This summer Billy Ray Cyrus had an inescapable pop-culture hit. This week, his new country single can barely get arrested. When “Chevys and Fords” was shipped to radio for airplay consideration (“going for adds” in country-radio parlance), only six stations who report to monitoring service Mediabase put it into rotation.
In light of the mega-success of the career-reviving “Old Town Road,” Cyrus says the lack of support was a head-scratcher, so he asked the radio team at his label home BMG why “Chevys and Fords” — written by McGuire, Jordan Walker and consistent hitmakers Rodney Clawson and Ben Hayslip — failed to start. He recalls a recent meeting on Music Row.
“It was awfully quiet. Nobody wanted to talk. Finally somebody spoke up, and I said, ‘How many adds did we have?'” says Cyrus, who after getting his answer — at the time, it was zero — pressed for a reason why program directors were passing on the song. “The natural response was, ‘What are they saying?’ One of the [radio] consultants said they deemed it ‘too country for the format right now.’ Can you imagine?”
But “Chevys and Fords” went too far the other way, according to Cyrus, whose last major country radio success came in 2004 with “Ready, Set, Don’t Go,” a collaboration with daughter Miley Cyrus.
“I had to hit myself in the head and go, ‘What the fuck did I just hear?’ This truly was my WTF moment,” says Cyrus of the “too country” characterization. “I said, ‘Do they realize what they’re saying and who they’re saying it about?’ … Yes, I am Billy Ray Cyrus from Flatwoods, Kentucky, and I love country music and a great country song. ‘Chevys and Fords’ had both elements that I love.”
Cyrus’s claim of “too country” appears at odds, however, with what’s currently on the country charts. Undeniably-country singles by Luke Combs, Jon Pardi, and Miranda Lambert are all gaining airplay, along with Midland’s “Mr. Lonely,” which features a pedal-steel solo and even its own line dance.
But Cyrus, who released the album The SnakeDoctor Circus in May, remains undeterred. He says he’s already come up with a new song inspired by what he calls his “disappointment.”
“I didn’t think I’d ever write another song, but I had to record this,” he says. “I was singing this hook and it sounded so good, that I said, ‘By God, if they think ‘Chevys and Fords’ is too country, wait until they hear this.'”
The new song’s title? “Too Country.”