We may scoff at the very idea of Billboard’s ignominious Ringtones chart, but mobile phones are one of only three viable revenue channels musicians have left these days (the other two being commercial licensing and crooked charities). And by now, they’re probably a major A&R concern — label suits used to sit through album playbacks and listen for singles, but now they listen to singles and try to pick out ringtones.
(My ringtone has always been “Return of the Mack,” but I guess I never paid for it — I still can’t believe people pay for these things. Does that mean I’m taking money out of Mark Morrison’s pocket every time my phone rings? No, because Mark Morrison doesn’t have any money in his pocket.)
1. RIHANNA, “RUDE BOY” | You’ve gotta be careful when your ringtone is an unabashed declaration of sexual availability. It might sound sexy coming from your purse on Saturday night, but remember to switch it off during the daytime — on Sunday afternoon, when grandpa’s weathered face pops up on your caller ID, you don’t want your phone blasting, “Come on rude boy, can you get it up?”
2. LADY ANTEBELLUM, “NEED YOU NOW” | This one’s the longest-running track on the Ringtones chart — its drunken, ex-baiting pathos has been weeping from our phones for 28 weeks now. Which might mean it’s a pretty good gauge of the national mood. Maybe President Obama can tap into the zeitgeist for a Reagan-style campaign ad: “It’s a quarter after one in America, and we’re drunker, sadder, and lonelier.”
3. LUDACRIS FEAT. NICKI MINAJ, “MY CHICK BAD” | In my estimation, this could be an all-time ringtone classic. First, it’s a nice little boast that lets you feel like a pimp whenever your phone rings. Second, the chopped and screwed chorus makes a nice loop. Most important, though, Nicki Minaj sounds exactly like Crazy Frog.
4. JUSTIN BIEBER FEAT. LUDACRIS, “BABY” | No surprise that this one’s a hit — I bet tween girls are begging for cell phones just so they can use this as the tone. Also, for creepy old chicken hawks, this ringtone just surpassed the maximum vibrate setting as the most enticing phone feature to shove in your pants.
5. YOUNG MONEY FEAT. LLOYD, “BEDROCK” | Using this as your ringtone is like wearing one of those “Big Johnson” shirts: it’s corny and passé, and in the unlikely event that it tricks someone into sleeping with you, it’ll beget only disappointment.
6. DRAKE, “OVER” | A fairly new entry, but selling big because anything that says “Drake” on it is gonna shift a million units this year. (Duck decoys are flying off the shelves.) It’ll cool down once everyone notices that it has the single least catchy chorus in the history of recorded music. Did he jack the tune from something off Scott Walker’s Drift?
7. USHER, “HEY DADDY” | Jesus, what a faintly disquieting track. Here’s a little guideline for songwriters: the freakier your sex jam, the less literally paternal you should make your “daddy” references. Usher, however, crossed that fine line between sex jam and sex-offender jam. Not recommended for ringtone use.
8. TRAIN, “HEY, SOUL SISTER” | Try this one out if “default ring” is a little too rowdy and ethnic for you.