Radio Hits One: Playing Armchair A&R With The Singles From 2011's Biggest And Best Albums

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The two big formats that have long ruled over popular music are the single and the album. They have a great duality between them: the song and the collection; the sliver and the whole; the appetizer and the main course. Albums are the full-length format long considered pop music's ultimate artistic medium, while the hit single is the galvanizing force that sells albums while blaring from millions of radios, televisions, YouTube windows and cell phones. I've long been fascinated by a slightly more ephemeral concept that exists somewhere in between: the singles campaign for an album. The way an artist or label chooses which songs are released to radio to promote an album, and the sequence in which they're released, often forms a kind of narrative just as much as the running order of the album itself.

Of course, that narrative is often largely about how successful those songs are as singles, and they are often chosen and judged purely by their charting potential. But at its best, a singles campaign is as much an art form as it is a marketing tool. There are formulas and clichĂ©s—lead with the stylistic curveball and follow it with the surefire hit; start with an uptempo first single, then bring out the ballad second; and, of course, throw songs at the wall for the fourth and fifth singles if the artist has the profile and the promotional budget to go that far.

Just as sports fans often play Monday morning quarterback, analyzing how their home team did in the big game and how they would've made better choices, music fans are prone to imagining a more ideal world, one in which their favorite albums had better production and their cult favorites were worldwide superstars. For me, that often means speculating on and critiquing which songs were released as singles from an album.

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Cold Winds: Incubus' Morning View And The Knotty Aftermath Of September 11

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Once the towers had fallen, simultaneously facing both the body count and the scarred city skyline was enough to realign anybody's perspectives. I was supposedly on track as a college sophomore in Virginia, but it was tough for me to justify continuing on as a student; every day for months, I thought about dropping out to enlist, feeling like a draft dodger even though there was no draft. We waited for twelve hours in a line that stretched around the basketball arena to donate at the Red Cross blood drive, and when our turns finally came, it felt like we couldn't give enough. As a teenager, I was of course unprepared for the kind of trauma that can level a nation. It was a totally new kind of distress, like I was consumed by a grief that was just too big for my body to hold. This, I think, is patriotism.

But patriotism can be a funny thing, especially in the South, where it often threatens to devolve into something much more nefarious. Local goons started throwing sandwiches at my little brother as he walked to school; we're Indian, not Arab. Out in Arizona, a gas station owner named Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered for wearing a turban; he was Sikh, not Muslim. The ignorance was as alarming as the hysteria.


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Q&A With Incubus' Brandon Boyd: "Everything Went A Bit Haywire, To Put It Lightly"

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Could the defining record of the post-September 11 era have been the handiwork of an alt-rock band who wrote all of the album's songs before the attacks? Ten years later, it's pretty tough to sell the idea that Incubus' Morning View crystallized that heart-wrenching moment beautifully; even frontman Brandon Boyd had trouble digesting it. But sometimes these things happen by accident, so we talked him through it via email.

What was it like trying to tour and promote "Morning View" in the wake of September 11?

We had booked the tour, prepped the album and gone to New York to do promo stuff for it all. We were in New York and our first dates were New Hampshire on September 15th and NYC on the 16th and 17th, if memory serves. I can't believe it's been ten years. Everything went a bit haywire, to put it lightly.

Was anything about the album changed in response to the attacks?

The only thing that was thwarted as a result of the attacks was the half-million-dollar music video we had just completed and was set to come out days later. It ended up being banned in America due to "insensitivities" it had. The first single was called "Wish You Were Here" and the original video was an homage to the '60s film Head. Somehow the image of us running from a hoard of screaming girls, shedding clothing and jumping into a river, only to be rescued by superhot mermaids, was deemed inappropriate.

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