I was reading this week’s Billboard when I came across an article about Nada Surf, the alt-rock band that had a big hit with “Popular” back in 1996, but hasn’t been played on the radio since. This quote caught my attention:
“We always put out singles, but I’m more interested in putting out songs that are hits. I don’t mean radio or MTV hits, but the type of hits that get lots of downloads or kids sing along to at every show.” – Matthew Caws, lead singer/guitarist of Nada Surf
For the last two decades, country hits have been labeled as such by radio play, with the country singles chart being the only major genre hit list based solely on airplay. But what if a song is popular in the way that Caws describes, but isn’t played on radio that much? Is it still a hit?
Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” and Johnny Cash’s “Hurt’ became signature songs, but the former missed the top ten and “Hurt” barely dented the chart. “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow” powered O Brother to eight million units sold, but it peaked in the thirties.
“Not Ready to Make Nice” is one of the few country songs to sell more than a million downloads, and the Dixie Chicks get their biggest ovation of the night when they play it, but it wasn’t a radio hit. “Life is a Highway” also sold more than a million downloads, but it’s the lowest-charting single for Rascal Flatts to date.
Then there are artists who have a signature song that peaked noticeably lower than their other singles from that time, like Reba McEntire (“Fancy”), George Strait (“Amarillo by Morning”), Kathy Mattea (“Where’ve You Been”) and Alabama (“My Home’s in Alabama.”) Those same artists have had #1 hits that are barely remembered today.
So my question is this: What is the definition of a hit?