It’s easy to imagine Donna Lewis cringing at the mere mention of “Macarena.”
The monster dance hit by Los del Rio is the only thing that has kept Lewis’ catchy debut single, “I Love You Always Forever,” from reigning over Billboard’s Hot 100 chart the last two months.
Lewis, a former flute teacher from Cardiff, Wales, has had to settle for record-setting radio airplay - “I Love You Always Forever” has set new standards for audience saturation - and the No. 2 chart position behind a single that dominates the U.S. sales chart and has spawned an international dance craze.
But Lewis, a singer-songwriter who spent more than 10 years singing Top 40 hits in touring bands and performing in piano bars before signing with Atlantic Records, is hardly complaining.
“To have a top 5 hit in the States is incredible,” she says enthusiastically. “Of course, after you get to No. 2, there’s always that little hope that you’ll go to No. 1.
“But I’ve kind of resigned myself to the fact that they’re selling so many records every week. I don’t think I’m going to match that. So, being No. 2 isn’t so bad.”
Especially when your song is so clearly No. 1 among radio programmers. According to Broadcast Data Systems, which combines total number of spins with Arbitron ratings to determine audience saturation, “I Love You Always Forever” was heard by a record 100 million radio listeners last week. (The No. 2 most-played song, Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” reached 64 million, according to BDS, while “Macarena” was heard by 19 million.)
“It bridges the gap of all niches of music,” said music director Tracy Austin at KIIS-FM here, explaining radio’s love of the ethereal first single from Lewis’ “Now in a Minute” album. “You can’t really pin it down. It’s not white and it’s not black. It’s just a very likable record - the perfect pop sound.”
Andrea Ganis, executive vice president of promotion at Atlantic, says she was knocked out by the record on first listen.
“I just freaked out,” she says. “I thought, ‘There’s no cooler girls’ song out there right now.’ “
Originally titled “Lydia,” the song was inspired by H.E. Bates’ romance novel “Love for Lydia.” In fact, Lewis lifted the chorus - “I love you always forever, near and far closer together” - straight from the book.
The song includes no reference to Lydia, so Atlantic talked Lewis into changing the name. By any name, the song has touched a nerve among listeners.
“Radio stations across the country keep telling us the same thing over and over,” Ganis says. “They play it and, almost overnight, it’s their most requested song. Maybe it’s because things have been so dark lately in pop and then along comes a record that everybody can sing along to. It’s almost like a catharsis for a lot of people.”
For Lewis, 30, it’s all a bit overwhelming at times.
“As soon as I finished it, I knew this was a really good pop song,” she said, “but never in my wildest dreams did I envision this.”
Val Azzoli, co-chairman and co-CEO of the Atlantic Group, said the company must guard against the song dwarfing the singer.
“We have to establish her as an artist,” the executive said. “We probably have three or four singles on this album, so we’ve got to get people to start (looking) into the rest of this record.
“I would love to have a No. 1 single, but I’m more concerned about getting the album to No. 1.”
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