Fred discusses chart fans, 'bullets,' his love of Swedish music and a lot more with readers this week.
IRAQ (SO FAR AWAY)
Was there a watershed moment when the Billboard charts became a fan tool as well as an industry tool? I often read you patiently explain that the charts exist for and serve the radio industry-something I think we all forget as we are caught up in our weekly fix.
My introduction to the "one and true" chart was Casey Kasem's "American Top 40" on Sundays in 1982. I believe the show started in the early '70s; did this show trigger the enormous fan interest, or did it exist prior?
Thanks for expanding the online "Chart Beat." I head back to the States today after one year here, and your weekly Billboard columns were a personal morale booster. Hooah!
When I sit in my office in Southern California's San Fernando Valley writing "Chart Beat" every week, I really don't think about people in Baghdad reading the column. Thanks for reminding me of the worldwide reach of "Chart Beat," and I'm glad I could help boost your morale while serving in Iraq. Welcome home.
You pose an interesting question, one that's never been asked in the 10 years I've been answering e-mails in "Chart Beat Chat." It's true, the charts are designed to serve the industry -- including record labels, radio stations and retailers/e-tailers. Yet, there is tremendous fan interest in the charts.
I do think the "American Top 40" radio series had a lot to do with introducing the Billboard charts to people who love music but do not work in the industry, especially in the days before media like Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, CNN, "Entertainment Tonight" and "Access Hollywood."
My interest in the charts pre-dates Casey Kasem's weekly series, but it does involve Casey. He was a DJ on KRLA, one of Los Angeles' top 40 radio stations, in 1963. That was the year I became fascinated with the charts and would rush home from school every Friday to hear the new KRLA top 30 counted down.
That same year I was on a shopping trip in downtown Los Angeles with my mother and discovered a record store where I could hang out while she went to department stores. They had a copy of Billboard behind the counter and I had never seen the magazine before. I didn't realize there was a national chart until that day, and I certainly didn't realize what a pivotal moment that was in my life.
There is much more awareness and scrutiny of the entertainment industry today than there was when I discovered the Billboard charts, so there are many ways people can become aware of them. The charts are published in newspapers and magazines and cited on CNN, and digested in book form by people like Joel Whitburn and myself. I think it might be interesting to find out how "Chart Beat" readers became fans of the charts in the first place. I'll post the most fascinating letters in this column.
BULLETS OVER 770 BROADWAY
How exactly do bullets work on the Billboard Hot 100 and The Billboard 200 charts?
The reason I ask is that Mariah Carey's "Don't Forget About Us" fell from No. 1 to No. 7 on last week's Hot 100 (for the week ending Jan. 14), and also 2-15 on Hot Digital Songs. With this drop it would be easy to think that the track's sales had dropped, however, it was been widely reported on the internet that "Don't Forget About Us" had, in fact, increased in sales.
As far as I know, the track's sales for that week stood at 82,000, up a huge 66%. Surely, this leap in sales demanded a bullet, if not on the Hot 100 (where the track lost airplay impressions from the previous week), then at least on the Hot Digital Songs chart.
On the Hot Digital Songs chart in the past week all 15 tracks sold more than Kanye West's previous record for most downloads in a week, at 80,000. I know "Don't Forget About Us" sold about 40,000, thus all the tracks above it must have gained -- the digital chart seems to disagree with this.
In the same vein, on last week's The Billboard 200, Jamie Foxx's "Unpredictable" moved up 2-1. The news article on Billboard.com concerning that album chart said the album's sales fell 67%, yet the album had a bullet on The Billboard 200.
Simply, how is it possible that a song's sales can gain by more than half, yet not have a bullet; and an album can fall in sales and have a bullet? I thought the point of bullets was to distinguish between songs/albums gaining and falling, regardless of position gains/falls. Please explain -- I'm not sure what's going on!
Since the titles on the Hot 100 and The Billboard 200 are ranked in relation to all of the other songs on the chart that week, it's possible to move up the chart and have a decrease in sales and/or airplay, if your decrease is smaller than other titles; it's also possible to move down the chart with a gain in sales and/or airplay, if your gain is less than other titles that pass you by.
When bullets are awarded, we grade on the curve. That means the percentage of gain needed to win a bullet changes from week to week, to reflect market activity. In a week where most albums experience a gain, such as a week before Christmas when consumers purchase more product than usual, you would need a larger gain than usual to be awarded a bullet.
As an example, on the Hot Digital Songs chart where Mariah Carey's "Don't Forget About Us" fell 2-15, the increases were so dramatic that only titles that gained more than 200% were awarded bullets. "Don't Forget About Us" had a 65% gain in sales, far below the 200% cut-off point for a bullet.
