Fred discusses "High School Musical," musical siblings, Bedingfields, Lee Greenwood and much more with readers.

NEVER HEARD OF A HUDGENS, NOR AN EFRON

Fred,

Has anyone, especially an obscure singer such as Zac Efron, had a better week? He had two debuts last week (at No. 86 and No. 100) and now he has three songs in the top 40, including a ridiculous 82-point jump with his song "Breaking Free" (now at No. 4; it's a duet with Vanessa Anne Hudgens, who I've never heard of either).

He also has a 77-point jump with a solo track, "Get'cha Head in the Game" (which looks set to become his second top 20 hit in two weeks [as it is at] at No. 23), and the Hot Shot Debut at No. 28 with his third song (another duet with Vanessa Anne Hudgens called "Start of Something New").

Was there a drastic change in chart rules to allow him to make this sort of amazing jump?

The debut at No. 34 and No. 35 of "We're All in This Together" by the "High School Musical" Cast and "What I've Been Looking For" by Lucas Gabreel and Ashley Tisdale is also somewhat notable. Who are these people, and why are they debuting so high and rising so fast on the Hot 100?

Another question: What happened to Gavin DeGraw? I love his song "We Belong Together," but this week it drops from the top 20 all the way out of the top 50. That seems, to say the least, somewhat abrupt.

Nathan Albright
Tampa, Fla.

Dear Nathan,

Zac Efron does indeed rewrite chart history, with a week most recording artists would envy.

Ironically, Efron is an actor, albeit an actor who has sung since childhood. He was born in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and now lives in the Los Angeles area, where he is a senior in high school. He starred in the Disney Channel TV movie "High School Musical," along with the other actors who have shown up on the Billboard Hot 100: Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Lucas Gabreel and Ashley Tisdale.

These chart moves are a by-product of the digital era. The TV movie was popular enough with viewers to result in sufficient paid digital downloads to fuel the big jumps and high debuts.

I don't think I would use the word "ridiculous" to describe the 82-point jump of Efron and Hudgens' "Breaking Free." "Amazing" or "impressive" would be more apt.

The song had enough sales of digital downloads to debut last week at No. 86. If it had been released a few days later, it would have debuted at No. 4 instead of jumping 86-4, so timing had a lot to do with the history-making leap.

Sales of digital downloads are creating different patterns on the Hot 100. Gavin Degraw's "We Belong Together" drops 26-75 this week as sales of paid downloads plummet. On the Hot Digital Songs chart, DeGraw's song drops 8-36.



SIBLING REVELRY

Hi Fred,

[In your item about Natasha Bedingfield and Daniel Bedingfield both having top 10 hits], perhaps you were only giving examples and not a complete list of brothers and sisters hitting the top 10 separately but one omission may get you a lot of e-mails. How about Janet and Jermaine Jackson?

So many people forget poor Jermaine. I think there was another brother named Michael who hit the top 10 a few times too. But that doesn't matter. The big news this week on the Hot 100 is the charting of numerous singles from "High School Musical."

These songs are benefiting from digital downloads and are making a big impact. I wonder how long they will remain on the Hot 100 as they are getting no airplay. I believe their chart lives will be short. Do you have any thoughts regarding this?

Carl Leeman
New Brunswick, Canada

Dear Carl,

If "High School Musical" was a film released in theaters, the songs would stand a better chance of remaining on the chart, as new people would be exposed to them week by week. However, it is only because a few million people saw the film at the same time that the sales required to power large chart moves have occurred in such a short period.

If the Disney Channel re-runs "High School Musical" soon, it could help keep the songs on the chart. Otherwise, they may suffer the fate of the Gavin DeGraw song mentioned above.

You're right that many people wrote in about the Jackson siblings, though most of the others forgot to mention Jermaine. Some even said that I wrote the Osmonds and the Cherrys were the only other brother-sister teams to have separate top 10 hits, but I never used the word "only." I was citing examples, not providing a comprehensive list, but given the response I probably should have mentioned Michael and Janet.



'BLESS': THE BROKEN CHART?

Hi Fred,

[Looking in Joel Whitburn's book, I noticed] the CD single of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" re-issued in 2001 was a re-recording of the 1984 original. I bought this CD single but never opened it up until now and listened to it.

This made me wonder if Billboard screwed up this chart info. I'd like your input on this. I sent this info to [Whiturn's] Record Research as well for their opinion.

The country chart is an airplay-only chart, and I feel that the 1984 original was the one that got airplay and was the one that re-entered at No. 16 (that's why Billboard called it a re-entry, and started adding to its total of weeks on the chart). In Joel's book, this was listed as 73,128 and as a new recording. It should be listed as the same recording, but a newly recorded version was released as a CD single on CURB 73128.

When the song re-entered (the week of Sept. 29, 2001) it was listed as MCA Nashville album cuts (the Curb info was changed later). This should never have been changed by Billboard on the country chart. When "American Country Countdown" played the song in the countdown they played the 1984 version as well, which is why I believe that the 1984 recording is what received airplay.

Moving on to the Hot 100: Since the song never appeared on the Hot 100 before it was listed as a new entry on Sept. 29 at No. 16, once again as MCA Nashville Album Cut, I believe the airplay that earned that debut was the 1984 recording. However, after the song dropped [over] the next four weeks down to No. 84, it then soared back up to No. 37, based on sales of the re-recorded Curb/Capitol version CD single. To me this should have been a new entry again, as it was a different recording.

