Fred and his readers discuss Karen Carpenter, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven," Yael Naim and more!
Feb. 4, 2008, marked the 25th anniversary of the death of my favorite singer of all time, Karen Carpenter. I also wrote to you on the 20th anniversary, and you posted my letter. I believe that what I wrote then is still applicable today.
To sum up, fans of the Carpenters, and the late Karen in particular, will always miss the beautiful person that was Karen Carpenter. Her voice was pure, angelic and soothing. She was one of a few singers whose voice was instantly recognizable upon hearing just one note. And listening to her singing could easily evoke chills: consider "Ave Maria," "Solitaire" and "You're the One," for example.
I always grieve for the songs never sung, but I am always grateful for the vast catalog of songs that were recorded. And, since Karen's passing, Richard has done a great job in keeping their music alive, with all the releases, here and abroad, of hits compilations and so forth.
And, for me personally, the music of the Carpenters is also a vital link to my youth. I will never tire of the Carpenters' music, highlighted by Karen's amazing voice.
Thank you for the music, Karen, and rest in peace.
James J. Peters
I remember your e-mail of five years ago, which I suppose is a comment on how time is speeding by. Thank you for the remembrance and I'm sure Carpenters fans all over the world share your sentiments.
I still recall how I learned of Karen's passing. I was living in London in 1983, and late on Feb. 4 I was calling a family member at home when I misdialed and called a friend instead. Long-time Chart Beat readers will recognize the name of that friend: Paul Grein, now my predecessor at Billboard though at that time he was still the original author of Chart Beat.
The first thing Paul said was, "I guess you heard the news." I hadn't heard any news, so I had no idea what he was talking about. The most devoted Carpenters fan I knew, Paul assumed I was calling because I had heard of Karen's death. I had to confess that not only hadn't I heard, I thought I was calling my aunt. I suppose fate stepped in and had me call Paul instead so I could be there for him, even though I was 5,000 miles away.
On another topic, in this space I often mention artists who have made chart history. This week, James, you make Chart Beat history. See the next e-mail to find out how.
A CHART BEAT FIRST
I want to thank you for the comprehensive and insightful response to the interesting question posed by Mark L. Hotz regarding Led Zeppelin. I think that many rock fans and chart fanatics, to say nothing of Led Zeppelin fans, have wondered about this often. I know I have.
It almost seems unconscionable that the classic "Stairway to Heaven," an easy favorite in the minds of fans for best rock song ever, never charted and thus never got chart recognition, despite the massive cumulative sales for the album. Nevertheless, we can be sure all that glitters is gold.
James J. Peters
It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while I receive two e-mails from the same reader in one week. Even if both are Chart Beat Chat-worthy, I usually select just one of the letters to post in the column. In the 12-year history of Chart Beat Chat, you are the first person to have two letters published in the same column. And that's how you made Chart Beat history.
You weren't the only person to write a follow-up missive regarding Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" this week, but I do appreciate your letting me know that you enjoyed the response. For another point of view of the "Stairway," see the next e-mail.
WHEN SINGLES WERE SINGLES
Last week a reader asked a question about Led Zeppelin's smash track "Stairway to Heaven." Until about a year ago, I was also under the impression that "Stairway" hit No. 1 on all possible charts it could chart on. As with "Stairway," artists like Green Day, Gwen Stefani [No Doubt] and Sugar Ray would have had hit singles (like "When I Come Around" and "Don't Speak," for instance) but they weren't allowed to chart. How come? If they were able to chart I do believe Green Day would be one of the most successful music groups of the '90s as they would have had a string of hits on the Hot 100.
In December, it will be 10 years since the Hot 100 chart rules were changed to allow airplay-only titles on the chart. Prior to Dec. 5, 1998, a song was only eligible for the Hot 100 if a physical, commercial single was available for consumers to purchase. The new rules have been in place so long that it may now seem strange that those rules existed, but trust me, prior to December 1998, the concept of a song charting on the Hot 100 without a single component available was equally strange - maybe more so.
