(March 21, 2020). You’ve been hearing it for decades. A song so ubiquitous you probably thought it was a No. 1 hit (avid chart followers knew better…it stopped at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1975).
The song with the familiar refrain – “How long…has this been going on?” – has been like an ear worm ever since it debuted on the charts exactly 45 years ago in March 1975.
Now, the tune that was riding the charts with hits by names few millennials will know: Jessi Colter, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Major Harris; plus a few they should, like the Carpenters, Barry White, Elton John, Queen and John Denver, is finally getting its due.
Just last week, “How Long” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Rock Digital Song Sales chart (I know, that’s a mouthful and it’s not the Hot 100, but it is a Billboard chart). Based on those sales, the song also peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart, which combines sales, streaming and airplay.
Driving the song’s newfound millennial success: a plug in an Amazon prime commercial that has people streaming the tune by the millions and sending it right back up the charts.
“How Long” was written by Ace member and lead vocalist/keyboardist Paul Carrack, a smooth vocalist and virtual late-20th century journeyman who later ventured in and out of other British groups, singing lead on songs by the post-punk outfit Squeeze (“Tempted”) and Genesis offshoot Mike + the Mechanics (“Silent Running” and “The Living Years”), plus his own top-5 solo hit (“Don’t Shed a Tear”).
But “How Long” was the one-hit-wonder tune that introduced music fans to Ace and that warm, familiar voice of Carrack’s, and it’s still Carrack’s signature tune – one he wrote by himself not as a message to a philandering girlfriend, as the lyrics suggest, but as a reaction to the song’s bassist being caught moonlighting with another band.
To this blogger, “How Long” ranks right up there with the best of Carrack’s songs, and it stands out as one of his funkiest because of that steady beat and that moonlighting bassist’s persistent two-note riffs that open the tune and play throughout.
And that bassist, Terry Comer, put some prominent soulful riffs on this tune at a time when various white British acts were starting to blur the lines between pop and R&B (like Average White Band, Bee Gees, Elton John, David Bowie to name a few).
Originally issued as a single (the little black vinyl circle with a hole in the middle we called a “45”) on Anchor Records in February 1975, before Billboard even had a separate rock songs chart and long before digital sales and streaming were a twinkle in anyone’s eyes, “How Long” entered the Billboard Hot 100 on March 8th and steadily climbed the list, peaking at No. 3 for the week ending May 31st behind No. 1 hits by Freddy Fender and John Denver, and holding there the following week behind Denver and the group America.
Just three weeks later, “How Long” was off the chart entirely…but it was never truly forgotten. It was a classic rock radio staple in the early ‘80s and was fondly remembered for years afterwards as Carrack continually found new success with each of his post-Ace endeavors.
And now, Ace’s “How Long” becomes the second classic rock song from 1975 by a British act to return to the rock chart’s top ten in the past two years. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” also topped the digital sales list and peaked at No. 2 on the Hot Rock Songs chart in late 2018/early 2019 after the Oscar-winning movie of the same name was released.
“Bohemian,” originally released in late 1975, is now the most streamed song to come out of the 20th century, with over a billion streams over various platforms, mostly since 2018.
“How Long” likely won’t attain those lofty numbers, but it sure is nice to see another great song from a bygone era make news while resonating with a whole new generation of consumers…
Consumers who likely don’t even know what this medium is (just hit play and enjoy):
Congrats to Paul Carrack and his former band Ace on their “new” No. 1 hit!
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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