Radio Hits One: Bruce Springsteen And Mick Jagger Stop Making Pop Hits, Start Inspiring Them

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It's been a busy year for Bruce Springsteen. In March, he released Wrecking Ball, his seventeenth studio album and tenth release to top the Billboard 200, and after packing in arenas across America throughout the spring, he took the E Street Band to Europe. His name is also in a top-40 entry on the Hot 100 for the first time in over a decade—but the funny thing is, the song's not his. Eric Church's "Springsteen" sits on the chart this week at No. 19, which was coincidentally also the peak position for Bruce's last pop hit, the Jerry Maguire-spawned ballad "Secret Garden," in 1997.

"Springsteen," a wistful midtempo number with lyrical nods to The Boss's classics "I'm On Fire" and "Born To Run," is North Carolina country star Eric Church's biggest Hot 100 hit to date. It also peaked at No. 3 on the Country Songs chart and is the third single from his third album, Chief, which topped the Billboard 200 last summer. It's a quiet, subtle song, and something of an unlikely crossover hit, aside from the fact that it pays tribute to such a famous singer. This isn't the first time a top 40 hit has been named for Springsteen, though—Rick Springfield got to No. 27 with "Bruce," a playful track about how irked he was when confused with a bigger star with a similar last name.

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Radio Hits One: Drake, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, And The Era Of The Hit Bonus Track

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Superstar pals and Young Money labelmates Lil Wayne and Drake released two of the biggest albums of 2011—Tha Carter IV and Take Care—and both are still spinning off hits well into 2012. But a look at the singles charts reveals something odd: the biggest current hits off both albums aren't available on every copy of the album, but are instead bonus tracks from their deluxe editions. Drake's "The Motto," which features Wayne, currently tops the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and is at No. 19 on the Hot 100 after peaking at No. 16. And Wayne's own "Mirror," featuring Bruno Mars, is Weezy's highest current solo entry on the Hot 100, at No. 68 (it also peaked at No. 16). If you go into one of the few stores still selling CDs today, though, odds are that the versions of Tha Carter IV and Take Care in the racks won't include those current hits.

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Pazz & Jop 2011: Carol Cooper On Keny Arkana's Rebellion, Chart Pop's Disco Revivalism, And Voters' Fear Of Gospel

To supplement this year's Pazz & Jop launch, Sound of the City asked a few critics to expand on the reasonings behind their voting. This dispatch comes from Carol Cooper, whose ballot went far beyond the boundaries of the United States and its pop charts.

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These days American pop music sounds too fat and happy, so full of its own global importance that would-be anthems like "Born This Way" and "Run the World (Girls)" come across as insular and petulant, rather than triumphantly universal. Even their companion videos look more like carnival rides than artistic expression. Which is not to say that contrived artistry never works—the country scene is notorious for overthinking how certain singers, concepts, and songwriters might go together. Acts like the novelty trio Pistol Annies hit a sweet spot between humor and truth that brought to mind the Roches and inspired longing for the Dixie Chicks. Big & Rich, meanwhile, gave teens their own hip-hop hillbilly theme song with "Fake I.D.," replete with bluegrass fiddle and banjo riffs. I also love the typically country juxtaposition of soft voice/hard lyric as illustrated by Ronnie Dunn's mournful pragmatism on "Cost of Livin'" and Sunny Sweeney's deceptive bravado on "Drink Myself Single." It's hard for my r&b homegirls to match country candor when singing through so much routine signal processing, but Nicki Minaj's Rihanna-assisted "Fly" proves how sweet two bionic babes can sound once they unleash their inner TLC on the perfect power ballad.

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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 7: Maroon 5 Featuring Christina Aguilera, "Moves Like Jagger"

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The Song: Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera, "Moves Like Jagger"
The Crimes: Profligate whistling, misplaced sass, wholly unsexy instruction to "take [Levine] by the tongue."

