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Adam’s Top 100 of 2014: #04 – Passenger, “Scare Away The Dark”

The cream of the pop!

The cream of the pop for 2014.

Another year is in the books and it’s time for the annual listing of the 100 biggest songs that ranked among my weekly top 40 chart from December 2013 to November 2014. It was magical year full of MAGIC! and “Magic” and a lovely twelve months of lovable hits from James Blunt and The Fray. We went “home” with A Great Big World and Andy Grammer, spun around in a “dance” with Milky Chance and Walk The Moon and ended up here with all that was awesome in the year we called 2014.

Peak positions listed are as of the last chart included in the year dated November 30, 2014. Those entries marked with a plus sign (+) had not yet reached their peak position as of the date. Ties in points were broken based on peak, number of weeks at peak and number of weeks in the top 40.

Stop and "Scare".

Stop and “Scare”.

004. PASSENGER, “Scare Away The Dark” (769 points)
Writer: Mike Rosenberg / Producers: Chris Vallejo, Mike Rosenberg
Label: Nettwerk/Warner Bros.

Debut Date: March 30, 2014
Peak Date: June 29, 2014
Peak: #1 for one week
Weeks on Chart: 28

The 30-year-old performer from Brighton, England pretty much defined 2013 on my personal top 40 when he scored with a triple punch of #1 singles, including my top song of last year, “Let Her Go”. It held firm at the summit for twelve huge frames, the longest consecutive run (at that point) in five years. Sadly, it remained the only U.S. single to be taken from All The Little Lights, but it certainly made a well-deserved impact at radio, retail and in the media. For a fan (or stan if you choose) like me, “Go” was only the start of an immensely successful string of songs for him, which continued into his latest era.

When Rosenberg was on the usual radio tour towards the beginning of the Hot AC run for “Let Her Go” during the summer of 2013, he played this song in an acoustic setting, which I identified at the time as being really good, though I wasn’t sure if that would become a single. I wasn’t sure if people would “get it”. Lo and behold, it became the leadoff single from Whispers in the U.S. and Canada in March of this year and quickly shot to #1, becoming his fourth song to reach the top on my chart. Though it wasn’t a national success, it did rank on two radio surveys (the aforementioned Hot AC and AAA, where “Go” went to #1.) I guess my chart stats win again.

Two other songs from the album have also reached my chart; neither has been as successful as it: “Heart’s On Fire” peaked at #9, while “27” looks to break the top ten in the next few weeks. Still, Whispers remains one of my favorite albums of the year and one that should endure into 2015. Rosenberg begins a small Australian tour in January, and then a smaller South African tour in February. Who knows what will happen beyond then? As far as I’m concerned, he may be a passenger by name, but he is a driver when it comes to my musical tastes.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Passenger – Whispers

Oh, darling, my chart's on fire.

Oh, darling, my chart’s on fire.

From busking on the streets to paving those streets with Gold and Platinum certifications, the 30-year-old performer known as Passenger is certainly more well known now than he was even a year ago. Born in Brighton, England, he’s been captivating audiences around the globe with his international smash “Let Her Go”, along with other moderately sized singles like “Holes” and “The Wrong Direction”. All three topped my personal chart last year, with “Go” ranking as my overall #1 song of 2013. This coming Tuesday, the singer/songwriter delivers his followup to 2012’s All The Little Lights, titled Whispers, into stores, and while a stream of followup singles have yet to escape the shadow of his career defining ballad, it’s one of the best things I could have asked for this year. It’s simple yet heavy, familiar yet refreshing.

Now, I am obviously not a casual fan of Passenger; I’ve been following his progress for a little under a year and a half now, have seen him live and met him, bought his music on multiple formats, etc. I’m a little biased. However, there is something on here for everybody, whether you’re a fan of his bare bones ballads or would like to see a more upbeat side to him. In fact, there are some rather content moments on here in the middle of all the introspective material. It’s what he knows best and he stays true to who he is with a slightly more produced sound and wider instrumental backing. Put it all together and you have one of the purest records of 2014, one that will be ranking highly on my year-end list.

