Friday, April 17, 2020

THINKPIECE #2: A Room Without A Roof? The Ten Most-Played Songs of the Past Decade


On Bank Holiday Monday which was strangely like every other day off of recent times, my favourite disc jockey Scott Mills popped up on Radio 2 to reveal the most-played songs of the past ten years across TV, radio and elsewhere. Whilst I don’t quite have time to analyse the entire list, I thought we’d look at the top ten and talk about any trends and patterns I might have noticed.

What's all this then?

Before we dive into this, let’s explain how this chart was worked out. This is all based on Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) data. This basically means it was created via stats from radio, TV, pubs, parties, gyms, stadiums, offices and so on. As you might expect, the streaming data is not quite the same, as Spotify charts tend to be much more focussed on genres like hip-hop and so on. If it was big on family-friendly commercial radio, it’s probably here. If it has little appeal to the middle-aged, it might not be.

Let’s face facts, I’ll assume you’d expect a certain red-haired omnipresent singer-songwriter who’s been doing the rounds for almost ten years to fare highly, right? Well, you’d be wrong. Despite being a thing since 2011 and having some of the most (over?) played hits of the past decade, there is diddly squat Ed Sheeran in the top ten. Actually, scrap that – he didn’t make the top 35. I’m as surprised as you are.

So what DID make the top ten, and what conclusions can we draw from the results? Let’s find out right now!

10: Kings of Leon: Sex on Fire (2008)

Yes, you read that right – the tenth most-played (NOT STREAMED) song of the past ten years is twelve years old. Will an “indie” song ever be this big again? May seem unlikely, but Feel It, Still off of Portugal, The Man was a HUGE commercial radio mainstay after a very slow climb to #3 around two years ago. Certain alternative music fans will tell you they lost touch with Kings of Leon once they morphed into a bit of a Springsteen-esque stadium band from a quirkier southern rock concern, but that’s the exact point when I started to finally like them. Whilst we’re here, their 2010s singles may not have set the charts on fire but I am totally there for more recent radio hits like Temple, Don’t Matter, Waste a Moment, Find Me and so on.

IS IT RETRO?

Yeah. Well 1985.

9. Cee-Lo Green: Forget You (2010)

Big uptempo classic soul vibes on this one, but lots and lots of irreverent lyrics. “Guess he’s an Xbox, and I’m more an Atari”? Atari’s are probably cooler now. This song dominated the airwaves in autumn 2010 and I certainly like it more than I did at the time. Part of me did wish Mills accidentally played the “wrong” version a la Bruno Brookes in 1993 though. Ain’t that some shit? Came four-and-a-half years after overrated Crazy.

IS IT RETRO?

Take away the wry tech references and electronic sheen and I’ll put this in about 1971.

8. OneRepublic: Counting Stars (2013) 

As far as commercial radio MOR goes, this is okay. OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder is a very prolific songwriter who has penned such Heart mainstays as Maps off of Maroon 5, Halo off of BeyoncĂ© and Ghost off of Ella Henderson. I definitely prefer early 90s MOR like Would I Lie To You, Hazard and certain Simply Red numbers, but he’s good at what he does. I don’t have a lot to say about this.

IS IT RETRO?
 
Hard to pinpoint this foot-tapper to a specific year. Hardly forward-thinking but not particularly derivative of anything that immediately springs to mind. At the time, it made me wonder where ultimate Heart FM combo Maroon 5 had disappeared to. They weren't away long. And fear not, for they’re coming up in this very soon.

  

7. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars: Uptown Funk (2014)
 
Both of these acts have done very irritating things over the years – the former peed me off with his brassy covers around 2007, whilst the latter’s creepy, smug and sickening ballads virtually tortured me in the early 10s. However, both have massively redeemed themselves since. Ronson’s Bang Bang Bang, Nothing Breaks Like A Heart and Find U Again are pretty sublime, whilst Mars’ Treasure and 24k Magic will probably remain in my 2010s playlists forevermore. 

This is a cross-generational funk number that remained at the top spot for seven weeks between late 2014 and early 2015, released early because Fleur East performed it on the X Factor. Songs being released to radio before being made public? Now that’s a WhoOoooOOo if ever I heard one. I kind of miss that. Will probably bang on about that in another article.