Earlier this year, both Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera were coming off what might be called "soft landings"—the lite-funk outfit's 2010 album Hands All Over received a tepid reception from the marketplace, while the pint-sized belter was coming off punishing reactions to both her overstuffed robo-pop collection Bionic and the "so bad, it can't even be so bad that it's good" pile of camp Burlesque. Then NBC stepped in and hired them both as coaches on their translation of the Dutch talent show The Voice, and what do you know? Being on TV made Americans realize that they still existed, and had even been putting out music in recent months that wasn't as terrible as some doubters wanted to claim. The only way to properly react to this development was, of course, a cash-in single.


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Radio Hits One: How The Whistle Became Pop's Secret Weapon Of 2011

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After Billboard released its 2011 year-end charts on Friday I pored over them, looking for patterns and trends with which I could make sense of the year in pop. If someone asked you to pinpoint "the sound of popular music in 2011," there are countless fads and running themes that you could point to. The insistent thump of European dance music from producers like David Guetta and Afrojack ruled pop radio, while Lex Luger's frenzied hi-hats dominated mainstream hip-hop. Questionably talented singers continued to abuse AutoTune, while rap superstars both on and off the Young Money roster jettisoned "like a" from their wordplay in favor of the ever-popular "hashtag" (or, as I like to call it, "grocery bag") punchline.

Looking over the year-end Hot 100, however, I noticed a much more mundane musical accessory that had been quietly dominating the airwaves all year: Whistling. One of humankind's oldest forms of melodic expression, the whistle has long been a tool mostly relied on by those who might not be able to sing or play an instrument. Recorded music has relegated whistling to more of a novelty, something that might pop up memorably in the occasional classic like Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"—more of a whimsical finishing touch than a central hook.

2011 changed all of that.

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100 & Single: A Dozen Contenders For Billboard's Year-End Top 10, And Their Fight Against The "Last Christmas Effect"

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Later this week, Billboard is expected to announce its tallies for the biggest hits of 2011. And what a year for music it's been. Remember all those big hits: "Like a G6," "We R Who We R," "Raise Your Glass," "Fuck You!" and "What's My Name?"

What's that—you say the songs I just rattled off are kinda old? Like, 2010-old? You're absolutely right. But don't be surprised if these vintage hits feature prominently among the biggest Hot 100 hits of 2011.

Billboard's "chart year" runs from December 1 through November 30. Blame old-fashioned dead-tree production schedules—they do this so they can announce the year-end victors before the holidays arrive and run the lists in a big, collectible magazine the size of small phone book. (Makes a great stocking stuffer. Seriously!)

The upshot of this skewed calendar: Take a good look at what's topping the Hot 100 right now. Hits like Rihanna's "We Found Love" (No. 1), LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It" (No. 2), or Bruno Mars's fast-rising "It Will Rain" are going to feature conspicuously among the top Billboard hits... of 2012, next December. On the 2011 list, they won't be very prominent at all.

Even with its abundance of aging tracks, the 2011 list will still be worth poring over when Billboard drops it in a few days. Unlike the year-end album chart—which is based on straight Soundscan sales totals, and whose victor is already a foregone conclusion—the formula of digital sales, radio airplay and online streaming that determines the weekly Hot 100 means year-end predictions require a lot more guesstimating. Which is more fun, anyway.

Let's run down, in alphabetical order, a baker's dozen of hits that are likely to figure prominently on Billboard's Top Hot 100 Songs of 2011. These are tracks likely to make the final Top 10 or at least the Top 20.

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Live-Blogging The 2011 American Music Awards: We Could Have Had It All (But Then Adele Had To Go Have A Vocal Cord Hemorrhage)

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via ABC
Justin Bieber at last year's American Music Awards.
Welcome to Sound of the City's liveblog of the 2011 American Music Awards, the annual salute to the most popular popular music that exists in the American wild this year. While Lady Gaga and Adele and BeyoncĂ© are absent, this year's show apparently has one performance that will cost $500,000 to pull off, as well as a David Guetta/Nicki Minaj outing that is heavy—heavy in the weight sense, not in the "societal import" sense because c'mon we're talking about King Of Eurogloss David Guetta here—and appearances by Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Katy (sigh) Perry, Kelly Clarkson, and other notables from the Hot 100. Come join us for the next three hours, won't you?