The Hot 100 was 40 years old when that rule change was made in 1998. During those four decades, there were many album cuts that did not appear on the pop singles chart. That would include many Beatles songs and some Rolling Stones tracks, along with radio hits like "Wooden Heart" by Elvis Presley, "All Summer Long" by the Beach Boys, "Plastic Fantastic Lover" by Jefferson Airplane, "I Feel Free" by Cream, "Chelsea Morning" by Joni Mitchell, "Mercedes Benz" by Janis Joplin, "You've Got a Friend" by Carole King, "Pinball Wizard" by Elton John, "Tell Me I'm Not Dreaming" by Jermaine Jackson and of course, "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin.
In the '90s, record companies released fewer and fewer commercial singles, believing that sales of singles were cannibalizing album sales. I never subscribed to that view, believing that the more hit singles you had on the Hot 100, the more your album would sell (Santana's "Supernatural" seemed to sell well even with commercial singles available). The labels would still send "singles" to radio, but popular album tracks like "Lovefool" by the Cardigans and "Men in Black" by Will Smith were unavailable as singles for consumer purchase, and were thus ineligible for the Hot 100.
That's why Green Day had 11 songs that charted on the Hot 100 Airplay tally between 1994-1998 but the group didn't make its debut on the main Hot 100 until the summer 2004 release of the track "American Idiot."
LINE OF DEMARCATION
The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Mariah Carey - these are the artists with the most No. 1s in history. But why does history begin in the middle of the 1950s? There have been charts which have tracked No. 1 songs since the 1930s. As far as I know, Billboard itself has had charts from nearly that far back. Why are artists such as Patti Page, the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Tony Bennett, all of whom had No. 1 hits prior to 1955 (and after in some cases), not given credit for them in any tally of No. 1 hits?
Yes, I know that the Rock Era is when any "official" tally of No. 1s seems to start, but why? I believe that you, yourself, have always indicated that we start with "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets. It seems very arbitrary to call that song an official No. 1 while "Sincerely" by the McGuire Sisters or "Mr. Sandman" by the Chordettes are not recognized in the same way despite being No. 1 songs only a few months earlier.
Just because they are different types of music doesn't mean they shouldn't be added to those artists' totals as well - music is constantly changing (you could argue the Rock Era ended a while back). Are we not slighting the accomplishments of those artists, some of whom would rank quite highly on [a list of] all-time No. 1 songs should we go back another 15 years (or as far back as is reasonably possible)?
Much like the International Dateline, the invisible line that separates the Rock Era from what we'll call the pre-Rock Era is arbitrary, as you suggest. I didn't choose where to place it; long before I started writing my columns and books, music historians had come to a consensus that the Rock Era began when "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart (on July 9, 1955). They didn't decide this back then, of course, but years later, when they had the power to look back and see what the impact of that song was and the seismic shift in music that took place in the wake of the single's success.
Billboard started printing a weekly singles chart in July 1940, so you could make a case that the continuum of No. 1 songs should begin back then and stretch all the way to today, almost 68 years later. And there are times when I make note in Chart Beat of achievements that took place before July 9, 1955, if appropriate.
But in general, my mission is to place what's happening on this week's charts in the context of the entire rock era. It just makes more sense to narrow the field to the last 53 years, unless there is a compelling reason to include those earlier charts.
I do agree with your statement that music is constantly changing, but I don't think the Rock Era is over yet. Within the rock era, we have had smaller epochs where disco music was popular, or synthesizer-based tracks dominated the chart or rap songs held down the top positions. But those weren't seismic shifts, like the difference between the crooners and vocal groups of the '40s and early '50s and Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. On the other hand, the Rock Era may end someday and we won't recognize that fact until we can look back with some historical perspective.