I’ll tell you what pissed me off – when this was #1, the Funk and Social Club off of 6 Music got wind of it and were all “do you DARE us to play it?”. You just know they would have aired it without question had it been performed by people they respected rather than these incredibly popular figures that, you know, sell records, have big hit singles and fill big venues across the world. Sickening snobbery.
 
IS IT RETRO?

Like feck it’s retro. I’ve just checked the Gap Band’s chart positions on everyhit.com and I’m sending this right back to 1980.


6. Black Eyed Peas: I Gotta Feeling (2009) 

Okay, this is fecking awful. Forced fun at its worst, and it's not even from the 2010s! I actually do like a few Black Eyed Peas songs – namely the holy trinity of Don’t Lie, Just Can’t Get Enough and Meet Me Halfway, which was “indiesplained” by Sunderland’s Futureheads a few years later. Will.I.Am is a very irritating character, with his stupid annoying phrases, hipster eyewear and facial expressions, but fire up his gloriously ludicrous and quickly forgotten top three hit 2012 T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever) featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger if you want to hear him at his most entertaining. I Gotta Feeling was produced by David Guetta, who is responsible for some of the very worst and best things.

IS IT RETRO?

Just a housy party anthem really. That’s not fit to say the names of the ones from the early nineties or many of its contemporaries.


5. Justin Timberlake: CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! (2016)

Lots and lots of people really hate this, if my social media feed is anything to go by. This could also be accused of being “forced fun”, but I’m generally all for a long-standing popstar having a huge hit fourteen years into his solo career before we even consider his time in *NSYNC. Aside from being overplayed, I don’t have any real problem with this at all.

IS IT RETRO?

It’s Justin Timberlake, he’s rarely far away from Off The Wall.


4. Daft Punk Feat. Pharrell Williams (and Nile Rodgers surely?): Get Lucky (2013)

You know, when this was first unveiled its streams were absolutely off-the-scale even though the Gallic dance duo hadn’t scored a real hit for about 12 years beforehand. This was one of Pharrell’s THREE 2013 chart-toppers, which really wasn’t a bad achievement for a forty-year-old. I suppose being male helps with that. The only big 2010s female chart star of a similar age I can think of is Sia, and she hid behind a wig and a very young dancer. Anyway, I do like Get Lucky, but it’s never quite got me in the feels considering the impact it seems to have had on others. Was nice to see Nile get an (uncredited) chart-topper in actual 2013 though.

IS IT RETRO?

Cut it open and it’d bleed 1978.

3. Maroon 5 Feat. Christina Aguilera: Moves Like Jagger (2011) 

Do you know when you start something at an ungodly hour and feel obliged to finish it even though it’s now a colossally stupid time? That’s me right now. Anyway, Moves Like Jagger. This was stuck at #2 for weeks and weeks before Radio 1 caved in and finally started playing it – their profile was pretty much dead prior to this song becoming a defining 2010s radio hit. As you may expect, I don’t like a host of Maroon 5 songs but I have always enjoyed this one. The appearance of Aguilera shoots it right into fifth gear. Despite once looking like a chart corpse, they have enjoyed a host of hits since 2011, many conceived after seeing what was trending on Spotify and creating Spitting Image versions of what the speakers plopped out.

Whilst we’re here, 2019 single Memories spent 16 weeks on the Top 40 and I recall hearing it just once, on the chart show. Two points here: 1) whatever radio station you listen to can make songs feel massive even if they’re not. Conversely, Memories doesn't feel huge to me because I've heard it once. In 2019, Harmony Hall by Vampire Weekend seemed gigantic to me because of radio play. It didn't make the top 100. No wonder 6 Music listeners think those Specials songs defined 2019 and 2) you can still have a huge streaming hit without the support of the “nation’s favourite”. Not surprised Radio 1 didn’t go for it to be fair, it sounded as Magic as feck to me. I’m sure they’re charming their next rent-a-rapper as we speak.
 
IS IT RETRO?

Again, hard to pin it to a specific era but it’s hardly drill.

 

2. Adele: Rolling In The Deep (2010)

Rolling In The Deep was the first single from the UK’s fourth-biggest selling album of all-time. Slightly surprised to see Someone Like You absent from the top ten but I suppose it was never a party anthem. Not a massive fan of Adele’s ballads but this fiery, impassioned number does give me goose-pimples on a good day. Those backing vocals! This song was about as forward-thinking as Liam Gallagher covering Mott the Hoople but sometimes innovation isn’t needed. By the way, the ‘is this retro’ part of this was inspired by the fact so many of the past decade’s biggest hits borrow so enthusiastically from the 60s and 70s. As you may have f**king guessed by now. An off-form Aretha Franklin covered this and I’m sad to say it sounded like she’d sat on a cat. RIP.

