Friday, June 06, 2014

All acts have one song that's bigger than all the rest put together

I interviewed Gary Kemp and Tim Arnold at Ronnie Scott's this morning as part of the Sohocreate Festival. Gary confirmed the theory I'd proposed in the past, namely that if you're a successful songwriter then it's likely that one of your copyrights will be more valuable than all the others put together.

In Spandau Ballet's case, of course, it's "True". Gary said that other songs may be more popular in concert but this is the one that gets the lions share of the airplay, most of the sync money and it's the one that ends up getting sampled on the hip hop hit.

Since nobody's going to show me their PRS statements, I like to look at the play counts on Spotify, which are another measure of the relative popularity of an artist's different songs. Here are a few interesting cases.

Paul Simon - "You Can Call Me Al" has had 17,000,000 plays, which is 10,000,000 more than the next Paul Simon record, "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard".

Yes - "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" has had more than twice as many plays as "Roundabout", which may mean that Trevor Rabin and Trevor Horn are doing better out of the Yes catalogue than the members you more readily associate with the band.

Simple Minds - "Don't You Forget About Me" is far and away their most popular record. It was written by their producer and a bloke from the Nina Hagen band.

Randy Newman - you might think it's "Short People" but actually that's a distant second to "You've Got A Friend In Me" from "Toy Story" and both of them are way ahead of "Sail Away" or any of the critic's favourites.

Dexy's Midnight Runners - "Come On Eileen" is eight times more popular than the next one "Geno".

Otis Redding - "Sitting On The Dock of The Bay" has over 21,000,000 Spotify plays, which puts it way ahead of "Try A Little Tenderness". Otis never lived to see what a hit it was. Steve Cropper co-wrote it and he must give thanks every day for the fact that he did.

Blondie - I was surprised to see their most played song is "One Way Or Another", which is slightly ahead of "Heart Of Glass". It was co-written by Debbie Harry and former bass player Nigel Harrison who, not surprisingly, asked to be recognised when the group were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Tom Waits - "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" from his uncelebrated 1973 debut album is his most popular song on Spotify.

It's a random sample, of course, but I note they're all singalongs.


  1. Interesting - the power of a singalong. when I'm DJing, I'll always nip in at least one tune with a chorus for the dancers to sing to. Bankers include; Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick, Walk This Way, Israelites, Enjoy Yourself, Signed, Sealed, Delivered. On rare occasions I've got away with Delilah and Bring Me Sunshine.

    The other hook with Dock of The Bsy is the whistle. Almost impossible to resist joining in - true of any tune with whistling within...

  2. The Blondie fact is, I suspect, unrepresentative of the longer term favourite, distorted by the One Direction effect.

  3. Alan Carruthers2:28 am

    According to Chrysalis boss Chris Wright's autobiography, One Way Or Another owes its huge revenues to being in a pile of movies, lots of tv shows, and also being prominently featured in various video games, such as Rockband. No coincidence that it's also the title of his book.

  4. Anonymous2:12 pm

    But if you add in fees for commercial usage - ads, trailers, promotional things like Olympics etc - I wonder if Spandau Ballet have actually earned more from "Gold" than from "True"?

  5. Well, Gary says it is.

  6. NB 'Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard' is the song that opens the 2011 Muppets film, which may have generated quite a few extra listens.

  7. Oh and Hawkwind's Silver Machine would be another good example!