BY RYAN MILOWICKI
For the first decade of his popularity, Kid Rock (née Robert Ritchie) had been known as an artist with a fairly niche fan base. The wonderfully anonymous horde of the internet has dubbed him the musical equivalent of an above-ground pool, and the types of folks most inclined to own one are a good approximation of those shelling out money to own his records. With the exception of the dentist-office-fodder “Picture,” Kid Rock had been a fairly insular act.
But in the summer of 2008, something extremely strange happened. Kid Rock was everywhere. Much like the latter-day Nickelback hits (e.g. “Rockstar”), “All Summer Long” was one of those songs that you knew was not only horrible in its own time, but would age like an uncooked steak in mid-July heat.
Its two-pronged sampling of “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves Of London” seemed to be a pandering attempt to craft crossover potential, and lyrics like “we were smoking funny things” hurt to ponder. As you heard it for the first time, a little bile crept into your throat as you thought to yourself, “Please don’t let this work.”
But it did. Somehow, someway, it did.
Now we’ve all experienced that feeling of helplessness when a song you strongly dislike comes on the radio and you switch to another station, only to hear the exact same song playing half a verse behind. That phenomenon came true to an unparalleled degree with “All Summer Long.”
I’m going to use the radio stations of Cleveland as an example, so bear with me. Here’s a quick rundown of all the stations on which I have heard “All Summer Long” over the years (in dial order):
- 94.9 (country station)
- 96.5 (KISS FM, the hits station)
- 97.5 (modern rock, i.e. a whole lot of Seether back in the day)
- 98.5 (classic rock, the one that plays “Born To Run” at 5:00 every day)
- 99.5 (another country station, welcome to Ohio)
- 100.7 (slightly edgier modern rock, where every other Kid Rock song lives)
- 102.1 (lite rock/adult contemporary radio, lovechild of The Fray and Buble)
- 104.1 (another hits station, albeit more “family-friendly,” so no rap)
- 106.5 (“80s, 90s, and NOW!”, also known as Bon Jovi then John Mayer)
That’s nine (9!) radio stations with clear signal strength in the Cleveland metropolitan area which carried “All Summer Long” within six months of its release. It was inescapable. Never in my life had I heard a classic rock station play contemporary music by artists who weren’t AARP eligible (AC/DC’s Black Ice and Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy leap to mind). But selling out to the tune of history’s most frustrating sample broke a system designed to let fans embrace their guilty pleasures in a safe, enclosed community.
But that’s only half of the perplexing story of “All Summer Long.”
When a song has this much crossover success, chart domination typically ensues. Remember how long “Cruise” was on the charts a few years ago? “All Summer Long” was a global hit, no two ways about it. The man behind “Bawitdaba” took “All Summer Long” to Number One in the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, and Australia. It reached the Top 5 in Norway, New Zealand, Belgium, and Israel (!).
Now I want you all to close your eyes and guess how high it charted here in America?
Got your guess?
Ok, here goes…
You read that right. 23.
How is that even possible? What’s about to ensue is without a doubt the most befuddling story in the history of music charts.
Years before Taylor Swift pulled her music from Spotify, years before “Tidal exclusives,” there was this thing called “not having your music on iTunes.” For those of you too young to remember, we used to have these things called iPods, and we paid 99 cents on iTunes to put these songs on our iPods. Artists like The Beatles and AC/DC took a long time to release their music on iTunes, but the vast, vast majority of contemporary artists were there.
But not our buddy Kid Rock. Nope, for some reason, he thought “digital sales” was some yuppie talk, and so “All Summer Long” was not on iTunes. Its chart position could not be helped by airplay, and since Billboard changed the rules about this sort of thing in 1998, a song needs the right mixture of airplay and digital sales to rise to the top of the chart.
But what were suburbanites supposed to do to get their Kid Rock fix if they weren’t near a radio? Well here’s another thing that’s gone the way of the dinosaur. If you search Spotify or iTunes for songs that aren’t there, you are sure to be bombarded with a slew of horrific monstrosities known as “karaoke versions.” Now I’m not talking about Kidz Bop or bad covers. What I’m talking about is glorified Muzak (we call it elevator music, millennials), lacking vocal parts and only occasional “boasting” atrocious backing vocals. The identities of who makes these “songs” is as mysterious as their existence, as they go by cryptic names.
Two such purveyors of disgusting karaoke versions were Hit Masters and The Rock Heroes, who dutifully made their own versions of “All Summer Long” once it started getting airplay. Here’s the best image the internet has of these groups (I was unable to find a picture pertaining to The Rock Heroes):
I did not make this image, it is an honest-to-goodness digital album cover.
Those aforementioned suburbanites searched for “All Summer Long” in droves, and all they found were these horrendous instrumentals. Now any rational consumer would utilize iTunes’ 30-second sample feature to determine that this drivel is not worth 99 cents. But this was the golden age of the iPod! People really needed “All Summer Long,” no matter how diluted, and so they actually bought these versions.
Remember what I said earlier about the modern Hot 100 being a two-way street? In 2008, you needed a two-pronged base of airplay and digital sales in order to chart highly, as clearly shown by the fate of the real “All Summer Long.” But in September, smack dab in the middle of Kid Rock’s run, something completely unprecedented happened. For the first and only time in Hot 100 history, an instrumental karaoke version of a song reached the chart. Both the Rock Heroes and Hit Masters renditions found their way onto the Hot 100, America’s standard-bearer for popularity and success.
This would be a fittingly bizarre end to this story, but that’s not the end. Not even close.
Not only did these two versions simultaneously make the chart, but they both made the Top 40. THE TOP 40! The Rock Heroes version of “All Summer Long” wound up peaking at #29, while the Hit Masters version made its way up to #19.
Hold on one second.
Where did I say the real, bona fide, can’t escape it, hear it everywhere “All Summer Long” peaked?
Oh that’s right. #23.
A MUZAK VERSION OF “ALL SUMMER LONG” PEAKED FOUR SPOTS HIGHER THAN THE REAL THING!!!!
I can say with absolute certainty that a karaoke version of a popular song will never again reach the Hot 100, let alone outrank its inspiration. But for one shining month in 2008, Kid Rock’s tone-deaf lack of digital availability cost him a real chance at a Number One hit. A terrible song somehow generated enough demand across every conceivable radio genre to create a airplay juggernaut, and millions of rabid fans and newcomers alike decided that their love and need of “All Summer Long” was urgent enough to merit spending real money on Muzak.
If that’s not the most 2008/confused adults learning how to use iTunes story of all time, then I’d love to know what is.