(June 6, 2022). Most people over 50 who follow these things don’t like the current Billboard charts.
We don’t like the fact that instant streaming and digital downloads can dictate the Hot 100 in ways that were unimaginable say 35-40 years ago (and before).
Back then a song’s fate was determined by weekly call-ins from radio station programmers and record store owners who would provide ranked lists to Billboard, whose charts department would then compile all of the stores’ and radio stations’ lists, apply some weighting factors to account for differences in demographics, then spit out an overall ranking of the 100 “most popular” tunes each week.
Can you imagine the subjectivity back then… the degree of record label influence on those charts as songs followed the same expected trajectories up and down the lists, with turnover rates as predictable as the paths themselves?
Say what we will about today’s music, but the charts aren’t nearly as boring as they were then. Today, instant virility can send a song—old or new—skyrocketing up the chart one week and spiraling down (or off it) the next. And the songs aren’t nearly as vanilla and conforming today as they were decades ago under that old chart methodology. Radio programmers saw to it that only formulaic, hook-laden pop tunes saw the light of day, which, in turn, influenced record sales and ultimately Billboard chart positions.
Take 1985, for instance. In the fall of that year, with radio focused on grandiose pop hits like a-ha’s “Take On Me,” Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You,” Starship’s “We Built This City,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover,” the few stations that were daring enough to play a fringe hit like Kate Bush’s gloriously weird “Running Up That Hill” (which also had a hook, just not one most pop fans could latch onto), were only enough to send it to a respectable but relatively low No. 30 peak on the Billboard chart back then.
Fast forward nearly 37 years later to 2022.
Thanks to its prominent feature in the fourth season of Netflix’ “Stranger Things,” Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” re-enters the Hot 100 at No. 8, far eclipsing its No. 30 peak of November 1985 and joining a top-10 full of artists who weren’t even born when the song was originally released.
The song re-enters at No. 8 (something that would’ve been unheard of with the formula used by Billboard 30-plus years ago) due to immediate streaming and download increases (again, unheard of back then) after the song’s inclusion in multiple episodes during the Billboard tracking week for the latest chart.
The song’s 17.5 million streams last week alone make up more than 25% of the total streams the song has generated since streaming became a thing (about ten years ago). Similarly, its 18,300 digital downloads make up more than 10% of the 151,000 downloads the song has garnered since Billboard’s data provider, Luminate, began tracking these things 31 years ago.
Another thing that was unheard of back in 1985: the song gets to its new top-10 peak with negligible support from radio; it drew 392,000 listeners on radio last week (of its 62.5 million total since 1991). By comparison, the most played song—Harry Styles’ “As It Was”—received 72.4 million airplay audience impressions this week alone). Radio play for “Running Up That Hill” is expected to grow as the song has been newly serviced to stations in light of its resurgence.
What does all of this mean for a song that was too “strange” for its own good upon its initial release and which has flown under the radar for far too long until now?
Not much really. It just goes to show that almost anything can happen when it comes to good music if you just give it the exposure it needs. SoundCloud, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and other platforms have been responsible for breaking new hits for years and, in some very notable cases, even older songs have benefited (see Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” which was revived in 2020 after a user-generated videoclip went viral on TikTok).
It’s also perhaps another argument in favor of the current Billboard chart methodology, where the immediate impact of a song’s new exposure is reflected more accurately, or at least more timely, as opposed to the old way, where we would have had to wait for those radio station programmers to catch on. Perhaps even some of us “get off my lawn” curmudgeons might be able to rally around this week’s outcome.
And while “stranger things” have happened, this is one we can chalk up to Billboard and Kate Bush!
Congratulations to the latter on her first top-10 hit!
DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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