The key features of a hit record; lessons from the past and present
Music which tops the charts is so often the scorn or artists and music fans alike, yet paradoxically getting that number one hit is the goal of almost all professional musicians. It’s the pinnacle of popular music, and although trends rise and fall in terms of what genre and type of artist is taking top spot, you’ll find that a lot of the aspects of hit records from decades gone by are surprisingly similar to what we see today.
1 It’s the chorus which gets you hooked
Whatever the genre, from Rock n Roll through to Disco, House and Hip Hop, or just simply Pop itself; the most era defining chart hits of the most prevalent genres can all be linked in one way: they hook you in with an irresistible chorus. You can take examples separated by over forty years; one of The Beatles’ first number ones ‘She Loves You’ in August 1963 and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ in January of 2017 and the similarities are still evident. The lyrics are simple and memorable; the catchy three word title phrase repeated numerous times form the backbone of each song. The chorus melodies provide an upbeat backdrop, with a clear increase in the pitch and in the different musical elements coming into play in the two songs. Most songs which make it to number one, then, will build to a strong chorus.
2 The riff that keeps you coming back
Most people will be aware of the infamous ‘Four Chord Song’ which gently mocked the predictability of chart music by mashing up over fifty Pop songs which featured the same progression of chords. Known as the I–V–vi–IV progression, it’s often touted as a formula for making Pop music. Whilst there are numerous examples of songs which follow it, this isn’t strictly the case. There is no foolproof formula for making Pop music, but what can be drawn from this is that people really do like a recognisable riff or melody.
A famous example of a riff which has had a major influence as well is that of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’. It has one of the most recognisable chord sequences ever written for the guitar and is renowned for being one of the most covered songs of all time. These examples go to show that the melody is probably the most crucial aspect of a hit song; it’s what sticks in the memory most of all.
3 Lyrics you learn without realising
A good melody can only go so far though without catchy lyrics to accompany it. The lyrics of many hit songs keep it simple, they tell a basic story and rely on simple rhyming couplets to describe feelings, or ask questions, which the choruses will reiterate or answer. They offer uncomplicated foil for the melodies which define them, working in tandem to create something which is designed to get stuck in your head. For some songs though, the lyrics transcend the music itself. A modern example of this is Eamon’s ‘F*ck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’. Released in 2003, the crude, blunt lyrics were something rarely, if ever, seen before in a chart hit, let alone a UK number one. Eamon’s solitary hit is proof that sometimes just a few forceful, but relatable lines of verse can propel you to the top of the charts.