Fred Bronson discusses Elvis Presley's "Rubberneckin'," Clay Aiken, radio airplay, "Greatest Gainers" and his book series "Hottest Hot 100 Hits."

DON'T FORGET ELVIS

Dear Fred,

How come you didn't mention anything in "Chart Beat" about Elvis Presley's debut at No. 94 last week with "Rubberneckin'"? Doesn't [the single] set some kind of record, like the artist with the longest span [of hits on Billboard's] Hot 100?

Raditya Gunardisurya
Jakarta, Indonesia

Dear Raditya,

When I was first asked to write "Chart Beat Bonus" in 1996, the mission was to write a column that would supplement but not repeat the print edition of "Chart Beat" that appears weekly in Billboard.

That has been a mighty challenge over the last seven years, as you can imagine. Once I see the new charts every Wednesday afternoon, the first thing I do is write the "Chart Beat" column that appears in print. Next, I write the script for "The Billboard Radio Countdown," because host Chuck Taylor records the show in New York on Thursday mornings. Then, I write "Chart Beat Bonus" and compile "Chart Beat Chat," which are posted at Billboard.com on Fridays.

The debut of Elvis Presley's "Rubberneckin'" on the Hot 100 was my lead item in my print column that appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of Billboard. Having said everything relevant I felt there was to say, there was nothing left to write in "Chart Beat Bonus."

This week I faced the same issue with the debut of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for Devil" on the Hot 100. It's my lead item in the print version of "Chart Beat." Fortunately, it was a very rich chart week with a lot to write about, so I managed to write a very long "Chart Beat Bonus" anyway, and even managed to work in a reference to the Stones and Elvis.

Meanwhile, an artist with a No. 1 hit to his credit did read my print column, and had something to say about "Rubberneckin'." Please see the next letter.



'RUBBERNECKIN'' PRE-PRESLEY

Hi Fred,

Read your piece about Elvis's "Rubberneckin'" and thought I'd share a few tidbits about the tune with you.

The singer on the original demo was yours truly and the piano player was Dave "Baby" Cortez. "Bunny Warren," the co-writer, was actually Ben Weisman. Payment came in the form of a $35 check from the publisher with the King's picture on it! I cashed it, as I needed the 35 bucks at that time, but one can imagine how much the Colonel saved with people who wanted a souvenir in lieu of cash.

As for me, I'm still in the business. Just produced the new Lou Rawls album on Savoy Jazz: "Rawls Sings Sinatra" with charts by the legendary Benny Golson ("Killer Joe"). They tell me one of the Miss America finalists sang my song, "At This Moment," on the show. But the most fun I have these days is compiling and annotating reissues for various labels.

Best,

Billy Vera

Dear Billy,

As a big fan of your recordings as well as your annotating work, I'm really happy to hear from you. I have talked to Ben Weisman on the phone about some of his other songs, like Bobby Vee's "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," but did not realize he was "Bunny Warren." At least not initially (sorry). And come to think of it, why didn't I see through "Bunny Warren," as in a rabbit warren?

I only saw part of "Miss America," so missed any performance of "At This Moment." But I feel responsible for the song being heard on the second season of "American Idol," as I suggested the theme for "Billboard's No. 1 Hits," and of the 900+ songs he could have sung, Clay Aiken chose yours as one of his favorites.



AND SPEAKING OF CLAY...

Fred,

I would like to have your opinion on what the chances are for Clay Aiken to win an American Music Award.

Love reading your column -- and don't forget Clay's CD coming out on Oct. 14. We are in for a surprise -- there are CD parties being launched by all his fans across the world including Singapore, Germany, etc.

Monique Beauvais
Montreal

Dear Monique,

First, a disclaimer. I write "The American Music Awards." But that doesn't mean I know who the winner is -- I find out the results the same time as everyone else, when the envelopes are opened during the live broadcast.

To predict the winners of the AMAs, it's helpful to know how the voting process works. An independent company polls 20,000 members of the record-buying public. So this is not an award from peers in the music business, it's an award from the public. I think that increases Clay's chances. I'm not saying he wouldn't win a Grammy, but I think that will be tougher for him, as some people in the industry may resist voting for anyone connected to "American Idol."

Personally, I think Clay's toughest competition in the category is Justin Timberlake. We'll have to wait until Nov.16 when the envelope is opened to find out who wins the AMA for favorite pop male artist.

