Kid Rock’s Dead-In-The-Water Cocky Comes Back To Life

Album was a bottom-dweller before hit ballad 'Picture' took off.

It’s hard to consider an album that has sold more than 2 million copies a disappointment. But when Cocky, Kid Rock’s follow-up to his 10-million-selling 1998 breakthrough, Devil Without a Cause, slipped out of the top 20 after just two weeks and settled into the middle of the pack on the Billboard 200 albums chart for much of last year, more than a few
heads were shaking.

And, when three singles from the album came and went with little or no notice from radio and video outlets, most labels would have said, “We gave it our best shot, Bob. We’ll get ‘em next time.”

With the same tenacious, “don’t give a f—” attitude that got him where he is today, though, Rock convinced his label to give it one more go with a song he felt was the best he’d ever written. That sensitive acoustic ballad, “Picture,” a duet with Sheryl Crow, has not only brought the album back from the dead and back into the top 10, it might just be the biggest radio hit of Rock’s career.

Ironically, Rock asserts that his label fought tooth and nail against releasing the song as a single, thinking the country-style tune would ruin the pimp of the nation’s image, and eventually his career.

You might understand why Atlantic would be nervous about a song in which Rock croons, “I put your picture away/ Sat down and cried today/ I can’t look at you while I’m lying next to her.” Crying? There’s no crying in Kid Rock songs!

After the more traditional Kid Rock rap-rock singles “Forever” and “You Never Met a Motherf—er Quite Like Me,” and the bluesy Southern rock/rap ballad “Lonely Road of Faith” failed to catch fire, Atlantic/Lava agreed to take a shot with “Picture.” The move was a rare one in an age where even proven artists rarely get so many chances to make an album click with fans. It’s understandable that the label was wary of releasing a song so far outside Rock’s core sound, but the label had bigger concerns than the song’s commercial viability.

They could not get the rights to release “Picture” as a single from Crow’s label, which was afraid it would interfere with her current album, C’mon, C’mon. While Atlantic continued to negotiate with Crow’s label, Rock recorded a new radio version of the track with his friend, country blues singer Allison Moorer.

At the same time Rock was recording with Moorer, a station in Shreveport, Louisiana, started spinning the Crow version in November and getting a good response, according to Lee Trink, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Lava, who said a number of other stations followed suit. At the time, nearly a year after its release, Cocky was stalled out in the mid-70s and 80s on the Billboard chart, selling as few as 10,000 copies some weeks.

Just as the Moorer version was being sent to radio stations in the South, Atlantic secured the rights to the Crow version. When the album version of the single officially went to radio in late 2002, left-for-dead Cocky — which has stayed in the top 200 for 62 weeks, never dipping below #106 — began to climb back up the chart. By December 15, the album was at #60, cracking the top 40 again on January 5 at #38. Within two weeks it would hit #15, and, on next week’s Billboard chart, the album will sit at #7 (see “Norah Jones Still #1, Kid Rock Has Second Coming On Albums Chart” ) which is where it first entered the chart in November of 2001.

Additionally, “Picture” will crash into the top 10 on the adult contemporary pop radio chart, jumping from #13 to #9, according to Radio & Records. The song is holding its own among the country heavyweights on the Radio & Records country chart, where it’s just outside the top 40, at #41.

Rock said he met Crow backstage at the Grammys two years ago, after which the two agreed to collaborate on the fateful track in Rock’s Detroit studio. Media reports at the time linked the singers romantically, but neither has ever commented on their friendship, other than to say it was a musical meeting of the minds. “[We] wrote the whole thing and recorded it in a day,” Rock said. “She’s just a great … spirit. She’s wonderful to be around and work with.”

One of the things that might have boosted “Picture” is the same thing that drove the success of P. Diddy’s “I Need a Girl,” according to Sean Ross, editor-in-chief of radio trade publication Airplay Monitor. “Program directors generally agree that the perceived reference to the [Sean] Combs/ [Jennifer] Lopez relationship helped make that record a hit. Hearing two celebrity ex-lovers sing a breakup song has made ['Picture'] a novelty song. [At the same time] there are also more country stations willing to play a record from a pop artist if there’s a country feel to [it].”

It also helped that adult contemporary stations had been primed for a more contemplative Rock thanks to the hit Devil Without a Cause ballad, “Only God Knows Why.”

Rock’s longtime A&R representative, Andrew Karp, who signed the rap-rocker to the label, dismissed the ex-lovers angle (“My understanding was that it was just platonic and there never even was a ‘relationship’ “), suggesting a simpler reason for the song’s success.

“Following up a diamond [10 million copies shipped] record is nearly impossible,” Karp said, citing it as a concern going into Cocky. And, contrary to Rock’s assertion that his label thought “Picture” would alienate his audience, Karp said, “Everyone always thought that was a really special song. It’s even more to the left of what he’s known for. ‘Only God Knows Why’ was more of a traditional power ballad, but this one is very sparse. But Bob never gave up. He’s too driven to think that way. Anytime you have someone that committed, things will happen.”

Karp said the song has also done something else very important for Rock’s career. “Now people think of him as someone who does all kinds of music, instead of just an aggressive rap-rock guy, which will serve him much better in the long term.”

They hung in this long, but Atlantic isn’t going to push its luck. Karp said Rock should have a new album out near the end of the year.

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.