Songs That Made A Difference In 2007: Something To Cheer About

When we look back at the records that most influenced radio over the year, it’s often hard to ignore the tentacles of a song from a year or two previous. The song that kicked off last year’s “Songs That Made A Difference” column, Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” was, at the end of this year, being channeled through at least three similar sounding records. And the opening of the floodgates for Stargate (the producers of “Irreplacable”) was still dwarfed by the influence of “Hollaback Girl.”
Two years ago, it was Gwen Stefani who confronted her inner cheerleader and said, “Bring it on!” Last year, it was Nelly Furtado. This year, it was most obviously Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” but there was stomping and clapping everywhere in 2007 from the R&B charts (Lil’ Mama’s “Lip Gloss”) to Latin pop (two cuts on the new Paulina Rubio album) to, at year’s end, the new Ashlee Simpson single. Pure pop didn’t usurp Rhythmic Pop as the key sound at Top 40, but it held its own (and the two were getting pretty close anyway as it was).
Meanwhile, the pop artist who most defied the trend by rocking harder, Kelly Clarkson, was the year’s most public spinout. The two most significant songs you didn’t hear on this radio in 2007 were Clarkson’s “One Minute” and “Can I Have a Kiss.” They were the two poppiest sounding cuts from Clarkson’s ill-fated “My December” album. If they had been released as singles, they wouldn’t have been “Since U Been Gone,” but they might have been “Walk Away.” But they weren’t worked. So no Top 40 station played them on their own volition — even those who continued to do okay with “Never Again” after it mid-charted.
What did that say about radio? Again, that it’s very hard to get them to go off the menu of songs being promoted to them. But also that there is now so much available uptempo mainstream pop that Top 40 PDs didn’t think they had to find their own Clarkson songs. Rascal Flatts, the Wreckers, and others showed up to fill the Dixie Chicks’ role at Country as the genre-spanning act with younger appeal. So when Clarkson wanted to write mostly with “Her + Hr Band,” there was Pink, back from her own less successful rock jaunt, to fill the void. Who knew?
Clarkson’s Top 40 travails also reflect just how many “American Idol” winners and finalists have been minted since her initial coronation. Being an ex-finalist was one of the ways to break through at Top 40 even on an independent imprint as Elliot Yamin’s “Wait For You” proved.
These are the other “Songs That Made A Difference In 2007″ – never necessarily the biggest songs of the year, although they often are, but ones that reflect the changing nature of the formats that played them:

  • Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly” – We’ll see how many more acoustic female singer-songwriter records that bubble up from MySpace truly end up in power rotation at Top 40. But as noted here earlier this year, seeing Caillat, Feist, and Ingrid Michaelson among the top selling singles in one week is a pretty seismic change.
  • Snow Patrol, “Chasing Cars” and Fray, “How to Save A Life” - They were in this list last year as a testament to the power of “Gray’s Anatomy” (and TV overall). They’re here this year because they continued throughout 2007 as currents at AC radio, as that format tried to think younger.
  • Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats” and Taylor Swift, “Teardrops On My Guitar” – During the Country boom of 1990, an ailing Top 40 decided to sit out Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, lest even more listeners figure out that was where the action was. This is evidence that programmers are savvier this time around. And while Top 40 is still willing to wait six months until the label says it’s their turn, they don’t always need a pop remix, as evidenced by “Before He Cheats,” the purest Country story song crossover since the era of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and “Coward of the County.” And even without her pop success, Swift would rate a mention here for bringing the MySpace revolution to Country radio. Meanwhile, the next time somebody asks why Top 40 isn’t like it was in the old days when it played everything, tell them that Taylor is playing next to Soulja Boy somewhere right now.
  • Miley Cyrus, “See You Again” – Last year’s column focused on all the Radio Disney product that didn’t make it through to Top 40. “High School Musical 2″ was still MIA in 2007, but after incursions by Aly & AJ and the Jonas Brothers, one can be cautiously optimistic that radio is coming around – even before an artist transfers from the Disney label to sister Hollywood. And in a year of pure pop, why shouldn’t they?
  • Finger Eleven, “Paralyzer” - Rock radio in 2007 saw a tilt back toward the Active Rock side, but with a nod to the Alternative artists with great riffage (White Stripes, Silversun Pickups). And this was the record that best represented the middle-of-the-rock convergence: a mainstream rock band that turbocharged the sound of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out.” In the process, they managed a major Top 40 hit on an indie label with a Rock record that was neither teen punk nor Nickelballad.
  • Timbaland & Onerepublic, “Apologize” – Because what was more typically 2007 than a Hip-Hop producer presenting a teen punk band with the record that one still wishes Elton John would make?
  • Alicia Keys, “No One” - The song that reminded programmers just how mass-appeal R&B is (as opposed to Hip-Hop or Rhythmic Pop). And if I probably wrote the same thing about “If I Ain’t Got You” in 2003, well, it just shows how that lesson has to keep being delivered. So does…
  • Fantasia, “When I See U” - This was the No. 2 Urban record of the year. But if you’re not involved with R&B radio, you may not know it existed. (Even the week it was No. 1, I had friends asking me what had happened to her and if she was still recording.) For the first time in nearly 30 years, since the era of Zapp and Tom Browne, we’re starting to see massive Urban hits that never get anywhere near pop radio, and part of it is because R&B (as opposed to Hip-Hop) is displaying its primacy at that format.
  • Playaz Circle, “Duffle Bag Boy” - That said, this was the kind of record that had supposedly ceased to exist at R&B: lyrically edgy but melodic, a/k/a the “Chronic” formula. And it was bigger than either of Jay-Z’s return-to-the-streets hits.
  • Paramore, “Misery Business” - Refreshed the teen punk formula, but, as an act, also the best bet to fill the vacant Heart/Pat Benatar franchise in many years.
  • Tracy Lawrence, “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” and Emerson Drive, “Moments” -The No. 4 and 5 songs of the year at Country were on indie labels (something that’s less and less remarkable all the time) and Lawrence’s hit showed that Country radio would stand up for its right to go off the menu. And with “Before He Cheats” and Billy Currington’s “Good Directions,” “Moments” also represented a resurgence of the Country story song. Lawrence, meanwhile, shares the “no comeback is more than one great song away” award with Pink and Musiq Soulchild’s R&B hit “Buddy.”
  • Song Trust, “Bring Him Home Santa” – This year’s “Dear Mr. Jesus,” albeit on a somewhat smaller scale – a Country Christmas reaction record in which a 6-year-old girl asks Santa to bring her military dad home. The sign-of-the-times was getting the words “bring him home” (in the most apolitical way possible) onto Country radio, even in military base markets like Norfolk and Tampa.
  • Eagles, “How Long” - The Classic Rock/Country connection still isn’t quite bearing the fruits that both sides might have hoped after the success of Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.” It’s still easier to hear a new Rascal Flatts song that recalls Glenn Frey than the real article. But the album sales prove that the market is still there.
  • Bob Sinclair, “World Hold On” and Enur f/Natajia, “Calabria 2007″ - Okay, there was actually plenty of danceable music on the radio this year, it just didn’t come from the dance music world. But if current dance finds a foothold again, it will be because of these two records and the beachhead they established at Miami’s WPOW (Power 96) and WHYI (Y100) this year.
  • Radiohead, “Bodysnatchers” – The lead track that emerged from “In Rainbows” — the album that was expected to change the way music is bought and valued — has gotten to #24 on the Modern Rock charts, and that’s with the eventual support of an actual label. So is radio failing to adequately embrace the event of the year? We’ll know a little more in a week when the first sales figures for the hard copy of “In Rainbows” come back.
9 replies
  1. Sue O'Neil
    Sue O'Neil says:

    Soulja Boy “Crank Dat” Lit up dance floors in the clubs, on the streets and the instructional video on youtube was a must see and learn….

  2. Dan Fullick
    Dan Fullick says:

    Great insight as always, Sean. I have been surprised that Bob Sinclair has not seen more success in the US. Starting with “Love Generation” 2 years ago, it seems he could have had a trail of hits here as he has enjoyed elsewhere in the world.

