What Makes a Song an IRS WOW?

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In early 2008, radio DJ Rich Appel started an annual online contest. He called it:

The IRS 1040.

IRS stood for “It Really Shoulda been a bigger hit!”

Participants were to rank and submit up to 100 songs they liked – with one condition:

Each choice never made Billboard’s Pop Top 10 Charts.

Rich then would rank the top 1040 vote getters and reveal them on April 15.

That date is also the U.S. tax filing deadline for the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS. Clever, eh?

Naturally, a music geek like me loved this when I heard about it!

I’m not sure exactly when I started with this contest.

The earliest “form” I’ve saved that I “filed,” as Rich called it, was in 2016. That can’t be right, since I distinctly remember being so desperate at the end of my first submission that I included “Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph.

Guess that came from having watched so many Benny Hill reruns in the 1980s.

Anyway, 5 years ago, Rich got his own internationally syndicated radio show, That Thing with Rich Appel. And he carried over the contest.

To simplify and encourage his newer listeners to vote- few casual ones have interest or time to research an old song’s peak position.

Rich refashioned the contest into The WOW Countdown.

As Rich put it in his promos, you were to vote for as many songs as you wanted that made you say “WOW!” when you heard it being played. That’s pretty broad criteria, and it’s generated some interesting results.

Here’s this year’s WOW top 10, with peak year and Billboard position included:

I can understand if your reaction to some of these selections is “WHAT?” rather than “WOW!” I’ve had the same reaction myself.

In particular, “Can’t Find the Time” often topped the IRS 1040 before it became the WOW Countdown. a

The lingering appeal of this laidback ballad just baffles me. See what you think:

Part of the strong showing of this and other obscurities, like this year’s top finisher “Pretty Lady,” is that the voting is still largely skewed the way it was with the IRS 1040. Most voters are from large U.S. metropolitan markets like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. “Can’t Find the Time” was a big New England favorite despite flopping nationally, so those voters keep listing it among their favorites.

They’re also mainly Baby Boomers. Or, in my case, Gen Xers picking songs they enjoyed when younger. Indeed, the bulk of the tunes in the WOW Top 100 peaked between 1966 and 1981.

The few exceptions included the most recent, Soulsister’sThe Way to Your Heart from 1989, which finished the survey at position 24 … 

… And the oldest, the Beatles’ “All My Loving” from 1964, winding up at position 35. 

Interestingly, the Beatles had only that one song make the WOW 100. Rich told me that the group got a lot of votes, but they had so many hits that it’s hard for a consensus to form around a few to make the top of the survey.

Rich’s efforts to diversify the countdown for everyday listeners is a mixed success at best.

When he counted down this year’s top 40 on his show, only eight songs had been Billboard top 10 hits previously. Of those, only 2 had reached number one, The Association’s “Windy” at Number 25, and “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by the Looking Glass at Number 12.

The results thus can come across occasionally as schizophrenic.

What other countdown show would follow “Windy” with, for example, “The Way to Your Heart?”

It seems like two different perspectives competing here, and I’m not sure the discrepancies will ever resolve themselves.

Anyhow, let’s talk about my participation this year. Here are my top 10 picks:

As you can see, my vote helped “So Very Hard to Go” reach Number 2 in the countdown.

In fact, in the countdown’s top 10, I voted for that one, and five other entries:

  • “God Only Knows”
  • “Out in the Country”
  • “It’s a Shame”
  • …and “Precious to Me” in my list of 120 songs this year.

My personal top 10 still shows my IRS bias, I’ll admit.

But I did include several former top 10 hits lower in my list, such as the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “My Little Town.” Unfortunately, none of the latter made the WOW 100 this go-round.

The ones I selected in my top 10 are all ones that follow the KonMari Method of sparking joy in me when I hear them.

“Ozmoe brings me joy!

Apparently, I’m not alone, since “Knowing Me Knowing You,” “That’s the Way of the World,” “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” all finished in the WOW top 40 this year.

And “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and “Mighty Love” finished in the WOW 100.

…And I’ll give an honorable mention to “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love“, which just missed the cut at position 103.

All totaled, I matched 29 songs listed on the WOW 100. But it’s for the love of music that I do this survey every year and adjust my choices. That’s the fun of this contest, as any music contest should be.

So, what do you think of these WOW choices?

And what would be yours, in case you want to formulate your own list for next year?

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” upvote!

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Phylum of Alexandria
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April 20, 2023 8:01 am

Fun premise! Though isn’t the framing metaphor a little…taxing?

