BMI gathered industry members together earlier this week to celebrate Cole Swindell‘s massive, five-week No. 1 hit “She Had Me At Heads Carolina,” which marked his 12th career chart-topper as an artist and 13th as a songwriter.
As one of the biggest songs of the past year, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” interpolates Mark D. Sanders and Tim Nichols‘ “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” which was a hit for Jo Dee Messina in the ’90s.
The new version was written by Swindell, Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure and Thomas Rhett and produced by Zach Crowell. The now triple-Platinum-certified track was named the 2023 ACM Single and Song of the Year, and won the 2023 iHeart Radio Music Awards Country Song of the Year trophy.
BMI’s Josh Tomlinson was emcee for the party. He congratulated affiliates Nichols, Frasure, Rhett and Swindell. ASCAP’s Duane Hobson honored affiliates Gorley, Crowell and Sanders. Publishers Vanna Moua (Rhythm House), Cyndi Forman (UMPG), Spencer Nohe (Warner Chappell) and Rusty Gaston (Sony Music Publishing) were on hand to celebrate their writers.
Gaston was very involved in forming the idea for “She Had Me At Heads Carolina.” He believed that the Messina classic was one of the most-performed karaoke songs from the ’90s, and felt like, with the right team of writers, an interpolated hit could come out of it. Gaston’s brilliance and initiative was lauded during the party.
“‘Heads Carolina, Tails California’ is an iconic ’90s anthem, but it never went No. 1,” Gaston pointed out. “Today is righting that wrong!”
Warner Music Nashville’s Cris Lacy spoke about the rush of seeing the song through from Gaston’s idea to making it onto Swindell’s Stereotype album, which was already done when the men went in to write the song.
Lacy shared that the track broke records as the first five-week chart-topper from Warner Music Nashville since Blake Shelton’s “Austin” in 2001. She talked about her love and respect for Swindell, who signed with the label 10 years ago.
“That changed the history of our record label,” Lacy said of his signing. “Cole told me then that he signed with Warner Bros. because it was the label his hero Randy Travis was on.
“I’ve said many times publicly that Randy Travis built that building across the street. I would like to say publicly that Cole renovated it,” she shared to thunderous applause.
When it came time for the songwriters to speak, Nichols kicked it off. He shared that Swindell has made a huge effort to include him and Sanders in the success of “She Had Me At Heads Carolina.”
“Cole, I can’t thank you enough. You are so gracious. Whether it’s the iHeartRadio Awards or CMA Fest in front of 60,000 people, he never fails to mention all of us,” Nichols said. “This has been an amazing thing to be a part of.”
Gorley shared that he moved to town the year “Heads Carolina, Tails California” came out. “I got to learn from [Tim and Mark]. It’s seldom that you get to play a game with your heroes, so this has been really fun,” he said.
Rhett complimented Swindell’s work ethic and talent as a songwriter when he spoke. “We started in this business at the exact same time and buddy, I feel like you’re on a ride that’s about to take you to the moon.”
Rhett also pointed out that the success of the hit spurred a trend of interpolated songs. “In my inbox right now I’ve got songs titled ‘I Like Big Trucks And I Cannot Lie’ and ‘Good Ole Boys Are Back In Town.’ The list goes on and on,” he said. “It’s cool to be part of something that shape-shifted [our industry] a bit.”
Sanders cracked the room up when he spoke, and told the story of how he and Nichols brought “Heads Carolina, Tails California” to life. He also encouraged the industry members in the room to keep listening to interpolations, because he has a big catalog. “I think ‘No News’ would be a good one,” Sanders quipped.
Frasure highlighted the value of community in Nashville. “I’m not a Sony writer, so the fact that Rusty and Anna [Weisband] thought to bring me in on this idea they had speaks to the community of this town,” he shared.
When it came time for Swindell to speak, he was full of gratitude. He thanked his entire team at Sony Music Publishing, Warner Music Nashville, KP Entertainment, WME, his band and crew and more.
“At first, [Rusty and Anna] told me they had a crazy idea they wanted to run by me. I had to wait I don’t know how long before they told me the idea—I was driving myself crazy. When they told me what it was, I freaked out,” Swindell said. “I didn’t know how we were going to do it, but I knew if we could pull it off, it would be absolutely huge.
“I’m a country music fan and I wanted to hear that in the song,” he said. “I grew up on that song. I remember riding in my mom’s car in ’96 listening to the original. Now I’m on stage with the two guys that wrote it. That only happens in Nashville.”