The Best Top of the Hour Song of All Time

posted in: by Sean Ross | 34

“I notice you always start the hour with an impact record.”

That was radio veteran John Priester, then a weekender at WGCI (Dustryradio 1390) Chicago, the R&B Oldies AM where I got my first programming job in the mid-’90s. I’d never heard the term before, but I knew instantly what he meant. And it also signaled that we understood each other as radio people. I did probably wonder at the time: Doesn’t everybody start the hour with an uptempo song that sounds great coming out of the legal ID?

Even in the mid-’90s, there were programmers who felt the emphasis on the :00 ID was a dated radio-ism. I’ve made my case for why it still matters, even in PPM world where no one minute of the hour is really more important than the other. I still regard it as a radio station’s opening credits. And while some movies forgo those, too, I’d rather be Star Wars. And that would be disappointing without the opening scroll. Besides, Dustyradio 1390 was going for the classic AM sound. I added a ’70s style tympani hit to the :00 ID as well.

So what, then, is the best top-of-the-hour impact record?

There used to be general consensus that the perfect :00 ID song was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” And that the Rolling Stones perhaps succeeded themselves with “Brown Sugar,” then “Start Me Up.” Incredible to think, but the first two of those have drifted out of regular top-of-the-hour orbit at Classic Hits/Classic Rock. Also, “Satisfaction” hasn’t sounded that great when I’ve heard it recently in the CD/digital age; I often hear it start a little loosely and that fuzzy first riff often sounds like it wasn’t input loudly enough. And if you think this topic matters, then execution is everything.

For some people, the answer to best top-of-the-hour record is whatever the strongest record is that you can play at that moment, from a programming standpoint. Facebook friends who chimed in on this topic often pointed to the legal ID itself. KAMP (Amp Radio) Los Angeles p.m. driver Chris Booker recalled Z100 New York’s “Spittin’ fire from the top of the Empire” legal ID. “As for the songs they went into, who cares? They all sounded good coming out of these!” At least two people sent me breaks from Ron O’Brien on Chicago’s legendary “Voice of Labor,” WCFL; any song sounded better after that as well.

Anything sounds better if the boardwork (or automation) is tight. Anything sounds lousy if the automation is loose, and sometimes going into a great :00 song exposes that even more. Anything sounds better at Classic Hits if you keep an ongoing stream of surprise-and-delight at :00, rather than just the same old power-rotation songs.

But let’s play the game anyway:

Of things that you might hear at the top of the hour on Classic Hits now, I’m actually inclined to “Any Way You Want It” by Journey. Cold intros and acappella often sound great out of a jingle or sweeper. It’s an urgent opening, and then the song accelerates. When that song was new, it also represented a successful enough band returning with a new and uncharacteristic energy. (“Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes does the same thing.)

I’ve never gotten tired of “Any Way You Want It,” so encountering it at :00 is also helped because I don’t mind hearing it again. There are other current Classic Hits mainstays that delight less, but sound perfectly good out of the ID: “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Hold the Line,” “Call Me” by Blondie, “Stayin’ Alive,” “If You Leave,” “Summer of ’69,” “Wanna Be Starting Something,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” both “Get Down Tonight” and “(That’s The Way) I Like It.”

There are Classic Hits mainstays that sound turgid to me at :00. The industrial opening of “In the Air Tonight” was arresting in 1981, but it saps the :00 energy, and it lets you know that you’re going to be hearing “In the Air Tonight” again for the next nearly-five-minutes. (And, as a programmer, I acknowledge that the audience probably regards that as a good thing.) If you hear “In the Air Tonight” at :00 on a Classic Hits station, it means that the next ‘80s power is going to be even wimpier, because otherwise the other ‘80s power would be playing at :00 instead.

I’ve written about stations not inputting songs to start hot — it’s especially noticeable when a song fades in or starts quietly: “More Than a Feeling,” “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Bette Davis Eyes.” “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” starts hot enough; I’m just not excited about hearing it. A lot of hits of the late ’70s/early ’80s came at a time when Top 40 had dispensed with jingles or sweepers at :00. The top of the hour was just another intro, so it didn’t matter if a song just crept in.