Beginning with the percussive-driven “Coins In A Fountain”, we are immediately immersed in that natural vibe as Mike Rosenberg sings about a shifting view of romance: “Love is the last unicorn, love is the only song I’ll sing all night… love is the truest of words.” However, that tranquility turns into a much more passive aggressive attitude during “27”, a folk rock cut about life in the business and his status in it. The song comes off as an homage to 70’s singles like Billy Joel‘s “The Entertainer” and The Raspberries‘s “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)”. The singer claims, “I write songs that come from the heart/I don’t give a f**k if they’re gettin’ to the charts or not,” and “I’ve written 600 songs, only 12 get sung,” referring to compiling the tracklisting for an album. You could liken it to an “I Hate” moment; it’s out there.

Highlights toward the middle of the effort include “Bullets”, which essentially comes off as a twangier version of “Holes” and serves some major harmonica action. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as a single down the line. When it comes to his tender, heart-wrenching songs, “Golden Leaves” is the loveliest of the bunch, an emotional string-filled story about a breakup and the inevitable longing that arises with it. He questions, “Do you remember how this started out?/So full of hope, but now we’re filled with doubt/I can’t live with you, but I’d die without.” (“Heart’s On Fire”, which arrives earlier in the lineup, is the more hopeful cousin to this track.) “Thunder”, following “Leaves”, is an upbeat and soaring number, bringing out the horn section as Rosenberg The Riddler offers up his words of wisdom: “I’m a choice you can’t choose… I’m yesterday’s paper, I’m yesterday’s news.” Luckily, the man and his compositions aren’t totally forgotten.

Towards the end of the set, we find the two best songs lyrically in the group. Track seven, “Rolling Stone”, no relation to the magazine, recounts Passenger‘s days as the wanderer he is when traveling the globe and pursuing his dream, yet also what he is leaving behind. In the first verse, he speaks: “Sometimes I feel I’m going nowhere/Sometimes I’m sure I never will/She said it’s ’cause I’m always moving/I never noticed ’cause I never stand still.” It’s a pretty poignant take on the matter and obviously, you can’t help but sympathize with the guy. He’s obviously not used to the stardom that he’s attained. “Riding To New York” is also worth it, a first hand account from the road of Rosenberg’s interaction with a man at a gas station while on tour in Minnesota. The subject, who is ill, relays to the singer that he’d like to “see my granddaughter one last time/Hold her close, and feel her tiny heartbeat next to mine/Want to see my son, and the man he’s become/Tell him I’m sorry for the things I’ve done.” It’s truly heartbreaking but so inspired.

There’s no doubt that Whispers won’t be as commercially successful as his last era; the lead U.S. single from the album, “Scare Away The Dark”, seems to be scaring more than satisfying radio programmers as it flirts with the top 30 on AAA radio and top 50 at Hot AC. These are obviously meager numbers compared to the massive “Let Her Go”. Yet, in terms of content overall, this is probably his best album. The variety is abundant and the songwriting is even more concrete than the last time around. For me, at least, it’s the quality release that makes the fan feel complete without giving into a more polished commercial standard. That’s how it could have gone; thankfully, it does not. At times it whispers and at times it roars, but it relates to us, and any kind of voice is better than no voice at all.

(Stream and purchase Whispers on iTunes)

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Are You Afraid Of The “Dark”? Songs In The Shadows

Lighting up the charts.

Lighting up the charts.

In the middle of a U.S. promotional tour and raking in some new stations at both the AAA and Hot AC formats, the singer and songwriter known as Passenger (born Mike Rosenberg) is looking to score his second big Stateside hit with “Scare Away The Dark”. Now, of course, when he’s had three #1 singles in a row on my personal chart, you can probably figure that “Scare” is bound to be another big record on my top 40. (Spoiler Alert: it looks like it’s going to be just outside the top ten on my next update.) However, when it comes to a national audience, things could look mighty different.