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Radio Hits One: The Always Exciting, Sometimes Difficult Climb Back To The Top Of The Charts

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Following up a hit song, especially a big chart-topping hit, can be one of the best moments in a pop act's career. But it's also one of the most difficult; you could be Katy Perry, scoring five No. 1s in a row, or you could be Daniel Powter, who missed the Hot 100 entirely with the follow-up to "Bad Day." On one hand, the act has momentum; on the other hand, the act has nowhere to go but down. A second single is often where an up-and-comer falls into the one-hit wonder trap, and even established acts can wonder if they just enjoyed their last chart-topper.

So it always fascinates me to see what songs artists choose to follow hot on the heels of a big hit—whether they try to repeat that success with a stylistically similar song, or take a left turn to prove their versatility or court a different audience—and how they fare.

From 2000 to 2010, 147 different songs occupied the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100. Nearly all of those songs were followed a few months later by another single by the same artist, usually from the same album; in some cases, the No. 1 came from a soundtrack or compilation, and in others it was the last single from an album cycle. 19% of those 147 chart-toppers were immediately followed by the artist's next single reaching the same heights. 54% of the follow-ups were top-ten hits; 78% were top 40 hits. Only 10% of all those No. 1s yielded follow-ups that didn't even penetrate the Hot 100.

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100 & Single: The Increase In Hot 100 Rebounders, And The iTunes-Radio Tug Of War

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The first week I remember ever hearing American Top 40 with Casey Kasem on the radio, back in the summer of 1981, the No. 1 spot was a real cliffhanger.

As Kasem explained, the week before, Kim Carnes's synth-pop smash "Bette Davis Eyes" had ceded the top spot after about a month, to a song by a Dutch novelty act calling itself the Stars on 45. Their goofy hit was a lite-disco clap track riding over a medley of rerecorded pop tunes (70% by the Beatles, an easy way to score a smash if ever there was one). In the year of Jane Fonda and aerobics-mania, the Stars on 45 were a momentary worldwide obsession.

Emphasis on "momentary": After a one-week pause, Carnes rebounded to the No. 1 spot, a happy ending to my first exposure to Billboard's iconic Hot 100. (The charts are fun when you've got a rooting interest.)

What I couldn't have known in 1981 was how rare, relatively, a song returning to the top spot was. Prior to Carnes's hit, only 28 songs out of the more than 500 Hot 100 chart-toppers since 1958 had rebounded to the top.

It's not all that rare anymore. In fact, the song sitting atop the Hot 100 right now, in its third week there, is a rebounder: Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," featuring Christina Aguilera. In 2011 alone, it's the fourth song to move back to No. 1 after falling out.

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Radio Hits One: Rock Bands (Kind Of) Return To The Pop Charts

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Foster The People.
This summer, a total of four songs by rock bands (or, more precisely, pop/rock bands) have appeared in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100: Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks," OneRepublic's "The Good Life," Hot Chelle Rae's "Tonight Tonight," and Maroon 5's Christina Aguilera-assisted "Moves Like Jagger" (which moved up to No. 1 on the Hot 100 this week) all rose into the chart's upper reaches during July and August. That may not seem like a large number, but when "Moves" debuted at No. 8 in July it broke a 13-month drought of rock bands of any kind reaching the Hot 100's top 10. This puts 2011 firmly ahead of 2010, when "Hey, Soul Sister" made Train the only rock band to crack the top 10 for the entire year.

Obviously, none of these songs are exactly hard rock anthems; the most memorable riffs in both "Pumped Up Kicks" and "The Good Life" are whistled, not strummed on a guitar. And of the four acts, only Foster The People have been played on rock stations, and not adult contemporary and Top 40 charts. But this quartet illustrates just how rare it is these days for any kind of rock band to climb up the Hot 100 these days, and exactly what kind of success it takes to achieve that feat.

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