Segarini: 7 Decades of Top Tens – How Important is a Hit?

Like most of you, I have my ‘Go-To’ sites on the Internet that I check the first thing in the morning. And again later in the afternoon. And then again in the evening and late at night. In fact, I check them every chance I get, just like my email. One of my favourite sites is known to its followers as “The Big Yellow Board”, and is populated by folks who work or have worked, or want to work in radio. They are joined by fans of all aspects of radio, not just the content. Sometimes, they will have passionate debates about which station has the tallest broadcast tower in Phlegmville, or which disc jockey was the first person to play a Bobby Curtola record during a snow storm. Other times, they just bitch about the state of radio today or defend the state of radio today. Aside from videos of piano playing cats, they couldn’t be livelier or more entertaining.

Last week some of the regulars posted some charts from 1971. Local radio charts were a collectable item purveyed by just about every Top 40 station that ever existed, some even fetch good money on eBay these days, and there are some serious collectors out there. I took a look at the charts they posted and was struck by how diverse and genre free they seemed to be. But have things really changed that much as far as what radio plays? Not trusting my own memory, I went into the Billboard Magazine archives and downloaded the top ten from their ‘Hot 100’ charts from 1942 through 2011 as close to November 21st as I could get. You can actually scroll through whole issues of Billboard on their website. The most entertaining aspect of doing that are the ads for new technology. Home tape recorders, 8 Track tape machines for your car, stereo speakers the size of refrigerators, 3 speed record players…we have been through a LOT of changes over the years. So thanks to the Big Yellow Board for supplying the basis of today’s column. The Southern Ontario/Western New York Radio – TV Forum (SOWNY for short) is always an interesting read. If you love radio, curmudgeons, and a host of passionate people who shoot from the hip, I suggest you give it a look. SOWNY.

The Billboard Magazine Archives can be accessed here. This is a treasure trove of information and will provide hours and hours of informative (and sometimes hilariously misguided) detritus about every aspect of the entertainment business. Yes, the music, radio, and television industries have been plagued by visionaries and crackpots since their inception. Good to know that this generation’s leaders aren’t solely responsible for the mess currently causing most of us to pull our hair out.

The Top Ten for January 3rd 1942

Damn near every song in this top 10 became what is known as a “Standard”. So much so that 5 to 10 years later they were still being played on the radio in regular rotation. I heard some of these songs when I first started listening to the radio, long after they had left the top of the charts. Of note, Glenn Miller has 2 tracks in the top 10, and two different versions of the same song are also represented here. How often does that happen? At this point in time there were no ‘oldies’. There were ‘dusty discs’, ‘platters from the past’, and

‘memory lane favourites’, but ‘Blast from the Past’, ‘Golden Oldie’, ‘Oldie but Goody’, and other euphemisms were years away from being coined. Of the artists represented here, many became or already were household names. Although I have heard of Horace Heidt I am not at all familiar with his work (a trip to Wikipedia will solve that) but I have never heard of Charlie Spivak. Anybody? Charlie Spivak? Turns out that Charlie had a life long career (he passed away in 1982) and a lot of hits during the ’40s. So why did Charlie’s name slip out of the limelight after his peak while Der Bingle, Glenn Miller and others are still part of our collective memory. Perhaps his nickname, “Cheery, Chubby, Charlie, had something to do with it. Charlie made some great records, and I was surprised to find this song among his hit recordings. Also notice that there is still a Christmas Song in the top 10. A seasonal song, really, and only one. That’s a good thing. And just to let you know, Billboard also ran 4 regional charts in every issue. How cool was that?

