Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at [email protected]. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.
CATALOG VS. CURRENT
As a follower of the Billboard charts since the early '70s, I must say that I am totally disgusted that Billboard would allow the fourth-biggest selling album of the week to claim the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200.
I have read time and again your reasons for having a catalog chart and I have also watched time and again as Billboard has changed policies so that the charts would better reflect what records were selling and what radio was playing. If ever there was a week to change the rules, it would be this week, when three albums - Michael Jackson's "Number Ones," "The Essential Michael Jackson" and "Thriller" - outsold the title listed as No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (the Black Eyed Peas' "The E.N.D.)".
When we look back at chart records and chart history, we turn to the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard 200, not any of the catalog or recurrent charts. To watch "Essential" go down in history as a No. 96 album and "Number Ones" as a No. 13 album (each release's peak on the Billboard 200) when they were the two top-selling albums this week is so ridiculous.
Justify it however you may, but Billboard just lost about 50 years of credibility with its refusal to do the right thing. The best-selling album for the week should always be the No. 1 album for the week, regardless of when it was released.
I am thoroughly disgusted at how Billboard's credibility has taken such a dive after I've spent so many years looking to it as the authoritative chart source in the music industry.
Despite your disagreeing with certain Billboard possibilities, thanks for your impassioned e-mail. It represents several submitted to "Ask Billboard" this week and mirrors many comments posted by readers below some of our news stories about the charts since Jackson's passing.
While it's certainly fair to wonder why the top-selling album in the U.S. this week does not perch atop the Billboard 200, it's important to remember that the Billboard 200 and the Billboard Hot 100 are designed to be current-based charts that show readers - industry professionals and music fans alike - the top hits among current product.
The charts are, ultimately, tools for gauging how current releases are faring against one another. Sales charts that included catalog titles would dilute such a view, while airplay charts that included older titles would house certain gold titles for years, in certain cases. Case in point: Rod Stewart's 1988 hit "Forever Young" this week received more plays at adult contemporary radio than all but the top 14 songs on the current Adult Contemporary chart. Including such a title would not, for instance, be helpful to record labels comparing the performances of new titles or radio programmers deciding which new songs to add to their playlists.
As a result, Billboard creates a host of weekly catalog sales charts and recurrent airplay charts which rank sales and airplay, respectively, of older titles.
For the definitive word in Billboard's chart policies, I asked Director of Charts Silvio Pietroluongo. Here is his explanation of why Jackson's top-selling sets this week were not included on our current-based surveys:
"Current albums have been the sole focus of the Billboard 200's rankings for nearly 20 years. Michael Jackson's sales activity this past week was extraordinary and certainly news that Billboard has touted extensively in our pages, on our websites and in interviews conducted by our staff across media outlets domestically and internationally.
"Billboard is not denying the fact that Michael Jackson has the three top-selling albums in the country this week - far from it. The titles were just not eligible to chart on our current-based Billboard 200. It is for situations such as this that Billboard earlier this decade created the Top Comprehensive Albums chart, where Jackson ranks at Nos. 1 through 3 this week.
"To change our charting rules regarding catalog titles in this case would not do justice to the other catalog titles this week and in the past that have sold enough to chart on the Billboard 200."
MICHAEL JACKSON & MADONNA
I recall reading in the '90s that Michael Jackson and Madonna attempted to collaborate on the song "In the Closet" from the former's album "Dangerous" but could not reach an agreement. Do you know who the female voice credited as "Mystery Girl" might be? Is it Madonna?
Luis A. Gonzalez
You're correct that two of pop music's heaviest hitters at the time wound up not combining forces on "In the Closet." Still, the song features another notable name. "Mystery Girl" was, believe it or not, Princess Stephanie of Monaco (as noted in Joel Whitburn's "Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits"), who pursued a music career in the late '80s/early '90s. In the song's video, supermodel Naomi Campbell lip-synched the "Mystery Girl" vocals.
But why take my word on the matter? View this YouTube clip in which Madonna herself discussed details of the proposed partnership.
Regardless, "In the Closet" became a big hit for Jackson, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in 1992.
MICHAEL JACKSON & KANYE WEST
Regarding Michael Jackson, what an incredible musical legacy! The first pop and R&B tunes I ever knew were those of the Jackson 5, as well as Stevie Wonder. (In fact, I recently purchased a CD called "Stevie Wrote It." It features tunes that Wonder had written for others or that were covered by others, and Jackson was on the roster. Nice that Wonder, too, is currently on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs thanks to his harmonica solo on Raphael Saadiq's "Never Give You Up"). This isn't so much of an "Ask Billboard" question, but more a fun trivia missive. Four weeks ago, "Knock You Down" by Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo rose to the top of Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. When that happened, it became the third No. 1 on that chart by Kanye West that references Michael Jackson: "Slow Jamz" (2004) by Twista featuring Kanye West & Jamie Foxx, "She got a light-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson / Got a dark-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson" "Gold Digger" (2005) by Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx, "She walking around looking like Michael with your money" "Knock You Down," "This is 'Bad,' real 'Bad,' Michael Jackson" Kanye West has other musical connections to Jackson: - He co-wrote/produced Jay-Z's "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" in 2001, which sampled the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" - He sampled Jackson's "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" on his collaboration with T-Pain, "Good Life" - He remixed Jackson's "Billie Jean" for the 25th anniversary re-release of "Thriller"
Very insightful of you to connect the dots to Jackson's influence on numerous R&B/hip-hop hits.
It may be of comfort to fans that, even before this week's record-breaking feats on various Billboard charts, Jackson went out on top of a current-based all-format chart, thanks to "Knock You Down." On the Hot 100 Airplay chart (dated July 4) compiled last Wednesday (June 24), the day before his passing, "Knock You Down" rose to the list's summit. Thus, at the time he left us, Jackson was a part of the most-heard song on radio in the U.S.
One last thrill for the thriller who made the Billboard charts home for 40 of his 50 years.