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Ask Billboard: Sam Smith Triples Up In The Top 40
Is the pop singer/songwriter the first British act to place three songs in the top 40 at back-to-back-to-back ranks? A trip through Hot 100 history reveals the answer
As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet questions to Gary Trust: @gthot20
SAM SMITH TRIPLES UP IN THE TOP 40
I notice that Sam Smith occupies three consecutive positions on this week's Billboard Hot 100 (dated June 7, 2014): Nos. 29, 30 and 31. He's the lead artist on only one of the songs, but he's the sole singer on (and co-wrote) all three: Disclosure's "Latch," on which he's featured, climbs from No. 36 to No. 29; Naughty Boy's No. 19-peaking "La La La," on which he also sports featured billing, drops from No. 27 to No. 30; and "Stay With Me," from his debut album "In the Lonely Hour," jumps from No. 49 to No. 31.
Unlike Iggy Azalea, he obviously hasn't matched one of the Beatles' chart records, since they famously were the entire top five in one week, but I wonder: is he the only British act, other than the Beatles, to occupy as many as three consecutive positions in the top 40 on the same Hot 100?
I have a feeling he might be, because such achievements have surely become more attainable only in recent years, as featured vocalists and rappers have become more commonplace.
All the very best,
Portland, Dorset, United Kingdom
Fun observation, and one that other astute chart-watchers noticed this week (including Christopher Brisson of Los Angeles, who sent a similar insightful email). Hearing the same artist on three consecutive songs on "American Top 40" would likely irk radio programmers, for whom artist repetition too quickly is an on-air sin, but it makes for a fun chart quirk.
There was no simple way to research how many times an artist had ranked back-to-back-to-back on the Hot 100 other than, by using the charts department's archive system, checking all the occurrences of acts charting three songs in the Hot 100's top 40 at once. The data didn't show where those songs ranked, however, so it was a matter of then pulling up every chart cited.
Thirty-one pages of research later … I had my answers (and had made a fun trip back through Hot 100 history; who remembered that Plies once occupied three spots in the top 40 at the same time?)
So, is Sam Smith the first British act since the Beatles with three consecutive songs in the Hot 100's top 40? Let's recap all the artists that have earned the honor. Notably, the Beatles having monopolized the top five on April 4, 1964 (details below), shows that the higher such a cluster occurs, the more impressive it is. If an act holds, say, Nos. 34-36 in a week, it's more a matter of luck.
Still, it's an incredible accomplishment to hit the top 40 at all. So, to chart three hits in the region at once, as Smith does this week, is impressive threefold.
Here are all the instances of acts ranking in three straight spots in the top 40 on the Hot 100.
The Beatles (March 28, April 4, 25, 1964)
The Fab Four not only tripled up before anyone else, but blocked any other act from the top four on March 28, 1964. The following week, they set the standard in charting consecutively (and at the highest ranks possible) by locking up Nos. 1-5 with, respectively, "Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me." Three weeks later, they populated the top three (with "Buy," "Twist" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret" at Nos. 1-3, in that order).
The Beatles' feats reflected such chart supremacy that no act has matched them in the half-century since. After their strangleholds atop the Hot 100, no artist placed three songs consecutively even in the top 40 for more than 40 years.
Usher (Sept. 11, 2004)
He claimed the same three spots that Smith does this week: "My Boo," with Alicia Keys, was the Hot Shot Debut at No. 29, while former No. 1s "Yeah!" (featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris) and "Burn" fell to Nos. 30 and 31, respectively. It seemed only a matter of time that Usher would chart three-in-a-row in 2004, as he ruled for 19 consecutive weeks with the latter two hits from that Feb. 28 through July 17. Then, he'd wrap the last two weeks of July with the No. 1 "Confessions Part II." By the end of his uncommonly dominant year, "My Boo" would rule for six weeks.
Like the Beatles, Usher (born in Dallas) ranked in three consecutive rungs as a lead on all three titles.
Akon (May 12, 19, 2007)
Not only did Akon become the first act since the Beatles to go back-to-back-to-back for more than a week, but he also became the first to do so since the iconic band in the top 10. On May 19, 2007, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "I Tried," featuring Akon, lifted 11-9, ranking in between his own "Don't Matter" (9-8) and Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape" (10-10), also featuring Akon.