  3. Adam Jacobson
    Adam Jacobson says:

    2007 was an incredible year for music. Of course, most Americans are unaware of this because of the failings of our music radio stations for delivering – in many markets – beyond the top 40 and beyond what the music test says we should hear.
    The failing recording industry and its outmoded promotion system is also at fault for failing to expose to most Americans some of the best modern rock and Alternative songs to emerge from Britain, New York and Southern California in recent memory.
    Dance music made a resurgence, while the pop ballad – as you state with Colbie Calliat – made a comeback. Top 40 radio is as soccer mom-in-the-SUV as ever before, with “Hip Hop Is Dead” really taking on strong meaning in 2007 – except in South Florida.
    There are 10 songs that I can really single out as being “the best” of 2007, and some were never played on U.S. radio. But here in my opinion is what defined 2007 – at least globally.
    10. Rihanna “Please Don’t Stop The Music”
    Who would’ve thought taking a great song and making it better by looping a refrain from Michael Jackson’s “Wanna’ Be Starting Somethin'” would be so catchy?
    9. Robyn featuring Kleerup “With Every Heartbeat”
    The do-it-yourself No. 1 British smash. Self-promotion, self-release, self-success. It may not make it to No. 1 elsewhere, but when you are your record label and need to make the distribution deals yourself, there’s only so much you can do. But the song is haunting, pulsating and unique – and you can dance to it. A refreshing change from “same beat … different song!”
    8. Paramore “Misery Business”
    It was the Year of the Rock Chick, in many ways. This song, which wasn’t really played on the radio here in Miami, is a great sign of things to come, which will include …
    7. Kate Nash “Foundations”
    I hated this song when it was released because I thought, “Great, here come the Lily Allen knockoffs.” But Kate Nash delivers the goods and she’s got the talent – and she’s not pregnant, boozing or suffering from the pressures of stardom just yet. The same goes for …
    6. Amy MacDonald “Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll”
    No, it’s not a homage to Brian Bierne of K-Earth 101 fame. It’s a great folk-rock song from an emerging artist from Scotland who would follow KT Tunstall to Triple A success in the states.
    5. Mika “Relax… Take It Easy”
    What do you get when you put Scissor Sisters, Queen and some Bee Gees in a blender? You get “Grace Kelly” and a half-dozen other songs from Mika. The pride of the Rainbow Nation and the king of Euro CHR, this song was inescapable during much of 2007 from Lisbon to Dubai and everywhere in between. Good fun pop. Where were the Top 40 giants in the U.S. on this, fearing anti-gay backlash? Please … it’s 2007. Half of your airstaff is likely gay or Lesbian so get over it.
    4. Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse “Valerie”
    Arguably the Album of the Year, Mark Ronson’s “Version” is an incredible take on some recent modern rock songs, recut with various artists and the band responsible for the great 1960s R&B sounds backing Winehouse on the Likely Album of the Year – “Back To Black.”
    “Valerie” is Ronson and Winehouse redoing the Zutons’ 2006 track, and it’s a gem.
    3. Nelly Furtado “Say It Right”
    How right can it be when a hook is repeated over and over and there’s little chord changes and some ordinary lyrics? When you’re Nelly Furtado it’s only the second-hottest song of the year. The record that wouldn’t die in South Florida, S

  4. tom barnes
    tom barnes says:

    Is Hip Hop dead? May be. Did you read the NYT last week? Sales way off (Jay Z being the obvious exception). R&B is back and HUGE. I think, perhaps, Jill Scott opening for Chris Rock at MSG may be remembered as a watershed in urban music history.
    How long will it take top 40 to figure out what fans have known for at least 5 years? R&B matters–the songs are there. What is everyone waiting for? It is certainly a deeper trend (and a richer vein) than female singer songwriters or American idol finalists. Angie Stone, Macy Gray, Alice Russel and of course Amy Winehouse.
    Speaking of Ms. Winehouse “Rehab” didn’t make the list? What am I missing? a late 2006 release date in the UK? Back to Black sold 51000 copies in its first week (released in 2007 in the US. right?). Contempt for the “tortured artist” routine? So she likes to drink? How do you think she got that voice?
    Otherwise a great post Sean. Good catch on the Radiohead and Finger Eleven.

  5. Michael McDowell
    Michael McDowell says:

    The choice of Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana cuts is unusual (surely “Girls Night Out” got more attention than did “See You Again”). But she indeed has to date demonstrated far more substance and/or staying power than those who preceded her from similar origins.
    That said, Rihanna’s overplayed yet still thoroughly infectious “Umbrella” certain warrants a mention, as does Sean Kingston’s sublime Ben E. King rip off. Maybe there is hope for commercial music after all!

  6. Greg Thompson
    Greg Thompson says:

    Love to hear everyone’s thoughts and perspective. I think the world of top 40 has had a incredible cross section of music in 2007. I do think we need to reach for the hits and embrace records that may not be coming from other radio formats . The internet , TV, and incredible power of social networking have given all kinds of music/ artist great reach. It is clear to me we have a passionate music culture in the lower end of the demo that must be fed before we loose them. I aplaude stations that have embraced Mili Cyrus records ( Hanna is a pop icon, be it low end. But soccer moms lost control of the remote a long time ago).
    As far 2007, the record to me was Rihanna Umbrella.

  7. Chuck Geiger
    Chuck Geiger says:

    Before He Cheats not only has cross over appeal but for close to year had research potential scores in the 120 range. Taylor Swift has not had a research hit at Country yet. Teardrops is doing better thanks to CHR airplay (now on Country). High unfamiliar scores. It’s about time for the ten cross over to happen (Guy Zapoleon). Been about 8-9 years since Shania, Faith and Lonestar all crossed to a rap heavy CHR. You will always have the the Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban cross to AC, but not CHR. It’s like the early 90’s Trisha Yearwood “Bus to St. Cloud” crossing to only AC.

  8. Edison Media Research
    Edison Media Research says:

    The Most Intriguing Stations Of 2008 (And Echoes Of 2005)

    Every year Edison Media Research’s Sean Ross looks at the stations that weren’t just successful, but had larger implications for programming trends. And in 2007, the most influential stations may have been a small-market cluster and their experiment th…


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