Year in Music 2017

Ask Billboard: Twenty One Pilots Bring Back the Hit Written by One Writer

Courtesy of Fueled by Ramen
Twenty One Pilots in the video for "Stressed Out."

In the latest mailbag: "Stressed Out" is the first Hot 100 top 10 penned by a single author in more than a year.

Submit questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, tweet @gthot20

RETURN OF THE ONE-WRITER HIT

Hi Gary,

With its 4-2 rise on the latest Billboard Hot 100, twenty one pilots' "Stressed Out" is, as Billboard noted Monday, the first song in the chart's top two that has also appeared on the Hot Rock Songs chart in more than a year, since Hozier's "Take Me to Church" on Jan. 3, 2015.

The songs have something else in common: "Stressed" is the first Hot 100 top 10 written by just one person since Hozier's self-written "Church" placed at No. 8 (after peaking at No. 2) on March 21, 2015.

Clearly, the trend of multiple writers penning most hits continues, even if "Stressed" breaks the lengthy streak of songs penned by a sole author not appearing in the top 10.

Thanks,
Lane Fair

Hi Lane,

Great observation. Twenty one pilots' Tyler Joseph wrote "Stressed Out." (Josh Dun completes the pair.)

The pattern of multiple writers crafting hits definitely continues, as first covered in the October Chart Beat story, "Why Solo Songwriters Are No Longer Today's Hitmakers." "Stressed Out" played a part then, too. From that piece:

On the Oct. 24, 2015 Hot 100, just two songs were authored by one writer: "Hit the Quan" by Richard Colbert (aka, iLoveMemphis) (No. 15) and twenty one pilots' "Stressed Out" (by Tyler Joseph) (No. 95). The trend downward is staggering: 10 years ago, single writers (or singularly-credited entities) wrote 14 titles, which itself was down sharply from mid-October 1995 (32 such songs), 1985 (41) and 1975 (51).

(Side note: "Quan" was subsequently amended to two writer credits.)

That story recapped a likely key reason as to the transformation of how hits are born, as New Yorker writer John Seabrook, author of The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, noted: "I think the Swedes have a lot to do with it," referring to the model hatched by Denniz Pop (Ace of Base, Backstreet Boys) and Max Martin (Katy PerryBritney Spears, *N SyncTaylor Swift). "I think one reason there were so many single writers back in the day was because of the money; people were reluctant to share credit.

"But the Swedes, with their [modest] culture, don't mind sharing credit as much. The track-and-hook method of songwriting is at the basis of a lot of these changes. A track is almost a canvas with some background painted into it, and different people add hooks and a bridge and a chorus and slowly it becomes a song, rather than springing fully formed from the imagination of Burt Bacharach, sitting at the piano."

Perhaps not surprisingly, artists who scored the bulk of their hits more than a few years ago marvel at how a song can emerge from so many minds. Lou Gramm, the longtime lead singer of Foreigner, can see how collaboration can be either "a mess" or … "exhilarating":

Tommy Page (Billboard's publisher in 2012-13 and now senior vp brand partnerships at Cumulus Media and Westwood One) inspired the October Chart Beat assessment. Of his three Hot 100 hits in 1989-90, he wrote two on his own, although he penned his biggest, 1990's No. 1 "I'll Be Your Everything," with New Kids on the Block Jordan Knight and Danny Wood. Page likewise sees both sides of the creative process. "I love collaboration, but there is something really special about artists working by themselves," he says, lamenting the fade of modern-day pop artists like Billy Joel, who wrote 40 of his 42 Hot 100 hits on his own.

"Imagine if some of the greatest painters had to work with others ..."

NAMES IN THOSE TUNES

Hi Gary,

Regarding the recent "Ask Billboard" question about acts that have charted with songs that include their names, here are a few more. 

In addition to the Human League, Soulja Boy Tell'em and Vanilla Ice, I can think of one and a half more songs that reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 that include the artist's name.

First, Dutch studio ensemble Stars on 45 reached the top spot in 1981 with "Medley: Intro Venus/Sugar, Sugar/No Reply/I'll Be Back/Drive My Car/Do You Want to Know a Secret/We Can Work It Out/I Should Have Known Better/Nowhere Man/You're Going to Lose That Girl/Stars on 45."

Second (and this is where the half part comes in), pop duo Paul & Paula topped the chart in 1963 with "Hey Paula."

Songs that made the Hot 100 but didn't reach No. 1 include "Stray Cat Strut" by Stray Cats (No. 3, 1983) and "Martika's Kitchen" by Martika (No. 93, 1992).

A hit song that predates the Hot 100 is "Bo Diddley" by the legendary Bo Diddley, which reached No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1955.

An example of a song title that contains the name of one of the band's members (and his wife) is "The Ballad of John and Yoko" by the Beatles (No. 8, 1969).

Another song with a title related to the act's name is "It's Raining Men," by the Weather Girls, which reached No. 46 on the Hot 100 in 1983. (It's still a mystery to me why it didn't chart higher.) 

There are probably many more songs with titles that relate to artists' names, and I'm sure that other Chart Beat readers will think of them. 

Thanks for another great article! 

Blair Buchta
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Thanks Blair. I'll add four more such hits, all related to the Beatles.

In the last "Ask Billboard," "The Beatles' Movie Medley," by the Beatles (No. 12, 1982) was cited. The group also charted with two other self-referencing titles. First, "Four by the Beatles" reached No. 92 in 1964. Per rules at the time, the entry was eligible to chart, although (explaining its title), it's a four-song EP ("Roll Over Beethoven," "All My Loving," "This Boy" and "Please Mister Postman"). In 1965, the similarly titled "4 – By the Beatles" hit No. 68. That EP features "Honey Don't," "I'm a Loser," "Mr. Moonlight" and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby."

Two other meta Fab Four Hot 100 hits: "Ringo's Theme (This Boy)," by Beatles producer George Martin and His Orchestra (No. 53, 1964), and "When Was We Fab," by George Harrison (No. 23, 1988).

Meanwhile, another Beatles classic ties in Hot 100 history, although the band couldn't have known at the time. Just one Hot 100 top 10 includes the names of the acts with the top two totals of top 10s (looking at both the artist and title fields): "Lady Madonna" hit No. 4 in 1968, becoming one of the Beatles' 34 top 10s. Madonna (who was 9 years old when the song charted), broke their record, having notched 38 top 10s.

ENDING WITH  Z

Dear Gary,

With "Pillowtalk" topping the Feb. 20 Hot 100, Zayn became the first solo artist whose name starts with "Z" to hit No. 1 … but not the first artist. That milestone was reached in the year 1969 by the duo of Zager & Evans, who spent six weeks at the summit with "In the Year 2525."

Zayn does replace Zager & Evans as the last artist with a Hot 100 No. 1, alphabetically. The first artist is Aaliyah with "Try Again."

Jeff Lerner
Long Island, New York