I’d say the IRS never brings joy, but I actually got money back on my return this year. 🤑

I’ll have to think about what my picks would be.

To be eligible, does the song need to have been a single, and does it need to have made the Billboard Hot 100?

My picks would probably be fairly different depending on the constraints.

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 20, 2023 8:23 am

Okay, I didn’t think about this too carefully, I just went with my gut.

Here are my likely eligible picks:

  • Screamin Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell On You
  • Chet Baker: My Funny Valentine
  • ABBA: Mamma Mia!
  • Queen: Don’t Stop me Now
  • B-52s: Rock Lobster
  • XTC: Senses Working Overtime
  • Shannon: Let the Music Play
  • Kate Bush: The Hounds of Love
  • Wu Tang Clan: C.R.E.A.M.
  • Franz Ferdinand: Take Me Out

And here are my picks without a chance in Hell:

  • Serge Gainsbourg: Comic Strip
  • Vashti Bunyan: Just Another Diamond Day
  • Yma Sumac: Malambo No. 1
  • Dr. Octagon: Earth People
  • Van Halen: Ain’t Talkin Bout Love
  • Erasure: Heavenly Action
  • The Ramones: Blitzkrieg Bop
  • FKA Twigs: Sad Day
  • David Bowie: Thru These Architects Eyes
  • Japanese Breakfast: Be Sweet to Me
JJ Live At Leeds
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April 20, 2023 8:57 am

Top marks for Vashti Bunyan. I did not recognise that Erasure track at all. Must have heard it at some point but it apparently reached #100 on our charts which means about 100 people bought it.

Both Grouse
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April 21, 2023 4:25 pm

Another vote here for Vashti Bunyan! Wouldn’t it be great is she had a prominent moment on Stranger Things or something comparable?

Virgindog
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April 20, 2023 8:25 am

Agreed, the rules make a big difference here.

Oddly, for me, all the ones that immediately come to mind are from the late 80s and 90s.

  • Birthday – The Sugarcubes
  • Homo Humpin’ Slobo Babe – Whale
  • Loser – Beck
  • Dead Man Walking – David Bowie
  • Sunshine Underground – The Chemical Brothers
Phylum of Alexandria
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April 20, 2023 8:28 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Ooh, Birthday, Loser, and Dead Man Walking. Top 10 picks for a Top 10 pick.

JJ Live At Leeds
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April 20, 2023 9:00 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe takes me back, there was a lot of good Swedish indie/alternative stuff in the mid 90s. Once had a dream that my girlfriend was on stage singing it. Thrilling anecdote for you all 😄

Virgindog
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April 20, 2023 7:12 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Another 90s wow: Jerry Was A Racecar Driver – Primus

mt58
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April 20, 2023 8:12 am

Over the years, there have been many records that I thought were top 10 caliber, but weren’t necessarily big hits. Often, they weren’t hits at all.

Here’s a few:
David Lee Roth: Just Like Paradise.
The Kane Gang: Motortown
Heatwave: The Groove Line
k.d. lang: Constant Craving .

I’d better stop . I could do this all day.

Last edited 10 months ago by mt58
cappiethedog
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April 20, 2023 6:36 pm
Reply to  mt58

Artists who made their name as country artists(both mainstream and alt-) eventually tire of the genre. For example: Kacey Musgraves, Lambchop, Neko Case, and especially Taylor Swift, and go in a new direction.

I can’t think of a more dramatic example than k.d. lang’s Ingenue.

“Constant Craving”. #38? Really?

Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin made a film called The Saddest Music in the World.

k.d. lang wins, hands down.

And you can karaoke it.

Edith G
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April 20, 2023 6:45 pm
Reply to  mt58

Ah, “Constant Craving”, not even a top 10? It’s a crime.

Aaron3000
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April 20, 2023 9:23 pm
Reply to  mt58

I’ll be “that guy” who points out that “Just Like Paradise” and “The Groove Line” were in fact top ten hits on the Hot 100, although it’s true you rarely hear them on the radio today. (Which was kind of the criteria I used to make my list: songs that I absolutely love, but Big Corporate classic hits stations tend to avoid.)

mt58
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April 20, 2023 10:21 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

Absolutely correct.

As a radio programmer, perhaps can explain the idea of a song “testing well,” and what this means with respect to choosing records for airplay.

JJ Live At Leeds
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April 20, 2023 9:23 am

Well this is an almost impossible task, nevermind the criteria here’s a random 22 inducers of WOW. I could go on a lot longer but I’ve a life to live….

