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Revisionist History, Part 5: Bon Jovi’s ‘Prayer’ Answered, ‘Caroline’ Is Sweeter Than ‘Sugar’

As we get closer to Billboard's year-end charts for 2014, we present yet another look at how the chart champs of past years might differ based on more recent measures of popularity.

As we get closer to Billboard‘s year-end charts for 2014, we present yet another look at how the chart champs of past years might differ based on more recent measures of popularity.

We call it “Revisionist History,” and here’s how it works: Using a formula giving near-equal weighting to Nielsen SoundScan-measured digital song downloads since 2004 (when digital sales were first used in computing the Billboard Hot 100) and Nielsen BDS-monitored airplay across all radio formats since 2010, we’ve recalculated each year’s top song, from the Hot 100’s start in 1958 through 2003.

Revisit ‘Revisionist History’! Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4

The results show more flipping than Florida real estate: No refigured No. 1s match those from the original year-end charts. In some instances, songs that were in the race back then have grabbed the baton because of added exposure in advertising, movies, TV, video games, and in some cases — as in our first example — sporting events. 

Revisionist History, Part 5: Bon Jovi's

Although Neil Diamond has enjoyed No. 1 status on the Hot 100 as both singer (“Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Song Sung Blue” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with Barbra Streisand) and songwriter (theMonkees‘ “I’m a Believer” and UB40‘s “Red Red Wine”), it’s the No. 4-peaking “Caroline” — later recorded by both Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra — that’s become his most downloaded (over 2 million) and most-played song.

It may be hard to imagine any song in pop history more animated than 1969’s original biggest hit, the Archies‘ “Sugar, Sugar,” recorded as part of the cartoon series that starred the “Archie Comics” gang. But if you’ve been to either a University of Pittsburgh football or Boston Red Sox baseball game — or, for that matter, any bar or club where the song’s played over the past three decades — you understand why crowds find “Caroline” so good, so good, so good to sing along with.

“When we began playing ‘Sweet Caroline’ in 2002, you couldn’t help but notice the crowd singing responsively,” Red Sox Executive VP Charles Steinberg says about the song Diamond himself has performed several times at the team’s 102-year-old Fenway Park, most recently following the Boston Marathon tragedy in 2013. “He showed up unexpectedly [that day]; we were thrilled. We had no [sound] equipment [set up], so Neil just sang with his 1969 self.”

“Caroline’s” connection to the Red Sox was made that much stronger when Diamond revealed it was inspired by a young Caroline Kennedy, daughter of Massachusetts senator and later U.S. President John F. Kennedy. “Boston learned it’s been unwittingly singing a nightly anthem to one of its most beloved daughters,” Steinberg says.

Revisionist History, Part 5: Bon Jovi's

If you were born in 1974, odds are Marvin Gaye‘s “Let’s Get It On” was playing while your parents were, let’s say, working on the project that wound up being you. While it may be difficult to prove whether the song’s been adopted as “baby-making music” by later generations, it’s clearly become the “romantic-interlude-ahead” song of choice in a long list of movies (including Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Something’s Gotta Give), TV series (House, The King of Queens) and commercials (Levi’s and Reese’s candies).

“‘Let’s Get It On'” sends a message without being crude or obscene,” says Todd “JABAone” Himaka,program director at Phoenix Adult R&B station KAJM (Mega 104.3) about the song that, based on the revised rankings, cut Tony Orlando & Dawn‘s “Ribbon” to shreds. “Marvin sang with tremendous depth and sincerity. The audience, young or old, can understand that yearning for someone or something.”

Why has “Get It On” stood the test of time? “It wasn’t created with the intent of having a short shelf life, like rap or R&B songs of today,” Himaka says. “Artists’ rebellious attitude and ability to step out on a limb and say something different or profound resonated with the audience of that era, as it does with today’s listeners who constantly search for something more, something deeper, something real and honest.”

Revisionist History, Part 5: Bon Jovi's

According to the revisions, not only has Bon Jovi handedtheBangles their “Walking” papers and taken over at No. 1 for 1987, but the band’s prior single, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” becomes 1986’s year-end winner, replacing “That’s What Friends Are For” from fellow New Jerseyan Dionne Warwick.

The tale of Tommy and Gina, which has racked up over 3.4 million in digital sales, struck a chord with Garden State residents hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when Bon Jovi performed it at the Concert for Sandy Relief. A year later, “Prayer” re-entered the Hot 100 on the strength of a video featuring a lip-synching performance at a Boston Celtics game.

On radio, “Prayer” runs the format gamut, moving beyond just rock, adult top 40 and classic hits all the way to mainstream top 40, even Latin pop stations such as San Juan, Puerto Rico’s WXYX (La X). “Younger audiences are exposed to everything with just a click on their phone, computer, tablets and radio, and they love good music,” PD Herman Dávila says.The game definitely has changed.”