Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” Has Secretly Ruled the Summer
All hail the King in the Charts.
Artwork by John Garrison
This is the final time we'll write about this, not only because we're all actually tired of writing about it, but also because summer is an obsolete concept when it's hot all the time. But that's far in the future. Not really. Anyways, summer songs. We've written about most of the candidates for the unusually competitive title this year: Cardi B's revolutionary war cry "Bodak Yellow," Lil Uzi Vert's verifiably emo bop "XO Tour Llif3," Radiohead's not-cover of "Gasolina." It's been a real revolving door, except for "Despacito." Sadly none of them (again, besides "Despacito") can objectively measure up to the real king of the season. It is a song that embodies good times while also crushing genre boundaries like a monster truck does to the chassis of old cars. That song is Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road."
The song has spent 29 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, outlasting many of the aforementioned summer singles. Peaking at number 6, it has spent much of that time within the top 10. In fact, it hasn't left the chart since debuting in February and is still there as of this writing. All the more remarkable is that its supposed parent album—Hunt's sophomore effort—doesn't even have a name or a release date yet. Fuck an attached project. "Body Like a Back Road" is powerful enough to stand on its own, handily beating out rivals like "Slide," (which has still only peaked at 25) "Unforgettable," and "I'm the One." If you're not listening to country radio, the song doesn't seem as ubiquitous as, say, Khaled's track, but the charts don't lie. People are buying and streaming the shit out of it. Why? What does "Back Road" do that makes it unremovable from the top, like a bro-country Excalibur?
Well, "Body Like a Back Road" is an almost brazenly stupid piece of country-pop, so it has instant appeal. It's also a supremely weird idea for a single. The canned "hey"s of a DJ Mustard production rub up against a porch-side whistle 'n' strum, creating the best joint hoedown of country and Southern rap since Outkast's "Rosa Parks." Hunt is horny as hell here, using the central metaphor to give his significant other an uncomfortable physical sexuality (is your hand a car, dude?). That road and thusly his lover also have years of wholesome relations behind them, as confirmed by Hunt's Weezy-esque punchline "Me and her go way back like Cadillac seats." Again, Southern rap.
The good-natured production and kindly character of Hunt's performance mask just how raunchy "Back Road" is, meaning that parents and kids can probably listen to it without knowing that Hunt is comparing foreplay to a road trip the entire time. It doesn't hurt that the underlying chord progression is the I-V-vi-IV of "I'm Yours" and "Don't Stop Believing" fame, the most approachable composition choice one can make in a song. Combine that with the down-home angle of the writing ("It ain't no curves like hers on them downtown streets") and you have yourself the musical equivalent of having a beer with a dude who, while he's kinda being a drunken douche, is also undeniably charming, laid back, and probably a good person deep down.
As a Canadian, I have to slap myself for this opinion, but Sam Hunt is basically Drake if Drake was better. 2014's Montevallo is an incredible album for nakedly pursuing commercial dominance while also being the strangest, most gonzo example of the bro-country approach to fusing 808s and lap steel. It also packs enough heartbreak and detail to rival Take Care. That was the past, though, and this is the present. "Back Road" is a song that literally any human can process as a clear hit but is genuinely interesting and fresh enough to stand out. A dedicated mass audience has rewarded its audacity, but audacity also doesn't possess Sam Hunt's strong-ass jaw line. This is totally beside the point. For sheer resilience and mastery of craft, "Body Like a Back Road" is the song of summer. End of story.
Phil is enjoying his slow descent into country hipsterdom, thank you very much. He's on Twitter.