We won't have to wait quite as long to find out where Clay's first album will debut on The Billboard 200. With the release date set for Oct. 14, the album will be eligible to enter the chart for the week ending Nov. 1. That chart will be officially posted on Billboard.com on Oct. 23, though a news story about the chart will be up a day earlier. It will be interesting to see what happens, as Barbra Streisand's new album is also released on Oct. 14. I know Clay's fans will be doing their best to make sure he debuts at No. 1.

By the way, on Monday [Sept. 29], we'll find out who is nominated for the Fan's Choice Award on the AMAs. If Clay is nominated, that's one award his fans will be able to vote for by going to the ABC-TV Web site for the AMAs.



THE AIRPLAY CONNECTION

Dear Fred,

It seems that we are constantly hearing about how illegal downloads and file sharing are the cause for the huge decline in record sales over the past couple of years. While I agree that this has had an effect on sales, it seems to me that a very large part of the problem with stagnant sales has been overlooked. That problem would be radio.

Now more than ever, radio stations seem to play such a limited amount of songs, and they play those over and over again. With such a limited number of songs getting significant airplay, how do record companies expect the general public to want to buy an album if they have never even heard any of the songs from it?

There have been many really good albums that have come and gone from the charts with barely even one, much less multiple songs being sent to radio for play. Some recent examples of this would be the latest albums from Brian McKnight and Toni Braxton. Albums from artists like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion have sold over a million copies without either having any kind of radio hits, so I can only imagine how many copies their albums might have sold had their songs been played at radio.

On the other hand, if you look at what albums have really been selling, these are the same ones whose songs you can't escape on the radio. Albums from Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne have enjoyed long chart lives, which correspond to multiple radio singles. And if you look at hip-hop and rap artists, there are many cases where a top-10 album is supported by sometimes two or three songs at once on the charts.

I am just curious as to what your opinion is in terms of the impact that radio has on album sales. It seems pretty obvious to me that if consumers hear songs from an album, they are more likely to buy it.

Thanks,

Adam Kuhl
Los Angeles

Dear Adam,

I absolutely agree that radio airplay leads to more sales, but I don't think you would hear any argument from record companies. Radio stations would argue that it's not their job to sell records, but to attract the largest number of listeners. Unfortunately, it does seem that the more you play the same songs over and over, the more people you have listening to your station, which doesn't encourage very conservative radio stations to loosen up their playlists.

And since I love a great segue, airplay is the subject of our next E-mail, too.



A GREAT AND GLORIOUS GAINER

Dear Fred,

Beyoncé and Sean Paul's "Baby Boy" was the Hot Shot Debut on the Hot 100 seven weeks ago and subsequently has been the "Greatest Gainer/Airplay" for six weeks in a row. Is this a record?

If it hits No. 1 next week with another "Greatest Gainer/Airplay" it will have received a chart "award" for every week of its climb to the top! Another one for the record books?

All the best!

Paul Cadogan
Kingston, Jamaica

Dear Paul,

"Baby Boy" has indeed taken over the top spot on the Hot 100, and has earned the chart's "Greatest Gainer/Airplay" title for the seventh week in a row, an all-time record. The song is receiving massive airplay and could occupy pole position for weeks to come.

Under old chart policies, "Greatest Gainer" awards for sales and airplay were not bestowed upon songs in the top-20, so a lot of songs that might have picked up the Greatest Gainer award for every week of their upward journeys to No. 1 wouldn't have been eligible to do so.



NO AUTHOR WOULD MIND THIS

Hi Fred,

Just a quick question: when is the new edition of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits" coming out? I'm sure you've been asked this question a thousand times before, so I hope you don't mind this one.

Thanks,

Christian Narro

Dear Christian,

Trust me, no author minds being asked when his new book is coming out.

I'm told the first advance copies from the printer will arrive at the Billboard office in New York during the first week in October (Billboard Books is an imprint of Watson-Guptill and we are all part of the same company, VNU). Copies then have to be shipped from the printer to the warehouse, and then from the warehouse to bookstores. That should all happen during the month of October, but I can't give you a precise date you will see copies showing up on store shelves.

If anyone wants an advance look at the cover of the fifth edition, I found it hidden away at Amazon.com. You have to click on the fourth edition, scroll down to where it says "all editions," and click on that link. Don't be alarmed that it lists January 2004 as the publication date; by working quickly over the last year we were able to move that original publication date to October 2003.