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’s “The 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.
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?