Following the surprise release of U2’s new album Songs of Innocence as a free download to iTunes and Beats Music account holders on Sept. 9, first single “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” quickly enters a pair of Billboard radio charts.
The track jumps onto Adult Alternative Songs at No. 19, adding Greatest Gainer honors. It’s one of just seven songs to debut in the chart’s top 20 this year, with U2 the only act with two such lofty launches: “Invisible” began at No. 13 in February. (“Invisible,” premiered in a commercial during the Super Bowl, arrived as a stand-alone single benefitting the charity RED.)
On Rock Airplay, “Miracle” starts at No. 38 with 1.9 million first-week audience impressions, according to Nielsen BDS.
While reaction to the album’s unorthodox release has ranged from praise for its unprecedented reach to disparagement for its automatic residence in consumers’ accounts, rock radio programmers playing “Miracle” are largely enthusiastic about welcoming new music from a cornerstone act.
“All of the supposed angst over this new release was way overblown. It sounds like a pretty solid record to me,” Bob Waugh, PD of adult alternative WRNR Baltimore, says of Songs. “What’s that saying? ‘Once a name, always a threat.’ Until proven otherwise, U2 is still U2.” WRNR played “Miracle” 21 times in the week ending Sept. 14.
Adult alternative KPRI San Diego music director Mark “Mookie” Kaczor says that the new song’s sound, as well as U2’s prominence, spurred its airplay; the station played the track 23 times in its first week, tied with Sirius XM’s The Spectrum for the top total by any format reporter. “Our audience has grown up listening to U2. We immediately took notice of the news story when the album became available for free.
“This is a great song to stomp out of the gates with, and an homage to a musical legend, as well.”
Despite the new single’s quick chart debut, it contrasts with that of “Get on Your Boots,” the first single from U2’s last studio album, 2009’s traditionally-released No Line on the Horizon: “Boots” stomped onto Adult Alternative Songs at No. 1. It also blasted onto Alternative Songs at No. 8. “Miracle” falls shy of the latter list in its first week.
(U2 has, in large part, graduated from alternative to adult alternative radio. In the past 10 years, the band has tallied 12 top 10s on Adult Alternative Songs and three on Alternative Songs.)
Still, Lynn Barstow, PD of alternative KROX Austin, Texas, muses that “Miracle” “sounds fresher than any of the other recent first singles from U2 projects.” That the station played it 12 times in its first week is a “testament to my take on its quality,” he says.
“We’re waving the flag to let the audience know that the biggest band in the world has a new record out.”
Other alternative tastemakers that gave significant spins to “Miracle” in its first week include KUCD Honolulu (17 plays), KITS San Francisco (16) and KROQ Los Angeles (13).
Sky Daniels, PD of adult alternative KCSN Los Angeles (11 first-week plays), calls Songs “fabulous,” while noting both the positive and negative reactions that the set has evoked. “The release has sparked a fiery debate, especially about the potential for consumers to misinterpret the intent and see it as a further devaluation of music, as well as continued emphasis on commercial branding partnerships. Those debates have overshadowed the actual quality of the record.”
U2’s vaunted history could also work against the band, Daniels cautions. With the most No. 1s (11, a mark shared with Coldplay) in the Adult Alternative Songs chart’s 18-year history, as well as the most entries (39) in the Alternative Songs chart’s 26-year archives, “the challenge for U2 is the expectation that it must deliver The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby every time out.”
Ultimately, he feels that Songs should be considered on its own merits. “The songs are meaningful, beautiful and uniformly great.”
“Good to hear that U2 still has it,” concurs KPRI PD Matt Stone. While relaying that “local artists are upset that one of the biggest bands in the world gave away a whole album when they are fighting for music to be paid for,” he calls “Miracle” a “solid song by a super-solid artist. It sounds great.
“As long as U2 makes good records, the band will be viable.”