He Had Her at ‘Heads Carolina’: Jo Dee Messina Is a Fan of Cole Swindell’s Tribute Hit

Cole Swindell‘s “She Had Me at Heads Carolina” continues its command on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, becoming his first four-week No. 1 on the survey (dated Oct. 8).

The song is an ode to Jo Dee Messina‘s No. 2-peaking 1996 debut hit “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” Swindell wrote his latest leader (of eight total) with Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley and Thomas Rhett, with additional credit belonging to Tim Nichols and Mark D. Sanders, who penned Messina’s song.


“I knew when we started writing this song, if we got it right, it could do big things,” Swindell beamed to Billboard upon its coronation. “I never could have imagined this, though. Watching the fans react to this one has motivated me even more to keep raising the bar and challenging myself. This is one of the most fun songs I have ever been a part of, hands down.”

It’s also been fun for Messina, who has long been a formidable act in her own right, rolling up 23 Hot Country Songs entries between 1996 and 2008, including six No. 1s among 12 top 10s.

Impressively, “Heads Carolina, Tails California” has drawn 3.3 billion in radio airplay audience and 156.1 million official streams (on-demand and programmed) in the U.S. from its release through Sept. 29, according to Luminate. (Echoes of the song also infuse the intro to Swindell’s hit.)

Billboard reached out to Messina, born and raised in Massachusetts and still an actively touring artist, for her take on Swindell reviving her breakthrough classic.

Jo Dee, what is your reaction to “She Had Me at Heads Carolina”? What was your first impression of the interpolation? And were you surprised that Swindell’s song has become such a huge hit?

I was kind of taken aback that they chose “Heads Carolina” as the song. Out of any song they could have chosen from that time, the fact that they chose [it] was an honor. I heard about “She Had Me at Heads Carolina” from the original writers of “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” They let me know the song was written and sent me a copy of it.

The success of the song makes me happy for Cole. I think that Tim Nichols and Mark D. Sanders put together a timeless theme and melody. We know they wrote something timeless because at our shows today, even before the release of Cole Swindell’s single, “Heads Carolina,” as well as many of our other songs, has had a huge response that hasn’t died down over the years. When I look at the success that it has, it brings me joy because I always believed that the song was timeless.

Your original has stood the test of time, still receives country radio airplay and still sounds great. Do you think that Swindell’s song adds to the longevity of yours – and brings it to new audiences?

We’ve seen a resurgence of my entire catalog over the past few years. Our live shows have always had a hugely diverse crowd. I think that Cole’s song has brought awareness to some, but it’s been a steady rise over the last few years.

Have you seen an uptick in response when you perform the song during shows lately?

We’ve always had a huge response to the singles, and for that I am forever grateful for the crowds and their enthusiasm.

What do you think makes ’90s music so special, especially to today’s country artists that grew up listening to those songs?

We talk about this often. The songs of the ’90s really get to the heart. They grab a hold of the heart strings. The stories that they tell, the emotions that they bring about, nostalgia. There are a lot of story songs from the ’90s that, the moment you hear them, you are brought right back to that time. The ’90s was such a magical time. There was such a vast bed of music throughout the entire genre, from male and female, traditional, poppish. The ’90s had it all.

Gary Trust