In the week following Christmas, sales usually plunge and almost every title experiences a decline in sales. During this week, it is possible to earn a bullet even with a decrease in sales if you have one of the smallest decreases on the chart.
The reason Jamie Foxx's "Unpredictable" had a bullet the week it climbed to No. 1 is that every album that reaches No. 1 for the first time is awarded a bullet automatically, whether there has been an increase or decrease in sales.
FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
As a longtime lover of [music from] all [over the] world), I was floored to see your recap of all the great albums I thought only I knew over here. :)
I'm constantly turning on my acquaintances to -- and playing in my shows -- Melody Club, the Ark, Amy Diamond and the amazing Bodies Without Organs. Even the Swedish singles are just superb -- such as both Anna S tunes ("I Need You" and "Perfect Love" are both in my top songs of the year and as a Robyn fan you would like them) as is the gorgeous "Between the Lines" by Sambassadeur and Caroline W's "Different Kind of Love."
Ever since I saw the review of Melody Club a year ago, I was hooked -- I'm convinced that something is definitely in the water over there! Even the ultra-indie showstring bands like LeSport and Strip Squad have that unmistakable pop sheen and melody.
Amy Diamond's best (she's only 13 years old!) is yet to come. Have you heard "Lose Sleep Over You" yet? Also, check out the two German remixes of "What's in It for Me" that are arguably better than the original. Also, Sugababes "Push the Button" is good, but "Ugly" is the best song they've done to date IMHO.
Finally, from Wales, Helen Love continues to crank out the pop-punk gems with "Debbie Loves Joey" and "Long Hot Summer."
Thanks for promoting to the clueless (thanks to radio) United States what I consider the best music in the world -- my simple question is how did you get into Swedish music in the first place?
Since the first Swedish music I was ever aware of was recorded by ABBA, I have to hold Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida responsible for turning me on to Swedish pop.
Like everyone else, I heard Roxette and Ace Of Base, but I started traveling to Sweden on an annual basis to attend the Polar Music Prize ceremony every May and that gave me plenty of time to go shopping and discover other Swedish artists. I've also attended the Eurovision Song Contest for the last 10 years, so I've met the Swedish artists who have represented their country at this annual competition.
Eight years ago I started programming the EuroBeat channel on United Airlines, so I needed to pay attention to pop music from all over Europe to keep the programs current. That association has just ended, as the airline is switching from music programmed exclusively for United to satellite radio channels.
For a year-and-a-half I had my own series on Music Choice, "Pop Goes the World," so I needed to find pop music from all over the world for that show. For seven years, I chose the music for "The Billboard Radio Countdown," and we played one song from the "Hits of the World" charts every week. We probably played more songs from Sweden than any other country, so that was another reason to keep up to date with what was popular in that Scandinavian country.
And if I didn't have enough reasons to pay attention to Sweden, a little over a year ago I started my own internet radio station, playing a mix of oldies and pop music from all over the world, with heavy emphasis on Sweden.
When I compiled my top 10 lists for 2005, I didn't set out to intentionally put Swedish acts at the top, but when I considered everything I had heard during the year, my three favorite albums were by Bodies Without Organs, Robyn and Melody Club, and my favorite single was "Be Mine!" by Robyn -- Swedish music all. Over the years, I have picked quite a few Swedish albums as my favorites of the year, as well as a handful of singles.
Thank you so much for including Robyn's "Be Mine!" in your year-end wrap up of favorite songs. I love Robyn, but was not aware she had a new album out. So, I did some digging and found an import copy available through Amazon Canada. I just got it this week.
What a great album -- and "Be Mine!" is so catchy. I really miss pop music like that -- they really don't make it like that any more here in the United States.
I have a question that is "Be Mine!" related. In the middle of the song, there is a section where Robyn talks over the beat (not rapping).
What songs, if any, have hit No. 1 featuring singers talking (not rapping)? It is a device that I either really like ("Oops... I Did It Again" by Britney Spears) or hate. The only other song I can think of is "Leader of the Pack" from the 1960s.
Thanks for your help and for the GREAT recommendation.
I'm glad you were able to find Robyn's album, which is simply titled "Robyn." I still haven't heard any plans for a U.S. release, but from the mail I've been receiving, I apparently am responsible for selling at least a few copies.
