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Weekly Chart Notes: How Radio Helped Create Zach Sobiech’s Hot 100 Hit ‘Clouds’

KSTP Minneapolis PD Leighton Peck discusses the station's special relationship with the late singer/songwriter. Plus, Elvis Presley extends a Billboard 200 record and Florida Georgia Line makes waves…

As previously reported, “Clouds” by late singer/songwriter Zach Sobiech debuts at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100, fueled largely by strong sales. And, while the gentle, folky song’s national airplay is minimal so far, radio actually played a key part in its origin.

The song concurrently soars to No. 1 on Rock Digital Songs and enters at No. 7 on Hot Digital Songs with 156,000 downloads sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It also re-enters Hot Rock Songs at No. 3 after denting the list at No. 48 two weeks ago. Sobiech was also in the act A Firm Handshake. The group’s EP “Fix Me Up,” featuring “Clouds,” debuts on the Billboard 200 at No. 20 and re-enters Folk Albums at No. 1 with 19,000 sold.


Sobiech succumbed to a rare and terminal form of cancer on May 20 at age 18. Prior to his passing, the video for “Clouds,” currently up to more than 6 million worldwide YouTube views, helped turn him into somewhat of a role model for others battling serious illness. In May, several stars also joined a Soul Pancake-produced tribute clip set to “Clouds,” including Sara Bareilles, Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz, Phillip Phillips and Ashley Tisdale.

Six months earlier, adult pop KSTP Minneapolis was instrumental in helming the song’s recording. “We do a KS95 for Kids radiothon every year, and Zach was one of the kids we highlighted last year,” program director Leighton Peck says of Sobiech (who hailed from nearby Stillwater, Minn.) KSTP played “Clouds” 29 times last week; the market’s fellow adult pop KTWN played it seven times.

“It turned out he was a huge music fan and always wanted to record a song,” Peck recalls. “So, we took him into our studio and did kind of a rough version of ‘Clouds.’ One thing led to another and we thought it would be really cool if we got him into an actual studio with professional musicians. Our general manager, Dan Seemen, knows someone who has a production company. They volunteered their time and spent a couple days with Zach putting ‘Clouds’ together.

“We debuted ‘Clouds’ on-air and it got a great response.”

With its buoyant, “We’ll go up in the clouds because the view is a little nicer,” refrain, it’s easy to forget the gravity behind the song. “Zach actually wrote it to say goodbye to his family and friends,” Peck says. “That’s what ‘Clouds’ is all about.”

Proceeds will help others suffering from the disease that claimed Sobiech’s life. “Zach’s dying wish, and the only reason he agreed to share his music and story in such a public manner, is to help other kids with cancer in hopes of giving them a better outcome than the one he had,” Kris Huson, Children’s Cancer Research Fund director of communications, says. “Before he died, Zach and his family established the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund. So far, it’s raised nearly $300,000 primarily from individual donations and $9,000, through March, from downloads of ‘Clouds’.

“These funds will be used to help scientists develop new therapies to treat osteosarcoma and map the genetic factors that signal osteosarcoma growth.”

With “Clouds” released via the non-profit Rock the Cause, the song may face an uphill battle at pop and adult pop radio, which tends to focus almost exclusively on major-label hits. KTWN PD Michael Steele believes, however, that the cut merits airplay beyond its background. “It’s got a really solid hook. And, it fits sonically with other contemporary hits.”

The song has also already reached the audience for which it was originally intended. “Everybody at his funeral (on May 25) sang ‘Clouds’ at the end of the service,” Peck says. “Twelve hundred people. That was pretty cool.

“Zach’s phrase was, ‘You don’t have to learn you’re dying to learn how to live.’ People really connected with him.”

Next (page 2): The King’s reign expands

The Best of Billboard Video:

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KING’S COMMAND: Elvis Presley extends his record for the most entries in the Billboard 200’s 57-year history, as “Uncovered” debuts at No. 192. The set is his 128th charted album. With the debut, he widens his lead over runner-up Frank Sinatra (82).

The budget-priced “Uncovered” was released a year ago this month but finally charts following continued promotion at retail.

UNCHARTED WATERS: As Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” featuring Nelly, sets the mark for the steadiest climb to the Hot 100’s top five (34 weeks), the song also becomes just the ninth Hot Country Songs No. 1 to reach the Pop Songs radio airplay chart’s top 10 (dating to the latter ranking’s 1992 inception). The track navigates 13-10 on Pop Songs.

Here’s a look at the nine such crossover hits. Three belong to Taylor Swift, the only artist with multiple titles on the list. Owed in large part to Swift’s impact, six of the nine songs are from the past six years:

“You’re Still the One,” Shania Twain, No. 3, 1998
“Amazed,” Lonestar, No. 7, 2000
“Breathe,” Faith Hill, No. 7, 2000
“Before He Cheats,” Carrie Underwood, No. 9, 2007
“Love Story,” Taylor Swift, No. 1 (one week), 2009
“You Belong With Me,” Taylor Swift, No. 2, 2009
“Need You Now,” Lady Antebellum, No. 2, 2010
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift, No. 2, 2012
“Cruise,” Florida Georgia Line Feat. Nelly, No. 10 (to date), 2013

A STORY SHE COULD TELL: Margo Rey brings a format favorite to the Adult Contemporary chart for the first time, as her cover of Squeeze’s “Tempted” debuts at No. 28. While the original has become an AC staple, it never reached the tally upon its release in 1981, when it rose to No. 8 on Mainstream Rock and No. 49 on the Hot 100.

“‘Tempted’ is a song that has always made me happy when I sing it,” Rey says. “Its soul, groove and lyrical content make for a perfect combination. I’m so thankful to Squeeze for writing such a memorable classic.”

“Tempted” marks Rey’s fourth AC entry, all since her 2011 arrival with “Let the Rain,” which reached No. 17. All four titles have been released on the independent Organica label.

ONLINE EDUCATION: Much buzz has recently accompanied the trend of hit pop titles sporting hashtags. Two of the most notable, in fact, rank back-to-back on the Hot 100 this week: will.i.am’s “#thatPOWER,” featuring Justin Bieber (No. 19), and Mariah Carey’s “#Beautiful,” featuring Miguel (No. 20).

Another example of tech-savvy songcraft appears on Smooth Jazz Songs (perhaps surprisingly, given the format’s reputation as an escape from modern stimuli, with several stations employing the “Oasis” nickname). Euge Groove rises 2-1 on the airplay survey with “Old.Edu (Old School).”

The track is the saxophonist’s sixth Smooth Jazz Songs No. 1. In the chart’s eight-year history, only Boney James (eight) and Richard Elliot (seven) boast more leaders.

(And, what does typing in “old.edu” online lead to? “Server not found.” Hmm, for a small investment by Euge Groove, the address could make for a worthwhile promotional opportunity. #freeadvice)