Ballads can sound OK at :00 with the appropriate dramatic or cold intro. The hard first note of “Bennie and the Jets” sounds fine out of the legal (although, again, it signals that the next ’70s power will be a ballad, too). Both Chris Myers and Tim Sheehan mentioned Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” Not everything, though. I’m never happy to encounter Spandau Ballet, “True,” at :00, and sometimes I do.

You’re only starting to hear it again on the radio, but “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls sounded good at :00 in 1997, and sounds good now. In 1997, it was announcing a CHR renaissance, not just the song itself. Now, it’s announcing a ’90s resurgence on the radio. Just be sure to start it at the first “Yo! I’ll tell you what I want!” Not at the laugh. (Although that can sound okay, too.)

If you’re not looking for songs you might actually hear on mainstream broadcast radio now, there’s an infinite variety of great :00 songs. Today my answer is “Kicks” by Paul Revere & the Raiders, but it could have been any of a half dozen of their intros. Tomorrow, it might be the O’Jays, “For the Love of Money,” probably my favorite song to play at :00 on Dustyradio 1390, although “Love Rollercoaster,” “The Payback,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “O-O-H Child,” and “Dazz” were up there.

 

When I made the aircheck that got me my first radio job, the :00 ID song was “Up in a Puff of Smoke,” Polly Brown’s almost-hit from early 1975. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that song at the top of the hour. It didn’t become a power current in most places, or go to recurrent and gold. But it had the right insistence and energy when I used it, and the intro was just long enough. In my rock-and-roll fantasy, it became legal-worthy.

The list is still growing exponentially on my Facebook page, but includes a wide variety of obvious classics and some less-remembered ones:

  • Raspberries, “Go All the Way” (from reader Greg Gawronski)
  • Doobie Brothers, “China Grove” (Tom Barnes, Michael Waite)
  • Outsiders, “Time Won’t Let Me” (David Juhl)
  • Steppenwolf, “Magic Carpet Ride” (Jamie Turner)
  • Jackson 5, “I Want You Back” (Dave Van Dyke)
  • Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” (Mike Erickson)
  • Foreigner, “Double Vision” (Eric Johnson)
  • Thin Lizzy, “The Boys Are Back in Town” (Dave Skyler)
  • Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run” (Anita Bonita)
  • Who, “Who Are You” (Dianna Kelly Monk — “kicks ass every time”)
  • Huey Lewis & News, “The Power of Love” (Bob Walker)
  • Phil Collins & Philip Bailey, “Sussudio” (Tim Sheehan)
  • Bryan Adams & Tina Turner, “It’s Only Love” (Chris Torrick)
  • Bryan Adams, “Somebody” (Tom Cook)
  • Prince, “When Doves Cry” (Joel Murphy — “especially out of the KKHR Los Angeles top-of-the-hour in summer ’84)
  • Prince “1999” (Bruce St. James — “but I need to be able to run the legal ID over the intro and hit the post”)
  • Santana, “Smooth” (both Bob Walker and John Himpe cited this; I had never really thought of it that way before)
  • ZZ Top, “Tush” (Shane Finch)
  • Emotions, “Best of My Love” (Ed Mann)
  • Sanford-Townsend Band, “Smoke From a Distant Fire” (Bill Mitchell)
  • Gino Vannelli, “People Gotta Move” with its opening synth splat (Jerry Noble)
  • Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, “Tears of a Clown” (Lance Balance)
  • Temptations, “All I Need” (Paul Kowituk) — Motown, with its emphasis on arresting intros, gets a lot of mentions in general
  • Temptations, “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (Bob Duckman)
  • Jerry Butler, “What’s the Use of Breaking Up” (Gary Reynolds) — a truly forgotten hit now, but a Gamble & Huff classic; it has that urgency of some great intros that make you feel like the song got started early without you
  • Chicago, “Make Me Smile” (Don Tandler)
  • Loverboy, “Working for the Weekend” (Damon Collins)
  • Van Halen, “Jump” (Keith Allen-Verdi; Buck McWilliams suggests “Unchained,” although it’s a deeper Classic Rock station where you’re likely to encounter it now)
  • Flirtations, “Nothing but a Heartache” (John Summers)
  • Corina, “Temptation” (Ronnie Ramone), but really a lot of early ‘90s freestyle, including Company B, “Fascinated,” and Lisette Melendez, “Together Forever”
  • Black Box, “Strike It Up” (Craig Russell)
  • Eminem, “Lose Yourself” (Mike Couchman)
  • Outkast, “Hey Ya” (Tom Barnes)

