Ask Billboard: Instrumentals, Kelly Clarkson, Eagles

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

MORE THAN WORDS

Hi Gary,

I am compiling a list of songs from the '70s and '80s which are instrumentals, i.e. without anyone singing. Examples I thought of are "A Taste of Honey" and "Rise" by Herb Alpert, "A Fifth of Beethoven" by Walter Murphy, "Love's Theme" by Barry White, "Picking Up the Pieces" by AWB, "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams and "Popcorn" by Hot Butter. Can you think of any other hit instrumental songs from that era?

Thanks,

Lynn McKeag
Lincoln, Nebraska

Hi Lynn,

I can add a few, most notably hits from Kenny G. His biggest song on the Billboard Hot 100 was his first, 1987's "Songbird" (No. 4). The saxman later reached the top 20 with "Silhouette" (No. 13, 1989), "Forever in Love" (No. 18, 1993) and "Auld Lang Syne" (No. 7, 2000). The lattermost track became popular due to an edit featuring soundbites of historical events, although it was also released as a pure instrumental.

The other king of instrumentals that comes to mind is John Williams. Of his countless scores, his highest-charting Hot 100 hit was the No. 13-peaking "Theme From Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in 1978. (His landmark 1977 composition "Star Wars (Main Title)" was credited to the London Symphony Orchestra).

Other well-known instrumentals have likewise come from film or television. Michael Gore reached No. 5 on Adult Contemporary and No. 84 on the Hot 100 with "Theme From Terms of Endearment" in 1984.

In 1985, David Foster reached No. 15 on the Hot 100 and No. 3 on Adult Contemporary with "Love Theme From St. Elmo's Fire."

Hit instrumental TV themes include Mike Post's catalog:

"The Rockford Files" (No. 10 Hot 100, No. 16 AC, 1975)
"The Theme From Hill Street Blues" (No. 10 Hot 100, No. 4 AC, 1981)
"Theme From Magnum P.I." (No. 25 Hot 100, No. 40 AC, 1982)
"Theme From L.A. Law" (No. 13 AC, 1988)

Also from TV, Dave Gruisin's "Theme From St. Elsewhere" reached No. 15 on Adult Contemporary in 1984.

I'll leave it to fellow Ask Billboard readers to e-mail further hit instrumentals from the '70s and '80s. Also feel free to offer examples from the '90s and '00s, when dance/electronic instrumentals crossed over to pop radio and pop culture, such as Robert Miles' 1996 track "Children."

(I've always found it odd that in music, "vocal" and "instrumental" are considered opposite types of songs; if there is a vocal, the song is not an instrumental. In a general sense, the words are often synonymous, as one who is vocal tends to be instrumental in procuring a result. The English language can be fun, but confusing. No wonder some musicians avoid lyrics).

JUST DUET

Hello!

A few months back, reports/rumors were floating around the Internet stating that Kelly Clarkson and Daughtry had recorded a song together. However, no collaboration between the two artists appears on either of their newest albums. It seems like a match made in music heaven, and I am disappointed that I may never get to hear it. Can you shed any light on the status of the (potential) recording?

Thanks,

Chris Paulsen
Trenton, New Jersey

Hi Chris,

Producer Howard Benson actually posted a picture of himself, Clarkson and Chris Daughtry together in the studio in November, but according to online reports, the picture was quickly removed from his site.

I posed your question to sources at the RCA Music Group, Clarkson and Daughtry's label. The response was that RCA had no knowledge that such a duet exists, referring to it as an "urban legend."

Clarkson does have a current connection to another pop/rock group. "Already Gone" is the third single from her Billboard 200 No. 1 album "All I Ever Wanted." The original "Idol" queen co-wrote the cut with OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, who also produced the ballad. Ahead of its official add date, "Already Gone" is bubbling under the Pop Songs/Mainstream Top 40 chart.

EAGLES STILL HIGHEST?

Hey Gary,

With all the news about Michael Jackson's albums flying off the shelves lately, how close is "Thriller" to the Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975" in terms of U.S. sales?