Sometimes, it’s a dark world out there, and in the world of charts, it can also be a “dark” one. Since the Hot 100 began back in 1958, there have been plenty of murky musical sensations to rank, but only a handful of them have cast their shadows up into the top ten. Grab a flashlight as we take a look back:

“Reach Out Of The Darkness”, Friend And Lover (#10, 1968)
This was only big single for this once-married duo of Cathy and Jim Post, the latter of whom was inspired to write this song from his experience at a peaceful gathering in New York City. The folky “Reach” spent three straight weeks at #10 in June.

“Dark Lady”, Cher (#1, 1974)
Nearly a decade after first charting as one half of Sonny & Cher, the legendary Mrs. Sarkisian put her solo career into full gear with two consecutive #1 singles, 1973’s “Half-Breed” and this. She’s currently performing on her Dressed To Kill tour.

“Dancing In The Dark”, Bruce Springsteen (#2, 1984)
They call him The Boss, and given the seven top ten singles in a row from Born In The U.S.A., that nickname was especially true then. “Dancing” stalled out in the #2 spot on the Hot 100 for four weeks, but it spent two weeks at #1 on rival Cashbox.

“On The Dark Side”, John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band (#7, 1984)
Originally from the soundtrack to Eddie And The Cruisers, “On” originally peaked at a lowly #64 in 1983 and the film didn’t do much better. Thanks to some help from HBO, the song earned a second run based on the repeat airings and went top ten.

“Piano In The Dark”, Brenda Russell featuring Joe Esposito (#6, 1988)
In perhaps one of the most interesting comeback stories of the 80’s, Russell trumped her #30 peak for 1979’s “So Good, So Right” with this big top ten ballad in 1988. It hit the top ten once again in 2012 as a sample on rapper Flo Rida‘s hit “I Cry”.

“Coming Out Of The Dark”, Gloria Estefan (#1, 1991)
After a pretty serious bus accident in March 1990 during the promotion of her Cuts Both Ways album, Estefan spent much time in rehabilitation before returning the studio to record Into The Light. “Coming” is her last #1 on the Hot 100 thus far.

“Dark Horse”, Katy Perry featuring Juicy J (#1, 2014)
Just a few weeks ago, this was the #1 single on both CHR radio and the Hot 100. It was the third to be released from Perry’s PRISM and is the biggest of the era so far. However, it’s now falling as “Birthday” unwraps the gift of fresh airplay and sales.

For more ditties that keep it “dark” and lyrics that let the light in, follow the blog below or find PGTC on social media by clicking the “Get Social!” tab.

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CONCERT: Passenger (Acoustic), 8/21/13 – Worcester, MA

Ready, set, "Go".

Ready, set, “Go”.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… okay, make that March and it was right here at my computer. March 21, in fact. It was then that I started writing a post about a performer named Passenger who I had heard a little about, especially because he was doing so well in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe. I also really liked his song. So, I wrote for a little bit and finished it and this piece went up just after Midnight on March 22. I didn’t think much after that because I was off to bed and hoping for maybe a few hits on it by the time I woke up.

Around 11:30 the next morning, I noticed two things that were peculiar. Firstly, my link had been tweeted out by someone named Terry McBride and this was awesome in itself even though I wasn’t sure who he was. Then, I found that pulsing orange “You’ve got a new comment” button going off with a response from somebody named Bob Divney, asking if he could use my post in an advertisement. I was confused, but a few Google searches later, it was clear that he was part of The Artist Cooperative, a small agency used for radio promotion and marketing that worked with Nettwerk Records, Passenger‘s label, which McBride is the CEO of, and that’s when a like turned into a love, which turned into some freebies from TAC, which turned into a job interview with Nettwerk Records, which turned into a #1 song on my chart for 12 weeks and now a top 5 followup single. That’s just the short version – I’m not sure you want the long one.

The point of all this is that “Will Passenger “Go” On To The U.S.?” can now be answered with a definitive “yes” – he’s sitting in the top 20 on Hot AC radio and in the top 30 of iTunes and there’s still room for much growth at digital retailers and on AAA and CHR radio. I’d like to think that maybe my article helped out when it was sent on a promotional email, even if it was in the smallest way; it was something that hopefully made up somebody’s mind about adding the song or not. Now, five months to the day that I started with that idea, I finally got the chance to see him perform live at the radio station I work at, and trust me, I was on cloud nine.

