Songs That Readers Wish They Could Play

When I asked programmers to name the songs they wished they could play on Classic Hits radio last week, there was a wide swath of titles.

Some were favorite stiffs—songs that made it as far as the high teens maybe, but never went to current, or songs that never got anywhere near that far.

Some were top 10 chart hits, but songs that nevertheless feel lost now.

And some were records whose hit status was never in question at the time—especially from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Nobody disputed whether “Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson was a hit. But at Classic Hits and Urban AC, it’s like it never happened.

For those who haven’t friended me on Facebook, here’s a sampling of the songs that programmers wish they could play. I’ve divided them into three rough piles; (you’ll dispute some of my placements, but it’s as subjective as song coding). And regardless of whether they’re playable on the radio, please enjoy some of them on this Spotify playlist. 

HITS THAT YOU MIGHT EXPECT TO TEST

  • America, “You Can Do Magic” (Michael McCoy)
  • Andrew Gold, “Lonely Boy” (Steve Ettman McKay, who also cited Alan O’Day’s “Undercover Angel”)
  • Black Box, “Everybody Everybody” (Chris Ruh)
  • Bonnie Pointer, “Heaven Must Have Sent You” (Marc Nathan) – Was a radio record again in the mid-‘90s, thanks to WKTU New York, but now lost again
  • Boy Meets Girl, “Waiting For A Star to Fall” (Mike Rossi)
  • Brothers Johnson, “Strawberry Letter 23” (Craig  Russell)
  • Candi Staton, “Young Hearts Run Free” (John Summers) – Never a consensus hit nationally, but it was also possible to hear this on New York radio in the ‘90s/early ‘00s
  • Chris Isaak, “Wicked Game” (Steve Clem)
  • Chris Rea, “Fool (If You Think It’s Over” (Chris Ruh, Steve Clem)
  • Dream Academy, “Life In A Northern Town” (Mike Rossi)
  • Force MDs, “Tender Love” (Chris Ruh)
  • Golden Earring, “Radar Love” (Jimmy Howes)
  • Hall & Oates, “Did It In A Minute” (Bill Cain)
  • James Taylor, “Handy Man” (Dave Logan)
  • Jay Ferguson, “Thunder Island” (Steve Hunter, Craig Russell)
  • John Mellencamp, “Wild Night” (Don Tandler)
  • John Mellencamp, “Cherry Bomb” (Jack Oliver)
  • Johnny Hates Jazz, “Shattered Dreams” (Craig Russell)
  • Kajagoogoo, “Too Shy” (Dave Stewart, Michael Lowe)
  • Kinks, “Come Dancing” (Dave Logan, Andy Cahn, who also mentions rock hit “Destroyer”)
  • Lee Michaels, “Do You Know What I Mean” (Don Beno) – Became a song that Classic Hits played anyway, for a while
  • Little River Band, “Night Owls” (Michael McCoy) – And I recently got called into the booth on a station visit and asked by the PM driver why LRB disappeared from the radio
  • Little River Band, “Reminiscing” (Andrew Gordon)
  • Londonbeat, “I’ve Been Thinking About You” (Jon Zellner) – Now this is the song that Classic Hits stations play anyway, just because of its tempo/energy/variety
  • Martin Page, “In The House of Stone And Light” (Jeanne Ashley)
  • Marvin Gaye, “Got To Give It Up” (Stan Main)
  • Nick Lowe, “Cruel To Be Kind” (Erik Hellum)
  • Olivia Newton-John, “Physical” (Tony LeDonne)
  • Olivia Newton-John & ELO, “Xanadu” (John Parker)
  • Pablo Cruise, “Love Will Find A Way” (Michael McCoy)
  • Paul Davis, “Cool Night” (Scott Solko)
  • Paul McCartney, “Take It Away” (Drew Bennett)
  • Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do” (C. Alan Ross)
  • Phil Collins, “Something Happened On The Way To Heaven” (Michael Field)
  • Poco, “Crazy Love” (Chuck Lontine)
  • Sly Fox, “Let’s Go All The Way” (Tony Travatto)
  • Spice Girls, “Two Become One” (Jeanne Ashley)
  • Starbuck, “Moonlight Feels Right” (Chris Ruh, Rob Lentz)
  • Steely Dan, “Hey Nineteen” (Steve Clem)
  • Styx, “The Best of Times” (Chris Taylor)
  • Wang Chung, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” (Robert Heiney) – Not entirely lost because of Adult Hits