The Top Ten for July 14th 1951

One of the most epically diverse charts I came across during my research. The number one record from Nat King Cole, Too Young, had been in the charts for 14 weeks. It had been recorded in February, just 4 months earlier. The Weavers are there with a rendition of a public domain country song, Les Paul and Mary Ford’s immaculate ‘How High the Moon’ and Frankie Laine chimes in with 2 tracks in the top 10. Mario Lanza, fer chrissakes? Lanza had 2 other records in this top 30. One had debuted 4 weeks earlier and the other, the classic “Be My Love”, was at number 18 after 32 weeks in the top 30. 32 weeks! Dinah Shore and Rosemary Clooney are here too. Patti Page, Vaughn Monroe, Tony Bennett are all in the top 30. There is absolutely no connective tissue between any of these songs if you’re looking at format or style. Well, two, actually. These are great songs that still hold up even now (although On Top of Old Smokey is a bit iffy unless you’re 6 years old and know the song as “On Top of Spaghetti”) and these vocalists are all possessed of unique, singular voices. With the exception of the two names I don’t recognize, these artists had long and successful careers. At least the ones who didn’t die so tragically young. Nat King Cole’s voice still engages, as fine an instrument as Sinatra’s, Marvin Gaye’s, Bennett’s, and Torme’s. This was back when everybody listened to the radio and the only criteria seemed to be the quality of the material and performances. Is there a radio programmer or consultant who can explain why radio began to target specific age groups and musical genre’s. Oh, and the explanation has to leave out the “Because it makes more money” excuse. Incidentally, my favourite album at the time, “Hopalong Cassidy and the Square Dance Bandit” was number 5 in the best selling Children’s Records Chart. Hey…I was 5. Funny thing. I wanted to be Hopalong Cassidy when I was a kid. Somehow, I shot right past him and became one of his sidekicks, California. Get yourself a cup of cocoa and have a listen. No miniature marshmallows for me. They give me gas. God, I love the Internet.

The Top Ten for November 13th 1961

Well now the charts are starting to get really interesting. There had been novelty records in the top 10 before, “Mairzy Doates”, “Yes, We Have No Bananas”, and “The Thing”, not to mention all the Spike Jones and Kay Kayser records, but here was a spoken word hit by a guy who would go on to become the King of the Breakfast Sausage in the U.S. Years later, Canadian actor Lorne Greene would have a similar hit with a song called “Ringo”. The rest of the top ten is all over the road when it comes to genre and style. Dion, a refugee from a ’50s Doo Wop group, the Belmonts scores a big solo smash, Brenda Lee has yet another top 5 hit and probably wasn’t old enough to drive a car yet, The Dovells have a dance craze hit, “100 Pounds of Clay” singer Gene McDaniels scores with “Tower of Strength”, Ray Charles continues his string of hits with “Hit the Road Jack”, Chubby Checker keeps the kids on Bandstand dancing with “The Fly”, and Motown continues toward becoming “The Sound of Young America” with the Marvelettes. The remaining two artists fade into obscurity not too long after this, but Sue Thompson had at least one other chart topper, “Norman”, and Troy Shondell dropped this well loved but now very obscure classic that was a huge hit with ‘teenagers’ and was the most representative of classic rock and roll on this chart. He wrote several songs for other artists and stayed in the music business working in the publishing end of the industry. One of his fans, Tommy Jackson, changed the name of his high school band to the Shondells, after changing his own name to Tommy James. You can hear Troy’s musical influence on Tommy James when you hear Troy Shondell’s one big hit, “This Time”.

The Top Ten for November 20th 1971

Take a look at this chart. There is almost no trace of the British Invasion’s total dominance of the charts that had changed the music business forever. Just a scant 6 and a half years earlier, The Beatles had 14 singles in the Billboard top 100 chart at the same time. What seemed so huge at the time and then dwindles down to a handful of the original breakout artists, while R&B (known as ‘Soul’ in the early ’70s) was starting to dominate the charts. Still, there was room for the Osmonds and Cher, both made mainstream famous by television shows (and Cher’s great records with Sonny), and soft-rock group Bread, whose drummer, Jim Gordon, the co-writer of “Bell Bottom Blues” and a few other great ’70s chestnuts, had yet to become a homicidal wing nut. My favourite song on this chart is the Chi-Lites “Have You Seen Her”. Based out of Chicago, they were one of the only vocal groups at the time not from Philadelphia, Detroit, or Memphis. The band has been together in one form or another since 1959 and they still tour extensively even though they haven’t had a hit in decades. That’s a career, boys and girls. The top of the chart belonged to Isaac Hayes and the theme from a movie that had captured everybody’s attention. Isaac had had so many R&B hits over the years, and had written or co-written so many fantastic songs, that it is almost an embarrassment that he will forever and always be remembered as Chef on the South Park animated series. Try and figure out the career path from this number one record to this classic warble. Still, his South Park songs are damn good in their own right. Personally, I will always remember him for this. Could this even get played on top 40 radio let alone be a hit these days?

