Is this great country, or what?
In a somewhat alarming trend to Top 40 radio, country is becoming the music genre of choice for many young women. And that’s propelled country music stations to the No. 1 position in radio markets as diverse as Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Portland, Raleigh and San Diego, among others. Country music is even establishing itself in markets where it’s seldom been picked for an automobile’s automatic push button. Chicago’s leading country station, for instance, is now No. 3.
Locally, WDSY – Y108 – distanced itself even further from No. 2 WDVE in July, and had a comfortable lead over WRRK (Bob-FM), WWSW (3WS) and WKST (Kiss-FM) as well. That’s particularly disturbing to WKST, as Top 40 stations nationwide tend to challenge and sometimes win the top spot during the summer months.
Not this year.
Online and offline pundits offer multiple reasons for this anomaly and many suggest it’s not an anomaly at all. Listeners are finding that, compared with Top 40 music, country generally has more relatable lyrics that don’t have to be “bleeped” as often as those on Top 40 radio. It has built a stable of recognizable stars, from Blake Shelton and Keith Urban (both featured judges on TV talent shows) to teen idols Hunter Hayes and Taylor Swift. And, thanks to country radio’s habit of identifying artists before or after their song is played, those artists are becoming household names. Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood are now every bit as well-known as Bruno Mars and Katy Perry.
When pop stations reluctantly added Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” to their play lists in May, they may have inadvertently prompted listeners to “Cruise” over to country stations. One suspects those listeners enjoyed the pause from the persistent dance beat of pop radio.
Indeed, that might well be Top 40’s biggest issue – an inability to break away from the beats-per-minute formula that has worked since 2007-2008. Perhaps it should check its own history – particularly 1979, when, after four or five years of a constant disco drone, listeners began to look elsewhere.
Given the unintended result of playing “Cruise,” Top 40’s gut reaction will probably be not to play crossover country hits again lest they drive listeners to country stations. They should, of course, do just the opposite. Filtering in Hunter Hayes or the occasional Carrie Underwood are pleasant diversions. So is rock music, or at least music with a guitar base. Top 40 currently employs a stale formula that allows just two or three rock-leaning records on its play list at any one time. If Maroon Five automatically takes one of those slots (and it has for about two years), the other slot is limited to the occasional Mumford & Sons, Imagine Dragons or Fall Out Boy song which, because of the backlog of rock songs waiting in queue, often come to pop radio several months after being played elsewhere. If it smells stale …
If Top 40 rebounded a few years ago because of new dance-leaning artists such as Flo Rida, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, it’s now in danger of fading because of its reluctance to get off the dance floor.
In 1980, a successful, albeit temporary, fix to the disco overkill was a taste of “Urban Cowboy.” It just might work again.
Oops, they did it again
Because of Internet leaks, pop’s foremost female stars – Lady Gaga and Katy Perry – were forced to release their new singles during the same week, a serious no-no for radio, which likes to make individual splashes for its superstars. The last two times pop’s top two acts dropped new singles simultaneously were in 1979 and 1967. In 1979, the red-hot Eagles and Fleetwood Mac offered up “Heartache Tonight” and “Tusk,” respectively. “Heartache Tonight” peaked at No. 1; “Tusk” at No. 8. In 1967, The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” topped the charts, besting the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” which hit No. 3. This time around, Perry’s “Roar” received more automatic radio adds than Gaga’s “Applause.” The bet here is that Perry will likely win the race as well.
A familiar twist
Billboard Magazine has again calculated its top-charted hits of all time (based on a point system) and again, Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” is No. 1, helped in no small part by the fact it hit the top in 1960 and 1962.
Here’s the updated list, along with year of release:
1. “The Twist,” Chubby Checker (1960 and 1962)
2. “Smooth,” Santana (1999)
3. “Mack the Knife,” Bobby Darin (1959)
4. “How Do I Live,” LeAnne Rimes (1997)
5. “Party Rock Anthem,” LMFAO (2011)
6. “I Gotta Feeling,” Black Eyed Peas (2009)
7. “Macarena,” Los del Rio (1996)
8. “Physical,” Olivia Newton-John (1981)
9. “You Light Up My Life,” Debby Boone (1977)
10. “Hey Jude,” The Beatles (1968)