The perfect :00 song is particularly elusive among recent hits. Even uptempo songs start inauspiciously, then build. The manipulated vocal “chop” at the beginning of an EDM ballad might have gotten attention around the time of Justin Bieber, “Sorry.” Now it is a confirmation that there will be no excitement for the next three minutes. Post Malone’s “Rockstar” is typical of today’s hits that just sort of meander up to the mic. Hearing Niall Horan’s new “On the Loose” start uptempo and stay there is novel and exciting.

But I agree with Robbie Mack that “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons “has a nice impact out of the gate.” Go back nearly a decade now (frightening to consider) and Colby Huff cites “the power intro to Taio Cruz, ‘Dynamite,’ the version that has the hard percussion beats up front.” And there was certainly a moment in 2009-2010 when those opening notes were announcing the most universally liked record in the world.

If you haven’t shared one yet, what’s your favorite top-of-the-hour song?

 

34 Responses

  1. Lenny Diana

    Believer by Imagine Dragons. That drum intro demands attention. Love is Mystical by Cold War Kids with its uplifting sound.

  2. George King

    Hey Sean,
    Great article but, I didn’t see any Country songs. There are plenty of great songs that, as soon as they start playing, evoke all kinds of emotions…

    Florida Georgia Line’s, “Cruise”, you’ve got to start singing along when you hear this one.

    George Strait’s “Heartland”, the quick-fiddle opening always gets me in a good mood when I hear it.

    Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee”, who doesn’t think of being near water when this plays.

    Garth Brooks, “The Thunder Rolls”, the haunting sound of thunder at the beginning of the song still gives me chills.

    Thanks,
    George King
    VP Country Programming
    Westwood One

  3. William Eby

    Your YouTube link to Ron O’Brien on Chicago’s legendary “Voice of Labor,” WCFL is pointing to a site that throws up red flags on my browser. Here’s the YouTube link for it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HD5Fc53XqrY

    I have a list of songs that never made it to the top 40, but would make good top of the hour songs. I’ll have to give you a list when I get home.

  4. Bobby

    “Go All the Way” by the Raspberries. Heard that often as a kid growing up in Houston. #loudintro

  5. Jeff Duncan

    I don’t have a favorite top of the hour song but I always have an up tempo song coming out of a break or top of the news. After a few minutes of news or spots nobody wants a slow song.

  6. David Rhodes

    The top of hour (or a few mins past) track had even more importance in the UK when I started in radio in the early 90s, since it followed an hourly news bulletin, typically at least 3 minutes long.

    Power of Love and Jump, mentioned above, were on my first station’s Image list for top-hour plays, alongside Dancing in the Dark, Easy Lover and There Must Be An Angel. Slightly left-field choices included Teardrop Explodes/Reward and Dire Straits/Money for Nothing; the latter with instructions on the lognotes to cue it up to the guitar hook! As a broad-based AC, we had some rythmic choices for Image cuts too, such as Sister Sledge/Lost in Music and Temptations/Get Ready – probably the oldest hour-opener we were running at the time.

    Not sure if the need to have an impact song is felt quite so strongly these days over here, given that news breaks are shorter. Our biggest AC network opened the 4pm hour today with Rolling in the Deep followed by Iris – strong testers but not impactful in the same sense as the above.

  7. Earle Augustus Program Director WRBO-FM Memphis

    Sean, for Old School I’m going to say Chic-Le Freak, Prince-1999, Sheila E-Glamorous Life, Earth Wind & Fire-Boogie Wonderland, Teena Marie-Square Biz, 2Pac-California Love,

  8. Jake Adams

    So many old songs and ancient references here. It sends once again that the message is full of 55+ people. The Raspberries? Who the hell are the Raspberries? If we want good TOH records, I think we need to think like radio veterans did in 1973, but in contemporary terms. It should be upbeat, be a certified hit, and get me to want to stick around for the next 20 minutes. Period. The TOH itself needs to shine, then you put in one of your top 5 currents. Done. “Feel It, Still”? Duh …. “Shape Of You”? Of course. “Mi Gna”? If I was programming KIIS or KAMP I’d be using this as the TOH every two hours. Hits. Energy. Done. Simple … yet ruined so many times

