Answers to readers' questions about singles, U2, "essential" albums and Snoop remixes.

THE SINGLES STRUGGLE

Hi Keith,

In your June 12 column you noted "CD singles barely exist anymore in the U.S." WHY IS THAT?

In particular, I'm thinking of my favorite band, U2. The last time they released any CD singles domestically was in 1997-1998 with the "Pop" album. Was the decision to stop releasing U2's CD singles in the U.S. merely a matter of sales, or does it have something to do with the record company being restructured? ("Pop" was the band's last album on Island in the U.S.; now they're on Interscope.)

Any information you could provide on U2's CD singles, as well as the demise of the CD single format in general in the U.S., would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Don Morgan
Colorado Springs, Colo.


Hi Don,

Sadly, there isn't a short answer to your question.

Going back in time, there have always been hit songs that were never released as singles. And when I say single, I mean a physical piece of product, like a vinyl, cassette or CD single.

Some of the most famous rock songs in modern history were never released as a commercially available single. They include Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and any number of huge Beatles songs like "Norwegian Wood" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

It was the norm for certain rock acts to simply not release a commercial single. Rock acts were often viewed as "album artists," where in order to completely appreciate the band, you'd have to listen to the album in full. Of course, this also worked out beautifully for the band and the record label, as both would make more money from selling a full album instead of a cheaper single.

However, in order to chart on The Billboard Hot 100 (up until 1998), a song had to have been available as a commercial single. So, all of those songs I mention above never charted on The Billboard Hot 100. It does seem odd that "Stairway To Heaven" didn't chart. But that's simply the way the rules worked. And The Billboard Hot 100 merrily chugged along. Anomalies like "Stairway" were still an exception to the rule.

However, in the 1990s, it became more popular for all music acts - not just rock bands - to withhold the release of a commercial single. Sometimes, the single would be delayed for weeks and months until the tune had already peaked at radio (and by that time, many consumers had given up waiting for the single and opted to buy the full album in order to get the one song they wanted). This way, the record label and/or artist would force the consumer to buy the whole album instead of a much cheaper single in order to get their favorite song.

It then became the norm to simply not release a single, period. There were times in the 1990s where the most-played song on the radio would not chart on The Billboard Hot 100, because it wasn't available as a single. Frankly, it just didn't look right that enormously popular songs like No Doubt's "Don't Speak" and the Fugees' "Killing Me Softly" weren't on The Billboard Hot 100 -- especially when they would have probably spent many weeks atop the chart.

It's important to remember that all of this was happening before file sharing via the Internet. So, the only way for someone to get No Doubt's "Don't Speak" song was to purchase the full "Tragic Kingdom" album.

This trend became more and more popular as labels restricted what singles they would release in order to increase sales of a full album. Soon, The Billboard Hot 100 was looking especially weird, when the most popular songs in the country weren't even represented on the chart.

So, in December of 1998, we altered the rules of The Billboard Hot 100 so non-commercially available singles could chart. That way, the chart would be able to capture the really big radio hits that weren't available as commercial singles.

Since its inception in 1958, The Billboard Hot 100 has blended radio airplay data with singles sales information in order to rank the most popular songs in the U.S. With the demise of the CD single, one important component of the chart was missing for a few years in the early part of the 2000's.

Luckily, paid download services like the Apple iTunes Music Store sprang up a few years ago. The Billboard Hot 100 still counts CD singles sales when they are available, but it also uses digital track sales from retailers like iTunes in order to figure out the most popular songs of the week.

But (and there's always a "but"), record labels are now withholding songs from digital release. This year, tracks like Ne-Yo's "So Sick," Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" and Rihanna's "SOS" were all withheld from digital release until well after they were hugely popular at radio. So when you discover something at the iTunes store that isn't available, it's not because iTunes decided not to release it. It's because either the label or the artist opted not to release it.

O.K., switching gears now, let's talk about U2.

I too loved how the band was once committed to releasing maxi-singles (as they were termed in the old days) that contained remixes, B-sides and live songs. The cycle of single releases from "Pop" was pretty awesome, too. Through its entire career, up through 1997, the band released nearly every one of its popular hits as a CD single (or as a commercial single of some sort - vinyl, cassette, you get the idea).

U2, like essentially every other recording artist, simply opted to stop releasing commercially available CD singles in the U.S. While it's the norm in America, outside of the U.S., you can still purchase CD singles. Though digital download services seem to be pushing the CD single aside.



ESSENCE OF ESSENTIAL

Keith,

According to the chart legend for the Country Catalog chart, catalog albums include "reissues of older albums." On the Top Country Albums chart, "Essential Alabama" has charted now for 37 non-consecutive weeks.

Yet, this album is merely a reissue of the group's 1998 album, "For the Record: 41 Number One Hits." The only differences between the two CDs are the album titles and the artwork. Otherwise, the content is identical and "Essential" even notes on its back cover that it was previously issued as "41."

My question is why "Essential Alabama" is therefore charting as a current release instead of as a catalog release. Thanks for reading and I look forward to your response.

Thomas Bart
New York


Hi Thomas,

If an album is re-released with a completely new title, it is considered a different album and is tracked separately.

RCA released both 1998's "For the Record: 41 Number One Hits" and 2005's "The Essential Alabama." The latter title was re-titled in order to capitalize on the success of Sony BMG's "Essential" brand name.

SonyBMG's "Essential" series -- much like Universal's "20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection" and "Gold" series 00 has become a well-known and profitable line of greatest hits collections.

There have been more than 100 "The Essential" releases from SonyBMG in the past five years. Some of the first releases were from Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Journey and Neil Diamond.



SAY SOMETHIN', ANYTHIN'

Hello Keith,

I was wondering if you had any information on Mariah's current single "Say Somethin'" featuring Snoop Dogg. The cut peaked at No. 79 on the Billboard Hot 100, and then suddenly disappeared, most likely due to low radio impressions.

Is it possible that the cut can re-enter on the charts with the new So So Def remix with the Dem Franchize Boyz steadily growing because remixes help support singles, right? The "Say' Somethin'" urban remix hits music stores like iTunes soon -- if the downloads sell greatly, would it make "Somethin'" come back on the charts as the normal version or will it be listed as the remix?

Percy Maple
Harrisburg, Pa.


Hi Percy,

You're right, "Say Somethin'" has already slipped off The Billboard Hot 100. It peaked at No. 79 and was last seen on the chart dated May 27.

If the digital sales of "Say Somethin'" jump, the song can certainly re-enter the chart. It will remain billed on the charts as "Say Somethin'" (featuring Snoop Dogg) unless the Dem Franchize Boyz remix becomes more popular on radio than the Snoop original.

At the same time, if radio stations start playing the So So Def remix of "Say Somethin'," its radio audience will be combined with the original version (plus the assorted dance mixes and such that are floating around). That way, we'll get the complete radio airplay picture for the song in all of its various versions.





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