I'm a pushover for those talking sections as well, especially when they are effective. I would love Robyn's "Be Mine!" even without her talk, but that does add another layer to the song. It's funny that you mention "Leader of the Pack," because when Robyn talks during "Be Mine!" it is somehow reminiscent of the Shangri-Las.
Perhaps the ultimate talking song is the Shangri-Las' "Past, Present and Future," which was covered by Agnetha Faltskog on her 2004 album, "My Colouring Book." Diana Ross was well-known for talking during her songs. While she did this a lot, two of her No. 1 hits come to mind -- the Supremes' "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone" and her solo "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
Britney's "Oops" wasn't a No. 1 song, but perhaps "Chart Beat" readers will write in with their own personal favorite songs with talking, and I'll post a selection of e-mails here.
I read your column quite religiously and first must thank you for some amazing selections on your year-end list. I just got the last of the CD imports I was waiting for. Bodies Without Organs is great! I always loved Army Of Lovers and it's great to hear true pop music!
My question is about side projects for artists like the Gorillaz. I'm almost positive that they have far surpassed the level of chart success experienced by Blur. I remember so many interesting side projects like the Traveling Wilburys or Arcadia/Power Station but all were far less successful than the acts [that spawned] them.
In modern times, which side projects have been more successful than the [original] bands? Are the Gorillaz the most successful side band?
P.S. I love Robyn too - any word if they will ever release an album of hers again in the United States?
As you read in my reply to the above letter, I haven't heard of any plans to issue Robyn's album in the United States yet, but I hope someone is clever enough to make a deal for an American release.
Blur has never made much of an impact on the Hot 100. In 1992, "There's No Other Way" stalled at No. 82 and two years later, "Girls & Boys" peaked at No. 59. That's it for Blur. So Damon Albam has done much better with Gorillaz, considering that the
"Feel Good Inc" single peaked at No. 14. On The Billboard 200, Blur's highest showing was the No. 56 peak of "Think Tank" in 2003. That's not anywhere near the No. 6 peak of "Demon Days," the third entry for Gorillaz on the album chart.
I can't think of a side project that's done better, so we'll open this up to "Chart Beat" readers to see if anyone else can think of one.
As always, I love reading your column every week.
I recently saw theamazing video for U2's amazing new single "Original of the Species." That got me thinking about the lack of chart success U2 has had with the songs released from "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." Have any of the songs from thatalbum charted besides "Vertigo"? And how much chart success has U2 had in thepast on the Hot 100? Thanks.
It's been 13 months since U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" debuted and peaked at No. 1 on The Billboard 200. To date, only two singles from the CD have charted on the Hot 100. "Vertigo" reached No. 31 and "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" stopped at No. 97.
U2 first appeared on the Hot 100 the week of April 2, 1983, with "New Year's Day," which peaked at No. 53. The band made its singles breakthrough with "With or Without You," which spent three weeks at No. 1 in May 1987. In August of that year, the follow-up, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," ruled the chart for two weeks.
Since then, U2 has had four more top 10 singles:
"Desire," No. 3 (1988)
"Mysterious Ways," No. 9 (1992)
"One," No. 10 (1992)
"Discotheque," No. 10 (1997)
That gives U2 six top 10 hits out of 28 chart entries. The band's most recent appearance was a collaboration with Paul McCartney on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," No. 48 in July 2005.
THE BILLBOARD RADIO COUNTDOWN, R.I.P.
I was sorry to hear that the Billboard Radio Countdown I listened to this week was the last one. I've enjoyed it for a few years now, ever since I first discovered it. It was the first thing I listened to when I came in to work each day (at least for the first few days of the week). I enjoyed hearing songs again that I hadn't heard in quite a while, like "A Little in Love" by Cliff Richard and "Come Back and Stay" by Paul Young, and I enjoyed hearing the current hits as well.
I wish you luck in possibly starting it again sometime in the future.
A Billboard Countdown Fan,
On behalf of host Chuck Taylor and producer Patrick Eves and myself, thank you for letting us know. The Billboard Radio Countdown began seven years ago and while we all hoped it would run forever, we had a great run and we all enjoyed working on it every week. We miss it, too.
If there is any news of reviving the show in a new forum, I'll post that information here.
I have a question about Los Del Rio that I hope you can answer.
I was looking through Joel Whitburn's book of top 40 singles doing some research on one-hit wonders. "Macarena" is probably one of the most successful one-hit wonders of all time (although I'm not a big fan of the song, personally). Two different versions of the song charted, though, and I was wondering why. The "Bayside Boys Mix" stayed at No. 1 for 14 weeks, but the "Non Stop" version also made it into the top 40, peaking at No. 23.
