Fred and his readers discuss Robyn, "Diamonds," Janet Jackson and more!
THE GIRL WONDER
In response to the reader who was asking about Robyn, I wanted to make sure he knew that Robyn's album "Robyn" (which features "Be Mine!") is currently available on iTunes.
I discovered this at the beginning of the year, after I saw that you had listed "Be Mine!" as your top song of 2005. I loved Robyn's music in the '90s, and I was thrilled to discover I could download it online.
And "Be Mine!" quickly became one of my favorite pop songs, too. It's a workout staple and I live for the spoken word section where Robyn talks about the scarf. You know what I mean!
Anyway, Robyn's U.S. fans should pick up her stuff on iTunes. It might encourage a broader U.S. release.
Anything I can do to let more people know about Robyn's album, and particularly the single "Be Mine!", is my pleasure. Thanks for the information about iTunes. I would also suggest people search the web for the incredible music video that was produced for "Be Mine!"
JANET ON THE CHART WITH 'DIAMONDS'
I am trying to get something cleared up. Is Herb Alpert's "Diamonds" a No. 1 R&B single? I know it features lead vocals by Janet Jackson. Does this mean that "Call On Me" is Janet's 16th No. 1 R&B single? Please help me sort this all out.
Christopher J. Sanders
There has been a lot of discussion in Chart Beat Chat over the last few weeks about uncredited vocals. Billboard is guided by official credits when determining how credits will appear on a chart. One example I have cited is "Bad Blood" by Neil Sedaka, which featured some vocals by an uncredited Elton John. Since Elton was not listed as an artist, the single is correctly credited as a solo effort by Sedaka.
There has been some internal discussion about the specific song you asked about within the Billboard chart department this month. When "Diamonds" charted, it was credited solely to Herb Alpert (and yes, the single did go to No. 1 on our Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart).
To resolve our own discussion, we called Billboard's former director of charts, Michael Ellis, who also managed the Hot 100 during his tenure. Michael happened to have his vinyl 7" single of "Diamonds" handy, and he confirmed that while the single is credited to Herb Alpert, there is information printed on the jacket and label that the vocals are by Janet Jackson and Lisa Keith. However, that is production information, not an official credit.
This is all to say that "Diamonds" was a Herb Alpert single and Janet did not receive credit for it. So "Call On Me" is her 15th No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. For more details, see this week's Chart Beat. And for another question about Janet's latest hit, see the next letter.
HOW IT ALL ADDS UP FOR JANET
I have been following the charts very closely, and watch the rise and fall of singles. About a month ago Fergie had the No. 1 single in the country due to her No. 1 sales peak. Her airplay was moderate at No. 25. At the same time, Janet was No. 23 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart with no sales, yet managed to peak at No. 25 [on the Hot 100]. Now she is No. 23 with no bullet [on Hot 100 airplay] and her single is No. 1 on the sales chart but all she can manage is [to be] No. 37 on the Hot 100.
I read your reply on how they come up with chart positions but a No. 23 airplay [position] and a No. 1 sales [position] look to equal better than [being] No. 37.
Keep in mind that when you see chart positions, you're not seeing the raw data behind them. That's not the problem here, but I do think it's important not to draw conclusions from chart positions without seeing the actual sales and airplay figures (which, granted, are generally not available to the general public).
There is a reason Fergie's "London Bridge" went to No. 1 on the Hot 100 while Janet & Nelly's "Call On Me" isn't doing as well as the former. "London Bridge" was No. 1 on Hot Digital Songs. "Call On Me" only went to No. 26 on that chart. It is No. 1 on this week's Hot Singles Sales chart, but sales of commercial singles represent a small fraction of what is sold each week. Digital downloads can sell in the hundreds of thousands while commercial singles might sell a mere 1,000 copies a week.
So it's sheer numbers that account for the difference in chart fortunes.