The Top Ten for November 21st 1981

Alrighty, then. We’ve got a movie theme and a television series theme, some soft rock with Air Supply and the Little River Band, Some rock and roll with Bob Seger and the Rolling Stones (a great Stones track at that), some reggae tinged rock from the Police, a power ballad from Foreigner, and sitting on the top of the heap, a timeless pop tune from Hall and Oates, and a piece of pop fluff from a beautiful young singer in a leotard or a pair of spandex pants. Uh Oh. This was th biggest record Olivia Newton John ever had, selling millions of copies and sitting at number one for ten weeks. It knocked “Private Eyes” out of the number one slot when it debuted there in November and in turn was knocked out the position in January by Hall and Oates follow up to “Private Eyes”, “I Can’t Go for That”. The guitar solo in “Physical” was played by Toto’s Steve Lukather, who also co-wrote one of my favourite songs from the ’80s, “She’s A Beauty”. Let’s take a moment to admire Ms. John’s musical ability, shall we? Oh…and there’s plenty here for the ladies, too…and Adam Lambert. Watching this it looks as though it was filmed on the holodeck on the Enterprise. Fascinating.Must…soothe…my…ears… Daryl!…John! Could Olivia’s record have been the seed of the pop takeover of radio? Did she inspire young girls, glued to their MTV to dare to want to become Pop Princesses? Did the sing-song quality of the song itself with its nursery rhyme melodic structure inspire young hopefuls to write similar, sexually grounded, earworms? Could a remake of this song get on radio these days without too much trouble? I need a drink.

The Top Ten for May 26th 1992

Here we are a little over 10 years after “Physical” and look at the Chart. First of all, Give me a minute, I have to go find out who the hell Joe Public is/was. BRB. Okay, they were a New Jack Swing group from Buffalo New York. This was their only top ten recording. They had some success in the R&B charts and recorded their final CD in 1994. This is the first I’ve ever heard of them. The song sounds pretty much like similar radio tuneage currently, but it redeems itself with a good solid message for the youngsters out there. The traditional ‘rap replacing the third verse’ is utilized here. Number 4 is a damn good showing, but it doesn’t look like much came out of it. Actually, the song on this chart I still put in rotation around here is perceived by most as the silliest one, unless you find Freddy Mercury’s operatic opus “Bohemian Rhapsody” as pompous and silly as I do. The Sir Mix-A-Lot tune has also turned out to be a fairly accurate example of where music was heading in both good, and bad, ways. It takes the nursery rhyme template to an infectious and logical place, the rap is loaded with well used phrases and slang, some of which still hold water and have permeated the mainstream. Its lyric and visuals are misogynistic, yet are delivered with humour and affection instead of profanity, and the groove is so tight you can’t help but want to dance to it. There hadn’t been this combination of ingredients apace in today’s market until Cee-Lo Green came along. I have to think the Red Hot Chili Peppers track got here on the strength of their popularity, and the Michael Jackson track has such an unfortunately unintentionally funny name, that I can’t get into the overly serious presentation of whatever it is he’s singing about. I liked him a lot better when he was black. We’ve got 4 female driven hits here that I quite like, in fact, I LOVE the En Vogue track AND video for My Lovin’. That is some stylin’ R&B right there. The Vanessa Williams track is a great song and her voice is warm and sultry, Lovely. Oh look, we have a number one by Kris Kross, a pair of Mini-Beibers who wore their clothes backwards and, like the Beiber, attracted the interest of others and became darlings of the rap set for a couple of years. I hope they saved some of their money. I’ve been listening to this for about a half an hour and I can’t find any thing nice to say about it other than it was a number one record. I also can’t shake the feeling that the video could have been used for a Gap for Kids commercial. Number one…Jesus!

The Top Ten for November 24th 2001

Yipes! The only track that sort of represents rock in this top 10 is Nickelback’s, and try as I might, I cannot justify their incredible popularity. With the exception of “Rockstar”, a finely crafted and witty take on what most other artists were bragging about being, Mr. Kroeger’s output leaves me cold. That Nickelback spent the better part of the decade being damn near the only ‘rock band’ to get traction traction on mainstream radio, has got to involve a deal with the devil somewhere along the line. The rest of the top ten is just plain frightening. Yes, Enya has her appeal, and she sings what is at least an actual song here, but with one outstanding piece of music aside, this collection of popular songs leaves me scratching my head and wondering how music was beaten down to this collection of mind numbingly generic pap, beat driven two chord ramblings, and cloying, manipulative romantic drivel only a desperately lonely person could find comforting. Enrique Iglesias comes off like a Ted Bundy serial killer telling a girl everything he can think of to get her to go somewhere remote with him so he can take a tire iron to her and bury her in the desert somewhere. Then there is the annoying marketing ploy of ‘featuring’ other artists practiced here on both sides of the situation by Ja Rule, once ‘featuring’ with J Lo by yammering over her singing, and the other by having a guest yammerer ‘feature’ on his own record…and Ja Rule’s track is a perfect example of cliché, after cliché, after cliché, being called a song. Let’s see, plenty of bragging, representing, name checking ‘white girls’, and, in the video, the usual never ending assortment of expensive cars, champagne, bling, crowds of his peeps, and of course, bitches with big titties. His fans spread the word that Eminem ruined Ja Rule’s career because Ja Rule dissed him. It is more likely that records like this did him in. Ja Rule? Ja Don’t. Then we have Nelly Furtado, neck deep in mud with a bunch of extras and looking like she was in a wet T-Shirt contest that got out of hand. Even after looking away from the video, I couldn’t help thinking that the ‘song’ is unfinished, just enough of it written to record over those all important beats. It sounds like a song that would have been rejected for Paula Abdul’s first album, which was bereft of this kind of filler. Still, Nelly has a career from records like this. Good for her. I also find it interesting that two of the artists on this chart that have healthy careers to this day are both Canadian. Genuwine’s ‘Differences’ is a fairly nice track, and he can sing, but the one standout, is the absolutely riveting performance of a good song by Alicia Keyes. Radio does occasionally put a good one out there. Usher? Not his best work. The number one track, Mary J. Blige’s non-song, exacerbates it’s short comings by borrowing the name of the Sly Stewart classic, “Family Affair”, a practice a lot of current artists are guilty of. It’s as though they want everything about their records to be instantly familiar…or they’re just plain lazy.

