Sean Ross, who used to be editor of Billboard’s Airplay Monitor, has picked the songs he thinks changed radio this year – do you agree?
- Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow, “Picture” – It wasn’t being worked aggressively to radio, but radio found it – even at a time when programmers are less inclined to go digging for their own hits. It was the fourth single from “Cocky,” even though labels are wont to give up on a project (or an artist) after an unsuccessful single or two. And it not only forced Top 40 PDs to reconsider what might work sonically on their stations, it forced a similar reassessment at a Country format that was mostly allergic to pop crossovers or songs that sounded “too country.”
White Stripes, “7 Nation Army” – Like a group of guys who’d watched “Swingers” the night before, Modern Rock programmers had spent the last year trying not to act too interested in the neo-garage movement. Then one of those records actually tested, even there were echoes of AC/DC’s “T.N.T.” involved, and we stopped hearing neo-garage dismissed as “the new electronica.” There’s no sign of hard rock and nu-metal going anywhere yet, but “7 Nation Army” proved that Rock PDs were playing these songs for someone beside themselves.
Trapt, “Headstrong” – Proof, in fact, that hard rock isn’t going anywhere at Modern Rock. And also the record that forced Top 40 PDs to reconsider whether they were really going to sit out hard rock hits, just because those artists wouldn’t play their station concerts. In fact, it wasn’t until after Trapt’s hard-fought Top 40 crossover that programmers finally came around on Linkin Park.
Outkast, “Hey Ya” – Genre smasher of the year: USA Today’s Ken Barnes calls it this generation’s “Super Freak.” I have to go back to Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ self-described “soul hootenanny,” “Mickey’s Monkey,” before I can find any R&B hit to use as a frame of reference. Yet, at year’s end, this was shaping up as an R&B hit, a Modern Rock hit, and one of two Top 40 hits for the group at a time when other hip-hop crossovers were starting to slow down. One other difference between 2003 and 1981: “Super Freak” helped break down the resistance to R&B at an Air Supply-driven pop radio; “Hey Ya” and Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” fused rock and rap to put pop/rock back on Top 40.
Evanescence, “Bring Me to Life” – For giving an indie label one of the biggest Top 40 hits of the year and a female-led act a place at Rock radio.
Pat Green, “Wave On Wave” – Sonically, it’s not the shot across the bow that the Steve Earle or the Kentucky Headhunters were for the Country radio of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but it’s still a truly different record, which can’t be said about many of this year’s hits, even if they had more tempo or were more male-friendly. If it didn’t become an across-the-board research monster of the sort that “7 Nation Army” did at Modern Rock, it still became a real enough record by the end of its run that programmers were playing it for something other than its hipness. It’s early days yet, but Green has a lot of the same things going that Garth did during the last boom: he’s a proven concert draw, he bridges country and classic rock, and he’s just good-looking enough to be a recording artist without the guys feeling threatened.
Black-Eyed Peas, “Where Is The Love” – After months of saturation airplay, I’m still not sure if the success of this song reflected growing dissatisfaction with the U.S. role in Iraq, or became a hit because nobody quite noticed the lyrics. But in the year of the Dixie Chicks backlash, it was the first real indication that there’s any room for dissent in today’s pop music. Judging from the music starting to make it to programmers’ desks now (an Outkast album cut here, a Thursday album there), there will likely be other litmus tests in 2004, suggesting that the songs that change radio next year will do so not only musically but sociologically.
Check out Sean’s weekly columns on radio at the same address.