  9. Joe Patti

    Jefferson – Baby Take Me In Your Arms
    Beatles – Come Together
    Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand
    John Cougar – Hurts So Good
    Knack – My Sharona
    Donna Summer – Hot Stuff
    Diana Ross – Upside Down
    Pual McCartney/Stevie Wonder – Ebony and Ivory (if only for the intro)
    Joan Jett – I Love Rock and Roll
    Queen – Another One Bites The Dust
    Chic – Le Freak
    Olivia Newton-John – Physical
    Chubby Checker – The Twist
    Ray Charles Singers – Love Me With All Your Heart (for those nostalgia fans)
    Neil Sedaka – Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
    Leslie Gore – Its My Party
    Peppermint Rainbow – Will You Be Staying After Sunday
    Stevie Wonder – Fingertips Pt2
    Beatles – She Loves You
    Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love
    Four Seasons – Rag Doll
    Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night
    Rolling Stones – Get Off My Cloud
    Buckinghams – Kind of a Drag
    Beatles – Penny Lane
    …and many more! (You can tell it’s K-Tel! We Yell!)

  10. Tom Killorin

    Father John Misty’s “Mr. Tillman” (in less than three minutes) offers irony, surprise and top-of-the-hour delight. Sure, it might sound dreary and comically droll on first listen but working people with jobs that require them to be absurdly polite and “Customer-Centric” will enjoy this – imagine sales legs and sing-along Karaoke promotional potential

  11. David Gariano

    Sean, I have to go with Ides of March — Vehicle! It just never gets old –

  12. Steven Kay

    I wanted to comment about your technical approach to writing this until I saw some ignorant buffoon write “Who the hell are the Raspberries?” I guess the am/fm war is well beyond over. It’s fast food for your ears in which every other track is auto-tuna-fish.

  13. Keith Berman

    One of my favorites to come out of TOH was R.E.M.’s “Finest Worksong”.

    I still regret the fact that I never got to be an Alternative MD. There are so many tracks — even current/recent ones — that I would love to put into the log to run after a TOH ID… songs like:
    • Kaleo – “No Good”
    • The Vaccines – “I Can’t Quit”
    • Metric – “Stadium Love”
    • Japandroids – “No Known Drink or Drug”
    • Blink 182 – “6/8”

    Just something that kicks off strong and loud. Hell, there are definitely even some CHR tracks I’d throw into the mix, like Cascada’s “Evacuate the Dancefloor”.

    • WTK

      Well, here are a few I used as an alternative jock back in the Jurassic era (late 1970s).

      Plastic Bertrand, “Ca Plane Pour Moi”
      Sham 69, “Hurry Up Harry”
      Pere Ubu, “Street Waves”
      The English Beat, “Mirror in the Bathroom”

      But that was the beauty of punk, after all. Practically everything sounded great at the top of the hour

  14. Wally Leisering

    Tom Petty – You Wreck Me
    Smithereens – A Girl Like You
    Marvin Gaye – Trouble Man
    Eurythmics – Missionary Man
    The Who – I Can’t Explain

  15. Jeff Cobb

    Maybe go a little of the beaten path….
    “Double Barrel” by Dave & Ansel Collins
    “Jungle Fever” by the Chakachas
    “Crazy Horses” by the Osmonds

    Or more mainstream…
    “Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan
    “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann
    “Some Kind of Wonderful” by Grand Funk
    “Talk to Me” or “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks
    “Crazy Train” Ozzy Osbourne
    “We Got the Beat” the Go Gos
    “What You Need” INXS
    “Centerfold” J. Geils Band
    “My Sharona” The Knack
    “One Thing Leads to Another” Fixx

  16. Robert Zerwekh

    I don’t know what the best song would be, but I may have heard the worst today: “Hands To Heaven” by Breathe (out of an upbeat legal ID).

  17. epmark

    “More than a Feeling” – Boston

    I have a nomination for best-ever Top of the Hour Station ID: KYW…..Newsradio…..1060……You Never Needed Us More” (eternal)

  18. Robert W. Olson

    SEAN you should ask George Johns that question as he is the Dean of Consultants!