2007 was a huge year for the St. Louis-born artist of Senegalese descent: of his 13 total top 10s, seven spent time in the top 10 between that January and August.
T-Pain (Oct. 13, Nov. 24, 2007)
As you note, Robin, the proliferation of rappers boasting featured roles in recent years has increased, and T-Pain (from Florida) twice tripled up with featured billings. On Oct. 13, 2007, his guest turns on Plies' "Shawty," Baby Bash's "Cyclone" and Kanye West's "Good Life" charted at Nos. 16-18.
The next month, with "Life" and "Cyclone" at Nos. 7 and 8, he helped introduce a fellow Sunshine State rapper: Flo Rida's "Low," featuring T-Pain, blasted 64-6 on its way to a 10-week reign.
Nicki Minaj (Nov. 19, Dec. 10, 2011)
Rapper/singer Minaj, meanwhile, scored a three-peat via two lead roles and one featured credit. On Nov. 19, 2011, she held No. 20 with her "Super Bass" and No. 22 with "Fly," featuring Rihanna. In between at No. 21, she appeared as a guest on Big Sean's "Dance (A$$)."
Three weeks later, Minaj (born in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago) placed the same songs, in a different order, at Nos. 18-20.
Eminem (Nov. 16, 2013)
With "Berzerk," "Survival" and "Rap God" at Nos. 15-17 that week, Eminem became the first act since the Beatles to chart three consecutive ranks as a lead artist without any featured artists. He attained the honor by way of a modern model: by releasing preview tracks weekly (along with radio single "Berzerk") leading up to a new album ("The Marshall Mathers LP 2").
(Eminem hails from St. Joseph, Mo.)
So, we're almost up to this week … and no British act since the Beatles has claimed three straight positions in the Hot 100's top 40.
… Is Sam Smith the only other such artist?
One Direction (Dec. 7, 2013)
Like Eminem, 1D charted three-in-a-row thanks to the rollout of album preview tracks, as, that week, "Diana" debuted at No. 11; the title track from the group's current album, "Midnight Memories," bowed at No. 12; and proper single "Story of My Life" held at No. 13.
As for whether Smith is the first British act to earn the honor since the Beatles … it seems up for interpretation. Four-fifths of One Direction is from England; Niall Horan is from Ireland.
Sam Smith (June 7, 2014)
… Smith is, inarguably, the first all-British act since the Beatles with three songs in the Hot 100's top 40 in the same week (having been born in London on May 19, 1992). And, he's doing so, like the Beatles, with three radio hits (as opposed to promotional digital singles alongside a new album). On the current Pop Songs radio chart, "La La La" ranks at No. 14, after reaching No. 10; "Latch" lifts 22-21; and "Stay With Me" surges 29-24 in its second week.
On New York's Pop Songs reporter WNOW (the New 92.3 Amp Radio), for instance, in the Nielsen BDS tracking week ending May 25, "Latch" played 90 times, "La" logged 48 plays and "Stay" spiked 10 times, including during the key midday and afternoon drive shifts. (Smith is also scoring airplay at formats including adult pop, adult R&B and adult alternative.)
Interestingly, the three songs show three different sides of Smith; "La" is mid/uptempo pop, with playful lyrics about denial; "Latch" shuffles at an EDM slow burn; and "Stay With Me" is a pleading, gospel-tinged ballad. Still, each song showcases Smith's unique and enviable vocal range.
Smith's star should only continue to rise, with "In the Lonely Hour" due June 17 in the U.S. ("La" topped the Official U.K. Singles chart a year ago [June 8, 2013]; he marks the anniversary by debuting "Stay" at No. 1 this week.) Smith scored an earlier breakthrough as the musical guest on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" March 29 episode, hosted by Louis C.K. Upcoming TV appearances include ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The View." Capitol Records has just released a remix of "Stay" featuring Mary J. Blige, while "Leave Your Lover" adds to his Hot 100 haul this week, debuting at No. 92.
Smith has also announced a North American tour beginning on Sept. 15 in Boston. He'll play, among other cities, New York (Sept. 19), Chicago (22) and Los Angeles (30), before wrapping in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 10.
"I've never been in a relationship before and I really wanted to make an album that was about love, but different forms of love, so, unrequited love and loneliness," Smith says of the unifying theme of "In the Lonely Hour."
"I've been brutally honest in the album."