They’re a little electronic and a little indie rock, and they’ve got a lot of luck when it comes to long-lasting songs. The group is AWOLNATION, and the song is “Sail”, which you probably know well if you’ve listened to Alternative radio in the past two years. However, the song is continually making gains at CHR radio just now, the format that plays Bruno Mars and Rihanna. It’s holding its own despite being pushed down by other major label records with much larger audiences, but it keeps rising back up. It seems to be performing best in the midwest and on satellite radio, which is responsible for about 20% of the song’s airplay on the format. It’s also a mainstay in the top 50 on iTunes and has already been certified 2x Platinum for digital sales of 2 million copies. It just won’t go away, despite the fact that it was released to digital retailers over three years ago. So, what’s the song’s staying power and how much further can it go? Let’s take a look at the history of where it’s been and the future of it.
The five-man band AWOLNATION formed in 2009 in Los Angeles, the idea of 34-year-old Aaron Bruno, a former member of Under The Influence Of Giants. They had a top ten hit on my personal chart back in 2006 with “Mama’s Room”. They quickly signed to Red Bull Records, created by the beverage company, who put an EP out by the band back in May 2010, Back From Earth. This is where “Sail” originates from. It wasn’t promoted as a radio single until the first week of 2011, when it went for Alternative adds, making the top 40 by mid-February. An album, Megalithic Symphony, was released the next month. However, it took a slow rise upward, and it didn’t peak until the end of August, a space of six months of growth. It eventually went to #5 and wasn’t out of the chart until January 2012, almost a full year after it entered. It also achieved a minor position on the Hot 100 during this time. That should’ve been the end of the song, but it wasn’t. The label kept moving ahead.
While the followup singles “Not Your Fault” (#3) and “Kill Your Heroes” (#7) lit up the airwaves on the format in 2012, Red Bull went ahead with a crossover for “Sail”, albeit months later. It was serviced to Hot Adult Contemporary radio in October 2012, but stayed below the top 50. It then managed to see some action at CHR beginning in January 2013, but with paltry gains, it didn’t appear as if it would go far. Then, in March, it finally entered the top 40 on the Hot 100 at the half-year mark (26 weeks), one of the longest runs ever before making that portion of the countdown. This was due to the incorporation of more signficant streaming data into the chart’s formula, including YouTube, where the song still remains hot thanks to both an official video and user-created one with over 50 million views. It has thus far peaked at #30, though it continues to bob around and outside of the region on any given week. With that having been achieved, mainstream radio took notice and the song made the top 50 for a week one month ago, dropped out, and is now suddenly back and is looking to stick this time around. It was #45 on the last official update. Top 40 definitely seems achievable as the summer goes on.
One thing that’s helping the cause is that there’s a new mix available that chops the song by about 45 seconds and boosts the keys and strings in parts; thus, it balances out the more gentle sounds with the harder ones, which is definitely needed if the label wants some chart life. The vocal also seems to be a little less edgy than the more brash tone in the original album version. Yet, this is a format that plays a lot of dance music and, more recently, a larger amount of softer ballads. Why should this do so well against those kinds of tunes? Well, it is different. There’s a mystery and an intrigue about it. You may think that you hate it because it’s too hard, but it also has a very commercial quality about it. It’s clear to me, at least, that Red Bull wants to make this into the new “Pumped Up Kicks”; this does have similar qualities to the Foster The People song, though I don’t think they have the necessary resources to propel it to that level. It’s not going to #1, obviously, but a more adventurous audience, probably male-skewed, could make it rise bit by bit. The sales are going to still be there for a while even though the label will move onto other singles at other formats (like “ThisKidsNotAlright”, their current release.) Why not buy in and test it out? It’s not so current, but it is fresh to this new audience, and every new set of ears counts for AWOLNATION, Red Bull Records, and a promotional run that just keeps stretching and sailing along.
By the way, for you chart watchers out there, quite a few songs have waited longer periods of time before reaching a new peak on the charts, and I mean decades after the original release. Two of the longest that come to mind are “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong (originally released in 1967; #32 in 1988 thanks to Good Morning Vietnam) and “Shaving Cream” by Benny Bell (originally released in 1947; #30 in 1975 thanks to the Dr. Demento radio show.) So, in perspective, three years isn’t a long time next to these 20+ year examples, but it can seem like forever to a band who are still releative newcomers to the scene.
Let me know what you think of AWOLNATION and the hit that won’t quit below or on Twitter: @AdamFSoybel.