How James Bay's 'Let It Go' Became a Top 20 Hot 100 Hit, Two Years After First Appearing on a Billboard Chart

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James Bay

Republic Records' Charlie Walk & Gary Spangler trace the song's ascent & talk the re-release of "Hold Back the River" as Bay's follow-up single.

Fans wouldn't let it go. So, neither did Republic Records.

James Bay's "Let It Go" ranks at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 (dated July 30). The week before, the song leapt from No. 24 to No. 16, its peak to date, hitting the top 20 in its 29th week. Aided in part by 69-cent sale-pricing in the iTunes Store, "Go" goes 12-11 on the Digital Songs chart (47,000 downloads sold in the week ending July 14, according to Nielsen Music), while ranking at No. 12 on Radio Songs (66 million in all-format audience). It also drew 4 million U.S. streams in the tracking week.

If the climb of "Go" to the Hot 100's top 20 seems lengthy, promotion of the ballad dates back even longer: the song from the British singer-songwriter, 25, first appeared on a Billboard airplay chart nearly two years ago.

After debuting on the Adult Alternative Songs airplay chart in November 2014 (and reaching No. 15), "Go" steadily crossed to Adult Contemporary and Adult Pop Songs in October 2015 (reaching Nos. 12 and 5, respectively) and then Pop Songs this March, where it spent five weeks in the top 10 (peaking at No. 8, July 2), a notable feat at a format known primarily for beats, not ballads.

"Go" made its first mark on any Billboard chart when it entered Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists on June 21, 2014. It surged to its No. 11 peak on the ranking that August.

"It's one of the longest campaigns we've done," says Republic executive vp of promotion Gary Spangler. "We had data that people loved the song, so we stuck with it."

Spangler says that Bay's three 2016 Grammy Award nominations, including for best new artist, propelled his profile, especially at pop radio. Opening select dates on Taylor Swift's 1989 World Tour didn't hurt, either. "We had a lot of 'nevers' at top 40," he recalls. "Then, it was in power rotation on KIIS in Los Angeles."

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Next up, Republic will rework Bay's prior single, the more uptempo "Hold Back the River," a No. 2 Adult Alternative Songs hit in June 2015, and a No. 16 Adult Pop Songs hit in July 2015, to adult and pop formats. Both "Go" and "River" are from Bay's debut studio LP Chaos and the Calm, which has sold 219,000 copies in the U.S. The set topped Billboard's Americana/Folk Albums chart dated March 5, after Bay basked in the Grammys spotlight Feb. 15, when he sang "Go" in a performance with Tori Kelly. "Go" has sold 1.2 million downloads to date, and "River" 291,000.

"How do you follow-up 'Let It Go'?," asks Republic president Charlie Walk. "We looked under the hood. We saw that 'River' has 268 million global streams, but only 34 million of those are from the U.S. What does that tell you? That the U.S. has not really discovered the song."

On the July 30 Adult Pop Songs chart, "River" re-enters at No. 39, up by 68 percent in plays. CBS Radio-owned stations are leading the way, as the chugging track received 45 plays for the week at KLLC San Francisco; 43 at WNEW New York; and 33 at KHMX Houston. "From the projections we're seeing, ["River"] will be a big adult smash, then go to mainstream pop radio after Labor Day," Walk says.

"'Let It Go' and 'River'… what a one-two punch."