Even among Sam Hunt’s team, you won’t find a lot of people who’ll brag that they knew “Body Like a Back Road” would become one of the year’s ubiquitous hits even outside of its natural habitat in the country format. “The song was made for country radio,” says Hunt’s manager, Brad Belanger, “but with the huge numbers we saw there, it naturally made its way to pop and hot AC.”
Well, “naturally” may understate the effort involved in breaking the song into pop. “I couldn’t even tell you when the last one crossed over into pop,” says Greg Marella, Capitol’s exec VP of promotion. (Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” from 2013, is generally regarded as the most recent.) “You’re instantly met [at pop radio] with ‘Country records don’t work,’ and they give you the examples of the ones that tried and failed,” he continues. “Point out what their consumption numbers are, though, and they had to wrap their heads around why the song hasn’t left the top 5 of iTunes for months.”
What put “Back Road” on the fast track to becoming the biggest country hit of the decade? “I think the easily digestible lyric and the instant singalong-ability of the melody make the listener feel very safe and comfortable when they hear it,” says Josh Osborne, who co-wrote the tune with fellow Music Row-meister Shane McAnally and Hunt’s producer, Zach Crowell. “We made a conscious effort to make the lyric very conversational to fit the upbeat mood of the music, because this song needed to be felt as much as heard.” And its lighter-hearted approach to sensuality really did make listeners want to take the long way home.