Much of country music’s story is embedded in the road.
The genre is obsessed with pickup trucks, artists are necessarily reliant on tour buses, and a passel of key recordings — from Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” — are tied up in travel.
So is Jordan Harvey’s “Along for the Ride,” a sunshiny piece of ear candy that distills a commute from Alabama to Nashville into a three-minute musical journey with inspirational debts to Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Lionel Richie and Beyoncé.
“I’m a very melody-driven human,” says Harvey, a Scottish-born former member of King Calaway. “Melody makes you feel, and then it’s the lyric that takes you over the line.”
“Along for the Ride” is built around an ultra-hooky chorus melody that Harvey developed while driving north with his fiancée, Madison Fendley, from her parents’ home in lower Alabama for a songwriting session on Feb. 10, 2022. The upbeat musical phrases worked in tandem with a series of “pushes” — three instrumental notes that propel the energy from one phrase to the next. Those pushes borrowed from the syncopation of Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night).” And the images for Harvey’s song likewise came straight out of Fendley’s joy while riding in the passenger seat.
“This Beyoncé song came on, and she’s singing along and her hands are out the window, and I’m like, ‘You’re the most beautiful person,’ ” he remembers. “I was back out to the write that night, and I knew there was something there.”
Songwriter-producer Jason Massey (Kelsea Ballerini, Mickey Guyton) hosted the appointment, which included James McNair (“Going, Going, Gone,” “Lovin’ On You”), in a studio on his property. “There’s a chicken pen with like 10 chickens — you couldn’t get much more country than that, could you?” deadpans Harvey. “As you’re writing a song, you hear the chickens — ‘B-caw, b-caw’ — which was pretty awesome, and pretty random.”
Harvey introduced his musical foundation, which was quickly moved to the most prominent part of the song. “Jordan was humming that melody maybe an octave below where it is [now], thinking it was like a verse,” Massey recalls. “We’re like, ‘That sounds like a chorus.’ ”
Harvey relayed how positive and inspired the trip had been and noted that he wanted to write a song with an automotive vibe along the lines of Urban’s “Days Go By” or Rascal Flatts’ “Fast Cars and Freedom.” McNair offered the title, and when they fished for a setup line, McNair also served the full twist: “I may have my hands on the wheel/ But I’m just along for the ride.” Key in making it work was to present it in a way that fans could relate to either of the song’s two characters in present tense.
“I remember trying to describe her enough to make it feel good, where it puts the listener [in the role of] the guy driving, or the girl that’s along for the ride,” says McNair. “And we wanted to keep it very fiercely in the moment.”
Harvey was conscientious about populating the song with images that fit his relationship — it recognizes her Alabama roots, for example — and he hinted at her background as a dancer with an entertainment-related phrase in the chorus. “I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘Paparazzi Hollywood smile’ in a country song,” he says. “It phonetically matches the first line, and it felt right to put it in there when we sang it. It just pops off the tongue.”
They pitched the opening lines much lower than the chorus, creating a natural arc in the song’s construction, and McNair fashioned a key pre-chorus line, “Hearts burnin’ hotter than the gasoline,” that was so strong they reused it for a bridge.
“What really separates a great song from just an undeniable song is if you can have different parts that you can pull out of the song and they’re equally as hooky — like, hooky verse, hooky pre-chorus and hooky chorus,” says McNair. “That phrasing, how it goes into the pre-chorus, once we landed on that, that’s when we knew we had it locked in.”
Massey started lightly producing the demo during the co-write, then worked in more depth later, with keyboards, bass, guitar and programmed drums. He also included a banjo, treating it with an echo effect that transforms its clunky nature into a sound that emulates the glitter of a paparazzi-inhabited red carpet or the stars “fallin’ like diamonds” in verse two.
“The verse definitely has some more reverb, and I think it’s filtered out some high frequencies,” he says. “So the banjo in the verse is a different treatment than the banjo on the chorus.”
Massey called on several other musicians to make individual changes for the final version. Evan Hutchings replaced the programmed drums with a real kit, while Justin Ostrander fitted in a short solo that ends with twin Southern-rock inspired guitars. Alex Wright added extra keyboard textures, too. Harvey cut his rangy vocals on his own back in Alabama, though after Massey got the file, he persuaded Harvey to do a second remote vocal session, where they Americanized some of his enunciations a little more.
“When he initially sent me the vocals, I don’t even remember how he pronounced ‘paparazzi,’ but it was really weird,” recalls Massey with a laugh. “It was just not how we pronounce it here. I sat on the phone trying to coach him on that for a minute.”
Harvey did a separate version of the end of verse two, changing the melody and dovetailing with his own chorus performance, and he piled up more than seven different tracks with ad-libs. Massey contributed extra harmony vocals. Harvey heard final mixes of “Along for the Ride” during his radio promotion tour — he listened to one key version in the middle of a busy airport — and he got important feedback in those station visits.
“I had this song in my arsenal. Everyone loved the song — I really loved the song — there was no denying that this was going to be a single,” Harvey says. “But when I started doing my radio tour, people at radio said, ‘Oh my God, man, we’re dying for tempo.’ My second station, I played it and the guy was like, ‘Give it to me right now, I’ll play it.’ ”
Broken Bow released it to country radio via PlayMPE on Valentine’s Day. After developing “Along for the Ride” through the pandemic, performing it for actual crowds on the road underscores his belief in the song’s melodic power.
“Just seeing people like, ‘Well, I love this,’” he says. “It’s so rewarding when it’s a pen and pencil on a desk, or in a studio with a guitar and a couple of boys. But to take it out and have a finished product that people want, that’s the best feeling in the world.”