IS IT RETRO?

1967 for this one.

1.      Pharrell Williams: Happy (2013) 


Three-time number one and Northern Soul pastiche Happy is possibly the most retro of the lot. It’s also complete catshit. Happy was written and produced by the often-great Williams and taken from the 2013 film Despicable Me 2. Drawing undeserved Curtis Mayfield comparisons, it shot to #1 in more than 20 countries and has sold at least 1.5 million copies in the UK.

The inexpliably huge Happy always sounded like a b-side to me and I still can’t comprehend its immeasurable popularity even now. However, I’m commenting on the song and not the artist, who has performed, produced or remixed premium bangers ranging from Lapdance and Good Stuff, Boys, Girlfriend, Gust of Wind, Slave 4 U to She Wants To Move, Got Your Money and even his other #1, the controversial Blurred Lines we don’t tend to hear much anymore. Anyway, it’s massively overrated in my eyes, but the pubgoers, clubbers, gym lovers and partiers of the UK have spoken, and it turns out they think Happy is absolutely fire.
 
CONCLUSION

There’s not a lot of symmetry between the UK’s most streamed and most-played songs of the past decade. Whilst streaming charts are generally determined by young people, you are far more likely to hear cross-generational Radio 2-friendly hits older listeners understand the appeal of in public places, across most commercial radio stations and at big events. The top five most-streamed songs of the past decade were Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You (#38 in this chart), Drake’s One Dance (nowhere to be seen), Post Malone’s Rockstar (nothing), The Chainsmokers’ Closer (zilch) and Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud (genuinely nowhere, despite perhaps seeming like the biggest song of the past five years). None of these appear in the top ten most-played songs of the past decade. 

One big conclusion I have come to is that it tends to be songs that unashamedly borrow from the past that win the attention of people of all ages, from all walks of life. Given the praise poured upon The Weeknd’s pure-1985 current #1 single Blinding Lights, it’s a safe bet that track will be there or thereabouts should an updated chart appear in 2030. It’s also worth noting that Thinking Out Loud has had less than six years to gain an enviable position in this chart, whilst the seemingly inescapable Shape of You has less than three-and-a-half years behind it. Meanwhile, Natalie Imbruglia’s 1997 hit Torn made its way into the Top 40 of this rundown. 

If you’re tired of hearing today’s biggest tracks, strap yourself in for a bumpy ride, as it doesn’t seem they’re exiting the public consciousness anytime soon. We can also concede that all those GRM Daily tracks teenagers stream on the back of the bus don't tend to soundtrack your nan's 70th. 

If you want to score a massive inescapable hit that resonates with the kids, their parents and their grandparents, don’t abandon the formula – a verse-chorus-verse structure with anthemic melodies and relatable lyrics complete with musical nods to the past and a subtly modern production sheen should put you in very good stead. See in ten years when Blinding Lights still won't go away. 

Also, your dad hates Young T & Bugsey.


















Friday, April 10, 2020

THINKPIECE #1: Why radio matters not just during times of crisis


“Radio makes us feel connected and part of a community”

“We can be your two silly mates on the radio. We are all in this together and we will get through this”

Wise words from Radio 1 DJs Greg James, Scott Mills and Chris Stark there. They’re totally right you know. I know people who simply don’t get the point of radio and would rather just pick their own music without having to hear a disc jockey banging on, but for those that love the medium, streaming will never replace it. As a prolific streamer myself, I spend tonnes of time on Spotify and Tidal, but only a certain number of hours can elapse before I start to miss a live human voice providing context and welcoming me into their radio community.


Streaming vs radio

As you may well know, music streaming levels have dropped during the lockdown, whereas radio consumption is up. This is no surprise to me. Even before this crisis, I knew simply streaming a host of recent airplay hits simply wasn’t the same as firing up the radio for an hour or two. When radio is at its best and the hosts are so likeable you’d choose them as personal friends, moods can switch from bleak to jovial in a matter of seconds.

