Slate’s Hit Parade podcast


“Here Comes the Sun” – the most-sold Beatles song on iTunes

Slate’s Hit Parade – How the labels destroyed the single

Slate’s Hit Parade podcast is now separate from their “Culture Gabfest” pod, and that’s a good thing. In the series’ fifth drop, the subject is the single. The recording industry hated singles, not because they didn’t make money. They hated them because they didn’t make enough money. Listeners wanted the music they heard on the radio. The labels wanted more retail sales. The way to get more money out of consumers was to sell them albums rather than singles. Problem was, a lot of albums only had the one or two good tracks that ended up as singles. The other eight-ish tracks on the album just weren’t interesting. The industry’s solution: don’t sell singles, force the public to buy the album.

The strategy worked. You wanted that Joni Mitchell tune you heard on the radio? Go buy her “Court and Spark” album. Same for artists from The Beatles to Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The industry refused to sell the tunes on the radio as singles for decades. Listen to the pod, it’s fascinating.

Singles vs Albums

Slate's Hit Parade

Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” – lots of radio play, never a single

I never bought singles, mainly because I appropriated the family stereo at an early age. I bought albums by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Yes, and The Beatles when I was in seventh grade. My sisters had a record player and were content with 45 RPM singles. Not me. I’m not sure if my personal rejection of the single was because of any marketing strategy on part of the industry. I’m just one of those mutants that liked the “album tracks” better than the “single track” on an LP. Take Boston’s debut album, for example. “More Than A Feeling” was the big-radio tune when the album dropped in the fall of 1976. I always liked “Peace of Mind” better. No way I would’ve purchased a Boston 45 RPM, as a result. Of course, I listened to so much “head rock,” ELP, Yes, King Crimson, etc., that didn’t lend itself to the single format.

“Cassingles” and “Single CDs”

The pod’s discussion of these formats fascinated me. All these years, I never thought releasing a single-on-cassette or a single-tune CD was a thing. The connection of format to Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart made them important. I never cared. For me, it was about buying the album, then recording it to a tape for the car, then later, the Walkman. The CD, while pricey, appealed to audiophile-me.

The pod ends with the karma that was Napster and iTunes, and how the greed of the recording industry pretty much destroyed it. In that section, one tidbit caught my ear, that “Here Comes the Sun” became the best-selling tune from The Beatles’ catalog when it was placed on Apple’s music sales site. It was never released as a single, but became their best-selling single. I wonder if it was the label that kept the tune off the Hot 100 (by not releasing it as a single), or if it was Lennon and McCartney.

Independent Pod

I’m very pleased that Hit Parade is now a stand-alone podcast, and look forward to future eps.

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