Fred and his readers discuss Britney Spears V. The Eagles, The Billboard 200 Chart, Double CDs and more!

THE 'RISE' AND FALL OF INSTRUMENTALS

Dear Fred,

I've been a Billboard chart fan since 1979, first through the various chart shows on radio, then the magazine, now online.

I was listening to my iTunes at work and the song "Rise" by Herb Alpert came on (yes, from 1979). This got me wondering - how have instrumentals been faring on the Hot 100 since that time? Of course there have been others like "Chariots of Fire" by Vangelis, "Music Box Dancer" by Frank Mills and those "Hooked On... " medleys. The only instrumental I can recall hitting the charts recently was "Auld Lang Syne" by Kenny G.

Thanks a lot!

John Chua
Manila, Philippines

Dear John,

Instrumentals had their heyday in the '50s and '60s and were even popular into the '70s. But the chart fortunes of these wordless tunes faded in the '80s and today it's very rare to see a true instrumental anywhere on the Hot 100. There have been 25 instrumentals that have achieved pole position in the rock era, starting with "Autumn Leaves" by Roger Williams in 1955. The most recent instrumental to rule the chart was Jan Hammer's "Miami Vice Theme" in 1985.

I don't know if we can consider Kenny G's "Auld Lang Syne" an instrumental. It was more of an audio pastiche, with spoken word passages.

The last two instrumentals to make an impact on the Hot 100 were both hits in the same year. Coincidentally, both were new entries the week of May 11, 1996. "Children" by Italian artist Robert Miles peaked at No. 21 and a remake of Lalo Schifrin's "Theme from Mission: Impossible" by U2's Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen raced to No. 7.

If you'll allow me to quote from my chapter on instrumentals in the new fourth edition of my book, "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits," I can tell you that on my list of the top 100 instrumentals of the rock era, there are 31 titles from the '50s, 40 from the '60s, 22 from the '70s, five from the '80s and two from the '90s. That tells a story about the rise and fall of instrumentals. And if you want to know how these tunes rank on the top 100, take a look at the book.



WHEN I'M 63

Dear Fred,

While there has been a great deal of talk about the longevity of Carrie underwood's "Before He Cheats" on the Hot 100 and the possiblilty of her breaking the record held by Jewel and LeAnn Rimes, I have a feeling her stay may be about to end. She will probably get a digital sales bounce on this coming chart for winning Single of the Year honors at the Country Music Awards for "Before He Cheats." However, at the same time she will begin to lose airplay from the format that is giving the song the most current (if not overall) airplay - Adult Contemporary.

Readers should remember that many Adult Contemporary stations switch to all Christmas songs as early as Veterans Day weekend and by Thanksgiving almost all of these stations will do so. This will likely cost her the impressions, probably more than 10 million, that she needs to stay above No. 50 on the Hot 100. Therefore, I expect her to reach third place with 63 weeks, or possibly 64, but she will ultimately fail to break the Hot 100 longevity record.

Sincerely,

Brian C. Cole
Gulf Shores, Alabama
bccole1974@gulftel.com

Dear Brian,

Please see this week's Chart Beat column for details of Carrie Underwood's 63-week chart run with "Before He Cheats."

The song rebounds 44-43 on the latest Hot 100. By reaching the 63-week mark, "Cheats" becomes the longest-running chart song of the 21st century and the third longest running chart title in the 49 1/2 year history of the Hot 100.

You make a good point; "Cheats" could fail to surpass Jewel's 65-week run and LeAnn Rimes' 69-week marathon if she loses too much airplay. On the Adult Contemporary chart dated Nov. 24, "Cheats" reverses course and moves up 8-7, but we'll have to see what happens as those holiday songs crowd out the non-seasonal hits in the coming weeks.



THE EAGLES DEBATE CONTINUES

Dear Fred,

Just thought I'd throw my two cents into the Eagles-WalMart debate. It seems to me this was a case of Wal-Mart saying "Jump" and Billboard asking "How High?"