After setting up at my weekly event at a dive bar (but not in a West End town), I was back at the station smelling like I just came from the beach. Gross. After a quick wash-up, I found myself in a conversation with Andrew Govatsos, another Cooperative member, and I casually slipped in the whole blog post, which he seemed impressed with. Who wouldn’t? I think I said something to effect of “I’m so thrilled this is all happening,” to which he responded, “You wanna meet him? He’s in there.” All I could say was, “Oh my god, yeah!” There he was, red plaid shirt and blue jean shorts, sitting in one of our studios and extending his hand with a “Hi, I’m Mike, what’s your name?” and I was literally struggling for words. I was so not prepared for this moment. I managed a “So great to meet you! How was the gig in Boston?” to which he replied positively, then we took the picture you see above, and I was out of there for fear that I was bothering him. Also, there might have been an overdramatic faint on the music director’s office floor. Luckily, it wasn’t real but someone was star struck.

Fast forward through the in-between time of waiting for people to show up and getting them settled upstairs. Let’s begin the show! Like most acoustic loft performances, this was a shortened set and started off with “Patient Love”, an album track from All The Little Lights, which saw him plugging away his guitar and sounding just like the record. Then, he said, “this is a new song, tell me what you think,” before going into the line “Like the legend of the Phoenix”, which clicked with me automatically. It’s “Get Lucky”, the Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams song. He sure is clever, kids. This is coming from the same guy who was involved in a medley of “No Diggity” and “Thrift Shop” with Ed Sheeran, so he has some tricks up his sleeve. Good ones too. This seamlessly blended into “Let Her Go”, which was the cue for everyone to take out their cameras because once the hit comes on, you know the flashes come a-rolling. However, it was a passionate performance that everyone quite enjoyed. Lastly came a new song, “Scare Away The Dark”, which saw Passenger in name-check mode, from “hashtags and Twitter” and PSY‘s “Gangnam Style”, this while encouraging that “if we all light up, we can scare away the dark.” This was largely sung away from a microphone, and boy, he can belt and fill up a room. I was majorly impressed. He puts on an awesome show.

The guy’s a sweetheart and seems really humbled by what’s happened thus far with his career. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in meeting him. He’s a superb performer and an even better person to talk to – he’s just a regular guy, but you don’t know that until someone is humanized for you before your very eyes. Also, I just want to say that as he was signing posters away, I mentioned that he couldn’t just drop “Gangnam Style” in a song without making his next medley a mix of PSY and Los Del Rio‘s “Macarena”, to which he said, “Whoa! That’s a great idea!” I don’t think I was alive at that point, but if that’s going to be my new claim to fame, I will take it. “He inspired a mash-up of the two most annoying songs ever!” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I did. Potentially. Ultimately, the show was over and everyone went their separate ways – he and his crew to New York City, me down to pack up a sound system in Small Town, Massachusetts and thinking about how my chart was going to look this weekend given what just happened, while not fully comprehending everything at the same time. It was the highest point for me this summer by far.

Call me bizarre, judge me, tease me, etc. for fangirling for the growing list of British singer-songwriters that I enjoy rather than a Britney Spears or Lady Gaga type, but that’s just me being different and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Somebody’s got to be there for them. In a world full of cries of “one-hit wonder”, I’d probably be the first to argue that “Holes” or “Things That Stop You Dreaming” (which I would like to be the followup to “Holes”) could make an impact. It’s all part of the job. I’m genuinely excited about what’s to come for Passenger and Nettwerk Records, even if I wasn’t picked to work there — it was the consideration and the validation that counted, that maybe something could work out regardless of what employer it was. Most of all, I’m just thankful that a new favorite of mine is doing so well and can be appreciated by so many people. I’m not the first fan he ever saw or the last, and someone can probably outdo me in making posters and fan videos, but for one guy in Worcester, MA who wants to help the music industry and move onto greater places, this is a night I’m going to treasure, a thing that won’t stop me dreaming — at least for the time being.

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