Throw It Back




This is a hit. Will the label make it one?

You’ve got to be in the mood to listen to new music. And today I was. And I heard a few very good tracks, but this was the best. And I wanted to write about it but I had a virtual doctor’s appointment coming up and I didn’t know if I wanted to waste my heat on it, especially in light of the blowback.

Yes, there are times you are ready, and times you are worn out. And usually, when you’re fresh it’s best. Which is why oftentimes the first take is the best, and the first cut is the deepest, but that was not a hit in its original Cat Stevens incarnation, but I must admit Rod Stewart did a better version, but at this point most people think it’s a Sheryl Crow song, but does the younger generation know ANY of these? I wouldn’t think so.

So let’s first define a hit. Especially in this era. It’s something you get instantaneously, that catches your ear, that changes your mood, that you want to hear again.

It’s just that simple. Yes, you may play the new work of your favorite act over and over until you get it, but don’t delude yourself into thinking non-fans will do this. The skip button is their friend. They don’t want to listen to anything they don’t like. As for the vaunted “playlist”…don’t get too excited. Yes, you’ll rack up some streams, maybe even make some dough, but playlists are for passive listeners, and the music business is built on active listeners, people who live for music, who grab on to something and spread the word to everybody, music is up front and center for these people, whereas the playlist people…it’s often background, in the office, during a cocktail party, while they’re paying bills.

Now not every hit becomes one, now more than ever. You see it needs a push. And a push isn’t as easy as it was before. And depending upon the format of your tune, the attack is different, and for some kinds of music there’s no attack plan at all, you just make it and play live and hope you gain traction, and most don’t.

So hip-hop records start online. Radio is last.

Rock records start on the radio. It’s a very small market relatively speaking, new rock, not classic rock, and most of its acts believe streaming is the devil so they’re leaving all the opportunities on the table. 

Country records start on the radio, but country fans will listen on streaming before rock fans will. 

As for pop…you need a push, which is why purveyors of these tracks employ the carpet bomb technique, all the old school stuff like TV, “Ellen,” “Kelly Clarkson” and late night, and print, and maybe even a version with a rapper to tie into that market.

So what is “Throw it Back”?

Well, it falls between the cracks, and therefore it may not be worth pushing, the label may choose to manage its bullets, because of opportunity cost. Keith Urban is anathema on hip-hop and pop radio, and Breland is Black, and let’s face it, a lot of country radio stations and country fans are racist. Then again, it’s almost an easier sell, because outlets may feel they have to play the track to avoid looking racist.

And “Throw it Back” is not your typical twangy track. That’s how you make something country today, through the “country” vocal, a stringed instrument like a banjo or violin (well, “Throw it Back” does have that banjo solo), it’s all about the toppings, not the essence, it’s as far away from Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson as it could be. In other words, it’s almost pop. Which means “Throw it Back” might fit. But I’m sure PDs can come up with all kinds of reasons not to play it.

Now there’s no doubt in my mind as soon as my audience receives this missive I’ll be inundated with the aforementioned blowback, this song SUCKS and they’ve got a better one!

First and foremost, you have to be dispassionate in picking emphasis tracks, hits. It’s not what YOU like, but what the AUDIENCE LIKES! This is a professional job, not everybody can be a program director, even though they think so. Talk to a musical act, it’s fascinating, they’ll tell you what songs work in concert and which ones don’t. And oftentimes it’s the ones they almost threw away, that they thought were substandard, that the audience embraces and become hits. Then again, artists are the absolute worst at picking singles. However, if you create an 11 you know. But you’re lucky if you create a couple of 11s in your career, if you have one at all, most acts never reach the pinnacle, despite deluding themselves that they have.

And the nature of the internet is either you’re sucking up or putting down. Play and you might consider suicide. It’s high school, even though you’ve graduated. But this time it’s the revenge of the nerds. Usually the most vocal are the ones who are the loners, without followers, they hide behind their handles, they want payback for all the ridicule they’ve endured. Yes, on the internet you can put it out there. But will anybody listen?

