Song of the Day #3,937: ‘Old Town Road’ – Lil Nas X

Every so often the Billboard charts serve up fodder rich with philosophical implications. Such is the case with the track currently sitting at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road.’

This one minute and 53 second banjo-fueled “country trap” ditty (the shortest #1 since Herman’s Hermits reached the top spot with ‘I’m Henry VIII, I Am’ way back in 1965) debuted on Soundcloud and became a viral hit, rocketing to #1 on the Hot 100 and the Hot R&B/Hip Hop chart, but (controversially) not the Hot Country chart.

Billboard initially included the song on the Country chart but received criticism from Nashville tastemakers and reversed their decision.

Is ‘Old Town Road’ a hip-hop song or a country song? Can it be both? If the same song were performed by an established country act, would it even raise the question?

In a new twist, country star Billy Ray Cyrus sings the opening chorus and adds a verse in a remix of the song. Will that be enough to get it back on the country chart, and if so, what would it say if a black artist can only get the go-ahead once a white artist registers his endorsement?

If most people agree ‘Old Town Road’ is a rap song because of the trap beat, why doesn’t the banjo and cowboy subject matter make it just as easily classified as country? Is there some inherent bias suggesting a young black man named Lil Nas X can’t be considered country?

Lots of questions there, and I can’t say I know the answers. My take is that ‘Old Town Road’ is country enough to merit inclusion on that chart, and if the artist classifies it that way (as Lil Nas X did on Soundcloud), who am I to argue?

Another interesting fact about ‘Old Town Road’: it includes a sample from an obscure Nine Inch Nails song, meaning Trent Reznor just scored his first ever #1 hit.

[Intro]
Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road
I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more
I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road
I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more
Kio, Kio

[Verse 1]
I got the horses in the back
Horse tack is attached
Hat is matte black
Got the boots that’s black to match
Ridin’ on a horse, ha
You can whip your Porsche
I been in the valley
You ain’t been up off that porch, now

[Chorus]
Can’t nobody tell me nothin’
You can’t tell me nothin’
Can’t nobody tell me nothin’
You can’t tell me nothin’

[Verse 2]
Ridin’ on a tractor
Lean all in my bladder
Cheated on my baby
You can go and ask her
My life is a movie
Bull ridin’ and boobies
Cowboy hat from Gucci
Wrangler on my booty

[Chorus]
Can’t nobody tell me nothin’
You can’t tell me nothin’
Can’t nobody tell me nothin’
You can’t tell me nothin’

[Outro]
Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road
I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more
I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road
I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more
I got the—

One thought on “Song of the Day #3,937: ‘Old Town Road’ – Lil Nas X

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    This controversy reflects, at least in part, our years (decades?) old debate as to what makes a song “country.” I have long argued that the instruments used plays a huge roll, and so the use of banjo here supports the country label.

    But I also think this controversy exposes a far greater problem with the Billboard charts. Back in the day, rankings were based on radio play, such that this song would not be on the country charts unless it was being played on country radio stations. Now, however, the impact of radio play on charting has greatly diminished, and all sorts of other sources from YouTube to streaming services are included in the numbers. There is simply no way to categorize those sources by genre, and so I question why a “country” or “pop” or “R&B” chart continues to exist at all. Why not just have one all-inclusive chart for songs and one for albums based on sales/views/streams?

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