The Top Ten for November 6th 2011

Ah, no time like the present. We’re going to count this one down, just like Ryan Seacrest!

10. Taylor Swift – If This Were a Movie: It’s an actual song. I hear auto-tune but it’s not overpowering like some of them. Fairly subtle production and DAMN! There’s a bridge! The  beginning of the chorus’ melody is lifted  from a song we used to play on SIRIUS about 4 years ago. When I remember what it was I’ll get back to you. I liked her country stuff more better. Just found the track. It was originally called “Porno Nation”, but is now known as “Whole Damn Nation. Check out the chorus. Go here and scroll down until you find it.

09. Bruno Mars – It Will Rain: The kid is a good singer, the song is generic beat driven pop, the equivalent of a McDonald’s cheeseburger, but it is going to be a huge record. Why? Because he a cute non threatening boy…and this thing is on the soundtrack of the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One. Every tween and teen girl (and their youthful, 40 is the new 12 moms) are going to buy this song at least 3 times…I figure it’s good for that many celebrity DJ remixes and a ‘Special Edition’ CD, not to mention the iTunes traffic. Go ahead and order that Bentley Continental Convertible, you star, you.

08. Flo Rida – Good Feeling: Dude! I’m in Paris! I’ll bet you only can dream about this! Check it out, I got me a Mini Cooper! Got me a iPad! Wait! Fuck that punk ass Mini Cooper, got me a Bugatti Veryon! And look! I’m Boxing! At the disco! Mad Dancing Skills! Chicks is all lookin’ at me!. I don’t NEED no God damn SHIRT! Wooooo!!!! Please. Stop it.

07. Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks: They look like a rock band, but if there’s any passion here they must be saving it for after the show. The song is…cute, a sing-along, and so methodically careful, they sound like they’re afraid they’ll wake your parents up. These guys would come in 4th or 5th at any high school battle of the bands I have ever been to. I learned 2 things from their Wikipedia page. One, they are smart, and two, there is more info on their publishing arrangement and how the record was recorded to back up their viral success on YouTube than there is about their music. They are listed as an ‘alternative’ band. WTF? I wish them well, but I hope they work on the music more than cashing in on You Tube videos.

06. Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine – Stereo Hearts: Okay. Here we have a really decent song, only to have it interrupted by the featured Adam Levine, who appears to be here to supply street cred, funny hat, so-hip-it’s-weird hair style and the format friendly, mandatory, rap. As you will see, this whole ‘featuring’ thing has become (and remains) very, very popular. Another mystery for me to ponder along with the success of Jersey Shore.

05. Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera – Moves Like Jagger: Maroon 5 have been around for a long time. One of the reasons for that is their ability to keep up with the format of mainstream terrestrial radio. They must really like being on the radio. If this ‘song’ had a melodic bass line (did the bass player quit just before the recording session?) and more than two chords, it would have made a fairly decent disco record. These days, you don’t need anymore than the thump thump thump of a kick drum, or at least a sample of a kick drum, to get the kids moving around on the dance floor. Or in their chairs. Or on the couch.. Are we not men?? We are auto-tuned. Jagger’s moves, which got their start as badly executed James Brown moves (watch the T.A.M.I show if you don’t believe me) can be seen performed by every drunk Frat Boy I have ever seen vomit on his date, are now being lauded as cool. Maybe on Jagger, but he’s fucking Mick Jagger! At least Christina sang instead of rapping. If you watch the video you get to see one more shirtless guy covered in ink that he will eventually regret. Also, they put clips from an old Jagger interview in the video. I don’t know who is more desperate, Jagger, Christina, or this sell out tribe of rock stars who have opted to not rock in the service of commerce. They should be ashamed of themselves.

