Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” Is The Shortest #1 Single Since 1965

Today, Lil Nas X, the Atlanta college dropout who made the mega-viral cowboy-rap novelty smash “Old Town Road,” turns 20. And today, as we learned last night, is also the day that “Old Town Road” takes its rightful place atop the Billboard Hot 100. There are many, many fascinating things about “Old Town Road” being the #1 song in the country — and we’ll get to some of them — but one of the most fascinating things is how short it is. “Old Town Road” is 113 seconds long. That makes it the fourth-shortest #1 single of all time.

The shortest #1 single of all time is “Stay,” the infectious 1960 doo-wop smash from Maurice Williams And The Zodiacs. “Stay” clocks in at a mind-boggling 1:38. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever get a #1 song shorter than that — though the way SoundCloud-rap and internet virality work, it’s not impossible to imagine.

There are very, very few #1 hits less than two minutes long. Plenty of #1 hits, especially the ones from the early ’60s, hover around the two-minute mark, but not many dip under that. The second-shortest #1 single is Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” from 1965, which lasted 1:49. Elvis Presley’s “Surrender,” from 1961, was 1:51. The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” from 1963, is the fourth-shortest #1 single. Now “Old Town Road,” at 1:53, is tied with David Rose’s vaudevillian 1962 instrumental novelty “The Stripper” as the fifth-shortest #1 of all time.

Our friends at Billboard have provided this breakdown:

Song Length, Title, Artist, Date Reached No. 1
1:38, “Stay,” Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs, Nov. 21, 1960
1:49, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” Herman’s Hermits, Aug. 7, 1965
1:51, “Surrender,” Elvis Presley, March 20, 1961
1:52, “He’s So Fine,” The Chiffons, March 30, 1963
1:53, “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X, April 13, 2019
1:53, “The Stripper,” David Rose, July 7, 1962

Also, the Box Tops 1967 single “The Letter” — sung by a teenage Alex Chilton, a few years before he’d go on to form cult-favorite rock greats Big Star — was 1:58. Another 1:58 single was Joe Dowell’s “Wooden Heart (Muss I Denn),” from 1961. So now “Old Town Road” is one of a tiny number of under-two-minute songs to make it to #1. And it’s the first since the Herman’s Hermits pulled it off in 1965.

Other fun chart-stat things about the chart triumph of “Old Town Road”:

• If “Old Town Road” counts as a country song — a hotly-debated topic these days — then it’s the first country song to land at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since Carrie Underwood’s “Inside Your Heaven,” 14 years ago. (Taylor Swift has hit #1 since then, but it hasn’t been with a country song. And let’s be real: “Old Town Road” is at least as much of a country song as “Inside Your Heaven.”) If “Old Town Road” counts as a rap song, then it’s the first rap song to land at #1 since Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower,” two and a half months ago. (“Sunflower” doesn’t hardly have any actual rapping on it, but then, neither does “Old Town Road.”)

• “Old Town Road” is built around Dutch producer YoungKio’s sample of “34 Ghosts IV,” a 2008 instrumental from Nine Inch Nails. That means Trent Reznor now has a writing credit on a #1 single. It’s his first time cracking the top 10. (Nine Inch Nails’ highest-charting single is “The Day The World Went Away,” which peaked at #17 in 1999.)

• Billy Ray Cyrus was on the “Old Town Road” remix, which means that “Old Town Road” could be the first time Billy Ray Cyrus gets a #1 single — unless you count being Miley Cyrus’ father as being involved in getting one of her songs to #1. (Miley has one #1 single, 2013’s “Wrecking Ball.”) Since the Billy Ray Cyrus version came out Friday, though — i.e., after the period being considered for the current chart — the remix streams will count towards next week’s tally. (“Achy Breaky Heart,” the monstrous 1992 hit that brought Billy Ray to mass consciousness, only got as far as #4.)

• Before he even started making music, Lil Nas X was a vocal online supporter of Nicki Minaj. To the extent that Lil Nas X had any fame before “Old Town Road,” it was as a prominent member of Nicki’s Barbz army. But Lil Nas X now has more #1 hits than Nicki Minaj. Nicki has gotten to #2 once as a lead artist (2014’s “Anaconda”) and once as part of a group (Young Money’s “BedRock,” from 2009), and she’s been in the top 10 many times, but she’s never been to #1.

• For that matter, the actual Nas, Lil Nas X’s namesake, has never even had a top-10 single. His highest-charting single, “I Can,” peaked at #12 in 2003. (Nas has been a featured artist on a bunch of remixes of top-10 singles, but you’d really have to be stretching to count those.)

• If we’re going to agree that “Old Town Road” is a country song, then Lil Nas X is the first person of color to get a country song to #1 on the Hot 100 since Freddy Fender did it with “Before The Next Teardrop Falls.” That was 44 years ago. Lil Nas X is also the first black artist to get a country song to #1 on the Hot 100 since Ray Charles did it with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” That was 57 years ago.