Fred discusses American Idol, Madonna, airplay-only hit songs, Nelly Furtado and more!

IDOL SALES


Hi Fred,

I was wondering about the phenomenal sales of the "American Idol" finalists' CD singles and how they compare to the sales of the big hits of years ago, back when physical singles were the norm. Do you think the numbers Taylor Hicks earned in his first week, with huge sales and practically no airplay, would have guaranteed him the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 back in the '60s, '70s or '80s? Or was selling 180,000 singles pretty typical for a big hit back then, in which case the lack of airplay would have limited his chart success?

Also, do you have any idea why the "American Idol" finalists always sell so many physical singles, as opposed to digital downloads? Do you think if other hit songs like "Hips Don't Lie" were available as physical singles they would put up similarly huge numbers? Or is this just another unexplainable aspect of the "American Idol" phenomenon.

Thanks for all the great insight.

Chuck Schilken


Dear Chuck,

I suspect the reason that the "American Idol" finalists sell so many physical singles is that for a majority of the people buying these records, they are the only singles they purchase during the year. Since they are not regular consumers of music, they are probably not iTunes subscribers, or customers of any other download service.

There are a lot of new technologies that we take for granted that many Americans do not have yet. A majority of American homes do not have TiVo or any DVR yet, or satellite television. I would guess that a greater percentage of Chart Beat readers have iPods, compared to viewers of "American Idol."

As for how many singles were sold in a typical week in the '60s, '70s or '80s, I turned to experts for the answer, and they reminded me that we did not have Nielsen SoundScan before 1991, so we did not have actual weekly sales figures. No one could tell you with any accuracy how many singles were sold each week. About 50-100 singles each year were certified gold in the '80s, so that means 500,000 units shipped to stores (not per week, but over the life of a single). Based on that information, selling 180,000 copies of a single in a seven-day period in the '80s would have been as impressive as it is today.

Our next reader also has a question related to "American Idol." Read on.



IDOL LONGEVITY

Hi Fred,

"American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks dropped from the top spot on the Hot 100 after one week. "American Idol" has produced five No. 1 hits from each of its five seasons, but none of these have stayed on top longer than two weeks. Also, none of the previous four Idol contestants have ever returned to the No. 1 spot, which means, if history is any indication, that Taylor Hicks' chances of having a second No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 aren't good.

I believe there may be a couple of reasons for this trend. First, the Fox network only airs each episode once, and to my knowledge, the older episodes aren't in syndication. I think the contestants in previous shows might get a jump in sales if there was an opportunity to see the entire seasons again, including the auditions. Second, the show creates the first song for each of the finalists.

I'd like to know your opinion of the quality of these songs, but personally, I think the success of the five No. 1 hits, "A Moment Like This," "This Is the Night," "I Believe," "Inside Your Heaven" and "Do I Make You Proud" are due to the performers and not the songs. I wonder if these songs would be chosen as debut singles if the contestants had more freedom or a wider selection.

I enjoy the show, but I am starting to feel like the finalists need to promote themselves heavily during the off-season, because once a new season begins, the viewers' short-term memories kick in. I'm not saying the previous contestants aren't successful, but wouldn't you expect more No. 1 singles, especially considering that each season gives an automatic No. 1?

Thanks for your column!

Pete Pait
Alpharetta, Ga.


Dear Pete,

We're going to have a chance to test your theory about how previous contestants would fare when it comes to record sales if their seasons could be seen again. "American Idol" will finally be going into syndication this fall, starting with season one.

The songs performed during the annual finales sell so well because they are like souvenirs of the season. When you have 30 to 40 million people watching those finales, it's not surprising that a single could sell anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 copies during the first week of release.

That's a very small percentage of viewers buying singles, but the numbers of singles sold are still large enough to guarantee high chart placings. As for the quality of the songs, that has varied over the years. There is definitely a formula for the finale song, but within that formula you can have a great song or a mediocre song. As much as I like Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee, I think their finale songs are lacking compared to songs selected for previous top two-finalists. I wish they had been given better material.

