How Cole Swindell’s Nod to Jo Dee Messina Came Together
Cole Swindell says he wanted to take a chance on his new Stereotype album. He wound up breathing life into one of the greatest country songs of the '90s. "She Had Me at Heads Carolina" borrows liberally from Jo Dee Messina's "Heads Carolina, Tails California," but brings a much different point of view.
The guitar-heavy, pop-country song — a hit for Messina in 1996 — finds two lovers flipping a coin to decide where they'll run off to together. Swindell's new song finds him sitting in a bar on karaoke night as a young woman takes the stage to sing her song. Melodically, the two songs are the same, and the younger singer's guitarist nails the guitar riff that powers the older of the tracks.
Getting "She Had Me at Heads Carolina" to the finish line was a laborious — but enjoyable — process for Swindell. It started while he was on tour with Thomas Rhett, a co-writer on the song.
"He was all in," Swindell tells Taste of Country Nights' Evan Paul. "I think out of all the '90s country songs we all love, I don't think anybody was expecting that one. Looking back, that was one of my favorites. I was a big Jo Dee Messina fan."
The next step was getting permission from everyone involved. Tim Nichols and Mark D. Sanders wrote Messina's song, and Swindell made sure both were comfortably aware they'd be listed as co-writers for his song. Modern hitmakers Jesse Frasure and Ashley Gorley are the two remaining writers on the modern-day song, which Zach Crowell produced.
Finally, Swindell wanted Messina's blessing. Click play on the track below to hear that he actually samples her version to begin "She Had Me at Heads Carolina." He tells ToC Nights that he's not just a diehard fan of '90s country, but a fan of hers in particular. So ...
"I just reached out to Jo Dee Messina this past weekend, making sure she was all good and knowing that I'm a huge fan and would not even have this without her," he shares. "I told her, too, that I want her to be a part of it, as much of it or as little of it as she wants to, because she's the original."
Whether this means an appearance in a music video, a performance on television or something else, Swindell's not sure. He's just hopeful something productive comes from it. This is an opportunity others who've sampled classic songs have not had yet. Sam Hunt famously added "There Stands the Glass" by Webb Pierce to his song "Hard to Forget" and raced it to No. 1. Rhett did similar on his new album, including Doris Day's "If I Give My Heart To You" on his "Simple as a Song." These classic singers died years ago, but Messina (51) remains very active.
The Stereotype album dropped on April 8 and includes Swindell's chart-topping hit "Single Saturday Night," as well as his current single, a duet with Lainey Wilson called "Never Say Never."