Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Anatomy Of A Hit

I'm often asked about specific songs that people remember from the 1980s. Sometimes they even have the song on tape but don't remember who did the song or what the title is. Several have also said that they heard it so often that it had to be a big hit. That's where the problems start. Several things go into calling a song a hit.

You've heard the term 'one hit wonder' before. This term is thrown about haphazardly to any artist that doesn't hit the same level of success as their first release (1 hit, wonder why they didn't have more.) Several names always pop up on this list from Rockwell, A Flock Of Seagulls, Falco, Tommy Tutone... you know them well. But there are problems with all these artists being labels thus.

What marks a hit is usually chart, sales or airplay performance. But, what if it was a hit in another country? What if one chart lists it higher than another? These are all issues with pigeon-holing an artist as a 'one hit wonder.' I personally believe you need to include all the charts in every country. According to just one U.S. Top 40 chart: Tommy Tutone had a second hit with "Angel Say No." Falco had a second hit with "Vienna Calling." Rockwell had a second hit with "Obscene Phone Caller." A Flock Of Seagulls had two other hits with "Space Age Love Song" and "Wishing (I Had A Photograph Of You)." According to radio play, you might also add other hits for Falco ("Der Kommissar" and "Jeanny"), Rockwell ("Knife") and Flock Of Seagulls ("The More You Live, The More You Love.")

On top of that there are local radio hits. One great example that I like to use is the song "Summer Girls" by Dino (a.k.a. Dino Esposito.) Before the release of his 1989 album 24/7, Dino was all over the airwaves in Las Vegas (where he was based) with the song "Summer Girls." It was played during commercials and as a heavy request during the summer. The song only made it on the album as a remix due to the fact the song had been out so long prior to the album release. Yet, only "I Like It" and "Sunshine" are credited as hits from the album. Go figure. But, what this means is, a song you've heard countless times locally will often be overlooked regionally and nationally. Another example of this is "I Melt With You" by Modern English. You know the song, it's a staple for 80's radio stations and was a big factor in the film Valley Girl but... was not a Top 40 hit. In truth, it only landed at #78. I know, perplexing.

So, to summarize, a hit is only a hit to those that wish to call it one. People will always look at the raw data of charts and say that this was a hit or this wasn't. Many even release records now saying "includes their newest hits..." even before they've been released to radio. So, don't get suckered in by the word.