A letter today from Rich Appel, purveyor of the monthly Hz So Good newsletter, asks: "Just what exactly is a hit?"
Why this question matters:
Many moons ago, in the days of Juke Box Jury, this would have been a stupid question. Now, with over 128 flavors of current music formats at radio and beyond, with iPods that are essentially 'personal radio stations' and with a significant population having a collective memory going back to the mesozoic era of pop music, maybe it's not so stupid.
Billboard mentions eight different charts on its Web site these days, and while this sort of multiplicity isn't new there were four different charts in the 1950s before consolidation into the current Hot 100 it doesn't make for a whole lot of consensus. And those four early charts weren't for different genres, but for different delivery methods: best sellers in stores, most played by DJs, and most played in jukeboxes were broken out separately. (Today, we have a separate "Hot Digital Songs" chart, which probably isn't too different from the Hot 100; there's also a ringtone chart, about which the less said, the better I plan to feel.)
I note that the local oldies station now eschews the term "oldies" in favor of "The Best Music of the 60s & 70s," which is perhaps more accurate, since they don't play much of anything before 1963 or so. The guys who figure the radio ratings, in fact, list them, not as "oldies," but as "classic hits." This leads to some high weirdness: if KOMA is "classic hits," and sister KRXO is "classic rock," what about BOB? KQOB, says the chart, is "adult hits," while KOJK ("Jack") is "adult contemporary" but then KMGL (Magic 104.1) is "adult contemporary," and Jack and Magic sound nothing alike. (If anyone cares, KYIS "Kiss" is "hot AC."
Anent this sort of thing, Sean Ross writes for Edison Research:
[T]here's no sign of that hyper focus on the late '60s/early '70s changing anytime soon judging from both the new and surviving outlets. If you were in the class of '72, you're still very well-served by the Oldies format. If you graduated high school before 1969 or later in the '70s, it can still feel a little claustrophobic. If there's any good news, it's that the handful of pre-Beatles titles with undeniable durability today seem to have found their way back on to some stations that were going to draw a hard line at 1964.