Songs That Made A Difference In 2008: Straight Outta Saginaw

Until the late ’70s, Top 40 hits started in secondary markets – often in the south – and worked their way up to the major markets. Then MTV came along in the early ’80s, and the regional story was obscured as the whole country got access to songs at once. In the late ’80s, a Guy Zapoleon-led “brat pack” of Top 40 PDs claimed the record-breaking mantle for the large markets. Over the next 20 years, the secondaries would come to be viewed in many quarters as “add fodder.” And by the end of the Elliot Spitzer scandal (the radio one), starting a left-field record was pretty much the purview of a few major-market PDs who were considered above reproach, and who still had access to regular callout for a quick read on their decisions.
So in our annual review of “Songs That Made A Difference” – not necessarily the biggest hits, not just bravura feats of record promotion, but songs that actually reflected the changing musical composition of a format – the first record cited has to be the one that was also our summer song of 2008 runner up, “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock.
“All Summer Long” got some airplay in a number of formats and market sizes when it was first released last October, but its Top 40 life began at WIOG Saginaw, Mich., then stations like WVKS Toledo, Ohio, and WDJQ (Q92) Canton, Ohio, this winter. Over the next few months, it clawed its way up through Knoxville, Tenn., Roanoke, Va., and Charlotte, N.C., not landing on rhythmic-leaning major market stations until May. In other words, the secondary markets that used to break Top 40 hits around the time of the original “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves Of London,” were able to propel a rock-leaning title on to rhythmic-leaning major-market stations that would not have found it on their own volition.
“All Summer Long” would have had a pretty good chance at making this list this year, no matter where it started. It demonstrated that the right song from the right artist could still sell full-length CDs (and not just because it wasn’t available as a single download on iTunes). It also overcame the initial concerns of some Country PDs about Kid’s image (even after “Picture”) to become one of the year’s true multi-format hits.
The medium-market pipeline hasn’t been entirely reopened yet. Consider Rehab’s “Bartender Song (Sitin’ In A Bar),” which, at year’s end, is still a hit on many of the stations where “All Summer Long” first exploded. “Bartender Song” made it to the lower reaches of the top 40, without ever spreading to most of the majors that eventually came along around on Kid Rock. But it’s still quite an accomplishment for a seven-year-old song that has appeared on two different labels.
Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” didn’t need seven years, only seven months to become a hit. It did so with an assist from Canada – the second year in a row that an American record had to go there to become a hit, following Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.” “Just Dance” also got some help from John Garabedian’s syndicated “Open House Party” (a champion of the Rehab song as well) and from CKEY Buffalo’s Dave Universal.
Other key records of 2008 and what they meant for the radio landscape.
* Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life” – The year began with a barrage of consumer press stories about the decline of Hip-Hop. And anybody who remembers the 1987 New York Times story about the decline of Country knows that means a similar resurgence is imminent.
* Beyonce, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” – And in case you felt Rhythmic Pop had completely usurped or marginalized R&B, consider how this R&B street jam overtook the sure-shot “Irreplaceable”-type ballad. And then R&B stations didn’t let Top 40 have that pop ballad to itself either.
* Chris Brown, “Forever” – Not that Rhythmic Pop had a bad year, either. Would’ve been just another well-crafted hit if it hadn’t snuck a Wrigley’s ad campaign on to radio, and the audience didn’t seem to mind (or even notice) any more than they have minded those strategically placed Coke glasses on “American Idol.”
* Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” – Last year, her MySpace-to-Country radio success story just made her a freak of nature. This year, she became a force of nature – compelling Country radio to look at the possibility of fragmentation in a way that previous New School leaders Randy Travis and Garth Brooks never did.
* Coldplay, “Viva La Vida”; M.I.A., “Paper Planes”; Ingrid Michaelson, “The Way I Am” — Just when it looked like the TV commercial was losing its silver bullet status from overuse this year, it propelled three very different records to hit status at various formats. TV exposure didn’t just help these songs gain traction in week-to-week research, they also helped give “The Way I Am” and “Paper Planes” some top-of-the-page library test showings of the sort that usually go to much bigger multi-format records.
* Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours”; Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah” – Every few years the doors open for singer-songwriters at pop radio and a “Romeo’s Tune” or a “Sunny Came Home” breaks through – a song that stops the radio cold and might otherwise live only at Triple-A. “I’m Yours” was No. 1 at Top 40, in between Katy Perry and T.I. “Hallelujah” never made it to the radio, but had its own “American Idol”/iTunes-driven moment.
* Lady Antebellum, “Lookin’ For A Good Time”; Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder and Lead” – For the seismic change that has taken place in Country from an artist standpoint, much of the music itself could as easily be performed by the veterans: pro-social, female-friendly, and not too musically aggressive. So how did Lady Antebellum’s mutually agreeable one-night-stand get as far as No. 12? How did Lambert push her revenge tale to No. 7 at the same format that objected to the storyline of “Goodbye Earl,” even when the Dixie Chicks were still welcome? And, in doing so, finally make PDs forget about where her career started? Just proves that a career record can take many forms.
* Darius Rucker, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” – Yes, the first No.1 on the Country charts by an African-American artist in 25 years. But significant also because Hootie & the Blowfish was the act that took Garth Brooks’ regular guy appeal and reclaimed it for Top 40 almost 15 years ago. So the Country act that got away has finally found a home – and of those that tried this year (Jewel, Jessica Simpson), it’s interesting that he’s the one who really took.
* Puddle Of Mudd, “Psycho”Many major Alternative stations barely touched it at the time, including KROQ Los Angeles. Somehow, it still went to No. 1 in that heavily fragmented format and became the fourth most played record of the year. So either some stations are very worried about artist image (it’s not impossible to imagine this song among Weezer’s current output), or the trades need to reclassify a lot of stations as Active Rock.
Finally, if you’re looking for some of the significant songs that were already in play at the beginning of the year, you can read about Colbie Caillat, Miley Cyrus, Finger 11 and Radiohead in the Songs That Made A Difference In 2007 column.
And what were your game-changing songs of the year?

3 replies
  1. Greg Bergen
    Greg Bergen says:

    Exceptional recap, just like last year. Also worth noting the continuation of the return of the “stripper anthem”, with the longest charting singles on the Alt chart being Saving Abel “Addicted” (38wks) and Theroy of a Deadman “Bad Girlfriend” (25wks), with big footprints at top40 and potential big second singles.

  2. Lou P.
    Lou P. says:

    I discovered “Sittin’ at a Bar” in 2005 when my then-girlfriend played a Rehab CD for me, and I instantly loved the track. I figured it would always be of those songs that I loved but that the masses would never have the chance to hear.
    Imagine my shock when, earlier this year, the song (slightly tweaked for the worse IMO), re-emerged and earned major radio airplay in 2008, enough so to earn . Funny how things work out sometime.
    A random thought: will “You Don’t Know Me” by Ben Folds end up impacting not only “modern rock” radio but also CHR in a meaningful way in Q1 of 2009? Time will tell.
    Overall I can’t find anything to quibble with on here. You came up with a great list and yet another well-crafted article, Sean.

  3. Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine
    Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    Of those you mentioned, Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” is definitely the stand out track. The first time I heard it, it sounded like Paul Simon taking a stab at reggae. It’s just a flat out catchy track.
    Too bad that this list is restricted to only that which has been radio friendly, though. Anyone who has an ear for the adventurous should also seek out Tom Guard’s 2008 debut CD, “Shy River”. He takes the singer/songwriter concept to a whole new level.


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