Music is a game of mass. It’s just that simple. If it only appeals to a few…don’t quit your day job. If you just want to follow your muse irrelevant of reaction, that’s fine, but please stop complaining that you’re not making money. Think of conventional business, if a company makes a stiff product, one unsuccessful in the marketplace, it doesn’t blame consumers, and it doesn’t double-down and market the product ad infinitum, it gives up, creates a new product or goes out of business and the proprietor(s) start all over. This is the so-called “badge of failure” that Silicon Valley adores, it’s all about EXPERIENCE! You learn by playing the game. Which of course has us asking why the record companies keep flogging the young and inexperienced. Then again, they’re social media giants. And artists and labels have realized social media is the absolute best way to get a record started. But don’t think it’s organic, I mean it occasionally works that way, but really it’s about the relationship between the major label and the social media site itself. Don’t feel squeezed out, this is a business lesson. The reason TikTok, et al, want to be involved with the major labels is they have a steady stream of product, there’s ongoing business, never mind money for support. You could be the best act in the world, but if you only put out a record every other year, you’re worthless to the social media giants, they need a constant flow.



“If she get a shot of whiskey she know how to throw it back”

Breland has got a fantastic voice. Earthy and meaningful, with an edge. He doesn’t have the BEST voice, his voice has CHARACTER! The aforementioned Rod Stewart epitomizes this, they have a way of connecting with the audience.

“She’d turn up for Elvis Presley told the DJ ‘throw it back'”

Elvis Presley? Talk about a cheap shot, his audience is dying off, his memorabilia is dropping in value.

“She look better every Thursday she don’t have to throw it back

Shawty got me catching feelings

I just hope she throws it back”


But this is a world in which Justin Bieber’s lyrically inane “Peaches” was a monster number one. Like I said, this is a business, and you have to study it to be successful. Now you can sit it out completely, but you give up your right to complain, those who are deeply involved snub you when you reveal your ignorance. Go to the label and say that Spotify is screwing you, that it’s stealing money from you, and chances are they’ll close the door on you, knowing you’re insane, Spotify is how they make their money, THEY may screw you, but Spotify only takes around 30%.

So “Throw it Back” is not made for intellectual analysis, actually it’s best when you’re not even paying attention, when you hear it from afar, when you’re driving in your car, top down, sunroof open, arm on the windowsill, believing this is the best night of your life as you’ve got “Throw it Back” at the point of distortion on your car stereo. It’s about making you feel good, and getting your body moving, no more. It’s fine if you don’t buy that paradigm, you can choose not to play, but there’s a very good chance “Throw it Back” will not gain traction and then you have to realize why your track does not, you can learn.

So it’s not only Breland. It’s Keith Urban’s vocal too. He seems to be just shy of his limit, almost screaming, fighting to be heard over the music, like a singer in a bar, with ambient noise, clamor.

And there’s the instrumentation, the burbling bass under the rap. You may not even hear it if you’re not listening for it, but it helps makes the track. And the rap…short and sweet. Might as well give the audience what it is looking for.

And the track is short and sweet itself, barely over three minutes long. And except for the raps it’s essentially just one groove repeated over and over and over again, the traditional song structure is…OUT THE WINDOW!

And the magic is in the hook, which is enhanced by the country instrumentation, real instruments atop what otherwise could be seen as a hip-hop track.

And unlike most collaborations Breland and Urban are equal players, getting equal time, both necessary.

And then there’s that banjo solo…in other words this track has both hip-hop and country elements.

And only a hater could listen to “Throw it Back” without moving their body. This is the kind of track that gets self-doubting men standing at the bar energized, to ask a woman to dance. He’s been observing them all night on the dance floor, feeling separate, but now he finally has the mojo to play and when he’s out there moving his body and she throws it back…

I don’t know whether “Throw it Back” was an accident or planned like a military attack, but the end result is just…INFECTIOUS!

That’s another thing about a hit, change just one little thing and you ruin it and it’s not a hit. Come on, compare the “Help Me Ronda” from “Today!” to “Help Me Rhonda” on “Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!),” same song, the former dead in the water, the latter a chart-topper. Which is why sometimes the demo becomes the ultimate release, something is captured that can’t be replicated. It’s not science, it’s feel. It’s not ones and zeros, that’s the internet, but it’s music that drives the web and the apps, it’s the grease that makes it all work.

“Throw it Back” is not for January, sitting in your dorm room depressed, it’s about letting go. You remember letting go, don’t you? It’s fun, join the club and…

Throw it back!

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