October 8.2015 – The Story Behind The Song “Pontoon” by Little Big Town

Pontoon

Hear the story here!


– the video has been viewed over 23 million times!!

The first single from Country quartet, Little Big Town’s, fifth studio album was penned by Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird. Hemby came up with the idea for the song after her publisher misheard the title of “Fine Tune,” a cut she and Laird wrote for Miranda Lambert. The song was released to Country radio on April 30, 2012.

A pontoon boat is a flattish boat that relies on pontoons to float, which are used for both pleasure boating and fishing in the US. According to Sweet all four of the group’s members had pontoon-boat experiences while growing up.

At the 2013 ACM Awards, we asked Little Big Town if they were concerned about the title. Here’s what they said:

Kimberly Schlapman: We weren’t really concerned until we went to London. We realized they really have no idea what a pontoon is.

Jimi Westbrook: We thought everybody knew what a pontoon was.

Karen Fairchild: Yeah, we grew up on pontoons and on the lake, and it’s part of southern living. And I guess we just assumed everybody knew that. Motor-boating is also very universal. [Laughing] If you didn’t know what a pontoon was, you had another shot.

Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet told The Boot the quartet on hearing the song, “fell in love with it instantly.” He added. “We could hear ourselves singing it and we could feel the fun energy behind it. It’s fun and sexy and summertime; it just feels right for right now.”

Karen Fairchild admitted to Billboard magazine that the band had some doubts when they first heard the song. “Natalie sang the demo and we thought, ‘Man, that’s a song that you’ve never heard.’ First of all, who’s ever written a song about a pontoon? Never heard that. But having a chick sing it? I don’t know,” she confessed. “There’s something weird about the delivery when we heard Natalie sing it. And so we thought, ‘This song is cool. It sounds like something country fans will really love if they could get a chance to hear it.'”

This was the very first Country #1 for the Little Big Town quartet. Their previous best placing had been “Bring it On Home,” which peaked at #4 in 2006.

The song sparked a fashion craze, as fans sported T-shirts adorned with a phrase from the song, “Mmm….motorboatin’.”

This song, along with the rest of the Tornado album, was produced by Jay Joyce (Patty Griffin, Eric Church, Cage the Elephant). Speaking with Billboard magazine, Karen Fairchild gave due credit to the producer’s contribution to the record. “Jay is a great moderator of what feels good,” she said. “He lets his heart guide him. We really don’t over think things. If we’re in the studio tracking a song like ‘Pontoon,’ and we’ve done it a few times and it feels good, that’s it. He says ‘Let’s move on.’ There’s no reason to keep going if the vibe is right. There’s a lot of fun, and a lot of spontaneity, and I think our fans can hear it on the album.”

Little Big Town had been nominated for at least one CMA Award at six consecutive ceremonies since their first nomination in 2006, but walked away empty-handed each time. They finally broke their duck in 2012, picking up Single of the Year for this song as well as Vocal Group of the Year. “We’ re living proof that if you work really, really hard and chase your dreams, all the good stuff happens and it follows you,” said Karen Fairchild.

This was the first song that Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird wrote together. Dean recalled to American Songwriter magazine: “We had each written with the other, but we were excited to get to write together. Natalie and Luke had a song recorded by Miranda Lambert called ‘Fine Tune.’ Natalie was telling us a story about a guy who mistakenly referred to “Fine Tune” as “Pontoon.” When she said that, Luke and I looked at each other, then we all knew. Luke started playing the groove. I started playing bass on a synth. Pretty soon Natalie sang the first line of the song. When we got back together to finish it – which was really writing it – we used the same track we’d started. It was essentially a drum groove, electric guitars, and a bass line. Natalie who was quite pregnant sat on the couch, held an SM58 and sang it once, and that was the work tape.”

The song opens with a mandolin lick played by Australian Country musician Jedd Hughes doubled by Jay Joyce with a mellotron mandolin sample.

This won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Karen Fairchild later told reporters backstage how they played around with the song in the studio. “We messed with taking the reverb off the vocal on ‘Pontoon’ and pulling it down a little bit and it didn’t feel the same,” she said. “We didn’t know if anybody would play it because it was like that but the fans seem to dig it.”

Phillip Sweet added, “They like motor boating in reverb,” which brought the room to laughter.

Pontoon became the group’s first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for the week of September 15, 2012.

Buy the song here!

LYRICS: Written by written by Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird and Barry Dean

Back this hitch up into the water
Untie all the cables and rope
Step onto the astro turf
Get yourself a coozie
Let’s go

Who said anything about skiin’?
Floatin’ is all I wanna do
You can climb the ladder
Just don’t rock the boat while I barbeque

[Chorus:]
On the pontoon
Makin’ waves and catchin’ rays up on the roof
Jumpin’ out the back, don’t act like you don’t want to
Party in slow motion
Out here in the open
Mmmmmmm…motorboatin’

(Hoo hoo hoo)

Reach your hand down into the cooler
Don’t drink it if the mountains aren’t blue
Try to keep it steady as you recline on your black inner tube

[Chorus:]
Pontoon
Makin’ waves and catchin’ rays up on the roof
Jumpin’ out the back, don’t act like you don’t want to
Party in slow motion
Out here in the open
Mmmmmm…motorboatin’

(Hoo hoo hoo)
(Hoo hoo hoo)

[Bridge:]
5 mile an hour with aluminum side
Wood panelin’ with a water slide
Can’t beat the heat, so let’s take a ride

[Chorus:]
On the pontoon
Makin’ waves and catchin’ rays up on the roof
Jumpin’ out the back, don’t act like you don’t want to
Party in slow motion
I’m out here in the open
Mmmmmmm…motorboatin’

On the pontoon

(Hoo hoo hoo)

On the pontoon

(Hoo hoo hoo)

Back this hitch out into the water
On the pontoon

(Hoo hoo hoo)

(Hoo hoo hoo)

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About Robynn

Robynn Jaymes has spent her whole life in radio… 30 years!! And almost half of them have been at Star Country. Originally from Cincinnati, Robynn came to the area as a Liberty University student. Along with all things country music, Robynn is a big fan of Football!—The Virginia Tech Hokies, The Washington Redskins and, of course, the Cincinnati Bengals. And also, “I’m addicted to the Weather Channel,” she says. Right now, Robynn is a big fan if the music coming from Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum and Kenny Chesney! Robynn is also a winner of the Billboard Air Personality of the Year award. Hear all new Warm & Fuzzies with Robynn M-F at 11:45AM!

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