Fred discusses 'greatest hits' collections, chart methodology and more with readers.

THE GREATEST GREATEST HITS

Hi Fred,

I remember reading that when Madonna's "Immaculate Collection" peaked at No. 2 on The Billboard 200 in 1990, it was the highest peak for a greatest hits album up to that time. Since then, have many greatest hits albums reached the summit? I noticed that Hilary Duff's "Most Wanted" topped the chart not too long ago, and there hasn't been any reference to this accomplishment.

Thanks for your time,

Vince Sacro
Washington, D.C.

Dear Vince,

Madonna's "The Immaculate Collection" debuted on The Billboard 200 the week of Dec. 1, 1990, and peaked at No. 2 the week of Jan. 26, 1991. I'm not sure where you read that this was the highest peak for a greatest hits album up to that time, but I hope it wasn't Billboard, because that statement isn't true.

The first greatest hits collection to top the Billboard album chart was "Johnny's Greatest Hits" by Johnny Mathis. That LP moved to No. 1 the week of June 9, 1958, and spent three non-consecutive weeks in pole position. Its chart run of 490 weeks was a record until Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" passed it by.

Columbia's A&R chief, Mitch Miller, was the label executive who came up with the plan to collect Mathis' biggest singles on one album. "I was in England at the time and I was supposed to go into the studio and record a new album," Mathis told Craig Rosen, author of "The Billboard Book of Number One Albums." "Mitch Miller decided to release all the early singles that I had made as a compilation. That was the beginning of the greatest hits stuff. It was just another marketing ploy, but no one had really started doing that until that album."

Just one week after the debut of "Johnny's Greatest Hits," an album titled "Elvis' Golden Records" debuted, ultimately peaking at No. 3.

The second greatest hits collection to top the album chart was "Diana Ross and the Supremes' Greatest Hits" in 1967. The following year, "Time Peace/The Rascals' Greatest Hits" was the third such collection to spend time at No. 1.

Hilary Duff's "Most Wanted" CD was mentioned in "Chart Beat Chat," but the fact that a greatest hits album topped the chart in itself wasn't newsworthy enough to merit attention, as it's too commonplace.



TURNOVER RATE

Hi Fred,

Regarding previous articles about the slow turnover of No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, why are there so few No. 1s this year, and in previous years, such as 1996 and 2002? Actually ever since the chart methods changed in late 1991, there have been fewer No. 1 songs at the top per year, as compared to pre-1991. Why were there so many No. 1s in the mid 1970s, especially 1974 and 1975, and in the late 1980s?

As a collector of music and No. 1 songs, it would seem that an appropriate total of No. 1 songs per year would be about 18-20 -- [that would be] a good representation of artists and styles of music of that year. Few number ones in a year limit the chances of other artists making No. 1, since those artists are bogged [down] at No. 2, No. 3 or lower, due to chart congestion and long stays at the top, like "One Sweet Day," "Macarena" or "Smooth."

"Macarena's" 14 week stay essentially "blocked" other hit songs from making No. 1. There could have been other No. 1 songs that year, besides "Macarena" in the same 14 week period, had methodologies been different.

The same goes for 1981's "Waiting for a Girl Like You," stuck at No. 2 for eight weeks, due to "Physical" staying at the top for 10 weeks.

Obviously, sales and airplay points [determine] how long a song will stay at No. 1. The above mentioned hits are all wonderful songs, but shorter stays at No. 1 would have allowed more hits to reach No. 1 in those years. But I guess, we're in a new era now.

Do you think we'll return to the days of 18- 20 number one songs per year (higher turnover) or be stuck with slow turnover for many more years?

Eddie Harrison
Colorado Springs, Col.

Dear Eddie,

Choosing an arbitrary number of No. 1 hits per year that feels right to one person would subvert the accuracy of the Billboard charts. The goal has to be to have the most accurate charts possible, not to have 18-20 No. 1 hits in a calendar year.

As you mention, we started seeing longer runs at No. 1 once more accurate technologies of determining sales and airplay were introduced in 1991. Since longer reigns are a function of having more accurate charts, we shouldn't try to force any particular number of No. 1s to happen, but let the charts be what the charts are.

