Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and Luke Combs’ remake of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” both have a very good chance of making the finals. Wallen’s song has logged 23 weeks atop Hot Country Singles. “Fast Car” has logged 12 weeks at No. 2. (Both songs dropped one rung this week, to Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, with the re-entry in the top spot of Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town.”)
Combs’ hit probably has a better chance of being nominated than Wallen’s does. Combs has received six Grammy nominations over the years (though he has yet to win). And Chapman’s original version was nominated for record and song of the year. Wallen has yet to be nominated for a Grammy, so there’s no evidence yet that Grammy voters are ready to forgive and forget the 2021 incident where he was videotaped using a racial pejorative.
If both hits are nominated, this would be the first time in 46 years that two or more country hits have competed in this marquee category. (We define a country hit as a song that made the top 20 on Hot Country Songs.) In 1977, three top five country hits vied for record of the year – Crystal Gayle’s elegant torch ballad “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” (which topped the country chart for four weeks), Linda Ronstadt’s exquisite pop/country version of Roy Orbison’s 1963 pop hit “Blue Bayou” (which reached No. 2) and Debby Boone’s megahit rendition of the Oscar-winning ballad “You Light Up My Life” (which reached No. 4).
In three earlier years, two or more country hits competed for record of the year. In 1967, Glen Campbell’s sublime reading of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (a No. 2 country hit) vied with Bobbie Gentry’s enigmatic pop/country crossover smash “Ode to Billie Joe” (a No. 17 country hit).
The following year, for the first and so far only time in Grammy history, three No. 1 country hits competed for record of the year. They were Jeannie C. Riley’s reading of Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” Bobby Goldsboro’s tearjerker ballad “Honey” and Campbell’s version of another Webb classic, “Wichita Lineman.” The Riley and Goldsboro hits each topped the country chart for three weeks; Campbell’s smash headed it for two.
In 1975, Campbell’s sleek version of Larry Weiss’ “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes” competed for the prize. “Rhinestone Cowboy” topped the country chart for three weeks. “Lyin’ Eyes” reached No. 8 on the country chart.
In 1979, two record of the year nominees had charted on Hot Country Songs, but only one of them was a home-run country hit. That’s Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” which topped the country chart for three weeks on its way to becoming his signature song. The other is a pop smash – Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” – that was covered by Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius, one of the top country duos of the era. Both versions entered Hot Country Singles – as the chart was then called – on Nov. 25, 1978. But whereas the version by Brown and Cornelius made the top 10, the version by Barbra & Neil stalled at No. 70. (It had star-power to burn, but you can practically hear country programmers saying “It just isn’t country.”)
In recent years, it has been hard for even one country hit to wind up with a Grammy nod for record of the year. The last five country hits to be nominated in that marquee category (again defining a country hit as a song that reached the top 20 on Hot Country Songs) were Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road” (No. 19 in 2019), Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together) (No. 1 for 10 weeks in 2012), Lady A’s “Need You Now” (No. 1 for five weeks in 2010), Swift’s “You Belong With Me” (No. 1 for two weeks in 2009) and Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” (No. 1 for one week in 1998).
The Recording Academy expanded the number of nominees in each of the Big Four categories (including record of the year) from five to eight in 2018. They expanded it again to 10 in 2021, but have announced that they are dropping it back down to eight for the nominations that will be announced on Nov. 10.