I wouldn't think it would be because one version is a remix. Up until a couple years ago, Billboard used to count all mixes of songs as one entity. They wisely changed the rules after Jennifer Lopez started releasing what amounted to two different songs with only the title in common and claiming that one was a remix of the other. But "Macarena" was released back in 1996, long before that.
Is this something you could answer? The situation has left me pretty curious.
The "non-stop" "Macarena" by Los Del Rio was actually a Spanish-language version that was a separate recording of the song, not a different mix of the "Macarena" recording you know as the "Bayside Boys Mix." It was issued on a different imprint and had a separate catalog number. Thus, it was treated as a separate chart entry.
That begs the question of whether Los Del Rio is a one-hit wonder or not, with three chart entries. True, they are all "Macarena"-based: the Bayside Boys mix, the non-stop version and a Christmas adaptation. In my book, "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits," I don't include Los Del Rio in the chapter on one-hit wonders.
For those who lived through the "Macarena" phenomenon, it might be hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since this ubiquitous song was a hit. And speaking of hard to believe, check this next e-mail.
IT'S TOUGH TO BE AN ADULT!
Back in 1993 something virtually unheard of happened on the Billboard Hot 100. A singer who was only five years old at the time charted. He was French-born Jordy Lemoine, known by just his first name. He peaked at No. 58 with a song containing both French and English lyrics, "Dur Dur D'Etre Bebe! (It's Tough to Be a Baby!)."
Anyway, it's hard to believe, but on Saturday (Jan. 14), Jordy will move into adulthood, as he turns 18 on that day. I wonder what he is doing now and if he has any recollection of recording that song.
After I received your e-mail, I did a Web search and found a photo of Jordy at 16, along with news that his parents had divorced and he was living on a farm with his mother. His interests at 16 included dirt bikes and techno music.
Unlike Los Del Rio, Jordy is a one-hit wonder on the Hot 100. Since he's only 18, he still has many years to erase that status by charting with a second single.
This year, there were several artists who charted on the Hot 100 with multiple singles from one album. Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani, the Black Eyed Peas and Green Day all had three or more songs hit the Hot 100 from the same album. Do you think record labels will continue the trend to release more singles from an artist's album?
In recent years, it was debated that record labels were not releasing more singles because they wanted the public to buy the album. The albums from all of the artists listed above were a huge success, and I believe the release of the singles played a major role. It's great to see and I hope it continues.
As always, thanks for a great column and I look forward to reading more in 2006!
Coincidentally, I was thinking the other day how laughable it was that record companies were convinced they would sell more albums if they didn't release any singles.
What made me think of this was the success of Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway," which has been in the top 20 of The Billboard 200 for its entire 58-week run (and counting). With four hit singles and a fifth one just developing, the album has still managed to sell more than 4 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Would it have done so well without all those hit singles? Of course not.
The same goes for Mariah Carey's "The Emancipation of Mimi," the best-selling album of the calendar year 2005. The album has benefited from the best promotional tool around, hit singles.
So to answer your question, yes, I think the trend of releasing three or more singles per album will continue. The singles market, declared almost dead a couple of years ago, has rebounded in a major way, thanks to paid digital downloads.
The success of "Breakaway" prompted several readers to write about Kelly's long run in the top 20. Here's one of those e-mails now:
I love reading your column and I finally decided to send in a question. With this week's chart, Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" album will have spent its first 58 weeks on The Billboard 200 without leaving the top 20. I would have to think that it's a pretty rare accomplishment to spend at least an entire year in the top 20 on the album chart.
What are the all-time records for consecutive weeks in the top 20 both for an album's initial run (as Kelly's has been) or overall (since it wasn't as common to have such high debuts until the 1990s).
And while it doesn't apply to Kelly, what are the top 10 records as well?
Glad you wrote in, and happy to know that you enjoy "Chart Beat." Still, I have to issue a caution. You've asked the kind of questions where the only way to get accurate answers would be to search through every album chart ever published. That's beyond the time and scope of "Chart Beat." Unfortunately, there is no database to turn to for questions like these, which is why a manual search of thousands of charts would be required.
If you'll settle for not knowing the absolute longest run in the top 20 for a debut album, I can cite two titles that have had longer runs in the top 20 than Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway."
Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time" spent its first 59 weeks in the top 20, so if "Breakaway" remains in the top 20 for two more weeks, it will eclipse the run of Britney's first album.
Shania Twain's "Come on Over" spent its first 99 weeks in the top 20, so "Breakaway" will have to yield a few more hit singles to equal or surpass that run, just over 40 weeks from now.