A front-line act with a months-old album decides to push his most obvious hit-bound song to radio–a song heavily reliant on a prominent sample of a deathless pop hit. But, bucking the day’s prevalent trend, he decides not to release the song on the most popular singles medium, forcing most customers to buy his album.
It’s a risky move, because the Billboard Hot 100 is dominated by songs that scale the chart by amassing sales as well as airplay. But the song is so mindlessly catchy, the act’s people figure it’ll be a big chart hit anyway with radio alone.
I could be talking about M.C. Hammer’s 1990 smash “U Can’t Touch This,” the “Superfreak”-sampling hit that made the Top 10, even as Capitol refused to issue it as a cassingle.
But I could also be talking about Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long,” a mashup of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” that debuts on the Hot 100 this week at No. 80 despite his lack of interest in releasing it digitally.
Can the erstwhile Robert Richie pull off in 2008 what one Stanley Kirk Burrell pulled 18 years ago?
A No. 80 debut might not seem all that impressive for the Kid’s insanely catchy song, but it’s appearing on the chart with one hand tied behind its back thanks to the lack of any digital single release. Just for comparison, in early May, Weezer’s “Pork and Beans” debuted at No. 84, even with iTunes on its side–as well as radio, where the song has been massive, topping the all-airplay Modern Rock list for 10 weeks. (On the Hot 100, “Pork” never went much higher after its debut; it peaked at No. 64 a few weeks back.)
Right now, 99 songs on the Hot 100 are available at retail in some form, virtually all at iTunes. But “All Summer Long” is the only one with the Billboard footnote “PROMO ONLY,” which is basically code for “radio can play this, but the consumer can’t buy it.” Atlantic has even provided a single-length “radio edit” of the song to programmers, but you can’t buy that, either.
Kid’s isn’t the only song this year to make a splash without digital sales. You may recall that in February, Mariah Carey’s album-leading single “Touch My Body” appeared on the chart on radio points alone, debuting way up at No. 57. That would seem to minimize Mr. Rock’s achievement. But let’s get some perspective: (a) Mariah is a massive pop artist who crosses multiple radio genres and treats the Hot 100 as her personal fiefdom; and (b) everyone knew ahead of time that the song would get a digital release eventually–which it did in April, shooting the song to No. 1 on the big chart.
Kid Rock is a different rock n’ roll animal. He scores radio hits only every half-decade or so: massively in 1999, with a string of rock hits off his breakthrough Devil Without a Cause; briefly in 2003, with a country-pop crossover track, “Picture.” And more important, he doesn’t want to release any of his material–albums or singles–on iTunes. So, for radio program directors to play one of his songs, they’ve got to get great listener feedback; they’re never going to have the kind of sales data that tells them when a song’s connecting with the public.
So far, it looks like “Summer” isn’t having trouble winning PDs’ support. It’s already more than halfway up the Hot 100 Airplay list and rising fast (No. 45 this week, up from No. 60). And it’s got multiple radio formats providing it with a chart boost: Top 40, adult contemporary, mainstream and modern rock, and country stations are all playing it. Assuming it never goes on sale at iTunes or Amazon MP3, this Kid Rock single, more than Carey’s “Touch,” might prove to be a pure experiment in the reach, and limits, of an all-airplay single with huge listener appeal.
Kind of like “U Can’t Touch This.”
Beyond the gleeful pillaging of Rick James on Hammer’s hit, and Zevon and the Van Zandt brothers on Kid Rock’s, “U Can’t Touch This” and “All Summer Long” would seem to have little in common. But for those of us who’ve watched the history of the retail single for the last 20 years, “U” is a pivotal record.
Tapped as the second single from 1990′s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em after the modest R&B hit “Help the Children,” “U” was only issued as a 12″ vinyl single, a clever tactical move. That allowed “U” to qualify for the Hot 100 (until 1998, all singles had to be released at retail in some form to be eligible for the big chart) but guaranteed that the overwhelming majority of consumers desiring the song would have to buy Hammer’s album on cassette or CD. For all intents and purposes, “U” was a grand experiment on Capitol’s part, a de facto airplay-only hit on a chart where every other record had a mainstream retail component–cassingle or maxi-cassette, CD-single–providing chart points. And they didn’t do it with a low-priority song, either; they did it with a preordained rap-pop crossover smash with huge MTV play.