You also correctly point out that sales and airplay points determine how long a song will stay No. 1. When radio stations keep songs in heavy rotation over a longer period of time, they remain on the Hot 100 over a longer period of time, so longer-running No. 1s aren't simply due to chart methodologies; they are a reflection of conditions in the real world.

In the 1960s and 1970s, more singles were issued. In the '60s, an act might release five, six or even seven singles in a calendar year. A current single might only have an airplay life of 10-12 weeks on the radio before being abandoned in favor of the follow-up, which caused a more rapid chart turnover.

It's true that long runs at No. 1 by songs like "One Sweet Day" and "Macarena" keep other songs out of the top spot, but that's the way it is. I'd rather live with that than having false No. 1s just to meet an arbitrary goal.



FOR DISTURBED, THERE'S HELL TO PAY

Dear Fred,

Did you happen to notice that Disturbed's "Ten Thousand Fists" is the 666th album to reach No. 1 on the top 200 album chart since 1955? No one other than a metal band could have done this, don't you agree?

Constantine Ananiades
Athens, Greece

Dear Constantine,

I hadn't noticed, but it certainly is... disturbing!



BORN IN THE U.S.A. (GREAT IN BRITAIN)

Hi, Fred!

I have a question about musical acts that have scored a top 40 outside their home nations without ever scoring a hit in their native top 40. It is hard to imagine that any act could find top 40 success in a foreign country without ever having a single top 40 hit in its own homeland.

With respect to the U.K. and U.S. charts, the list of such artists is small. For example, the Offspring, the Ramones, the Pixies and Hole have all had British top 40 hits and yet have never cracked the top 40 in their own country, America. As unusual as that is, I think you would agree it is easier for an American artist to find success on the British chart than the other way around. Nonetheless, it is rare that those American acts breached the British top 40 without ever hitting the U.S. top 40 during their careers.

Rarer still is for a British act to find top 40 success in America without ever scoring a top 40 hit in England. In fact, after reviewing the U.K. and U.S. chart archives I've found only one British act that has been overlooked in its homeland but has scored repeatedly in America. In the U.S., the Fixx have had six top 40 hits and an additional three more chart entries ranking outside the top 40 on the Hot 100. Their biggest U.S. hit was "One Thing Leads to Another," which peaked at No. 4 in 1983. But in England, they've placed only two songs in the top 75, getting only as high as No. 54 with "Stand or Fall" in 1982.

Though I've done a fair amount of searching on my own, my resources are limited so my question to you is this: What British acts (bands, duos or soloists) in the history of the U.S. and U.K. charts have reached the U.S. top 40 without ever entering the top 40 in their native Britain? I believe the Fixx are completely unique in this regard but even if they are not, I think their six U.S. top 40 hits makes them stand out as very unusual.

I find this very odd! Is their achievement in America to be regarded as a badge of shame that they were rejected by their native Britain or as a badge of victory for conquering America when other Brit mega-successes like Ultravox, the Smiths and the Jam could barely break the Hot 100 here in America? Your thoughts?

Thanks!

Mick Warwell

Dear Mick,

There is no shortage of American acts who have found success in other countries without ever having a hit at home. The first three who come to my mind don't qualify for your list, because each one had one top 40 hit in the United States, but for the record, they are P.J. Proby, Suzi Quatro and Jennifer Rush.

There are other American acts who have had hits in Britain without scraping into the top 40, or in some cases, never appearing anywhere on the Hot 100. The list is too long to be complete here, but some names that come to mind are the Bucketheads, PP Arnold, Gary Jules, Jason Nevins, Armand Van Helden and Kelly Osbourne.

It's hard enough to say why one act makes it on the chart and another doesn't, let alone consider the factor of land of birth. It always surprised me that Detroit native Suzi Quatro could have a run of hits in the United Kingdom like "Can the Can," "48 Crash" and "Devil Gate Drive" without making a similar impact in the United States, but I can't give you a good reason.