Case in point - according to Geoff Mayfield, "neither Billboard nor Nielsen SoundScan had any clue until the day after the tracking week closed that Wal-Mart would ever be willing to report its exclusive offerings."

That's sort of like placing a roulette bet after the number comes up and expecting to be paid on it. I believe Billboard should have told Wal-Mart that their first week numbers couldn't be accepted after the fact, but they could be tracked beginning with the new week for chart purposes. Any argument that ensued could then be directed at Wal-Mart for keeping their numbers "dark" until after the deadline passed. All other albums are tracked openly. Wal-Mart shouldn't get a free pass just because it's Wal-Mart. If they wanted the Eagles CD to qualify for The Billboard 200, they should have issued a press release at the start of the tracking week instead of presenting its information after the deadline.

Sincerely,

Dave Abbott
Niagara Falls, Ontario


Dear Dave,

Thanks for your letter. This week's mailbag brought many more missives about the decision to include the Eagles album on The Billboard 200 at the last minute.

I offer my thoughts as an observer of the charts, as I'm not in the chart department and don't participate in making chart policy. Of course, I do work for Billboard, but nevertheless:

Wal-Mart didn't ask to have the Eagles album appear on the chart. They simply decided to release the sales figures, a reversal of policy for them. Once they did that, Billboard made the decision that the Eagles album was eligible to chart. In fact, Billboard told Wal-Mart that if they were going to release the sales figures for their exclusive Eagles album, they had to agree to release sales figures on their other exclusives, so other Wal-Mart-only albums also charted last week, including the new Bo Bice CD.

The timing of the Wal-Mart decision impacted the lateness of the decision made by Billboard. The chart department had to react to a real-time situation and didn't have the luxury of taking a week to decide, or of keeping the Eagles album off the chart until its second week. Once the information was available, a decision had to be made almost instantly.

While Billboard formulates chart policy, it's not done in a vacuum. The chart department often works with record companies and retailers. It's an open discussion, even though Billboard makes the final decision. After all, the charts are designed as a tool for the industry and if they are not useful and helpful for people working in the music business, they serve no purpose.

Hope this sheds some light, and thanks for being interested enough in the Billboard charts to express your opinions.




ONE LAST LETTER ABOUT THE EAGLES-BRITNEY SPEARS

CONTROVERSY


Dear Fred:

I have written to you before and respect your knowledge of the music industry. It is unfortunate that people care whether or not the Eagles soar to No. 1, or whether Britney Spears debuts at No. 1. In the end, the numbers will be tallied and there will be a final count on CD sales. As we know from past experience, there are artists who do not debut at No. 1 and then go on to sell four million copies, while other artists do debut at No. 1, and then fall rapidly off the chart.

I think this is because true diehard fans will purchase a CD the first day it is released, while other consumers are not part of an artist's fan base, so they will never purchase a CD. Also, an act like the Eagles, with their longevity, may appeal to a variety of fans, and people may purchase the CD over time. I am careful to use the word "may" because we will only know when the final numbers are released.

I think it is more important to see whether a CD has legs, than where it debuts on the chart. With Britney debuting at No. 2, she should still feel proud. A No. 2 chart position is something many artists will never achieve, whether their CDs are sold at Wal-Mart or not.

Sincerely,

Michael Holland
San Francisco, Calif.

Dear Michael,

There's certainly no shame in being No. 2 on the charts. I can understand that some Britney Spears fans were upset, as they expected her album to debut in pole position. And having your expectations not met - any expectations - can often be a source of upset.

It's true that some of the readers who wrote in were fans of either the Eagles or Spears, and that may have shaded their opinions. Others who wrote in did so because they are fans of the charts more so than one particular artist. The overall result was that a variety of opinions were expressed, and as I said to Dave Abbott in my above response, I'm glad that people have enough interest in the Billboard charts to let me know how they feel about various issues.

At this point, I feel like everything has been said about the issue and I don't want to keep repeating the same debate.

If there is someone who has something new to say, I'll be glad to post their letter in this column, but otherwise let's move on to other topics.




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