Minnie Riperton – Les Fleurs
Maximo Park – Grafitti
The Walkmen – The Rat
Flowered Up – Weekender
Oasis – Supersonic
Pete Shelley – Homosapien
Air – Sexy Boy
Arcade Fire – Wake Up
Art of Noise – Close (To The Edit)
Faithless – Insomnia
Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian At Best
Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue
Wreckless Eric – Whole Wide World
Modest Mouse – Float On
William Onyeabor – Fantastic Man
Blue Aeroplanes – …and Stones
Blackstreet – No Diggity
Ivor Cutler – Beautiful Cosmos
Wet Leg – Chaise Longue
Fontaines DC – Boys In The Better Land
ELO – Mr Blue Sky
Tears For Fears – Head Over Heels

cappiethedog
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April 20, 2023 6:38 pm

Ooh. Blue Aeroplanes.

I have to give “angelwords” a shout-out.

dutchg8r
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April 20, 2023 9:35 am

I love the idea behind this poll, but my goodness it’s gotta be exhausting to be on the receiving end and have to tally everything!

The one that stood out to me on your personal list was New Radicals “You Get What You Give”. That is such a defining song and was so well made, I have never understood how it’s chart position was soooo low.

Gosh, as far as my own list, it seems too daunting a task to even begin. It’d probably be just a lengthy list of classic rock album tracks that are played all the time but were never released as singles – like, most of Led Zep’s catalog, lol.

Aaron3000
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April 20, 2023 11:47 am

Man, I completely missed the deadline this year (too much going on). Soulsister would’ve gotten a boost as I was set to add it to my list this time around. Anyway, here’s my top ten of the list of 100 I submitted last year (plus my #100, which was the only song on my top 100 that didn’t actually chart):

  1. Like No Other Night – 38 Special
  2. Steppin’ Out – Joe Jackson
  3. An Everlasting Love – Andy Gibb
  4. SOS – ABBA
  5. Lovely Day – Bill Withers
  6. Perfect Way – Scritti Politti
  7. I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World) – Donald Fagen
  8. Someday, Someway – Marshall Crenshaw
  9. Right Down The Line – Gerry Rafferty
  10. Head Over Heels – Go-Go’s

100. Cloudburst – Lambert, Hendricks & Ross

mt58
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April 20, 2023 1:41 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

+1 for # 100! LH&R!

OK, deep breath:

Hey, Baybeee,
 
I’mGonnaTellYou’BoutYourLovin’AndYourKissin’AndYourHuggin’AndYourSweetTurtleDovin’PrettyBaby,IWon’tBeSatisfiedTilIHear’EmPlay:

“Here Comes The Bride!”

LinkCrawford
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April 20, 2023 4:43 pm
Reply to  mt58

Nice!

blu_cheez
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April 20, 2023 3:01 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

This list is where my head was going before it exploded with too many choices. If I can draft off of you, some additions:

“Synchronicity II”- The Police (16 on the Hot 100)
“Never Say Never” – Romeo Void (27 on the Mainstream Rock chart)
“Save It for Later” – The (English) Beat (58 on the Dance / Disco chart)
“I Melt With You” – Modern English (76 on the Hot 100)

Last edited 10 months ago by blu_cheez
cappiethedog
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April 21, 2023 12:34 am
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“I Melt With You” is indestructible. David Hasselhoff makes it work.

LinkCrawford
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April 20, 2023 4:42 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

I love “Cloudburst”!

Aaron3000
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April 20, 2023 9:43 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

I was introduced to it maybe ten years ago on an episode of Jesse Thorn’s “Bullseye”, amazed me. That section mt58 quoted above was like Twista-level protorap… in 1959!

cappiethedog
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April 21, 2023 12:33 am
Reply to  Aaron3000

So you get Diane Warren to write a song for you, and either you or the record company have no interest in releasing it as a single? I’m talking about “Some Hearts”, of course, from Marshall Crenshaw’s kiss-off album Good Evening. I like it. I can’t tell that he’s going through the motions.

I could’ve sworn “Boom! There She Was” was a top forty hit. It stalled at #53. Which goes to show you that the regional hit is dead. I heard that Scritti Politti song every day.

“Steppin’ Out” is sophisto-pop on par with Paddy McAloon. I love that song.