SECOND TIER HITS THAT FEEL MORE LOST

  • Annie Lennox, “Why” (JeanneAshley)
  • Boy Krazy, “That’s What Love Can Do” (Jerry Noble)
  • Boz Scaggs, “Jojo” (Jon Zellner)
  • Breakfast Club, “Right On Track”
  • Cathy Dennis, “Touch Me (All Night Long)”
  • Chilliwack, “My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)” (Jon Zellner, John Gallagher) – Still readily available in Canada
  • Curtis Steigers, “I Wonder Why” (Keith Kennedy)
  • Dan Hartman, “Instant Replay” (Marc Nathan)
  • Diesel, “Sausalito Summernight” (John Summers) – Became an Adult Hits staple in Canada
  • Deon Estus, “Heaven Help Me” (Tony Simon)
  • Donna Summer, “The Wanderer” (Tom Lane)
  • Donna Summer, “Love Is In Control” (Jerry Noble)
  • Eddie Money, “Walk On Water’ (Keith Katsoulis)
  • Franke & the Knockouts, “Sweetheart” (Doug Daniels Holzmeier)
  • George Harrison, “Blow Away” (Tom Lane)
  • Karyn White, “Romantic” (Chuck Taylor)
  • Kon Kan, “I Beg Your Pardon” (Damon Shaw)
  • Korgis, “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometimes”
  • Linear, “Sending All My Love” (Craig Russell)
  • Marty Balin, “Hearts” (Bob Smolarek)
  • N’ Sync, “Pop” (John Trapane)
  • New Order, “True Faith” (Jojo Girard)
  • Phil Seymour, “Precious To Me” (Bill O’Neil)
  • Scarlett & Black, “You Don’t Know” (Dana Lundon) – Never quite a smash at the time, but a hit where played and a secret weapon for a while
  • Sixpence None The Richer, “There She Goes” (Jeanne Ashley)
  • Spinners, “They Just Can’t StopFra It (Games People Play)” (Bill Cain)
  • Steel Breeze, “You Don’t Want Me Anymore” (Chris Ruh) – Seems like the kind of record that today’s Classic Hits would love
  • Styx, “Don’t Let It End” (Chris Taylor)
  • Wang Chung, “Let’s Go” (Tony Travatto)

