Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary at askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


CATALOG VS. CURRENT, CONTINUED

Dear Gary,

Billboard defends the omission last week of Michael Jackson owning the top three positions on the Billboard 200, since they were catalog titles. I know the charts are designed as tools for the industry, but Billboard's charts also have a history and legacy that people refer back to years later. Jackson has made history the past two weeks, but how will this be perceived in a historical context?

The problem is not the omission of the Jackson albums, but the title of the chart itself. "The Billboard 200" sounds absolute, anything goes, and, hence, mainly the reason, I would guess, for the heavy criticism Billboard has been receiving in reader comments below chart news stories. Perhaps "The Billboard 200" should be renamed "Top Contemporary Albums." Then, no one could question the Jackson albums being ineligible to chart.

The industry should have three main album charts to look at: Contemporary, Catalog, and Comprehensive (the three Cs).

Sincerely,

Richard K. Rogers
Astoria, New York

Hi Richard,

Billboard's decision not to allow Jackson's catalog titles (and, of course, all catalog titles, those defined as 18 months old or older) on the Billboard 200 following his passing has generated more Ask Billboard e-mails than any other recent topic. Thanks also to Paul Kotwas of Walden, New York, Steve Mauchline of Auckland, New Zealand, Simone Del Nero of Vasto, Chieti, Italy and Chris Feldman of Dubuque, Iowa, for passing along especially detailed comments.

Again this week, I turned to Billboard Director of Charts Silvio Pietroluongo, for further clarification of Billboard's present stance on the matter of catalog vs. current titles on our charts:

"Billboard's defense is actually an adherence to the rules that have been in place for nearly 20 years. Up until the past two weeks, they have really never been questioned. What has occurred following Jackson's death - a catalog title outselling the top-selling current album - is unprecedented, and it has led to us re-evaluate whether these long-standing rules have a place in today's musical landscape.

"If we would have made a snap judgment last week and opened up the Billboard 200 to Jackson's titles, it would have been celebrated by a large portion of our readers; I understand that. But, we could not allow just Jackson's older titles to chart. We would have to lift the catalog rule for all catalog albums, which would bring nearly 60 older titles onto the Billboard 200 at the expense of new and active titles and artists.

"As for your statement that the charts were designed as tools for the industry, that may have been 100% true some time back. Billboard has evolved into just as large of a consumer brand as a business-to-business one, and we need to make decisions that make the most sense for our publication to keep both sectors happy and engaged with the charts that we present.

"In light of the current rules in place, I think Billboard has done its best to represent, both in our charts (Top Comprehensive Albums, Top Pop Catalog) and editorial coverage, that Jackson has had the top-selling album in the country the past two weeks. Will history of the Billboard 200 show this activity years from now? No, and as a chart fan for many years, that is troubling to me.

"Billboard has, however, survived and adapted to these omissions in the past. Consider that in the mid-'90s, promoted but not commercially-released album cuts such as No Doubt's "Don't Speak" were not allowed on the Billboard Hot 100. As it became clear that label practices were changing, we realized that the chart was simply not showing all the biggest hits, and we removed the requirement of commercial availability for a title to appear on the Hot 100.

"With the type of feedback we're receiving from passionate fans such as yourself, as well as members of the music industry, we will, of course, make changes to any and all of our charts as needed in the near future."

SEEKING SPEARS' SALES

Hi Gary,

I've been trying to find up-to-date sales figures for Britney Spears' albums, and you're the only source I could find that might be able to help. Could you please provide sales data of her albums?

Thanks!

Mark Smith
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Hi Mark,

Should Britney Spears' "Radar" debut on the Mainstream Top 40 radio airplay chart next week, which looks likely based on the format's building chart, Spears will take sole ownership of most entries on the tally this decade. She's currently tied with Nelly, each with 20 charted titles in that span.

As we wait to confirm that feat, here is a look at the hefty sales figures of Spears' charted albums on the Billboard 200, according to Nielsen SoundScan:

10,534,000, "...Baby One More Time," 1999 (No. 1, six weeks)
9,184,000, "Oops!...I Did It Again," 2000 (No. 1, one week)
4,336,000, "Britney," 2001 (No. 1, one week)
2,970,000, "In the Zone," 2003 (No. 1, one week)
1,575,000, "Circus," 2008 (No. 1, one week)
1,347,000, "Greatest Hits: My Prerogative," 2004 (No. 4)
967,000, "Blackout," 2007 (No. 2)
100,000, "B in the Mix: The Remixes," 2005 (No. 134)

'WINGS' AND OTHER FLIGHTS

Hi Gary,

First, I want to say what a great job you and everyone at Billboard are doing. With Chart Beat items now appearing on Wednesdays, in addition to the column's traditional Thursday postings, I really like having some chart news a day early.