And when it comes to the Idols having a follow-up No. 1 hit, I think Kelly Clarkson is likely to achieve this with singles from her third album. Had current chart policies been in effect when "Since U Been Gone" and "Behind These Hazel Eyes" were released, they could easily have been No. 1 hits. Now that sales are having such a strong impact on the Hot 100, Clay Aiken's fans might buy enough copies of the first single from his next album to catapult it to No. 1. You know they're going to give it their best effort!



GEORGE, CONWAY AND MADONNA

Fred,

I know Madonna has 36 No. 1s on the Hot Dance Club Play chart but which artists have more No. 1s on any singles chart and how does she compare to them?

Do you think she will surpass them? I think George Strait and Conway Twitty have 40 or 41 No. 1s on the Hot Country Songs chart.

Thank you,

Alva Robinson
Istanbul, Turkey
alva2bryant@yahoo.com


Dear Alva,

See this week's Chart Beat for details of George Strait's brand-new single, which could become his 41st No. 1 on Hot Country Songs. Right now, Strait is tied with Conway Twitty at 40, the all-time record for most No. 1 singles.



(WHAT A) DIGITAL WORLD

Fred:

I am really enjoying the fast turnover at No. 1 [on the Hot 100] and the massive moves of late on the chart due to digital downloads. It reminds me of the days when 15 to 25 songs reaching the summit [during a calendar year] was the norm. It has been reported recently that on the overall airplay monitor, the top three or four songs were separated by historic razor thin margins as measured by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems since 1991.

For too long, there was usually one, maybe two songs that would have massive airplay over the nearest competitors. That resulted in fewer No. 1s with those that did reach the summit remaining there for lack of competition. With the influence of this "consumer power at the click of a mouse" reflected on the charts, radio stations have been forced to take notice and lessen the influence of the usual consultants and focus group surveys.

They are not only competing with other stations in their respective markets, but they now have to contend with other music delivery media gaining popularity such as portable players and PCs at home and in the office. Radio may not be staying on a record as long or playing songs as frequently and are adding these sales-driven songs into their rotations in greater numbers.

Recently, a number of songs' airplay support seemed to follow their growing or steady download popularity. Daniel Powter's "Bad Day," Fort Minor's "Where'd You Go," the Fray's "Over My Head," Nick Lachey's "What's Left of Me" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" are a few that come to mind. Funny thing is, they all represent musical genres that have struggled on the charts these past five or so years.

Am I off base in my speculative theory, or have musical tastes really changed this dramatically, this rapidly?

Kevin Martin
Brooklyn, N.Y.


Dear Kevin,

What's changed so dramatically is the influence of sales on the charts. As someone once said, we live in interesting times. Many Chart Beat readers are too young to recall some of the sea changes that dramatically affected the Hot 100, such as the rise of the Beatles in 1964 and all of the other British bands that followed in their wake, supplanting many American artists who never had a hit single again. We're experiencing a sea change right now.

I know it's hard to believe, but I've said it many times: radio stations really do want to play the songs they believe are the most popular, because for them the bottom line is getting higher ratings, which help determine rates they can charge advertisers. That's why they are paying closer attention to songs that are selling thousands of digital downloads every week.

It's become a much more immediate world as well, with results of digital sales being made public immediately. One of the widgets on my computer dashboard is a box showing the top 10 selling singles on iTunes in the United States. You don't have to wait a week to know what's selling well right now, at least in the iTunes universe.



LOVE HER TWO TIMES


Fred,

I can't help but be excited to see that the No. 1 singles in the United States and the United Kingdom this week are by the same artist -- Nelly Furtado -- but are different tracks ("Promiscuous" in the United States and "Maneater" in the United Kingdom).

It isn't that rare for an artist to top both charts in the same week with the same song (I think I counted seven such instances during the '00s). But for an artist to be No. 1 simultaneously in both countries with different tracks is pretty rare. The last such instance I found was nine years ago, in the week ending March 15, 1997, when the Spice Girls were No. 1 in the United States with "Wannabe" and No. 1 in the United Kingdom with "Mama" / "Who Do You Think You Are." (Some may argue Elton John did it in December 1997 with "Candle in the Wind 1997" in the United States and as one of the 29 artists featured on the U.K. No. 1 "Perfect Day").

The last time before that? Strangely, another nine years prior, when during the week ending Feb. 6, 1988 (and the week after), Tiffany topped The Billboard Hot 100 with "Could've Been" and the U.K. singles chart with "I Think We're Alone Now."

