’Human’ by Rag‘n’Bone Man was utterly inescapable on the radio last year. It hit number two on the chart on 23 December 2016 - the biggest sales week of the year - and was declared a platinum seller by February, and double platinum in July. Mr ‘n’Bone man, aka Rory Charles Graham cleaned up at the Brits and pretty much built his career on the unarguable soulful majesty of that single track.
Even if you hated it, you couldn’t avoid it; but in reality, even the non-believers were forced to admit was a brilliant song, clearly destined for the top from the second it was released. Hell, surely Rory, his co-writer Jamie Hartman and producing team Two Inch Punch must have leaned back on the mixing desk and loudly announced in true cliched fashion, ‘It’s a hit!’ the second the final version was run off.
And yet. The track was actually released in July 2016, fully five months before its peak chart performance, and didn’t even crack the top 100 until December.
The same thing happened in 2015 with Hozier’s monster hit ‘Take Me To Church’; originally released in the UK on 30 August 2014 (it was actually released even earlier, in September 2013, in his native Ireland), it took fully 23 weeks before reaching its chart peak of number 2.
And now the same thing’s happening again, this time with the track ‘Leave a Light On’ by the Scottish-born, Manchester-raised artist Tom Walker.
Released back in October last year, it entered the top 100 in the second week of January, bubbling around the 40s and 50s, reaching a chart peak of no. 41 in the second week of February, before falling out of the top 100 by March.
But, with the song getting a helpful kick from its use in a Sony Bravia ad, coupled with Tom’s recent performance at the Radio Biggest Weekend, it reemerged, blinking into the light, at the start of May, where it has slowly climbed again. Now, poised at number 31 and reentering radio playlists, it looks to be destined for the top in the very near future, and will undoubtedly stay there for a long while.
If you think you haven’t heard it yet, think again - it’s been used as background music in pretty much everything (yes, including Love Island) as well as, of course, that Sony ad.
Old-school slow-climbing sleeper hit songs used to be a regular occurrence back in the eighties and nineties, with songs always making their way up the charts from humble beginnings, before a combination of modern marketing techniques and changing chart rules led to a reversal, with a slew of instant week one hits starting big and then rapidly fading away. The year 2000 saw an incredible 42 different tracks at number one, many of them blasting their way straight in at the top.
But the growth of streaming has led to a resurgence of tracks needing to take their time to be heard, appreciated and find their audience. A good song released into the ether will slowly be added to more and more playlists as word spreads, picking up more and more plays, and eventually hitting critical mass; of course the odd advert placement doesn’t do any harm either.
So what links these three tracks? Well, they’re all fairly unassuming-looking (yes, even Rory is a gentle giant) singer-songwriters, but they all have giant voices, they’re all super soulful, and all have huge choruses. None of them rely on flashy production tricks and all are just exceptionally well-written tracks. Their slow burn success perhaps gives you a little faith that sometimes all you need is a great tune and it’ll get to people eventually.
Of course, the biggest slow burn hit of recent times? Well, that would be Nickelback’s ‘Rockstar’, back in 2007, which took 12 weeks from entering the top 100 to claw its way up to the top 10 before settling in for a fourteen week reign of terror. Most remarkably, its parent album All The Right Reasons had been out for over two years when the song reentered the UK charts.
So it’s always great tunes that achieve slow burn success? Guess you need an exception to prove the rule don’t you…