Hook-laden diversity

My station of choice is BBC Radio 1 even at the age of 37 – I know I’m expected to have moved on to commercial radio or one of the Beeb’s other radio platforms by now, but I love new music from a host of genres and prefer to hear everything in the same place. Commercial radio clearly has options for post-Radio 1 listeners, but attempt to find the station that playlists Little Mix, CamelPhat, Doja Cat AND Fontaines D.C. and your quest will be entirely fruitless. 

A broadcasting lifeline

Radio 1 is home to a host of exceptionally personable, knowledgeable and quick-witted hosts whose talents have proved their value emphatically during recent weeks. With help from his charming everyman sidekick Chris Stark, the evergreen Scott Mills has been holding everything together flawlessly like the ageless, consistently enthusiastic and eternally 25 King of Radio 1 he is during these unpredictable times, whilst fellow ego-free presenter Greg has once again cemented his position as one of the most likeable, down-to-earth and quick-witted radio personalities of his generation.

Is streaming a robotic experience?

Recent urgent schedule changes have expanded both presenters’ slots and made what was great to begin with even more unmissable, refreshingly spontaneous radio delivering immeasurable comfort and warmth. As great as services such as Spotify may seem, streaming leaves listeners with nobody to contextualise the music, ask the listeners how they are, encourage interaction and pass wry commentary on the very latest political, social and cultural developments.

Emergency breakfast cover

During the past week, Scott Mills and Chris Stark - deputising for Greg on breakfast, seemingly at the last minute, have treated us to a 'can your voice get as high as Mariah Carey in 1990?' singing competition, a Peter Crouch DJ set from his kids' wendy house, highlights from Stark's much-loved early 2010s '24 Years at the Tap End' feature complete with daytime dogging references, a five-station Thursday morning singalong for key workers, Stark candidly letting us know his wife doesn't think he's as funny in real life and so much more, including several Carole Baskin namechecks, as you might expect. Also, when a DJ as warm, down-to-earth and likeable as Mills urges you to remain home and stay safe, you listen. This doesn't feel like I am listening to a pair of well-known celebrities, it feels like I am tuned into ordinary genuine caring people that just happen to be on the radio.



The nation’s flagship pop station has introduced more R1-friendly bangers dating as far back as 1990 into ordinary daytime programming to keep the listeners’ spirits up, without compromising its image as the UK’s leading new music network. Certain presenters may now be contributing from their bedrooms and the schedule may be constantly subject to change, but there’s a feeling everyone at the network has been inspired rather than demoralised by recent challenges. Radio as a whole is gloriously spontaneous, wonderfully unpredictable, obliterates loneliness and can act as an indispensable companion from birth to death.

Does radio have a future?

I strongly suspect radio will never die. It enables listeners to source charismatic long-term virtual friends within the push of a button, allows listeners to feel part of a vibrant nationwide or even global community and can offer the perfect soundtrack to activities ranging from home, office and factory working to driving, shopping, exercise and household chores. Greg and Scott’s recent shows have oozed with messages from key workers who have credited their shows with protecting their mental well-being, and the level of audience participation they encourage means their broadcasts will never be dominated by ego-driven celebrities. Elsewhere, there are countless reports of fellow BBC and commercial radio stations supercharging their game to enhance their listeners’ psychological health at such a difficult time.

Atmosphere generation

Music streaming is not radio. Although playlists have enormous benefits - particularly for non-radio listeners - it’s difficult to achieve the sense of euphoria you might hope to source from a playlist without a hugely enthusiastic, knowledgeable and charismatic presenter generating an intoxicating vibe, making you feel like you’re their sole listener whilst simultaneously placing you in a vibrant community of loyal radio lovers who share your passions.

A lifelong relationship

Radio adds magic to commutes, can guide you through even the most trying of days and can provide an indispensable further push when it seems there’s nothing left to give. It can keep you wholly up-to-date with social, political and cultural affairs as they happen, introduce you to down-to-earth broadcasting heroes you’ll follow for decades and breathe new life into even the most overplayed songs around. A 2011 study by the Media and The Mood of the Nation found that radio boosted happiness levels by 100% and energy levels by a spectacular 300%, and there are very few reasons to question this claim. As a self-employed home worker with a huge dependence on virtual company, there’s little chance of me switching off any time soon.

THINKPIECE #2: A Room Without A Roof? The Ten Most-Played Songs of the Past Decade

On Bank Holiday Monday which was strangely like every other day off of recent times, my favourite disc jockey Scott Mills popped up on R...