Aug 072011

Recently, cdm asked,

I still don’t understand WHY Glad Girls by Guided By Voices was not a massive hit.

I think there were multiple nods of cyber agreement in response to this inquiry, and it begs the question, What are other songs that should have been, could have been SMASH HITS?

We at RTH are quite in the know and don’t need to convince ourselves (often) of our highly refined musical taste. But there are times when we just want to ask why a song didn’t fare better with the buying public.

What songs should have been contenders? I would like to nominate Velvet Crush’s “Hold Me Up,” a lovely little 3:00 minute power pop gem. And you?


  42 Responses to “Could’a Been a Contenda”

  1. tonyola

    Beach Boys – “Sail On, Sailor”

    A great song from 1973 that barely made it into the Top 100 charts. The last good Beach Boys single, and its failure was a big factor in the band becoming an oldies nostalgia act rather than trying to stay current.

  2. cliff sovinsanity

    In another time these 2 recent songs would’ve been massive.

    Army Navy – Saints
    In the same vein of the Velvet Crush song. 4 minutes of joy.

    The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

  3. misterioso

    Agreed. Interesting, too: I guess I always thought it was at least a bigger minor hit because I know the song from the radio from way back, though for many years I had no idea it was the Beach Boys. Blondie Chaplin singing, no? A terrific song.

  4. misterioso

    The thing is, at least once we get to–I dunno–sometime in the 1990s, maybe–I have no idea what constitutes a “hit” in the sense that most of us over a certain age understand it: a song that a lot of people buy and which you hear on the radio. I am well aware there was nothing necessarily logical or pure about that system. But anyway.

    That said, I am not a particular fan of GBV or Velvet Crush and “Glad Girls” and “Hold Me Up” are perfectly ok songs that their creators seem to know are written in a style that is not going to make it a “hit.” When was the last time jangly guitar pop was hit material?

  5. Yep, that was Chaplin singing, and he did a good job too. Even though “Sail On, Sailor” wasn’t a charting hit, I remember it getting a fair amount of airplay on AOR FM radio, so maybe that’s where you heard it.

  6. ladymisskirroyale

    Just the text underneath the Army Navy song indicates it’s potential greatness:
    “Bossy label execs, egomaniacal directors, on-set drama, bathroom sex and throwup. This one has it all.”

  7. cliff sovinsanity

    If we are to judge hit by being a top 40 song, then I would argue mid to late 90’s with the Gin Blossoms (Found Out About You) and Fastball (Fire Escape) was the last time a pure jangle song was a hit.
    Fire Escape is a minor jangle masterpiece.

  8. ladymisskirroyale

    I dunno. I thought that the 90’s sort of reflected that time when Indie songs got cred and then the band were attacked for selling out and becoming popular (see Michael Azerrad’s “This Band Could Be Your Life.”)

    I haven’t posted that much about The Go-Betweens, one of the bands that I love very very much, but it is a band from the 80’s that I think should have been bigger. Then again, they do use the jangle guitar for some of their music.

    I guess none of the bands so far have offered an anthemic sort of song, although the Beach Boys number is the closest, that would translate into a hit.

  9. ladymisskirroyale

    And then there is the cultural differences: what doesn’t do well here in the US fares very well in another country. I think that Velvet Crush were pretty popular in Japan.

    And look at what Americans will/will not accept over here. The Brits continue to look down at us for not fawning sufficiently over Kate Bush, electronica seems to have been more popular in Europe, etc. And we aren’t even going to start talking about the annual Eurovision contest…

  10. Let’s not forget Abba. While Americans liked “Dancing Queen”, the group never had anything close to the cultural domination that they achieved in Europe and elsewhere. Maybe they were monstrously huge because their music was so Wonder-Bread “white” – soft, easy to chew, and without the slightest trace of fiber or roughage. They made the Moody Blues look like Funkadelic by comparison.

  11. Agreed on The Go-Betweens. “You Tell Me” and “Bye Bye Pride” both should have been monster hits.

  12. saturnismine

    I thought Teenage FBI was better “monster hit” material than Glad Girls. The latter has that OCD sounding hitch to it (and they’re alright…and they’re alright…and they’re alright) that makes it more interesting for me, but probably puts it just beyond the pale of what “normal” people want from their music.