My question is in light of Maxwell's return. What are his biggest Adult R&B hits? Also, when he recently debuted on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at No. 22 with "Pretty Wings," it marked the chart's best start since Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" (No. 20). What are the highest debuts on the chart this decade?

Thanks for all the analysis, and keep up the good work!

Lawrence Jones
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Hi Lawrence,

Thanks very much. With Chart Beat now posting on multiple days, you'll only find more beats on Billboard's dance charts! (Don't look for my material on our Top Comedy Albums chart any time soon ...)

Maxwell's "Pretty Wings" this week rebounds for a second week atop the Adult R&B airplay chart. Here is a rundown of the Brooklyn, New York-born singer's eight top 10 titles among his 14 chart entries dating to 1996:

No. 1 (18 weeks, most in the chart's history), "Fortunate," 1999
No. 1 (15 weeks), "Lifetime," 2001
No. 1 (2 weeks), "Pretty Wings," 2009
No. 2, "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)," 1996
No. 2, "This Woman's Work," 2002
No. 2, "Get to Know Ya," 2001
No. 2, "Luxury: Cocochure," 1998
No. 10, "Sumthin' Sumthin'," 1997

Maxwell's new album, "BLACKsummers'night," was released Tuesday (July 7) and is set to make a high entrance on next week's Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. His last album, "Now" in 2001, became his first No. 1 on each survey.

Regarding the second part of your question, here are the top debuts on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs this decade:

No. 14, "Love in This Club Part II," Usher featuring Beyonce & Lil Wayne, 2008
No. 16, "Lovers & Friends," Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz featuring Usher & Ludacris, 2004
No. 17, "Same Girl," R. Kelly Duet With Usher, 2007
No. 20, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," Beyonce, 2008
No. 20, "Show Me What You Got," Jay-Z, 2006
No. 20, "She Bi Ice," Mizzle, 2006
No. 21, "Sister," Scoundrel Squad featuring Bun-B, 2006
No. 22, "Pretty Wings," Maxwell, 2009

UP, DOWN, 'SIDEWAYS'

Hi Gary,

With Dierks Bentley's "Sideways" at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs for a second week, and looking over past archives of No. 1s, I have concluded that "Sideways" is the 18th song to ascend to the top of the chart this year. That makes for the highest turnover rate of No. 1s at this point on the calendar since the chart converted to Nielsen BDS monitored data in 1990. Previously in the BDS era, the year with the most turnover between January and the chart week ending July 22 (this week's charts are dated July 18) was 1995, when 17 songs ascended to No. 1 in that stretch.

Thanks,

John Maverick
Burt County, Nebraska

Hi John,

Your insightful dissection of Hot Country Songs is always appreciated.

Country radio is, indeed, rotating more No. 1s this year. While 18 songs have risen to the top so far in 2009, 12 had done so as of this date a year ago.

Additionally notable is that this year the song to stay on top the longest is Darius Rucker's "It Won't Be Like This for Long," which spent three weeks at No. 1 in March and April. We're only halfway through 2009, of course, but if no song bests Rucker's run, it would mark the first year since 1996 that no title began a chart-topping run of more than three weeks. Only one track, in fact, did so last year: Brad Paisley's "Letter to Me" (four weeks in February).


NEW KIDS

Ask Billboard closes this week with a submission from my former "Radio & Records" co-worker Steve Resnik in Los Angeles, who shares his favorite Michael Jackson-related story about his good friend, the late Tom Noonan. (As Billboard's Director of Charts in the mid-'50s, Noonan pestered his boss, Bill Littleford, believing that, with rock and roll burgeoning, the music industry required one definitive list of the nation's top-selling and most-played songs on radio each week. In August 1958, his idea - the Billboard Hot 100 - became a reality).

From Steve:

"Tom Noonan, who passed away in 2007 at age 78, worked at Billboard from 1949 to 1968. He returned in 1973 and remained through 1990.

"In between, one of the positions he held was Vice President, Marketing for Motown Records, beginning in 1968. On his fifth day in Motown's Detroit office, Motown founder Berry Gordy said to him, 'Tom, I know you're just getting started in your new job, but I need you to rent a big van tomorrow and go to the airport and pick up this new kid group from Gary, Indiana. It's their first ever travel by air. They might be a little freaked out.

" 'I've heard their tapes and don't intend to sign them, but Diana (Ross) is begging me to have them audition for me. So, bring them by my boat house, and then we'll send them back home.'

"Their equipment was late, and Tom spent three hours at the airport and all day and next with the young and dynamic quintet.

"Before they returned to Indiana, Gordy had signed the Jackson 5 to Motown Records."