STRAIT BACK WHERE HE STARTED FROM
Regarding the recent letter from Jonathan Lammert about Kenny Chesney's current single, "Shiftwork," and whether it is actually a solo single or a duet with George Strait on the Hot Country Songs chart, it now looks as though the two record labels, BNA and MCA Nashville, may have come to an agreement. In the issue of Billboard dated Feb. 9, the song is once more listed as Kenny Chesney Duet with George Strait.
If this change of heart is correct, does it mean retrospectively that the song is credited as a duet or just for the weeks as listed in the published chart?
This week the song is either in its 15th week for Kenny and George, or its fifth week. If it is the latter, does this set some kind of record for a song's second re-entry inside the top 20?
I checked with senior chart manager Wade Jessen, who oversees all of Billboard's country charts. He confirms your suspicion that Kenny Chesney and George Strait's labels have come to a new agreement about how the credit for "Shiftwork" should read. Since it is now officially a duet with both artists listed, that credit is retroactive and the song is considered to be by both artists for its entire run.
TIE GOES TO THE RUNNER
I'm curious if there has ever been an instance when there were songs occupying the same position. I'm not talking about two-sided singles, but two separate songs that were tied for the same position. Is it even possible?
Cavite, The Philippines
Under current chart policies, there are tiebreakers in place and those rules have been sufficiently explicit to eliminate all ties. In general, ties are broken by awarding the title with the greatest increase over the previous week the higher position. If neither title has an increase (in sales and/or airplay, depending on the chart), then the title that has the smallest decrease is listed in the higher position.
You did ask if there has ever been a case where two songs occupied the same position, and if we're talking about the Hot 100, the answer is yes. On the chart dated March 7, 1960, "I Was Such a Fool" by the Flamingos fell from 74-100 and "Down by the Riverside" by Les Compagnons de la Chanson debuted at No. 100. The people who compiled the Hot 100 in 1960 are either no longer with Billboard or no longer with us on Earth, so it's not possible to ask them why this tie occurred.
Prior to the introduction of the Hot 100 in August 1958, ties on charts such as Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played by Jockeys and Most Played in Juke Boxes were commonplace. If two songs were tied at No. 11, there would be no song No. 12. The next song on the chart would be No. 13.
I am very happy to see Michael Jackson back on the [Hot 100] with his new rendition of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" featuring Akon, which debuted at No. 81 on The Billboard Hot 100. There are two things about that debut that I found quite interesting.
First, during that very same week Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music" (which samples "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'") jumped to No. 5 on the Hot 100, reaching the peak position of Michael's original 1983 version.
The second thing that intrigued me about Michael's debut is that he and sister Janet (who was No. 57 with "Feedback") are on the chart simultaneously for the first time in exactly six years. On the Hot 100 chart dated Feb. 9, 2002, Janet's "Son Of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)" featuring Missy Elliot and P. Diddy fell to No. 88 in its last chart week, while Michael fell one spot to No. 15 with "Butterflies."
I found these two facts very fascinating, and I hope everyone else does too!
Cambridge, ON, Canada
Thanks for noticing these Chart Beat-worthy coincidences. It should be noted that Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music" rises to No. 3 this week, so it is an even bigger hit than the song it samples.
'SOUL' FOR SALE
I noticed the track "New Soul" By Yael Naim Has debuted way up at No. 9 on the Hot 100 but I went to Amazon to order the CD and it says you can't. Do you or anyone at Billboard have any info about the commercial release of her CD? I really like this song and think her CD might be great if I could only get my hands on it.
While you can currently buy the single "New Soul" by Yael Naim (and people have, which is why the track debuted at No. 9 on the Hot 100) from digital retailers, you’ll have to wait until March 18 to buy the full album, as reported today on Billboard.com. That’s the day Atlantic Records will release Naim’s CD in the United States. Of course, you could purchase an import copy now on the French label Tot ou Tard.
To find out more about the overnight success of "New Soul," check out this week's Chart Beat by clicking here.