I haven’t done it yet, but every time I have to do a presentation somewhere, I consider not talking about the state of radio. I consider not talking about the radio format landscape. I think about just taking out the phone and playing music. Not because I can’t hold forth on those topics endlessly. But who doesn’t want to play music for their friends? Besides, as I fast-forward through the collection, I always feel like what ended up there, no matter whether it got anywhere near the radio, says something about the state of radio and the format landscape.
So today, I started with the most recently acquired song in my iTunes, and hit shuffle. And here’s where it went:
Ying Yang Twins, “Get Out The Way” (2017) – Why is a hip-hop act you haven’t thought about much in a decade getting 77 spins this week at WEZB (B97) New Orleans? (Also, 30 spins at KSMB Lafayette, La.)? Because it’s a New Orleans Saints novelty. And just the title alone could propel U2 & Green Day’s “The Saints Are Coming” on to B97 a decade ago, there is generally one local act or oddball hit, from V.I.C.’s “Wobble” to local punk/poppers the Vetts, on the station at any time, which is one reason for B97’s enduring greatness.
General Public, “Tenderness” (1984) – On one hand, it was sort of a makegood for all the English Beat songs of the early ‘80s that should have been a hit in America. But it was great in its own right. And it was from that last moment in 1984 when it felt like everything at Top 40 radio was good, before things started to slide a little. It wasn’t quite a big enough record at the time to endure, but it’s definitely one of those songs that radio programmers wish they could still play.
Paramore, “That’s What You Get” (2008) – They had three hits of varying magnitude from “Riot!” and perhaps the best thing was that this didn’t sound like “Misery Business,” and that song didn’t sound like “Crush Crush Crush.” And I thought there were still at least one hit left on the album when it was all over. A decade later, they remain one of our best and most consistent singles bands, and the middling radio reaction to “Hard Times’ and “Fake Happy” this year has done nothing to change that belief.
Shirley & Company, “Shame Shame Shame” (1975) – This landed about halfway into Disco’s incredibly fertile first year as a radio phenomenon on the predecessor to the label that would give us “Rapper’s Delight” four-and-a-half years later. It was out at the same time as The Bertha Butt Boogie” (and a few months ahead of “Muhammad Ali – Black Superman.” But when the records were this propulsive, were they really novelties?
Bon Jovi, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” (1993) – At a time when Mainstream Top 40 miserably needed uptempo pop/rock, WYHY (Y107) Nashville began playing it as an album cut. For me, there was no question that this would be the real hit on the album after “Keep the Faith,” “Bed Of Roses,” and “In These Arms.” But when it became a single, nothing happened—possibly because they’d exhausted their goodwill with the previous attempts.
Fats Domino, “Let The Four Winds Blow” (1961) – Bringing it back to New Orleans. Domino lived long enough to be a distant memory or vaguely known name to many upon his passing this year. Which is why you need to hear this, or hear it again. By the time he released this, the last of his top 15 hits, Domino already had 49 pop chart songs over a six-year period. Also one of the all-time great intros.
Miranda Lambert, Platinum (2014) – There was a pretty good chance that Lambert would show up here. I don’t load entire albums into my iTunes, but there are nine songs from her “Revolution” album (possibly the most from any one album) and seven songs from the album also named “Platinum.” For a decade, she was the Country act who best negotiated the gap between what Country radio would play and what it should play. And while I’ve never suggested that anybody deserves a new hit on the strength of their catalog, with “Tin Man” still slogging its way up the charts after more than eight months, I will only say that Country radio needs her to have hits.
Huey Lewis & the News, “Finally Found A Home” (1984) – There were five singles from “Sports.” This is one they didn’t get to, such was their strength and depth at the time. And I heard this enough on the poppy-leaning rock radio of the mid-‘80s that this might as well have been a single. The intro seems to be on loan from a much harder band, but the façade ends when the harmonies kick in.
Nicki Minaj, “Truffle Butter” (2015) – It was reminiscent of featured artist Drake’s “The Motto,” but it was a throwback to an era before that of more uptempo, more propulsive Hip-Hop. Since then, it’s Drake’s moody introspection that has held more sway over the genre. As Top 40 regards the undeniable streaming-driven resurgence of Hip-Hop, it’s true that more of its hits should be acknowledged. But I wish the top tier included something this uptempo.
Brenton Wood, “The Oogum Boogum Song” (1967) – “Gimme Little Sign” was his only top 10 hit and gave him an untouchable place in the R&B pantheon. This one, a single earlier, seems like a novelty goof, and a fashion time capsule as well. But when I moved to Southern California, more than 15 years later, it still played on every oldies station in town. And when I went to program R&B oldies in Chicago a decade after that, it still got requests.