Just thought I'd share. Thanks,

Andrew Huddleston
Washington, D.C.


Dear Andrew,

It is rare, and thanks for finding examples. One thing to remember when comparing the U.S. and U.K. singles charts is that the Hot 100 is dated with the week ending date, while the date on the British singles chart is the first day of the week.

That's why you'll read in this week's Chart Beat that the most recent instance of an artist being No. 1 in both countries with different songs happened in July 2004, when Usher's "Confessions Part II" was No. 1 in America while his "Burn" topped the U.K. chart.



IF AT FIRST YOU CAN'T THINK OF THE ANSWER, TRY AGAIN

Hi Fred,

I've been reading Billboard since 1981, and your columns for many years, both in print and online. Heck, I even remember your weekly trivia questions you asked as part of your online column.

In the late 1990s, many of us chart fans (including you, I believe) did not think an airplay-only song would go to No. 1 on the Hot 100. Then, one did. My questions are: What was the first week Billboard's Hot 100 chart included non-singles? And what was the first airplay-only song to hit No. 1? For some reason, if memory serves, it was a female solo artist.

Thanks,

Marty LeGere
Magna, Utah


Dear Marty,

The change you're referring to took place the week of Dec. 5, 1998. Before then, there had to be a commercial single available for sale before a title could appear on the Hot 100. As record companies stopped releasing commercial singles and some of the most popular songs of the day were radio-only hits (such as No Doubt's "Don't Speak" and the Cardigans' "Lovefool"), a change of policy was required. The Hot 100 became a "song" chart as opposed to a "singles" chart, with album tracks allowed to enter the survey if they had enough airplay points.

What I recall saying at the time is that while it would be difficult to achieve, it was inevitable that we would eventually have a song reach No. 1 based solely on airplay.

That did indeed happen, the week of June 15, 2000 when "Try Again" by Aaliyah spent one week in pole position. Later, a 12-inch vinyl single was released, and then a 7-inch vinyl single, but there was no single configuration available when the song went to No. 1.



PROMISCUITY PAYS OFF

Dear Fred,

It's great to see "Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland advance to No. 1 on the Hot 100. Timbaland has been one of my favorite producers of the past decade and I think another appearance at the top of the chart as a producer is overdue. If my memory serves correctly, this is only his second No. 1 single, following Aaliyah's "Try Again" in 2000. Could you tell me if I'm forgetting any others please?

This reminds me of how unfortunate it was that commercial singles were not released for popular songs in the late '90s. Otherwise, there's a good chance that another Timbaland production, "Are You That Somebody?" by Aaliyah, could have spent some time at the top. I remember reading that the song would have only needed to sell a minimal number of singles to have enough points to top the chart had it been eligible.

On the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart, I believe Timbaland has produced five No. 1 singles:

"If Your Girl Only Knew," Aaliyah
"Pony," Ginuwine
"Hot Boyz," Missy Elliott
"Oops (Oh My)," Tweet
"Work It," Missy Elliott

Again, record label decisions to withhold commercial releases likely prevented him from reaching the top with other popular songs of the time, notably Aaliyah's "One In a Million" and "Are You That Somebody?" and SWV's "Can We." (The latter of which was released as a limited edition maxi-single months after peaking in airplay).

Hopefully the Timbaland/Nelly Furtado alliance will pave the way for another big wave of chart success!

Thanks,

Alex Donatoni
New Jersey


Dear Alex,

You're correct, Timbaland's first No. 1 on the Hot 100 as a producer was Aaliyah's "Try Again." Who knew that song would be the subject of two e-mails this week?

"Promiscuous" is his second No. 1 as a producer and first as an artist. You've also got the right number of No. 1 hits on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The five songs you named were Timbaland's chart-toppers on that list.
With "Maneater" at No. 1 in the United Kingdom, there's a good chance that song will also reach the summit of the Hot 100 and give Nelly Furtado and Timbaland another No. 1 hit.



THIS MAY BE A CASE OF YOU HAD TO BE THERE...