DIGITAL SALES FOR GENRE CHARTS
As a Beyonce fan, I watched with joy as her latest hit, "Deja Vu," reached No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and gave her her third chart-topper there. I assumed it was a recent surge in airplay that accounted for the gain and that the song was actually gaining in popularity. Then I read the issue dated Sept. 2 and saw that the song's gain was in CD singles sales, as its Aug. 15 release caused Beyonce's record to overtake Chingy's "Pulling Me Back" on the chart -- even though Chingy's single was ahead by over 12 million radio audience impressions.
That's when I realized that the way Billboard compiles the R&B singles chart is totally arbitrary and even outdated in that it only allows traditional commercially available physical singles to count toward the chart, while totally ignoring digital downloads, which is now the medium of choice for most singles buyers -- black and white. What's worse, Billboard only uses stores for this chart that it considers R&B-leaning, presumably because they reside in urban listening areas or because the majority of their product is R&B music. How many of these stores even exist today given the recent Billboard article that stated only 2,000 independent music chains remain in operation today, compared to close to 10,000 fifteen years ago?
I know this subject was covered a few weeks back, but given that virtually all singles sold in the U.S. today are via paid download, it is amazing to me that the sale of a few thousand copies of a CD single can cause a record to jump to No. 1 nationally on a major Billboard singles chart. The only redeeming factor for Beyonce is that her single is actually being downloaded more than Chingy's (at the moment). I'm sure that Chingy's record will probably reach No. 1, when the sales of Beyonce's CD single drop off the radar as most commercially available physical singles do after a short period of time. But isn't it time for Billboard to revisit the age-old policy of using a certain panel of stores (or even stores at all) for compiling the R&B chart? There must be some way of pin-pointing which audiences or demographics are downloading certain songs, and using this information to inform the R&B list.
(By the way, I just realized it's been over 11 years since I've been writing you - keep up the good work!).
I've never added up the number of letters each individual has had posted in Chart Beat Chat, but you would probably be in the top 10. Thanks for all of your e-mails over the last 11 years.
I thought your letter deserved a detailed explanation, so I asked Geoff Mayfield, Billboard's director of charts and senior analyst, to reply to your query. Here's what Geoff had to say:
"Billboard, and its data partner, Nielsen SoundScan, would love to break out digital sales by genre. Unfortunately, for reasons too complicated to detail here, it is not yet as easy to parse digital sales data as it is to organize data from physical sales. If we tried to explain the issues in Fred's column it would either confuse you or put you to sleep. The problem is, until we have a reliable set of digital genre charts, it will be impossible for us to fold digital sales into the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
"That's the bad news, but the good news is that labels share our eagerness to launch genre charts. With their efforts to better organize digital data, it will become easier for Nielsen SoundScan to create genre charts. Billboard will obviously be eager to make homes for those charts as soon as they are available. And, when that happens, the launch of a reliable R&B/Hip-Hop Digital chart will enable us to factor those sales into Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
"Although we do not yet have a timetable, this appears to be a case where the good news is better than the bad news is bad.
"Meanwhile, please know that our charts team is always on the alert to make our charts as relevant as possible, and we appreciate your interest."
THE LONG AND WINDING HISTORY
I noticed in this week's Chart Beat that you credited Steve Holy's "Brand New Girlfriend" as not only his second No. 1 but also for its 36-week climb to the top. I notice that you specified that the 36 weeks is the longest [climb] since 1990, when the chart began using [airplay data compiled by] Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems. I assume that since you clarified "since 1990" and not "in the history of the chart," there is another song that took longer to hit No. 1. I (along with other country fans I'd imagine) wonder: what song holds the absolute record for the country chart?
The problem is more about how far our computerized chart archives go back. They only exist from the very end of 1983 forward, so when we need to search for chart stats before that date, we have to do a manual search -- literally, looking at every chart. That's often beyond the time and scope of Chart Beat Chat, so sometimes we have to settle for putting chart feats in the context of what some call the "SoundScan era" or the "BDS era."