Long story short: the experiment worked like a charm. “U” made the Top 10 anyway, thanks to its blanketing of the Top 40 airwaves in the summer of 1990. If a cassingle had been released, the song indubitably would have gone to No. 1 and stayed there for months… but what did Capitol care? They made money hand over fist: Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em spent a staggering 21 weeks atop the Billboard album chart and went 10-times-platinum, the first hip-hop album of any kind to see that kind of success. Since 1990, no other album has spent that long on top of the chart (Billy Ray Cyrus, Whitney Houston, and Alanis Morissette have come closest).
In short, “U Can’t Touch This” was the song that kicked off the record industry’s decade-long campaign to bury the single as a retail medium. (Don’t get me started–I could go into a long diatribe about all the other experiments, from deleting singles early to limited releases, the labels used to get out of releasing retail songs over the next 10 years.) By the start of the 2000s, virtually no song on the Hot 100 had a retail component. Billboard caved in ’98 in allowing non-retail tracks to chart, and the first all-airplay song to top the chart was Aaliyah’s “Try Again” in 2000.
Since the early 2000s, of course, the paradigm has shifted again, thanks to the inclusion of digital song sales on the Hot 100 starting in 2005. Consumer sales once again have a major impact on the chart. In fact, sales skew the Hot 100 more radically now than at any time in the chart’s history. The tide has turned against radio: it’s now virtually impossible to make the Top 10 without sales–as proved this spring by Carey’s hit, which couldn’t get higher than No. 15 on airplay alone before iTunes propelled it to the top.
I doubt that quite as much thinking has gone into Atlantic’s withholding of “All Summer Long” from iTunes as went into keeping Hammer’s hit off mall-shop shelves in 1990. (Mostly, it seems the Kid has a beef with his label’s digital-release royalties, or Steve Jobs, or something.) Still, the effect has been the same: this week, Rock’s nine-month-old Rock N Roll Jesus disc is back in the Top 10 for the first time since last fall.
Good for Kid Rock and Atlantic–but I think we can agree that this year’s anti-single experiment will not prove a Hammer-sized success, even if Jesus does return to No. 1 on the album chart for a week or two, and even if “Summer” does manage to make the Hot 100′s upper reaches. If the Kid, as he claims, doesn’t care about people illegally downloading or torrenting his music, there’s got to be a slew of people too cheap to buy a full-price CD and too savvy to do without his hit on their iPods.
Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:
• It’s been eight weeks since Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” topped the Hot 100, and it looks like she might claw her way back. The song, which never left the Top Five, moves up two spaces to No. 2 this week, right behind Katy Perry’s three-week champ “I Kissed a Girl.” In the modern, sales-skewed Hot 100, the chart pattern we’ve seen by “Bow” is becoming more typical: an explosion in sales, followed by a radio catch-up.
The iTunes release of the song sent Ri hurtling more than 50 spots to No. 1 in May; since then, her sales have cooled, but the song has risen in the airplay rankings to become the second most-played track in the country behind Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.” (R&B programmers, in particular, have only recently caught on; “Bow” reaches the Top 10 for the first time this week on the airplay-centric Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs list.) Perry continues to have the top-selling digital song, but if Ri can keep her sales respectable–it’s ranked seventh on the digital chart this week–and keep growing her airplay, we could see a coup.
If Ri were to pull off the repeat appearance in the penthouse, the nine-week gap between No. 1 stints would likely go down as the second-largest in Hot 100 history. It’s unlikely that any song will ever top the all-time record-holder: Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” which went to No. 1 in 1960 and then again, 16 months later, in 1962. (Reportedly, the kids got into the dance first, and then their parents caught on later.)
