Why Reply All’s “Case of the Missing Hit” Was the Greatest Work of Pop Culture in 2020
The year 2020 has offered some great movies, some great TV, and some great music, all of it helping each of us to persevere during one of the most trying years in history.
But there’s one bit of pop culture that has every one of those things beat, and it’s a podcast episode.
I’m talking about “The Case of the Missing Hit,” an episode of the podcast Reply/All that debuted on March 5, and was an instant masterpiece.
Reply/All is a podcast that looks at weird corners of Internet culture, and the episode was kind of a quintessential one: A man named Tyler, a filmmaker from California, remembers a pop song from his youth, but can’t remember who did it or where it came from.
Tyler’s able to remember the melody and most of the lyrics, but he has no idea what the song is called or who wrote it. And despite the many amenities available to music fans today, from Shazam to Genius.com to the ability to Google lyrics, there’s just about no evidence on the entire Internet that this song ever existed. Except for one obscure forum, that has the lyrics but no context for them.
The Reply/All hosts try to help Tyler, at one point even hiring a band to re-record the song. It’s obvious, from his recollections, that the verses are blatantly ripping off Barenaked Ladies and the chorus sounds a lot like “All That We Can’t Leave Behind”-era U2, but not even BNL’s ex-frontman Steve Page can remember the song.
I won’t give away the ending – except to say that it’s happy – but what’s so great about the episode is the execution. It plays the recording of Tyler’s remembrance over and over again, to the point where you’re likely to get the song in your head just by listening to the episode. I listened to it again a few days ago and I still have it in my head.
It was also so relatable. It might not happen to that degree, but we all get snippets of long-ago songs in our heads at times.
Another important aspect of the episode? The timing of its release. It came out in early March, right as coronavirus was reaching America, and the lockdowns began later that month. “The Case of the Missing Hit” gave people something to be happy about, at a time when there wasn’t much else.