Aaron Lewis’ ‘Am I the Only One’ Is a Top Hot Country Song — Is Radio Next?
Aaron Lewis' record label isn't officially asking country radio to play "Am I the Only One" for another week, but the song is building quite a resume already. The acoustic ballad became just the ninth song ever to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart (per Billboard), albeit the third this year.
The reality of accomplishing this rare feat is that an artist needs to do it without radio airplay, or with minimal airplay. Morgan Wallen's "Wasted on You" had airplay potential down the line when it hit No. 1 prior to the release of his album in January, but that evaporated weeks later. Taylor Swift's "Love Story (Taylor's Version)" did not, but it did have a massive pop audience and familiarity. Coincidentally (or not), all three of these songs have been part of some larger controversy, but that's for another day.
Lewis' song relied on a release to a conservative audience first, specifically Fox News. Thus far, he's only granted interviews to outlets likely to agree with his statement on American values and culture — a statement that is as divisive as any in country music since Hank Williams Jr. wrote "Keep the Change" after comparing President Obama to Hitler. While Lewis has been uncompromising in his opinions on modern country music and politics (see his songs "If I Was a Liberal" and "That Ain't Country"), he's yet to insult a sitting president in the way Hank or the Chicks did.
So it's difficult to find an apples-to-apples comparison for "Am I the Only One." John Rich's "Shuttin' Detroit Down" brought about similar ire to those opposed to his ideologies, but the blue collar anthem is tame by comparison. It also relies on strong melody and a more radio friendly arrangement, which nearly made it a Top 10 hit in 2009. A case could be made that programmers won't embrace Lewis' song because they don't want to play anything that rocks the boat politically, but a decade ago, things were hardly free-wheeling. The great recession left everyone in radio afraid to lose their jobs. No one was taking chances.
The case for playing "Am I the Only One" is that it's the No. 2 all-genre sales song (as of July 12) in America, selling more digital singles in one week than any other country song in the last three years. There is an audience that wants this song and will work for it. On the other side sits an audience that will tune out quickly when the song comes on their station, and they may not be back for awhile.
It might not be the message that holds "Am I the Only One Back" back, however.
Lewis isn't yet a reliable country artist — just one Top 40 single ("Endless Summer") in a decade of trying — and "Am I the Only One" is a four-and-a-half minute acoustic ballad that's difficult to sing along to. Cam's "Burning House" was an acoustic ballad from an unfamiliar artist, but it finished in just over four minutes. Structurally, (certainly not ideologically) that's the closest example from the last decade. This, above all else, is Lewis' high hurdle, making his early hesitation to do interviews all the more surprising. A Top 20 chart position is going to take some work.