Why are old songs dominating the iTunes charts?

A strange thing is happening with the iTunes chart Top Songs chart. In the past, it functioned as a barometer of the hot new songs, much like we see with the Billboard Hot 100. But there’s recently been a divergence. A big one, too.

When I looked at the Canadian iTunes Top Song charts yesterday at noon, I found the following:

  • The top song was the re-release of “Astronaut in the Ocean” by the Australian rapper Masked Wolf, a track that’s currently at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbing rapidly. Nothing strange there.
  • But at number two, we have “Zombie” by The Cranberries, which was released in 1994.
  • At number three is, inexplicably, “Summer of ’69” from Bryan Adams, a hit from the summer of 1985.
  • Skip past tracks from Lil Nas X, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber and we have Norman Greenbaum’s 1970 hit, “Spirit in the Sky” at number 7, followed by John Mellancamp’s “Hurts So Good” from 1982.
  • After a stop with Ed Sheeran’s “Afterglow” from last year, the top 10 rounds out with Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” from 2001.

That’s five songs in the iTunes top ten that are certified oldies–at least in terms of chart age. And it gets weirder the further down the chart you go.

  • #12 – Finger Eleven, “Paralyzer”
  • #17 – Poison, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
  • #18 – Heart, “Alone” (1985)
  • #23 – CCR, “Down on the Corner
  • #27 – John Mellencamp, “Jack and Diane”
  • #29 – Billy Idol, “Rebel Yell”
  • #30 – Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer”
  • #34 – Evanescence, “Going Under”
  • #36 – Bon Jovi, “You Give Love a Bad Name”
  • #37 – Billy Idol, “White Wedding”
  • #39 – The Offspring, “The Kids Aren’t Alright”

Bob Seger, Concrete Blonde, Lenny Kravitz, and Aerosmith are also in the top 100. What gives? Why are these old songs selling? A couple of possibilities.

  1. First, consider that Apple’s iTunes is notoriously opaque. All we have are the rankings without any metrics to back them up.
  2. Nostalgia and comfort food music brought on by the pandemic.
  3. An indictment on the state of current music. The old stuff is just…better
  4. A lack of star-power music has labels hold back big releases because of COVID.
  5. The TikTok effect. (I’m not on TikTok, so you can can tell me if any of these older songs are hot on the platform.)
  6. Inclusion of these songs in video games.
  7. Appearance of these songs in TV shows and movies.

We’re going to have to watch this.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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