This is no different than in 1990 when the Righteous Brothers charted [with] their 1965 [recording of] "Unchained Melody" (thanks to the movie "Ghost"), [based] on airplay and scant sales of a 45 (no cassette or CD single was issued). The Righteous Brothers re-recording (on Curb) was released as a cassette and later as a CD single. The song was literally on the Hot 100 twice -- [the] same song by the same artist listed twice (Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" did this too).

"Unchained Melody" was on the chart because the 1965 version charted solely based on airplay and no sales, and the 1990 one charted based solely on sales and no airplay. Thus the Greenwood single should have been listed on the Hot 100 twice on Nov. 3, the 1984 [recording and] the CD single.

I know this will never fly officially but I feel this is accurately what happened. What's your opinion, Fred? I know this is old news, but [I'm] curious.

Thanks,

John Jayne
Des Moines, Iowa

Dear John,

My main opinion is that this is, as you say, old news -- and probably not worthy of as much attention as we're giving it, but I do know from your e-mails over the years that you are a chart fan and can understand why you would question what seems like an anomaly.

Before I address the issue, let me assure you that Billboard did not screw up. You've made a lot of assumptions that have led you down the path to that conclusion, so I'm glad you wrote in to find out what really happened.

When there are unusual circumstances surrounding a song or a single, Billboard has to make an informed decision about how to treat that song or single on the charts. Record labels are usually consulted, and know how a song is going to be listed before the charts are published. If a label has strong objections, they can make them known, although the final decision rests in the hands of the Billboard chart department staff.

I consulted with Wade Jessen, director of country charts for Billboard, about what happened in 2001 with Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." Wade replied that Greenwood re-recorded the song twice, so there were actually three versions getting airplay after 9/11: the original on MCA, a re-recording on Capitol and a re-recording on Curb. Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems tracked airplay of all three versions, but since airplay was split among the different versions, credit was split evenly among the three labels on the airplay-based charts per long-standing Billboard policy. While it may not have said so at first, the credit on airplay-based charts eventually read: MCA Nashville/Capitol/Curb.

On sales charts, the credit went only to Curb, as it was that label's single that was selling after 9/11. It's likely that Joel Whitburn is pulling that credit from the sales chart; you'll probably want to ask the Record Research folks if that is so.

Regarding the Hot 100, the chart operated under different rules in 1990. In 1998, the Hot 100 became a song chart instead of a singles chart, with airplay-only tracks allowed to appear whether there was a commercial single or not, so the rules that applied to "Unchained Melody" would be different from the rules that applied when "God Bless the USA" made its debut in 2001.



MAKING A J-TURN

Dear Fred,

First, let me thank you for your weekly dispatch of informative answers. I enjoy reading them so much that I think you deserve an entire magazine of your own.

As a big fan of Japanese pop music, I am curious to find out how many Japanese artists have managed to chart in the United States. Many such artists released albums especially for the American market (Dreams Come True, Toshinobu Kubota and Hikaru Utada, to name a few) but I don't know if they ever charted.

Many thanks!

Massimiliano Papette
New York

Dear Massimiliano,

An entire magazine of "Chart Beat Chat?" I don't think I would have time to answer that many letters, but I appreciate the sentiment.

I'm a big fan of J-pop as well. I visited Japan in 1993 and again in 2001, and both times exchanged large amounts of cash for large stacks of CDs. I was fortunate enough to have advice and support from Billboard's Japan correspondent, Steve McClure, who walked the record store aisles with me helping me to choose albums I was likely to like.

As a result, my collection includes numerous records by artists such as Tatsuro Yamashita, Chage & Aska and Southern All-Stars. Yamashita is heavily influenced by Phil Spector, the Beach Boys and doo-wop but as far as I know, he has not tried to crack the American market.

Of the artists you asked about, only Hikaru Utada has appeared on the Billboard charts. Her single "Devil Inside" went to No. 1 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart the week of Oct. 30, 2004. That song peaked at No. 5 on the Hot Dance Singles Sales list and No. 10 on the Hot Dance Radio Airplay tally. On the Hot Singles Sales chart, "Devil Inside" went to No. 57. Another Utada single, "Exodus '04," reached No. 9 on the Hot Dance Singles Sales chart and No. 24 on the Club Play tally.

The two singles were included on the Island album "Exodus," which stalled at No. 160 on The Billboard 200.



COUNTRY ROUND-UP

Hello Fred!

Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take the Wheel" is standing pat at No. 1 for a fourth consecutive week on Billboard's Hot Country Songs list. Not only is "Jesus" the longest running single by a female soloist since Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman" spent five weeks on top in May/June 2004, but it is also the longest running No. 1 hit by an "American Idol" alumnus.

Also, Kenny Rogers has joined a small list this week. With his "I Can't Unlove You" moving to No. 39 on the Hot Country Songs chart, he becomes only the third country act to score a top 40 country hit in each of the past five decades. The other two artists to accomplish this feat are Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton.

Parton and Brad Paisley are within striking distance [of pole position] at No. 3 with "When I Get Where I'm Going." If this song can hit No. 1, Parton will become the only female soloist to have a No. 1 country hit in the '70s, '80s, '90s and '00s.

John Maverick
Omaha, Neb.

Dear John,

Thanks for the country chart trivia. There is a lot more to Carrie Underwood's reign with "Jesus, Take the Wheel." See "Chart Beat" for details.

On the country chart, the only other "American Idol" finalist to reach No. 1 was Josh Gracin, with "Nothin' to Lose." When it comes to all Billboard charts, other "Idol" finalists have racked up more weeks at No. 1 than Underwood, but she may not be ready to give up pole position just yet.