    Teenage FBI, on the other hand, has no such quirks to alienate the hoi-poloi, and has a really nice build to a major kick-in-the-pants-adrenaline-rush chorus.

    I know it’s a ridiculous thing to say, and I know I’m not playing by the rules, because the scenario I’m about to envision is an impossibility in *this* world, but I wish I lived in a parallel universe where the Mummies song “Planet of the Apes” was number 1 for nearly an entire summer.

    However, here’s a serious, *for real* suggestion for monster hit song that wasn’t: todd Rundgren’s “Couldn’t I just Tell You.” In fact, I think that on the liner notes, where that song is listed it says “and the hits just keep on comin’.”

  13. saturnismine

    Another impossible one, but man-o-man what a great song: Television Personalities: “Three Wishes.”

    And why couldn’t MC5’s “Shakin’ Street” be a hit? Huh?

  14. ladymisskirroyale

    Don’t overlook Abba’s political side in “Fernando.” Or their espousal of strong parent/child communication in “Does Your Mother Know?”

  15. 2000 Man

    I could never figure out why New Porno’s Letter From an Occupant wasn’t huge.

    It’s catchy as hell, the video isn’t totally dumb, Neko Case sounds great and makes nice video eye candy. What else do you need?

    I don’t understand why The Exploding Hearts I’m a Pretender wasn’t a hit.

    I mean, that’s just great stuff!

    Then again, I don’t understand why The Reigning Sound isn’t one of the biggest groups on the planet. They’re so consistently good and whenever i play them for people without saying what it is, they always ask and say they like it a lot.

  16. 2000 Man

    Wasn’t Couldn’t I Just Tell You a big hit? They sure played it a lot here. But I didn’t listen to the hit radio then, either.

  17. Abba had a half dozen sizeable hits in the US. They should be going to church on a daily basis to thank god for their success.

  18. I agree, 2K. Rundgren had a few big hits, and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” was a moderate hit, from what I remember.

  19. tonyola

    If Abba was political, then so were Phil Collins and the Monkees. I have a hard time picturing Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha, and Anni-Frid arm-in-arm with their comrades from the Clash and Rage Against the Machine, rallying for the common people and fighting bourgeois oppressors.

  20. ladymisskirroyale

    Actually, I was being particularly facetious. But then I found this:

  21. saturnismine

    Right…it was a moderate hit, not a smash. But when you listen to that song, don’t you wonder why it wasn’t a smash?

  22. saturnismine

    Good stuff, 2k!

  23. saturnismine

    according to wiki, Couldn’t I just Tell You topped out at number 93: not even moderate.

  24. No, I don’t. I personally LOVE that song, but Rundgren already had a few big hit songs and would have yet another smash around 1980. For a quirky guy who constantly refused to play by the rules of the music business, how many more hits could he have expected to have? What label was going to dish out extra bags of coke and hookers for an artist who thought he was too cool for school? I think that song got enough airplay in its time to encourage additional sales of Something Anything.

    For me, to feel like a song coulda, shoulda been a contenda I’d like to think the artist committed to that song’s success. How Graham Parker and the Rumour’s Squeezing Out Sparks album, for instance, didn’t challenge stuff like the friggin’ Boss’ totally friggin’ The River, is the kind of thing that bugs me more. They did all right, however, with all their hard work. So, by my hard-ass standards, I’m still thinking about what shoulda, coulda been a contenda.

  25. I love “Letter from an Occupant” and agree that musically it coulda been a contenda. However, when you’ve got a lead singer who looks a bit like Ann-Margaret (sp?) you don’t treat her like “one of the boys” and let her wear a heavy winter coat in the video.

  26. tonyola

    Todd has always been something of an conundrum, hasn’t he? He’s got talent out the wazoo but he’s never been able to decide what he wants to be – pop star, prog rocker, metal dude, oldies pastiches, svengali producer, technogeek, and so on. He loves gimmicks. His output veers from amazing to disastrously awful, sometimes even on the same record (listen to A Wizard, A True Star).

