Classic Songs That Returned to Billboard Charts In 2016

Leonard Cohen performs on stage at the Musikhalle on May 4, 1970 in Hamburg, Germany.
Gunter Zint/1970 K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns

Leonard Cohen performs on stage at the Musikhalle on May 4, 1970 in Hamburg, Germany.

From David Bowie to Simon & Garfunkel to Ghost Town DJ's, 2016 saw a number of classic artists place old songs on various Billboard charts. 

As you might imagine, several of those tracks returned to (or even made their debut appearances on) a Billboard chart because of a death. Which is only natural -- when an artist dies, listeners (new, old, or simply curious) stream and download that artist's catalog.

But not every older song that charted in 2016 did so for tragic reasons. Some got a bump from placements in advertisements, and a few benefited in a big way from viral memes -- a source of music discovery unthinkable even 20 years ago.

Below is a sampling of classic songs that returned to the Billboard charts in 2016.

R.I.P. Listening

In case you were sleeping under a rock this year (in which case, we're envious, send the address please), we saw a number of musical icons pass on in 2016. The first was David Bowie, who died on Jan. 10. Aside from his final album, Blackstar, becoming his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200, Bowie saw many of his songs return to various Billboard charts. He even notched two posthumous Billboard Hot 100 entries with "Space Oddity" and "Under Pressure" (with Queen) returning to Nos. 42 and 45 on the Hot 100, respectively.

On April 21, we suffered the loss of another giant when Prince unexpectedly died at Paisley Park. Downloads, streams and radio play returned several Prince songs to numerous charts, with "Purple Rain" going as high as No. 4 on the Hot 100 dated May 14. Other Prince entries returning to the Hot 100 included "When Doves Cry" (reaching No. 8 after his passing), "Let's Go Crazy" (No. 25), "Kiss" (No. 23), "Little Red Corvette" (No. 20), and "1999" (No. 27). Prince's death also gave a boost to Sinead O'Connor's cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U," which reached No. 16 on the Hot Rock Songs chart.

When Leonard Cohen died in November, not only did the Canadian singer-songwriter see a spike on the charts, but several artists who have famously covered him over the years received listening bumps from fans mourning the "Hallelujah" scribe. The late Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" cover hit No. 10 on Hot Rock Songs, Rufus Wainwright's version reached No. 16 on Hot Rock Songs and Cohen's original hit No. 5 on that same chart, as well as No. 59 on the Hot 100 -- his debut Hot 100 appearance as an artist, nearly 50 years after his debut album. 

Meme Boost

Moving on from late legends, memes brought old songs to new levels of relevance in 2016, too. Thanks to the Running Man challenge going viral on Vine, the challenge's go-to soundtrack, Ghost Town DJ's' "My Boo," hit a new Hot 100 peak: No. 27, besting its previous No. 31 high nearly 20 years earlier.

If that seems like an unlikely second life, 78-year-old gospel music legend Shirley Caesar topped the Hot Gospel Songs chart this fall after remixes of her song "Hold My Mule" became the soundtrack for the U Name It challenge, which found people dancing to her line about "beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes" on social media as a viral salute to Thanksgiving.

Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" enjoyed renewed interest in 2016 thanks not only to Disturbed's hit cover (which topped Mainstream Rock Songs for seven weeks), but the Sad Affleck meme, which paired footage of Ben Affleck's melancholy response to an interviewer's question about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice's negative reviews with the folk-rock classic. For reference, "The Sound of Silence" was famously used as a signifier of depression and ennui in the breakthrough 1967 comedy The Graduate.

Commercial Benefits

Aside from old songs returning to cultural relevance thanks to organic means, a few became resurgent hits thanks to placement in advertisements. A hysterical Apple commercial featuring Cookie Monster and Siri boosted Jim Croce's "Time In a Bottle" to No. 20 on Hot Rock Songs, while another Apple ad -- this one starring Taylor Swift -- helped place Jimmy Eat World's 2002 hit "The Middle" at No. 16 on Hot Rock Songs.

Empire of the Sun's "Walking on a Dream," from the act's 2008 debut album, returned to the Billboard charts and reached new heights thanks to its placement in a Honda ad -- and a new promotional push at radio by Capitol Records. It hit No. 3 on Alternative Songs, No. 5 on Rock Airplay, No. 6 on Hot Rock Songs, No. 23 on Adult Pop Songs, No. 40 on Pop Songs and No. 65 on the Hot 100.

With artists becoming increasingly open to licensing their songs in commercials (and commercials becoming increasingly creative with those syncs) -- not to mention the prevalence of music-centered memes -- there's no doubt 2017 will see a slew of classic songs return to Billboard charts. Let's just hope most of them owe their renewed success to Instagram dance challenges instead of unexpected deaths. 

Billboard Year in Music 2016


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