Songwriters: Barry Dean, Natalie Hembry, Luke Laird
If there is a group (or singer) currently on country radio that is more deserving of releasing a mindlessly fun, pandering summer song than Little Big Town, please let me know and provide support for your answer. You can't: there is no answer but Little Big Town.
It might come as a surprise, but for all the years this group has been around, they have yet to have one of their singles peak at number one. The closest they've gotten is when "Bring It On Home," an emotional ballad from their platinum album The Road to Here, peaked at number four in September of 2006. "Little White Church," from their most recent album The Reason Why, peaked at number six in October of 2010 (I had high hopes radio had once again embraced LBT after this song performed well. Alas, subsequent singles from this album were colossal duds). And for as ubiquitous as the song "Boondocks" seemed during the latter half of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, it barely cracked the top ten, reaching only nine on the charts. "Boondocks." NINE. It seems hard to believe. I don't pretend to understand.
So you can hardly blame them for releasing a single that some are calling a "step down" in quality for the most resilient group in mainstream country music. But I wouldn't call it a step down. I would call it doing what needs to be done in hopes of garnering radio play, and hopefully their first number one hit. If this is what it takes for radio programmers to think twice about playing "Need You Now" for the trillionth damn time, I am all for it. And when a summer song is as fun and tongue-and-cheeky as "Pontoon," it doesn't hurt either. And that's exactly what "Pontoon" is: a damn fun song.
For anyone who's ever taken a weekend trip to the lake, the images are familiar: backing your hitch into the water, koozies, coolers, barbecue, and inner tubes. It's not even about partying hard and getting all recreational: "Who said anything about skiing?/ Floating is all I wanna do." It's about relaxing, being lazy, partying "in slow motion." Beer, of course, is a must, and I can forgive their lack of discretion in beer preference: "Reach your hand down into the cooler/ Don't drink it if the mountains aren't blue" (Miller Lite > Coor's Light all day long, people). Even the pace and feel of the song is slow and lazy. The summer heat is palpable. Mandolin, electric, guitar and slowly-chugging-along percussion do a great job of complimenting the care-free lyrics. Karen Fairchild assumes lead vocal duties on the track, and her sexy rasp suits it just right. Lightening the mood of the song even more is the line you can't help but chuckle at, "Out here in the open/ Mmm-motorboatin'," which works as a bit of a double entendre recalling the glory that was the 2005 movie Wedding Crashers. It would have been a stroke of genius had they been able to get Vince Vaughn to make a cameo in the video.
In the end, it's nice to take the "I'm serious about real country music" hat off once in awhile, and simply enjoy a song that just makes you want to sit in the sun with your friends and have a beer (which is a characteristic of a lot of good country songs, if I recall). Also: roll down the windows in your car. They may lean a little more toward pop on the music pendulum (though not nearly as much as some "country" artists), but there is no denying the talent of each member in Little Big Town. When country-pop is done as well as this group has proven it can be done, I have no problem with radio programmers making room for it on their playlists. "Pontoon" is currently sitting at number thirty-six on the country singles chart and steadily moving up.
So take off your serious hat as you get on the boat, please. Or simply leave it on. We can all still have a good time.
Update (9/6): "Pontoon" hit number one this past week, a first for Little Big Town. Congrats!
Update (11/3): "Pontoon" won the CMA Award for Single of the Year a couple nights ago. Little Big Town also won the award for Vocal Group of the Year, an honor that's been a long time coming. For my thoughts on the 2012 CMA ceremony and spectacle, click here.