Unexpected Hits

We know that we're never going to be able to predict every song which peaks in the top 5. Sometimes a song will do a lot better than we expect, due to the social context of the release (charity singles are a good example of this), perhaps because they buck the musical trend of their peers, or because they are breaking new musical grounds.

Songs which we predict will do poorly but actually peak highly we call 'Unexpected Hits'. Some examples of these are found below. We also list the features which we feel should have held the song back from the top of the charts, and in some cases the reason we think the song beat our expectations.

Trashmen - Surfin' Bird (#3 in 2010)

Trashmen were a 1960's surf rock band from Minneapolis - so what were they doing at the peak of the UK charts in Christmas 2010? Out hit predictor clearly got confused by the harmonic simplicity and fast tempo of this track, as we thought it would not chart highly - these features were much more popular in the 1960's.

In fact the reason the song entered the charts was as a rebellion against the X-factor number 1 Christmas campaign by Matt Cardle. Many music fans disliked Cardle's interpretation of Biffy Clyro's 'Many of Horror' and launched a social media campaign to get an 'unexpected' number 1 Christmas.

Michael Jackson - Man in the mirror (#2 in 2009)

Originally released in 1988, this song was re-released and reached its highest position in 2009, despite being quieter and less danceable (due to the slow tempo) than typical top hits in this period. The original release reached a modest # 21 in 1988, but following Jackson's death in 2009 the song was re-released and peaked at number 2.

Based on the sound of the time, the single should have been too quiet and insufficiently danceable to enter the UK charts in 2009, yet it's clear that features other than the raw audio contributed to the success of the song in the 2000s.

Alicia Keys - Empire state of mind (part II) (#4 in 2010)

This song, performed at the FIFA World Cup Kickoff in 2010, is quieter and less danceable than Keys' previous release with Jay-Z and other songs of the time, but the massive success of the original Empire State of Mind lead listeners to buy the follow-up single.

The song was an early hit in the age of the download chart, reaching number 4 on digital downloads along. In total the song spent 26 consecutive weeks within the top 40 as well as 52 weeks within the top 100, becoming Keys' most successful single to date.

Arctic Monkeys - Leave Before The Lights Come On (#4 in 2006)

The Arctic Monkeys were the first band to achieve success through internet promotion. This single in 2006 came at the early stages in their career and UK indie in general, and it seems that our predictor was unwilling to push indie-rock tunes into the top UK chart positions. In particular, the song scored low on danceability, high loudness and has a high beat variation - features which weren't associated with hits in the 2000s.

This theme continued though the following few years, with missed hits including The Killers - When You Were Young (number 2, 2006) and The Kooks - Always Where I Need to be (number 3, 2008).

Bloc Party - So here we are (#5 in 2005)

In Bloc Party, The British indie-rock scene found it's stars in the mid-2000's. Whilst American bands such as The Strokes and The White Stripes had achieved success in the early 2000's, Bloc Party were the first UK band to break through. Their brand of sharper, edgier indie rock than their counterparts across the Atlantic was clearly innovative, confirmed by our lack of ability to predict the success of the single.

In particular, the release is less danceable and harmonically simpler than mainstream hits of this time. The song was the band's most successful single until the 'The Prayer', two years later.

Guns 'n Roses - November Rain (#4 in 1992)

G'n'R's 9 minute epic ballad is unusually long for a commercial hit in the UK charts. It is also much less danceable and harmonically simpler than music of this period. A contribution to the success of this song might have been the huge budget music video (estimated at $1.5 million), which featured a wedding, the building of an entire replica church, and some 1500 extras.

The song went on to receive several accolades through the ages, including number 1 on the 'Rock 1000' 2006, an annual countdown of the top 1,000 rock songs by New Zealand radio listeners. The song slipped to number 2 the following year, but continues to top similar charts around the world today. A truly pioneering song!

Iron Maiden - Bring Your Daughter... To The Slaughter (#1 in 1990)

Iron Maiden. They stopped making music at the end of the 1980's right? Wrong. One of their top commercial hits was actually released in 1991 and shot to the prestigious number 1 spot. Our predictor classified this song not as a hit, since it was not danceable enough and too energetic to fit into the mould of the 1990's.

It remains the group's only number 1 hit to date (yes, they're still going!) but if they want another hit they could use our Hit Equation to find out which features are popular at any given time!

Luciano Pavarotti - Nessun Dorma (#2 in 1990)

Perhaps Pavarotti's greatest gift was his determination to make the crossover from classical to popular music, exemplified by this number 2 hit. Standing out from the emerging Happy Hardcore dance scene of the 1990s, this performance of a classical opera defied the conventions of the new decade and proved to be a hit amongst the record-buying public.

Features we thought would bring this single down are the lack of a stable beat (owing to the lack of a drummer!) and the relatively low energy.The song is known as triumphant and uplifting, and indeed the lyrics reflect this. The final stanza at the climax translates into modern English as 'Vanish, O night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!'

Band Aid II - Do They Know It's Christmas (#1 in 1989)

This song had a much quieter sound than most top ranked songs at that time. This caused our predictor to assume it would not peak very well. However, what our ScoreAHit predictor misses is the social context of the music.

'Do They Know It's Christmas' was a huge charity release in 1989 and this, along with the contribution of many of the top artists at the time, propelled the single to number 1 way beyond expectation. This success was echoed in 2004 with a number 1 hit, which we also failed to recognize. Well, we can't catch everything...

Fleetwood Mac - Albatross (#1 in 1969)

Fleetwood Mac scored an unusual hit with this mellow instrumental ballad in 1969. Composed by legendary and influential guitarist Peter Green, the sound is atypical of much of the classic rock which dominated the sounds of the late 60's and early 70's.

For instance, the composition features crashing cymbals to echo the sound of the ocean and evoke a serene image for the listener. It is perhaps this aspect that lead our system to misclassify it as a flop. Much quieter than most songs that made it to the top of the charts, in a ternary time signature, and very clean harmonic sound, it was an unusual sound for hits of the time. However, this song has become known as an early pioneer of the chill-out/ambient genre and possibly was just a bit too ahead of it's time to be favoured by our time-dependent equation.