Editor’s Note: CMT Hot 20 Countdown takes a look back on 10 years of incredible music with Decade, a weekly segment that features a modern country classic that made its greatest impact between 2010 and 2019. This week, Toby Keith talks about his 2011 single, “Red Solo Cup.” Here’s Keith, in his own words:
First time I heard “Solo Cup,” I said, “I’m recording that.” My sister and mother were in town just enjoying Nashville. My sister came into the studio in the middle of it and she’s like, “That’s a great song.” Mark Wright was my partner then, and Universal South had come over and was partnering with Show Dog, my label, so we were doing all kinds of different crazy music with different acts.
He said, “Why in the world would you want to cut that song?” I said, “’Cause it’s a smash.” I don’t cut many outside songs. The Warren Brothers had written it and said they pitched it all over town, played it out all the time, did great. Everybody wanted to cut it but they were afraid of it. I said, “Why?” So I said, “I’m cutting it.” And the second I said I was gonna cut it, everybody in town started trying putting it on hold again.
Mark Wright walks in [on the day the song was recorded] and he looks like hell. I said, “What happened to you?” He said, “I didn’t sleep all night.” I said, “Why?” He said, “I had to take an Ambien at 4:30 to get the little sleep I did.” I said, “Why?” He goes, “That song was in my head. It was like an earworm.” And he said, “It drove me crazy looking at the ceiling (makes guitar sounds)” I was like, “Now you know why I cut it.”
I knew it was gonna work in my world. I didn’t know if it was gonna get radio play. Seacrest had it on his big syndicated shows. Seacrest said it was the Spring Break song of the year and was teaching it to his listeners. It was probably the only thing I ever had played on a pop radio station. It was big like I told you it would be, guys.
I don’t know how many No. 1’s, Top 5’s, Top 10’s I’ve got, but I have to perform them every night and I did write most of those. But I’m a songwriter feeding an artist songs. And the artist in me still wants to do things an artist wants to do, so just ‘cause I didn’t write it [doesn’t matter]. … I only cut four or five outside songs that ever mattered but it was one that mattered. It was like the whole world changed to “Red Solo Cup” over that song.
I think other people were afraid of it because it says “testicle” and a few cuss words and things. And it’s a little goofy, you know. You’ve got to be comfortable in your own world. I knew that what I was doing out on the road, that that fit perfect. So I wasn’t really worried about airplay with the internet the way it is now, and social media blowing stuff up. I knew it was gonna get recognition and at the end of the day, as big as it was, I think it only went to, like, No. 6 on the Billboard charts. It was way bigger than that, though.
The video was ridiculous. The director kept shooting and he wanted to do the walkthrough and have all this craziness going on. So, they had to keep resetting. He’d shoot it five times and reset. We were there seven or eight hours. I was like, “If we’re gonna carry a cup around, let’s get it goin’.” So we just started getting drunk on the set. By the end of it, we were pretty well hammered.
We went to Europe for a 20-day tour overseas and we released it in New York City on the way out. Stopped and hit a bunch of shows up there and made the gamut, then took off and kinda forgot about it. By the time we got to Germany, it was like they had already gone on the internet and had red Solo cups shipped in. We probably played it in Germany before we played it here, to where people knew the song.
And then we came back and it was taking over. We’ve been doing it live for eight years now, but there was a point where it was so hot that it was like the second they saw any inkling on stage that it was coming, you’d hear the crowd start taking off. And it was Super Bowl loud, you know what I mean? Everybody in the world wanted to hear the “Solo Cup.”
You’d play events, maybe get at a festival, and you’ve got a mishmash of people there. You got ten acts. And people may have come to see Charlie Daniels but you could tell they would stay until the second they heard “Red Solo Cup.” You’d see a few people that were like, “We’re gonna wait and hear that” before they left. They weren’t necessarily Toby fans, they were just gonna get out early. So I’d always talk about it, just trickin’ ‘em. Give ‘em a little bit and then wait. (laughs)
It ended up working for everybody. Some of the hip-hop guys started gettin’ spinning it. From ’03 til then, I pretty much wrote everything on the road and wrote everything of what I was doing on the road. So all of those albums had songs that I was trying to make project out on the amphitheater stages. So it was all party and gettin’ it. And the harder I came at ‘em, the harder they got, and it was like a giant rollercoaster ride. So I knew this was gonna fit. It was a big bullet to go right in that gun.