Thanks,

Mark Campise
Williamsville, New York

Hi Mark,

Billboard Senior Retail Correspondent Ed Christman covers this exact topic in the Billboard issue dated July 25. His story is also available to subscribers at our sister site, billboard.biz, which is more focused on the business angles of the music industry. Because it so clearly explains the Jackson-Eagles battle, I'll reprint the feature here:

For nearly a decade, the Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975" has been the recording industry's ultimate evergreen release, certified by the RIAA as the all-time best-selling album in the United States. But thanks to continued robust demand for Michael Jackson's catalog following his June 25 death, "Thriller" appears on the verge of matching "Their Greatest Hits," at least in the eyes of the industry trade group.

In March, the RIAA certified "Thriller" as 28 times platinum, meaning that at least 28 million copies of the album have been shipped since its 1982 release. That's just a notch behind the Eagles' hits compilation, which was released in 1976 and was certified 29 times platinum in 2006.

Billboard estimates that the posthumous surge in Jackson's sales and Sony Music Entertainment's efforts to push Jackson CDs into the distribution pipeline have likely pushed shipments of Jackson product, if not yet sales, beyond the 29 million-unit mark in the United States.

Amid the recent explosion in Jackson sales, "Thriller" has enjoyed the second-biggest sales bump in his catalog, just behind the hits collection "Number Ones." During the three weeks that ended July 12, "Thriller" sold 552,000 U.S. copies, for year-to-date sales of 608,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Most industry executives believe that the most recent SoundScan week-which included the widely watched memorial service for Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles-will mark a posthumous weekly peak for Jackson sales. But they also expect that sales will wind down slowly in the next few months, which means sales will remain strong. In the week that ended July 12, Jackson's album catalog sold a combined 1.1 million copies, up from nearly 800,000 in the prior week and 422,000 in the week he died.

At the time of his death, many U.S. retailers were short of Jackson CDs as they awaited Sony's previously announced price reduction on many of its catalog titles, including 13 Jackson albums (Billboard, July 11).

As Sony caught up with demand and supplied brick-and-mortar stores with Jackson product, digital album sales continued to account for a shrinking share of Jackson's overall sales. For the week ending July 12, the four top-selling Jackson albums-"Number Ones," "Thriller," "The Essential Michael Jackson" and "Off the Wall"-combined to sell 82,000 digital albums, only 9.5% of the week's Jackson album total, down sharply from 16.8% of sales in the prior week and 56.4% in the week before that.

"Thriller" and "Their Greatest Hits" were instant hits. The RIAA first certified "Thriller" platinum in January 1983, just two months after its release, while "Their Greatest Hits" was certified platinum in February 1976, mere days after it arrived.

Propelled by groundbreaking videos for the singles "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and the title track, "Thriller" reached the 20 million certification milestone in October 1984, becoming the RIAA's top-selling album of all time. The album's next RIAA certification, at 21 times platinum, came in May 1990. The RIAA's certification of "Thriller" as 28 times platinum in March came 13 months after Sony's release of a deluxe 25th-anniversary edition of the album.

The RIAA's second certification of shipments of the Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits" didn't occur until August 1990, when it certified the release as 12 times platinum. The RIAA couldn't immediately explain why the album wasn't certified at earlier platinum milestones, or why it was next certified at 14 times platinum in December 1993, and for 22 times in June 1995, despite U.S. sales of only 919,000 during that period. When the RIAA certified "Their Greatest Hits" as 26 times platinum in November 1999, it unseated "Thriller" at the top of the RIAA's all-time ranking.

Since being certified as 29 times platinum in January 2006, "Their Greatest Hits" has sold 404,000 copies, including 33,000 this year and 115,000 in 2008.

Whether Jackson's reclaiming a share of the top spot in the RIAA ranking will mean anything in terms of marketing isn't clear. Representatives at Sony and Warner Music Group, which distributes "Their Greatest Hits," declined to comment.

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