hunt probably won’t be charting on the radio. People are already decrying “Backroad” as shallow and hackneyed now. Imagine how it’s going to age.
Hunt may be experiencing a lot of success now, but he’s not carving out a legacy for himself. And songs like “Backroad” aren’t doing him nor the country music genre any favors.