For those who love the Billboard charts, this truly is — as Andy Williams reminds us every December — the most wonderful time of the year. The arrival of Billboard‘s annual year-end rankings have made it a “Happy” holiday for another Williams — Pharrell — whose hit with that title is the Hot 100’s No. 1 for 2014.
But in the world of “Revisionist History” — our ongoing series applying modern-day measures of song popularity to years past, to compute what each year’s top song would be now — Santa not only giveth but taketh away. Based on a formula that jingle-bell-rocks the rankings for each of the Hot 100’s first 45 years – weighing Nielsen SoundScan measured digital song sales since 2004 (when they were first used to compute the Hot 100) fairly equally with Nielsen BDS monitored airplay since 2010 — most acts originally gifted with each year’s No. 1 will be finding a lump of coal in their stockings this Christmas, while others will be tearing the wrapping paper off a brand-new year-end chart-topper.
Here’s a look at three more songs that, like a certain reindeer, have gone down in history, each taking over as its respective year’s biggest hit in the modern era. And one just happens to be a song for the season.
As a result of these revisions, there’s a lot more rockin’ around the Christmas tree: Songs currently featured on rock radio formats account for 70% of the re-figured year-end No. 1s. One of those comes from an act that not only takes over as champ for 1977, but whose version of a song recorded the following year — Charles Brown‘s “Please Come Home for Christmas” — has gone on to become a holiday standard.
To find out why the Eagles‘ “Hotel California” (which has welcomed over 3 million digital downloaders since 2004) continues to be such a lovely place for listeners, we checked in with the program director of the classic rock station closest to that mythical location. “‘Hotel California’ is a classic example of a durable song [that’s] very relatable: It lasts because it speaks to everyone, everywhere, anytime,” says Dave Beasing of KSWD (The Sound) in Los Angeles.
“That hotel – and all of California – isn’t just a place [but] a state of mind. Each of us has somewhere ‘you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.’ We Californians think of our home that way, but it’s a great metaphor for anything that’s alluring and addicting. Who can’t relate to that?”
So why hasn’t Rod Stewart‘s “Tonight’s the Night” connected with as many people since its reign at the top of 1977’s original year-end ranking? “Its lyrics feel a little dated,” Beasing says. “Is it just me, or is the thought of Rod seducing a virgin uncomfortable?”
During these days when the airwaves are ruled by “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” a song about summer may not feel quite right, but “Summer of ’69” has proven to be the exception to that rule.
Bryan Adams’ tale of love, guitars and your mama’s porch remains a year-round winner at nine different radio formats, which helps to explain why it “sleighs” the competition to take the top prize among the hits of 1985.
“‘Summer Of ’69’ always gets a big audience reaction,” says Jim Vallance, who co-wrote that song and many other hits with Adams. “I was at a Bryan Adams concert recently [and] I have to say, after all this time, it’s still surreal to see 20,000 people singing lyrics we wrote 30 years ago.”
Why does this “Summer” seem to last forever, especially compared to songs that became far bigger hits for Adams, including the one that was originally No. 1 for 1991, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”? “When we were writing it, I had no sense it was any different or any better than other songs we were working on,” Vallance says. “And yet it seems to resonate. Honestly, if I knew how or why, I’d try to write a song like that every day.”
That continuing success of “Summer of ’69” is all the more amazing considering Adams was just nine years old in the summer of ’69. “I was 17 [then], so people tend to think it’s my song,” Vallance says. “In fact, it was very much a 50-50 co-write with Bryan. When people question that, I tell them Robbie Robertson wasn’t even born in 1865, but he still wrote ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,’ an amazing song about the Civil War.”
Although Mariah Carey achieved No.1-of-the-year status in 2005 with “We Belong Together,” none of her record-setting 14 chart-toppers during the 1990s ruled any of those years, based on the original tallies. Ironically, it’s a ’90s song that didn’t even chart on the Hot 100 during its release that makes Carey the star atop the tree on 1995’s revised list.
Not a commercial single when it came out as part of Carey’s Merry Christmas collection in 1994, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was at the time ineligible to chart per Hot 100 rules, yet it reached No. 12 on Radio Songs. The digital era’s biggest-selling holiday song, at 2.8 million and counting, it has more than made up for lost time, having appeared on the Hot 100 during each of the past three holiday seasons, reaching a No. 21 peak in December 2012.
How has the much-covered song The New Yorker called “one of the few worthy modern additions to the holiday canon” landed Carey on the Mt. Rushmore of holiday hitmakers, next to the likes of Bing Crosby (“White Christmas”) and Nat King Cole (“The Christmas Song”)?
“Mariah’s easy-to-sing and fun-to-listen-to song came at a time when modern Christmas music was downright depressing,” says Rick Hall, program director of New York Christian adult contemporary station WAWZ (Star 99.1), which currently features the track. “Mariah gave radio and retailers something new to play that wasn’t Wham!‘s ‘Last Christmas’ or Band Aid‘s ‘Do they Know It’s Christmas?'”
Credit also “All I Want for Christmas Is You” for its multigenerational appeal. “A mom, her daughter and her daughter’s daughter can all like the song,” WIXX Green Bay, Wis. mainstream top 40 music director Otis Day says. “That’s a Christmas miracle.”
Does the song’s success suggest that any of today’s hottest acts could follow suit and deliver a modern Christmas classic? “That’s the power of a talented pop artist with mass appeal like Mariah,” Hall says. “If history is to repeat itself, perhaps in fifteen or twenty years, we’ll be discussing the success of a Taylor Swift or Adele Christmas record.”