How much is a hit worth? In 2012 the BBC broadcast a documentary titled The Richest Songs in the World, which provided a countdown of what they believed were the top ten earning songs. Their number one was ‘Happy Birthday’, which they claimed had earned around £30m in publishing money since its disputed origins in the late nineteenth century.
If recent news stories are true, a hit song is worth far more than this. It was reported last week that BMG publishing have paid £10m to acquire the rights to the Kyboside Catalogue, which represents the works of a single songwriter, Kimberley Rew. Its value is primarily located in just one of his songs. Rew is the guitarist and principal songwriter writer for Katrina and the Waves. The group recorded the original of ‘Going Down to Liverpool’ and secured Britain’s last victory in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1997 with ‘Love Shine a Light’.
The jewel in his crown, however, is ‘Walking on Sunshine’. This is the song that BMG have paid all this money for. Alexi Cory-Smith, the company’s executive vice president, said ‘“Walking on a Sunshine’ is a classic copyright, an instantly recognisable song and a very powerful addition to our roster’. Their head of marketing & sync, Patrick Joest added, ‘The striking thing about “Walking On Sunshine” is its ability to work across virtually every medium from film to TV and advertising in – and in virtually any product category’.
But £10m? This wasn’t a number one record – when first released in 1985 it made it to number 8 in the UK charts and number 9 in the US - and Katrina and the Waves are some way off being inducted into any music industry hall of fame. There were even fears that the devastating hurricane Katrina of 2005 might have dented the song’s appeal. If ‘Walking on Sunshine’ is worth this much, what is the actual value of ‘Happy Birthday’? What about the Beatles hits, or of the Jewish Christmas classics that populated the rest of the BBC’s richest songs top ten? That said, it was always apparent that ‘Walking on Sunshine’ had something special. I was in one of my first bands when it came out. It was a song that my band mates loved. We discussed and we analysed it and we were jealous as hell. You always know when someone else has nailed it.