Reviews: January/February 2019

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Hit Parade
Chris Molanphy ’93 podcast; free
Reviewed by Christopher Arnott

Christopher Arnott has been covering the arts in Connecticut for over 30 years.

In his Hit Parade podcast for the magazine/network Slate, Chris Molanphy ’93 uses chart-topping pop songs to explore pop psychology, cultural trends, and record-geek trivia. Hit Parade has been around since April 2017, an offshoot of Molanphy’s Slate music criticism column, Why Is This Song No. 1? Appropriately, it regularly lands on charts of the most popular music podcasts.

Pop charts still exist, but they don’t guide our listening habits as they once did—when major radio stations and syndicated programs like American Top 40 based their entire weekly programming strategies on a short list of what were deemed the most popular LPs and 45s in the country. Hit Parade, adorably, still treats pop charts as gospel. Molanphy uses their data as inspiration for an entertaining scholarly program with hooks and riffs. Chart positions lead to tales of legal battles, rivalries, triumphs and downfalls. An average episode of Hit Parade can run well over an hour, with Molanphy’s essay-like narrative broken up with crisply edited examples of the chart records he’s talking about. 

Hit Parade’s most fascinating episodes are the ones in which Molanphy shows how the charts themselves have changed over the decades, in methodologies and in impact. In October 2018, Hit Parade’s “Oh. My. God. Becky Edition” (the title quotes “Baby Got Back”) dubs the emergence of the sales-tabulating program SoundScan in 1991 “the BC/AD dividing line in the history of charts.” He plays an excruciating musical excerpt, and then says: “That—and I apologize, my friends—is Michael Bolton with ‘Love Is a Wonderful Thing,’ the lead single from the first number-one album of the Soundscan era. Time, Love, and Tenderness. What can I tell ya, it was 1991.”

Mainstream-minded as it may be, Hit Parade is its own kind of hip—well informed, diverse in its tastes, eager to share obscure factoids. It has a nice beat (in the journalistic sense), and you can dance to it.

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