04. David Guetta featuring Usher – Without You: This is the future of popular music according to a whole pantload of industry visionaries and even Bob Lefsetz. What this is is a DJ who produces backing tracks from samples and beats upon which singers, (in the case the ‘featured’ Usher) sing so dancers can dance, and bouncing-around-people can bounce around. Is there a talent to this? Of course there is, but it is more like building a piece of furniture than it is creating music. It is a chilling example of the technicians becoming more popular than the artists, so much so that they are slowly becoming regarded as the artists themselves. We now live in a world where people would rather get good at playing Guitar Hero instead of learning how to actually play the guitar, have a machine make their voice sound like most of the other voices, where a drum part need be nothing more than a repetitive ‘thud’, and a DJ can draw 10s of thousands of people to a concert to watch him work and push buttons, and applaud the ongoing deconstruction of the emotional investment traditionally associated with great music from great artists. There is artistry in this approach to entertainment, Tiesto and Canada’s own Deadmau5 continually bring some creative juice to the proceedings, but the form just leaves me cold. Maybe I should start doing drugs again.

03. Adele – Someone Like You: Yes she has a fine voice. Yes, she seems like a regular kind of gal. Yes, if you’re a girl you can relate to her painful relationship problems. Yes, she seems real and authentic, and so much more down to earth than all the other girls on the radio. That was the plan. I find her a bit brash and defensive. Her songs meander. Over 41 million views on You Tube, so she has a lot of shoulders to cry on. She doesn’t need mine. Not to my taste, I’d rather listen to Rumer and have a sandwich.

02. LMFAO – Sexy and I Know It: If you take Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy” and dumb it down, you get Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”. If you dumb that down, you get this little paean to bad taste and delusional posturing. This is a novelty record that has engaged over 122 million people on You Tube alone. Taken on the whole, we as a culture, all deserve to stub our toe every time we go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and forget to turn the lights on. This song and performance are the aural equivalent of Urkel, the nerdlinger kid on Family Matters. They must be LTFAO…all the way to the bank. For some insane reason, they remind me of Dr. Hook and Sha Na Na, only without any musical reason to even exist. If this is what you have to do to get on the radio and have a huge hit nowadays, it isn’t any wonder that the music has found other places to thrive. You’re sexy and you know it? There ain’t enough beer on the planet, Bub.

01. Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris – We Found Love: Thump Thump Thump. We’ve got some good cheesecake here, some edgy elements like lots of cigarette smoking, making out in the bathtub, showing the tops of her stockings and junk in public places…oh, wait a minute, that’s the video. The song? Sounds like a bunch of other songs. The performances? Auto-tuned to perfection. The verdict? Hey, it’s number one, so what does it matter?

A few observations culled from working on this column for the last 16 hours or so.

The amount of time a record stays on the charts has dropped significantly overall, yet artists release fewer records. The visual aspect involved in the popularity of songs played on the radio is as important if not more so, than MTV’s heyday. 100’s of millions of people will watch a hit record, while most are purchased and even listened too in much smaller numbers. Fewer artists maintain their popularity today as long as those in the ’40s through the ’70s. It is no longer necessary to have radio airplay in order to have a lasting career, but it can help you achieve a much higher profile from which to work. Talent and material are no longer a prerequisite for success. The Public Whim is as unpredictable as ever.

The artists of the day are often as talented (some even more so) as their predecessors, but a different skill set in needed to achieve popular success. People are still attracted to emotionally honest performances, but given the formats of current hit radio, have also come to like and expect bright shiny objects as well. It seems a bit random just listening to one top ten list per decade, so I intend to address this again in a few months by taking the top ten songs of each year to get a better picture of how much things have changed. Please let me know your feelings in regard to what’s been written here.

I’m going to bed.

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: dbawis@rogers.com Please use it to ask questions,tell us what you’d like to read about, send links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.


One Response to “Segarini: 7 Decades of Top Tens – How Important is a Hit?”

  1. i’ve seen FTP live…and no, they don’t save their passion for the show.

    that top 10 is just sad. altho i have to say that rihanna song has gotten inmy head lately. autotuned but catchy.

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