As holiday music continues to dominate the playlists of Adult Contemporary radio stations across the country, a voice familiar to the world but sorely lacking on such stations the rest of the year can be heard: Paul McCartney. Considering his book of work (the Guinness Book of World Records has deemed him the “Most Successful Composer and Recording Artist of All Time”) it is ultimately puzzling if not ridiculous that so many music programmers have deemed the so-so “Wonderful Christmas Time” his only song worthy of airplay.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in March 1999, Paul McCartney’s prolific and unparalleled career has included, according to Wikipedia: 60 gold records (43 with the Beatles, 17 solo) and sales of 100 million albums, 100 million singles and writer’s credit on 43 songs with sales over 1 million copies each. He has written or co-written 32 Billboard Number-One singles, including 20 with the Beatles and 9 solo/with Wings. And while McCartney’s classic songs (i.e. “Band on the Run”, “Jet” and “Juniors Farm”) continue to be played by Classic Rock stations, A/C and Top 40 stations have largely eschewed his new music; in fact, you have to go all the way back to 1983 for his last big radio hit: “No More Lonely Nights” (which peaked at #6).
So what factors are at work here? Some would say there’s a reason McCartney’s newer offerings have not received more radio airplay over the past 30 years: The music simply has not been good enough. I, on the other hand, would suggest that if you mine his more recent work, including from such LPS as “Flowers in the Dirt” and “Flaming Pie”, you would find countless gems worthy of notice. Other AC programmers might say the format has passed artists like McCartney by – that even more contemporary A/C staples such as Celine Dion are being replaced by younger “American Idol” and “The Voice” era fodder like Adele and Maroon 5. This is a generational audience argument that I also find bogus. One need only go to a Paul McCartney concert to see young fans enjoying the music with their children as well as their parents and grandparents – in other words, his music truly transcends traditional programming demographics.
Thankfully, radio appears to be becoming a bit wiser in addressing how to serve an even greater cross sections of listeners, unveiling stations with such formats as Adult Alternative and Adult Rock, among others. The timing could not be better for such artists as McCartney, who recently released his most critically acclaimed work in years: “New”. According to radio monitor/chart publisher Mediabase 24/7 (my one-time employer) a couple of different songs from the album, including “Queenie Eye” and the title track, are getting at least some Top 20 rotational airplay, albeit on smaller market stations like KRCL-FM Salt Lake City, KTHX-FM Reno and WCLZ-FM in Portland, Maine. Of course, satellite continues to embrace the former Beatle like no other in the industry.
Ultimately, artists like Paul McCartney long ago earned the right to have their music played (that both old and new). He and his music matter and sold-out concerts and gold, silver and platinum record sales continue to underscore this. To not regularly offer that same music on the airwaves is tantamount to ignoring the dictates inherent in station licenses – acting in the public interest of the audience it serves (and not just at Christmas time). Thankfully, McCartney’s latest record and its outstanding music is forcing the issue and play. It’s been largely inexplicable and a long time coming.