Nothing says "dance music" more than a xylophone.
As previously reported, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," featuring Kimbra, ascended to No. 1 on the Billboard's Dance Club Songs and Dance/Mix Show Airplay charts dated May 19. The track also led the Billboard Hot 100 the past four weeks and Alternative for 10 and is the first to top all four tallies.
In the 23 years that the Hot 100, Dance Club Songs and Alternative have co-existed (the lattermost list is the youngest of the three, having premiered the week of Sept. 10, 1988), "Somebody" is the first song to score a No. 1 hat trick, while only two titles had reached the top of even Dance Play and Alternative: U2's "Discotheque" (1997) and New Order's "Regret" (1993).
How did a song known for its sparse, rock-based production become a No. 1 dance hit? Essentially, by tuning out that quirky xylophone, as a combination of transformative remixes and the global success of "Somebody" helped convince programmers of the song's potential for their format.
"A great song is a great song," says Joel Salkowitz, program director of KYLI (Jelli 96.7) Las Vegas, one of seven full-time dance-formatted stations that report to the Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart panel. (Select hours of mix show specialty programming on 84 pop stations rounds out the ranking's reporting board.)
The Tiesto remix of "Somebody" ranked as KYLI's fifth-most-played title in the April 30-May 6 chart tracking week (49 detections, according to Nielsen BDS), behind only songs by core dance acts Kaskade, Calvin Harris, Afrojack and David Guetta.
"Music fans don't make the same judgments about whether or not an artist 'fits' or if they have a 'slot' for that kind of song, like radio programmers do," Salkowitz says. "First and foremost, I look for a great song. As long as there is a mix available that is consistent with the overall sound of my radio station, it gets a serious look."
Salkowitz, who also programs online dance station Pulse87 NY, where the Tiesto remix of "Somebody" is likewise in rotation, points to another rock-influenced artist whose roots recently took such a hold of pop culture that dance success became practically inevitable. "We had a similar experience with Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep.' When the Downtown London remix came out, we jumped on it, well ahead of when most top 40 PDs came around to the idea that Adele would 'fit' on their stations."
Like "Somebody," "Deep" topped not only the Hot 100 - eventually ranking as the chart's No. 1 song of 2011 - but also rang up immense international success. "Somebody" has crowned more than a dozen tallies on Billboard's international charts menu.
Salkowitz adds that since KYLI follows the Jelli branding of "100% user-controlled radio," where listeners are invited to shape the station's sound through online voting, airplay for "Somebody" on the station truly reflects its demand among dance audiences.
"That's perhaps the best evidence of the song's appeal," he says.
On fellow full-time Dance/Mix Show Airplay reporter KNHC (C89.5) Seattle, "Somebody" ranked No. 1 last week with 67 plays, ahead of other top 10-placing songs by dance veterans Guetta, Harris, Madonna, Rihanna and Morgan Page.
"Luckily, over our 40 years, we have evolved into a station that can, and does, pick songs from genres that are not always dance radio-friendly, including alternative and some hip-hop," says PD Jon McDaniel. The station is also cherry-picking the current Alternative top 10 "Midnight City" by M83. In remixed form, the song garnered 51 plays on KNHC last week and has received more than 900 spins to date on the station.
Noting that KNHC has played the Tiesto and Wulf Berhard remixes of "Somebody" during regular rotation and the Dan Aux makeover on weekend specialty shows, "It certainly makes it easier (to play crossover hits) when there are quality remixes available," McDaniel says.
Echoing Salkowitz, McDaniel believes that, ironically, "Somebody" fits in so well on dance radio because it's an atypical dance track.
"I love that ('Somebody') is a 'real' song, with meaningful lyrics and emotion," he says. "With the right remix, dance radio will get behind a big pop hit. Alternately, if a pop hit has a bad remix, or comes out after the song has peaked at pop, we are less inclined to support it.
"The takeaway? Get good remixes and put them out in a timely manner."