Fred chats with readers about favorite songs, originals vs. covers and more.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Dear Fred,

I have loved your column for years now, but [last week] was the first time that I got goose bumps from reading it.

As you know, music can have an extremely powerful effect on people. But sometimes, comments or actions related to songs become part of the magic. I fell in love with Faith No More's "Epic" after one of my friends got a little too intoxicated at a party and started slam dancing to it. It was the funniest (and funnest) thing I'd ever seen, and I ended up buying -- and loving -- the CD as a result. I was with another friend who I had a huge crush on (although he never knew it) when I first heard "Love Bites." When we got into his car and started the engine, the radio blasted out part of the Def Leppard ballad before he had a chance to turn the volume down. Again, I went and bought the CD, and became a major fan of Def Leppard as a result.

And everytime I hear "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men, I still remember the first time I heard it. I was at the beach (Emerald Isle in North Carolina), and a radio station played the song. The DJ said it was an "up and coming" tune, and I distinctly remember thinking, "That song is going to be an enormous hit." I still think it's one of the best songs I've ever heard.

When I read the comments [in last week's "Chart Beat Chat"] about "American Idol" contestant Katharine McPhee, I was nodding my head in agreement at [the letter writer's] annoyance. I thought McPhee did a great job singing "Since I Fell for You," but it had irked me too that she referred to it as being originally recorded by Barbra Streisand. Then I had to laugh at myself when you pointed out, "I bet most people who noticed the mistake thought to themselves, 'No, that was first recorded by Lenny Welch in 1963!' without realizing there were the earlier versions." I didn't know Welch's version was a cover, too.

So far, everything was normal -- I was enjoying your column and learning more pop music history (a subject that I find always interesting). But then you mentioned the Family, and as I said earlier, I got goosebumps.

I loved the group since the first time I heard "The Screams of Passion" on the radio. They dressed like gothic vampires inspired by Anne Rice, they sounded like Prince (who produced them, I believe), and they were a multiracial group, which is always nice to see. I bought the album and practically wore out the LP listening to "Screams" and "River Run Dry." But my favorite track was "Nothing Compares 2 U."

A few years later, I ran into an old friend of mine at Roses, a discount store, and he asked me if I had heard of Sinead O'Connor. I told him I thought her video was amazing, and he said, "Yeah, but I thought the Family sang it better." I was amazed -- the group never became big, and I thought I was the only one in my little town who had ever heard of them. So we talked for a few minutes about the Family's album. Even now, 15 years later, I still think about finding a kindred fan of the Family every time I hear Sinead's version of "Nothing Compares 2 U." For the record, I think hers is better (I love that entire CD). But I also have a special place in my heart for the Family and always will

Thanks for mentioning them! And thanks for setting the record straight about some of the other "original vs. cover" hits out there. You are one of the main reasons (besides the obvious) that I look forward to Fridays. And Thursdays, too, for that matter.

Sincerely,

Tommy Marx
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Dear Tommy,

Your letter covered a lot of ground, and I'm pretty sure you're the first person in the 10 years that "Chart Beat Chat" has been online to say that the column gave him goosebumps. I don't know if she got goose bumps, but Katharine McPhee did see the column and I'm told she got a big kick out of it.

Glad my mention of the Family stirred up memories for you. They're definitely a footnote in music history thanks to Sinead O'Connor's cover of their "Nothing Compares 2 U."

By the way, you weren't the only person to react to the e-mail about "American Idol" contestant McPhee. Keep reading.


KNOWING YOU, KNOWING McPHEE

Hi Fred,

After reading the letter [from the reader who] was appalled that an "American Idol" contestant mistakenly credited Barbra Streisand as the original artist of "Since I Fell for You," I just had to write.

[That] letter really got under my skin. I have been a music lover all of my life, and a record, tape, CD collector and music downloader for most of it. I kept my own weekly Top 51 from January 1980 through 1994 (it became a struggle to find really good new music) and I am still always being asked questions about music and singers, whether it be old or new (and I'll admit I'm rusty on the new stuff because when I look at the current Hot 100, I cringe -- but that's an entirely different issue).

My point is I have never ever felt "above" anyone else when it comes to music knowledge. I don't get angry when someone incorrectly assumes a certain artist sang a certain song. Just last week my brother thought Pat Benatar sang "Find Another Fool" by Quarterflash. I thought it was funny and he just felt disappointed.

And for the record, I didn't know any of the artists or song information in the letter. And because of my "lack of knowledge," I assumed Elvis Presley WAS the original artist on "Hound Dog." Granted, I should thank [the letter writer] for letting me know who sang the original only because I enjoy chart facts and trivia, not because I SHOULD know this information.

I do realize that some people take certain things far more seriously than others and there is nothing wrong with that. I just don't feel that everyone, especially younger generations, and in this case, an "American Idol" contestant, should research and study 60 years of rock history if they want to become professional singers.

Fred, thanks for taking the time to read my letter. You've got a great column and an obvious passion for music and the people who create it. The reason you have so many readers is because of this passion.

On an unrelated note, you wrote something a while back that has stuck with me. You told your readers to pick their favorite song of all time. Chances are that they were 13 years old when the song came out. I just thought it was amazing because my two favorite songs of all time are the Knack's "My Sharona" and Sniff 'n' the Tears' "Driver's Seat" -- and yeah, I was 13 years old in 1979.

Thanks,

George Caso
Roselle Park, N.J.

Dear George,

If Katharine McPhee enjoyed last week's column, your spirited defense of her should make this week's column a must-read for the "American Idol" contestant.

As for all-time favorite songs, think I said 14, but 13 or 14, it's just about the same thing. I think being in junior high is the key and thanks for helping me prove this theory.



UNIQUELY BLUNT

Fred,

With James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" reaching the summit of the Hot 100 and Blunt becoming the first British artist to do so since Elton John topped the chart in 1997, it made me wonder about another dry spell Blunt has broken: what was the last charttopper not by an "American Idol" alumnus to not also chart R&B/Hip-Hop? My best guess would be Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" from the closing weeks of 2001, but I may be forgetting one (or several) in between.

Jeff Fiedler
Washington Crossing, Pa.

Dear Jeff,

Your best guess is the best guess, because you are correct. Before James Blunt's "You're Beautiful," the last No. 1 that didn't also chart on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart and was not by an "American Idol" finalist was Nickelback's "How You Remind Me," which began a four-week run at the top in December 2001. Before Nickelback, you'd have to go back to Crazy Town's "Butterfly" in April 2001.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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