Written Dec. 3, 2010 by Sean Ross in Content with 0 Comments
It's been a while since the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" was a staple of Oldies playlists. These days it gets only a handful of spins at Oldies/Greatest Hits FMs, well behind "Wouldn't It Be Nice" or "Good Vibrations," the Beach Boys songs that endure (and endure year-round) at the format.
If another programmer--at least one with access to research and a reasonable knowledge of what the hits were in the format--were streaming a Greatest Hits station and heard "Sloop John B," it would probably raise an eyebrow. If a 25-year-old who just happened to listen to Oldies heard it, they might or might not recognize it. But if a longtime Oldies listener stumbled on it, they would just think it was one of those songs that they always hear on the format.
Such is the perceived hit--the once mainstay title that has faded from the radio over the years, but not in such a way that its absence has become conspicuous to the naked ear. It doesn't mean that listeners still have passion for it--we know they don't and that's why it's not on the radio much anymore. It just means that they wouldn't look up at the radio and say, "I wonder why the hell they're playing that."
Play "Sloop John B" in between "Bennie & the Jets" and "Evil Woman," or any two records that remain mainstays of the Oldies/Greatest Hits format, and it almost reads as if a station played three hits in a row. Play it in between 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" and the Shocking Blue's "Venus" and it might seem like you haven't played any hits. But either of those songs would slip as innocuously between the real hits themselves.
Songs by "name" artists who had a long string of hits, and have multiple enduring songs in the Greatest Hits format, can become perceived hits. Phil Collins' playable titles for many stations are down to a handful--"In The Air Tonight," "Against All Odds," and maybe one or two others, varying from station to station. But it would probably surprise listeners to know that they don't hear "One More Night" or "Don't Forget My Number" very much anymore.
Conversely, songs by one-hit wonders (or artists who never contributed more than one enduring song to a gold library) tend to read the other way--even if they're legitimate research hits. "Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest seems like less of a hit than it still is. So, perhaps, does "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes. It always comes as a surprise, even to radio station program directors, that those are still enduring records for any Greatest Hits or Mainstream AC station that will test them.
One sees the power of the perceived hit in this business when you work with programmers who try to come up with a montage that represents a format other than their own. A Classic Rock PD asked to come up with songs for, say, an AC station will throw in Madonna's "Material Girl" or Wham's "Everything She Wants." After all, it's not their business to know most of the time.
When the Adult Hits format came along, the perceived hit was returned to the radio with gusto. It was a commonly repeated suggestion 4-5 years ago, in the heat of Bob- and Jack-mania, that one no longer needed to worry as much about strength as familiarity. Then the Oldies/Greatest Hits format returned from its near-death experience and playlists were longer. Songs that had been heading for perceived hit status became "hits" again because the bar was now being set lower. And even the PD with a 300 song playlist who digs for otherwise unplayable songs to fill a category is relying on perceived hits.
The perceived hit isn't nearly as exciting as the stealth hit. The stealth hit is the song that was never a big radio record at the time that isn't tested everywhere, but almost always performs well when it does. Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See" was a good example of a stealth hit for a while - never a big chart hit, but somehow a song that a large percentage of the audience knew and loved (perhaps because they haven't heard it pounded for 35 years). Same goes for KC & the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes," a surprise hit in many places. Most PDs would feel more comfortable with a perceived hit--but there's not the same excitement. It's hard to know if, say, "Don't Forget My Number" would even combat the "you only play one or two songs from the album" perception that so many listeners carry around, because they perhaps already count that among the 'one or two songs.'
Got any good examples of perceived hits? (Or stealth hits?)