Written by Bill Kenner and Thom McHugh
#1 (1 week)
September 25, 1993
A radio breakthrough that signals changing times.
The Road to No. 1
Tracy Byrd was an accidental star. His goal was to pursue business, and he was studying that in college when his friends encouraged him to go into one of those old shopping mall recording studios and cover “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Byrd had been fooling around with music already, performing in a local Texas band called Rimshot, but it was this recording that encouraged him to pursue music full-time, as the owner of the recording studio pushed Byrd to enter a local singing contest.
Byrd was only 24 when he landed a recording contract with MCA Nashville, and his rise to fame demonstrated how quickly the industry was changing. The label followed the blueprint laid down by labelmate Mark Chesnutt, sending pure country singles to radio. The first barely charted and the second, a cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Someone to Give My Love To,” peaked just outside the top forty.
Yet the album, Tracy Byrd, was selling decently, thanks to an ad campaign that focused entirely on Byrd’s physical appearance. The teaser ads ran on CMT and TNN, and built up demand for his album while radio was showing no interest. Advance orders exceeded 150,000 copies at launch, following over 50,000 copies of the “Someone to Give My Love To” cassette single being sold.
The album sold well enough to essentially force radio to take another look at Byrd, and that benefitted his third single, which interrupted the reign of Garth Brooks for a week on the Billboard singles chart.
The No. 1
Marketing and fan demand aside, “Holdin’ Heaven” was also an indication of what country radio was starting to look for in its new artists. Byrd’s a pure country vocalist in the vein of predecessors like the aforementioned Chesnutt, as well as Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Joe Diffie, and Tracy Lawrence, to name but a few young country artists who broke through during the boom years.
But all of them broke through with mature songs that were wiser than their years. The same would’ve been true of Byrd if radio had paid attention to his earlier releases. But they waited until he put out a frothy uptempo song about falling in love. This is a turning point for the young men coming up on radio from this point forward, and we will see it repeated in this feature with debut singles by Clay Walker and Wade Hayes in the coming months. Instead of making music with an older country music audience in mind, the focus is turning to younger listeners, with romantic themes and pulsating beats being the new priority.
“Holdin’ Heaven” works fine as one of these singles, and that’s partly because Byrd could sing those more mature country weepers well. Byrd was just rarely paired with such material, and when he was, radio was resistant to it. If you look at just his radio hits, he comes off somewhere between B-list hat act and C-list novelty singer. Neither characterization captures the depth of his catalog or the true breadth of his talent.
The Road From No. 1
Country weeper “Why Don’t That Telephone Ring” followed “Holdin’ Heaven,” and it struggled at radio like his first two singles did. Still, Tracy Byrd went gold, and he upped the tempo for his string of singles from his second album, No Ordinary Man. The first three releases went top five, and they consisted of one redneck humor song (“Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous”) and two consecutive line dance hits (“Watermelon Crawl” and “The First Step.”) But the song that would power the album to double platinum sales was a love ballad, and we’ll be covering it here when we get to the spring of 1995.
“Holdin’ Heaven” gets a B.
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