MIDCHART OR BELOW

  • Alarm, “Sold Me Down The River” (Robert Serrano)
  • Autograph, “Turn Up The Radio” (Michele Angermiller) –But became a Bob- and Jack-FM staple anyway, for a while
  • Bob Seger, “’Till It Shines” (Phil Zachary) – Even in Boston, where WRKO played it like a single
  • Danny Wilson, “Mary’s Prayer” (Marc Nathan)
  • Dave Edmunds, “Slipping Away” (Jon Zellner)
  • Dwight Twilley Band, “I’m On Fire” (Don Beno, Bill O’Neil) – But I want this to play on the Classic Hits station in Peoria, where it was No. 1 
  • Edwin Collins, “A Girl Like You” (Bill O’Neil) – But as Classic Hits pushes into the ‘90s, doesn’t it feel like exactly the record the format should play
  • El Chicano, “Tell Her She’s Lovely”(Joel Dearing, Jack Oliver)
  • Fotomaker, “Where Have You Been All My Life” (Jerry Rubino)
  • France Joli, “Gonna Get Over You” (KJ Carson) – One of many disco/R&B jams from the Uptown Funk era that never made it to pop radio. But in New York, where WKTU and WBLS had far more yank than CHR in that era, people don’t know that
  • Gerry Rafferty, “Home And Dry” – This one’s mine. Along with “Right Down the Line,” maybe the best adult appreciation of a marriage ever written
  • Giant, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” (Robert Serrano)
  • Giant Steps, “Another Lover” (Chris Ryan)
  • Keith Hampshire, “Daytime, Nighttime” (Mark Roman)
  • Icicle Works, “Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly)” (Chris  Ruh)
  • Karyn White, “The Way You Love Me” (Dana Lundon)
  • Leon & Mary Russell, “Rainbow In Your Eyes” (Dan Mason)
  • Lone Justice, “Ways To Be Wicked” (Robert Serrano)
  • Lighthouse, “Pretty Lady” (Brad Lovett) – Still lingers a little at Canadian Classic Hits
  • Martin Briley, “The Salt In My Tears” (Gene Curtis)
  • Midnight Starr, “Midas Touch” (Dana Lundon)
  • Michael Penn, “No Myth” (Craig Russell)
  • Nik Kershaw, “Wouldn’t It Be Good” (John Summers) – Can test in Canada
  • Nylons, “Kiss Him Goodbye” (Craig Russell)
  • Partland Brothers, “Soul City” (Jon Zellner)
  • Peter Frampton, “I Can’t Stand It No More”—This one’s mine, too. I had the opportunity to spike it once on a client’s “Oh Wow Weekend,” and it just felt too much like an indulgence. But do I ever wish this had come out before Frampton damaged his own momentum with the “I’m In You” album
  • Peter Wolf, “Lights Out” (Paul Kelly)
  • R.E.M., “Superman” (Jacob Barker)
  • Republica, “Ready To Go” (Damon Shaw)
  • Rick Springfield,” “Bop ‘Till You Drop” (Jon Zellner)
  • Roger Voudouris, “Get Used To It (John Summers)
  • Roxy Music, “Love Is The Drug” (Jerry Noble)
  • School of Fish, “Three Strange Days” (Bill Jacobs, Chris Crowley)
  • Smokie, “Living Next Door to Alice” (Artie Shultz) – Although in Europe, it became an R-rated singalong record along the lines of “Mony Mony” here
  • Soulsister, “The Way To Your Heart” (Keith Kennedy) – Kennedy adds, “Okay, that’s just a fave.” But we’re agreed on that one.
  • Squeeze, “Pulling Muscles From The Shell” (Rob Farina) – Never a US pop radio hit at all, but Squeeze had more pop hits in Canada
  • Steve Perry, “Strung Out” (Kevin Robinson)
  • T. Rex, “20th Century Boy” (Willobee Carlan, who notes that on Reno’s new non-comm NV89, he can play that song and two other T. Rex titles as well. But too bad this one didn’t get a boost from being a prominent ‘00s TV commercial sync)
  • 10cc, “Dreadlock Holiday” (Skip Hinley) – Still surfaces on UK radio
  • Times Two, “Strange But True” (Jimi Jamm) –And I was always sorry that their version of “Cecilia” was never a hit
  • Tuesdays, “It’s Up To You” (Charlie Mitchell)
  • Who, “Eminence Front” (Lisa Johnson) – Barely cracked radio in 1982-83, but very much the sound of the future
  • Wings, “Mull of Kintyre” (Jojo Girard) – In Canada, McCartney still sings this as an encore

Share This Post

Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

4 Comments


  1. From those lists, I’ve heard–at the very least–No Myth, Cherry Bomb, and (most recently) Sixpence’s version of There She Goes piped in at the Dunkin’ Donuts that I frequent. Subway’s current music system can also be interesting.


  2. Holy crap…I *play* most of those!!!


  3. There should be a coordinated effort to play “Gotta Tell You” by Samantha Mumba frequently until people remember it’s awesome and it tests again. (Or did it ever test?)


  4. In my experience, “Thunder Island” and “Cruel To Be Kind” get tons of play, particularly on Classic Hits stations that do “10@10” or “9@9” features that spotlight a particular year daily — they get played nearly ever time ’78 and ’79 come up, respectively. I find it hard to believe they don’t test well.

Leave a Reply