I didn’t know “Someday, Someway” charted.

blu_cheez
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April 20, 2023 2:33 pm

I started an attempt at this, but it broke my brain. Back to reading comments knowingly and upvoting…

Great article, though!

lovethisconcept
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April 21, 2023 1:09 pm
Reply to  blu_cheez

My experience exactly. Just could not get a start.

Pauly Steyreen
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April 20, 2023 2:44 pm

I don’t know — this is too big for me to wrap my head around. I’d probably faint with exhaustion before I could even get a preliminary list prepared.

Side 1, Track 1 of Beethoven’s 5th, perhaps?

cstolliver
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April 20, 2023 4:28 pm

Ozmoe, our mutual friend KP has gotten me involved in this once or twice. I always enjoy it but never remember to keep up with it. Maybe your article will help me remember!

A few that missed the Top 10 right off the bat that make me go “Wow!” — the Fortunes’ “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again,” Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey,” the Human League’s “Mirror Man,” the Moody Blues’ “The Voice” and Dave Edmunds’ “Slipping Away.”

Given time, I’m sure I could come up with another hundred or so …

LinkCrawford
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April 20, 2023 4:43 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Oh, man, I LOVE “Slipping Away”.

Aaron3000
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April 20, 2023 9:33 pm
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Good stuff… “The Voice” was #21 on my 2022 list.

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 20, 2023 4:54 pm

In honor of today’s date, here are some joints that should have been a little higher on the charts:

  • Pink Floyd: Breathe
  • Cypress Hill: Hits from the Bong
  • Boards of Canada: Roygbiv
  • Animal Collective: Leaf House
  • Digable Planets: Nickel Bag
  • Black Uhuru: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
  • Gang Gang Dance: Adult Goth
  • Snoop Dogg: Gin & Juice
  • Moondog: Remember
  • Miles Davis: Shhh, Peaceful
mt58
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April 20, 2023 5:01 pm

Glances at PoA’s comment timestamp…

Aww… opportunity missed…

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 20, 2023 5:02 pm
Reply to  mt58

Reaction time is slow for some reason…

(I kid, I kid)

cappiethedog
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April 20, 2023 6:46 pm

Beautiful World- DEVO
Better Be Home Soon- Crowded House
Fall at Your Feet- Crowded House
I Got You- Split Enz
Through the Wire- Nona Hendryx
From a Distance- Nanci Griffith
Road to Nowhere- Talking Heads
And She Was- Talking Heads
This Must Be the Place(Naive Melody)- Talking Heads
Got to Get- Leila K.

cappiethedog
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April 21, 2023 12:41 am
Reply to  Ozmoe

That chorus. Catchiest thing ever.

Aaron3000
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April 20, 2023 9:36 pm
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I could’ve sworn I had “I Got You” on my top 100 last year, but no. Will remedy that next year.

“Got to Get” is fantastic.

Edith G
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April 20, 2023 6:53 pm

Great writing Ozmoe, I would be breaking my head if I thought about a list of my own. That contest is a good idea to give justice to many underrated songs.

JJ Live At Leeds
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April 21, 2023 2:43 am
Reply to  Edith G

I had to drag myself away from my list before things got out of hand. I could have still been sat here now and into the thousands while my wife organised an intervention to bring me back to reality!

DanceFever
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April 21, 2023 9:51 pm

Boy, ozmoe, does this have me spinning down the rabbit hole!
Born and raised in Massachusettes, many of the local radio stations were
eager to find the next “big thing” from local bands and perhaps catapult them into the big time, especially after the British Invasion of the mid-Sixties.
Three come to mind that were local hits but just barely found a spot on the
Billboard Top 200.
The first one is a familiar face, Mr. Billy Joel.
He had two groups in the sixties that had major local hits but were a blip on the national scene.
The one I’m most familiar with is “Every Step You Take (Every Move You Make) with the Hassells and a cover of Sam and Dave’s “You Got Me Hummin” (which would later be covered by the West Coast’s Cold Blood).
Second is Bill Wendry and the Boss Tweeds (perhaps not familiar with our west and south patrons but a nod to the political syndicate out of New York
from the late 19th Century). Their cover of Hendrix’s “Fire” was a big local hit.
Third is the Rockin Ramrods out of the Boston area with “Don’t Fool With Fu Manchu”.
It was based on a Christopher Lee film from Britain.
The reason it resonants with me. it was the song playing on our local radio show when the Big Blackout of ’65 hit the East Coast and people were without power for days.
Funny thing, it was never played again on local radio shows and is only available to modern audiences through the miracle of the Internet.

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