Fred,

I was driving with my partner last weekend and we were discussing songs on the Hot 100 and digital downloads. I was trying to say "digital single" but it kind of contracted itself and came out "dingle." We must've laughed for a good five minutes. It wasn't really THAT funny, but the moment struck us. Perhaps we have stumbled upon a new name for the current trend in singles. Anyway, thought you might get a chuckle out of it.

Matt Schuler
Ames, Iowa


Dear Matt,

I did, thanks. Inspired by your new word, we could rename B-sides after that great crooner, Bing Crosby, so you can purchase the A-side or the Bingle.




WHERE HAVE ALL THE RUNNERS-UP GONE?


The year 2006 has so far featured a much greater turnover at the top of the Hot 100 than recent years. But one result of this has been a stunning lack of near misses, a.k.a. No. 2 hits. As far as I can tell, no song has peaked at No. 2 since Nickelback stalled there back in October 2005 with "Photograph." And with the ascension of "Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland into the top spot this week, 2006 is the first year of the rock era to be more than half over without a single No. 2 hit.

"Promiscuous" had peaked at No. 2 a couple of weeks ago, and then took a step back last week while "American Idol" champ Taylor Hicks debuted at No. 1. But now Nelly Furtado and Timbaland rebound to each claim their first No. 1 hit, so once again we are left waiting for the first No. 2 hit of 2006. The latest I could find for the first No. 2 hit of a calendar year previously was 1994, when Madonna's "I'll Remember" reached the runner-up spot the week of May 28, and couldn't get over the hump to No. 1, due to All 4 One's "I Swear," which was in the second week of an 11-week run at No. 1.

Mark C. Jones
Germantown, Md.
mcj.mail@verizon.net


Dear Mark,

Great observation. There have indeed been no No. 2 hits in 2006; all of the songs that have moved into the runner-up slot this year have gone on to the top spot.

Now we'll all be keeping an eye to see which is the first song to peak in the runner-up position in 2006, or if any song stops in second place.



'BLUE,' BUY? OOH!


I was previously told that "Blue" by Diana Ross would not be eligible to chart on any Billboard chart other than Top Comprehensive Albums until
it went into general release on June 20. However, the title debuted at No. 5 on Top Jazz Albums for the week ending July 1.

If I am not mistaken, all charts in the issue dated July 1 were based on sales information for the week preceding "Blue's" general release on June 20. I am thoroughly confused. Can you tell me how this happened in light of the fact I was recently informed by Billboard that a title sold exclusively at [one retailer] is eligible to chart only on Top Comprehensive Albums?

Regards,

Timmy Lopez-Fitzgerald
Worcester, Mass.

Dear Timmy,

It's true, as explained last week in the reply to your letter, an album that is available exclusively at one retailer is not eligible for The Billboard 200 or other genre album charts.

Now that Diana Ross' "Blue" is available for sale everywhere, it is eligible to chart. If you want the lowdown on how "Blue" fared, check out this week's Chart Beat.

So, how did "Blue" debut last week at No. 5 on Top Jazz Albums? If you've already read Chart Beat, you'll know it was due to "street-date violations." That means some retailers started selling "Blue" before its official June 20 release date, and enough copies were sold at stores that are part of the Top Jazz Albums panel to allow an early debut.

I don't know which retailers sold copies before the release date, but I'm not surprised they did. Retailers do not like it when albums are sold exclusively at other retail accounts, as "Blue" was available for five weeks at Starbucks before it could be sold elsewhere.



ADDING UP THE CHART-TOPPERS


In last week's Chart Beat you said there have been 11 chart-toppers [in 2006], and then this week you say "Promiscuous" is the 12th song to assume [pole position] in 2006. That latter statement is correct, but weren't there 12 chart toppers as of last week (and now 13)? "Don't Forget About Us" was No. 1 in 2006, even if it didn't assume the position in 2006. To act like it wasn't No. 1 this year would basically mean there was no chart for the first week of 2006.

Thanks,

Jason Englisbe


Dear Jason,

In the 14 years that I've been writing Chart Beat, I've always counted the same way. The final No. 1 song of a calendar year belongs to the year in which it peaked.

That's why I refer to songs that "assumed pole position" or "advanced to No. 1" in a calendar year. Once in a while I forget to qualify the statement, so I understand why you would question the count. I'll be more careful in the future to include the qualification so there is no doubt.