• I didn’t realize this until Fred Bronson told me, but the new song on top of the Hot Country chart this week is actually a remake of a modern-schlock smash. “Home,” originally written and recorded by the millennium’s New Sinatra, Michael Buble, topped the Adult Contemporary chart in the summer of 2005. Covered by Blake Shelton for a fan-soaking rerelease of his 2007 album Pure BS (man, I’ll say!), “Home” is now a Country chart-topper, as well.
Can’t wait for the inevitable R&B revamp by Robin Thicke, or maybe Eric Benet… with special guest T.I., of course.
Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):
1. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (LW No. 1, 9 weeks)
2. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 4, 13 weeks)
3. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks)
4. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (LW No. 3, 21 weeks)
5. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 6, 9 weeks)
6. Chris Brown, “Forever” (LW No. 8, 11 weeks)
7. Natasha Bedingfield, “Pocketful of Sunshine” (LW No. 10, 21 weeks)
8. Jonas Brothers, “Burnin’ Up” (LW No. 5, 2 weeks)
9. Plies feat. Ne-Yo, “Bust It Baby (Part 2)” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks)
10. Miley Cyrus, “7 Things” (LW No. 16, 5 weeks)
Hot Digital Songs
1. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (LW No. 1)
2. Jonas Brothers, “Burnin’ Up” (LW No. 2)
3. Miley Cyrus, “7 Things” (LW No. 6)
4. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 4)
5. The Pussycat Dolls, “When I Grow Up” (LW No. 7)
6. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 5)
7. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 10)
8. Metro Station, “Shake It” (LW No. 9)
9. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 8)
10. Chris Brown, “Forever” (LW No. 14)
Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
1. Keyshia Cole, “Heaven Sent” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks)
2. Lil Wayne, “A Milli” (LW No. 2, 11 weeks)
3. The-Dream, “I Luv Your Girl” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks)
4. Plies feat. Ne-Yo, “Bust It Baby (Part 2)” (LW No. 3, 19 weeks)
5. Alicia Keys, “Teenage Love Affair” (LW No. 6, 21 weeks)
6. Chris Brown, “Take You Down” (LW No. 5, 15 weeks)
7. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 7, 17 weeks)
8. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 11, 11 weeks)
9. Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, “Put On” (LW No. 10, 9 weeks)
10. Usher feat. Beyonce and Lil Wayne, “Love in This Club, Part II” (LW No. 8, 11 weeks)
Hot Country Songs
1. Blake Shelton, “Home” (LW No. 2, 24 weeks)
2. Alan Jackson, “Good Time” (LW No. 4, 13 weeks)
3. Montgomery Gentry, “Back When I Knew It All” (LW No. 1, 20 weeks)
4. Kenny Chesney, “Better as a Memory” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks)
5. Brooks & Dunn, “Put a Girl in It” (LW No. 6, 11 weeks)
6. Dierks Bentley, “Trying to Stop Your Leaving” (LW No. 5, 26 weeks)
7. Sugarland, “All I Want to Do” (LW No. 8, 7 weeks)
8. Keith Anderson, “I Still Miss You” (LW No. 10, 23 weeks)
9. Keith Urban, “You Look Good in My Shirt” (LW No. 12, 7 weeks)
10. Taylor Swift, “Should’ve Said No” (LW No. 13, 8 weeks)
Hot Modern Rock Tracks
1. Weezer, “Pork & Beans” (LW No. 1, 12 weeks)
2. The Offspring, “Hammerhead” (LW No. 2, 9 weeks)
3. Foo Fighters, “Let It Die” (LW No. 3, 14 weeks)
4. Linkin Park, “Given Up” (LW No. 4, 18 weeks)
5. Seether, “Rise Above This” (LW No. 5, 20 weeks)
6. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 8, 5 weeks)
7. Disturbed, “Inside the Fire” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks)
8. Death Cab for Cutie, “I Will Possess Your Heart” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks)
9. Saving Abel, ” Addicted” (LW No. 11, 16 weeks)
10. 3 Doors Down, “It’s Not My Time” (LW No. 12, 20 weeks)