It’s exciting to hear a song that was a hit several decades ago make a reappearance on the Billboard Hot 100. The latest example of this is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” from her 1985 album “Hounds of Love.”
It’s exciting because in a funny sort of way it’s like a validation that we (we old guys) were right thirty-seven years ago when we thought it was a great song: if people are loving it today for the first time, that’s pretty much the definition of staying power.
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Most of the time, a song reemerges because it gets used in a present day movie or Netflix series. In the case of “Running Up That Hill”, it was used in the fourth season of the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
Once you’ve placed a song in that kind of setting — a highly popular show or movie — you give it a whole new set of clothes, as it were. You’ve introduced it to an entirely new audience, many of whom weren’t yet born when Kate Bush originally released the song.
But in order for a song to make a new and successful reintroduction to the music world in its original format, there are several things that need to be true and evident:
- It’s a great song. This is not the same as saying that it’s a successful song. Springsteen’s “Blinded By the Light”, for example, which is a great song, didn’t chart at all when Springsteen released it, but the version (albeit only several years later) by Manfred Mann hit number 1 on Billboard.
- The production of the original needs to walk the tricky tightrope of sounding great in its original release, and acceptable or better several decades later.
- The message of the lyric needs to be universal and still applicable today. This lyric is complex and deep, but everyone will get the basic message conveyed by the chorus: And if I only could/ I’d make a deal with God/ And I’d get him to swap our places/ Be running up that road/ Be running up that hill…
- It needs stand-out noticeable aspects of excellence. There usually needs to be something that really grabs attention. When Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight” reappeared on Billboard forty years after being released, it was in large part due to a reaction video by YouTubers TwinsthenewTrend. What people loved was their reaction to Phil’s famous drum fill in the middle of the song.
About that fourth point, for any song that has staying power (or “returning power”), there’s usually something that grabs attention that might have more to do with the performance of the song than the actual writing of it.
People love Kate’s voice, of course. And you can hear that in the simplicity of the song there’s something profound in the lyric.
And then for it to make a successful reappearance it takes a great series producer who recognizes the support the song will offer to a 4-minute segment of new show.
It’s hard enough to get a song noticed once let alone twice or multiple times over decades. But you’ll give yourself your best shot if the song you’re writing is structurally sound, where all the elements partner up well, and where the performance of the song is strong without sounding like a cliché relic of its time.
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