  19. John

    I read this article all the way through, to be fair. My takeaway was unchanged, however. The mighty TOH production pieces from back in the day are memories, not strategy. We remember them as ubiquitous, but it doesn’t mean they were important. They are product focused instead of listener focused, a decades-long practice that has none impact today. Of course, as a programmer I did it too…but I was wrong to care about it. A sweeper is a sweeper is a sweeper in 2018.

  20. Ken Busser

    LIGHT MY FIRE… DOORS
    ALL MY LOVING… BEATLES
    BEACH BABY… FIRST CLASS
    ALL SUMMER LONG… BEACH BOYS
    BLUE MOON… MARCELS
    BORN TO BE WILD… STEPPENWOLF
    CRUEL TO BE KIND… NICK LOWE
    DO YOU LOVE ME… CONTOURS
    DON’T YOU CARE… BUCKINGHAMS
    MORE TODAY THAN YESTERDAY… SPIRAL STAIRCASE
    FUN FUN FUN… BEACH BOYS
    GOOD TIMIN’… JIMMY JONES
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY SWEET 16… NEIL SEDAKA
    HAT’S OFF TO LARRY… DEL SHANNON
    HAWAII FIVE O… VENTURES
    HE’S SO FINE… CHIFFONS
    I FOUGHT THE LAW… BOBBY FULLER FOUR
    I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER… BEATLES
    LAZY DAY… SPANKY & OUR GANG
    MAKE ME SMILE… CHICAGO
    MY PLEDGE OF LOVE… JOE JEFFRIES GROUP
    NADINE… CHUCK BERRY
    NO REPLY… BEATLES
    OVER AND OVER… BOBBY DAY
    PALISADES PARK… FREDDY CANNON
    PENNIES FROM HEAVEN… SKYLINERS
    PIPELINE… CHANTAYS
    PLEASANT VALLEY SUNDAY… MONKEES
    RUNAWAY… DEL SHANNON
    SHE LOVES YOU… BEATLES
    SOLITARY MAN… NEIL DIAMOND
    SUMMER MEANS FUN… BRUCE & TERRY
    SWEETS FOR MY SWEET… DRIFTERS
    TELL HER NO… ZOMBIES
    TELL HIM… EXCITERS
    TELL IT TO THE RAIN… FOUR SEASONS
    THAT’S WHERE I WENT WRONG… POPPY FAMILY
    THE HAPPY ORGAN… DAVE BABY CORTEZ
    TIME WON’T LET ME… THE OUTSIDERS
    TO SIR WITH LOVE… LULU
    TOSSIN’ & TURNIN’… BOBBY LEWIS
    UNCHAIN MY HEART… RAY CHARLES
    UP A LAZY RIVER… SI ZENTNER
    WALK DON’T RUN… VENTURES
    WHEN I WAS YOUNG… ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS
    WILD WEEKEND… ROCKIN’ REBELS
    WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN… THE WHO
    YOU CAN’T SIT DOWN… THE DOVELS

  21. Howard Hoffman

    A few slow songs are good ‘uns too.
    “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” – Harold Melvin
    “Take It To The Limit” – Eagles (Almost identical to “IYDKMBN”)
    “Midnight Train To Georgia” (but only the 45 version)
    “The One You Love” – Glenn Frey

    Maybe not the best of all time, but they will certainly round out your TOH category.

  22. Kevin Robinson

    If it’s a PAMS jingle – Chicago – Feeling Stronger Every Day (Honorable Mention – Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive). If it”s DRY VO legal ID – Loverboy – Turn Me Loose Honorable Mention – Asia – Only Time Will Tell

  23. Jay Philpott

    WVWAPoundridge (buried under sfx and spoken quickly) followed by the NINE! jingle into “Get Ready”/Rare Earth

  24. Samantha deSuze

    Stand Back/Steve Nicks, Jr. Walker-Shotgun, Sweet thing/Keith Urban. All great TOH songs.

  25. TJ Lambert

    Thinking “September_- EW&F
    “Dreaming”-Cliff Richard
    “Long Cool Woman”-Hollies

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