  27. The Todd song was #93 and “Sail on Sailor” in the 100’s? See, I can’t tell anything for chart hits. But certainly songs like the two GBVs and the Gaslight Anthem should be better known by average radio listeners.
    I think many Replacements fans wonder why “Bastards of Young” didn’t have the cultural impact of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

  28. saturnismine

    Mod, I wasn’t thinking about the artist’s commitment to the tune, I was just thinking about the tune and only the tune (cue HVB’s anti-back story rant here!).

    That tune is one that I’m particularly fond of playing for people who haven’t heard it yet, and watching them marvel: “why wasn’t this a huge hit?”

    Tone, you couldn’t be more on the money about todd’s conflicted nature. I think that the story with Something / Anything era Todd is that after making the album, and fully committing to having it “worked,” he balked at what he perceived as the shallowness of it all and started down the road that would quickly lead to his prog phase.

  29. saturnismine

    how well “known by average radio listeners” is a song that charted at 93?

  30. tonyola

    I like prog rock, so Todd going prog isn’t a problem to me. What bugs me is how he does it. He just doesn’t know when to stop. Since Todd is obviously in love with synths and studio trickery, everything but the kitchen sink gets tossed into his songs and they usually end up being a real mess. Some self-restraint would have done wonders.

  31. “Squeezing…” came out in March of ’79, “The River” didn’t come out until October of ’80. You’d better find someone else to blame. The Knack, maybe?

  32. I’m pretty sure Neko makes her own calls on that sorta stuff, Mod. Is this look more to your liking: ?

  33. This isn’t about me and what I like, Bobby, but seeing her mixed in with a bunch of goofy guys again while dressed up like Bette Midler in The Rose is not my idea of a hit-making video either. I want to help the band here, that’s all.

  34. Sorry, I didn’t realize you were so concerned about the NP’s career. I didn’t mean to make light of the situation. I thought that was a pretty entertaining video…They got the Canadian equivalent to a Grammy for “Occupant”, and it did well as far as college radio play…I don’t see a band like them getting much bigger than they are without completely presenting themselves as they aren’t. I doubt they really want to do things that way (they’ve been around for quite awhile now), so getting “a big hit” doesn’t seem to be a major concern to them. Licensing a sound to advertising would be a more likely way for their type of band to get a hit, rather than go up against the likes of GaGa, Taylor Swift, Kanye & L’il Wayne for a hit using a video as the delivery system. These days, that would be highly unlikely.

  35. Licensing “a song”, I meant to write up there.

  36. cliff sovinsanity

    Now I want to why Your Daddy Don’t Know by Toronto wasn’t a huge hit in the US. It is a staple on Can-rock stations. What a stupid song.

  37. misterioso

    I don’t know, folks. Maybe I’m looking at this backwards, but it seems to me the periods when “this kind of music”–and I know I am painting with a broad brush here, but I guess I mean ‘tuneful guitar rock’ for lack of a better term–was Top 40 type material have been the exceptions rather than the rule.

    Rundgren is a good example. When I hear his couple of big hits–thinking of Hello, It’s Me and I Saw the Light mainly–even though I was around at the time and remember hearing them on the radio I still find it almost unbelievable that there was a time when these were smash hits.

  38. misterioso

    Tony, interestingly, it seems it was re-released in 1975 and did a little better, reaching #49. See,_Sailor In either case, not exactly a runaway hit.

  39. Stupid, but really catchy. I’d never even heard of it before this version.

  40. SLOAN – “the other man”

    is one song that baffled me as to why it didn’t get more attention

  41. The Replacements refused to be helpful to their labels, that’s why they didn’t do well on the radio. Bastards of Young has “bastards” in the title and “The Ledge” is about a successful suicide attempt, so they never stood a chance. I’ll Be You should have been big. I heard it one time on the rock radio station. They called them a “new” band that sounds like Cheap Trick meets Bryan Adams.

  42. Wilco’s attempt to wite a “hit” failed. “I Can’t Stand It” was written to be the lead off single and propell them into the mid/late 90’s alt-rock stratosphere (got to #67)

    Semisonic’s “Chemistry” sounded like a hit to me, with a cool video and a total pop hook “oh-ah-oh” that sounded like Video Killed The Radio Star. It got in the 30’s at Modern Rock but did not chart at all on the Billboard 200 or airplay charts.

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