It has been a long, slow, steady climb for mainstream country traditionalist Jon Pardi’s current single “Heartache Medication,” but it finally hit #1 this week on country radio according to MediaBase. Released to the country format all the way back on May 20th, 2019 as the title track to Pardi’s most recent record, it reached #1 in Canada on December 28th, 2019.
The distinction is significant for Jon Pardi since it gives the interior Californian his third #1 song and fifth Top 5, but it also speaks to something much deeper going on in country, and that’s the return of true country sounds. “Heartache Medication” is not only a good ol’ traditional heartbreaker in both lyrics and style, it’s the first country song featuring prominent fiddle to top the country radio charts in nearly eight years. Darius Rucker’s version of the Old Crow Medicine Show standard “Wagon Wheel” was the last to accomplish this feat in 2013 according to the research of DJ and chart expert Chris Owen.
There have been other singles in country that feature the fiddle, but none like “Heartache Medication.” In fact two of the other recent songs to see fiddle get placed prominently in the mix were the property of Jon Pardi as well. “Head Over Boots” from 2015 topped the charts, as did Pardi’s “Dirt On My Boots” from 2016. The only other major #1 worth mentioning during that time period would be Zac Brown Band’s “Homegrown” from 2015, which among other things, shows you how far the Zac Brown Band has slid since them.
Even before “Wagon Wheel” hit #1, you have to hunt for songs with prominent fiddle that found the #1 spot in country recently. Another Zac Brown song, “Sweet Annie” topped the charts in 2013, as did Zac’s “Goodbye in Her Eyes.” And speaking of backsliding, The Band Perry’s #1 “Better Dig Two” from 2012 was another fiddle heavy tune. These two major projects going away from their original sound that leaned on the fiddle is one of the reasons it’s been so hard to find fiddle on radio over the last decade.
But now it’s back via Jon Pardi’s “Heartache Medication,” presenting further evidence to the theory that true country songs and sounds are starting to return in mainstream country music. Jon Pardi’s name is commonly associated with that trend, and his success is one of the reasons other artists are finding more latitude to bring country sounds back to their radio singles as well.
Also worth noting, the fiddle on “Heartache Medication” is played by Jenee Fleenor, who became the first woman ever to win the CMA’s Musician of the Year in 2019, and the first fiddler to win the award in over 20 years. So there’s something deeper going on when it comes to recognizing the fiddle again in country music.
“Heartache Medication” is not the greatest country song you will hear, but it’s so much better than most of the other options on country radio. But most importantly, the business of country music is very much a trend-chasing affair. Hopefully the return of the fiddle will be one of the next trends that sticks.