Fred Bronson discusses Warren Zevon, Roxette, "Chart Beat" criteria and his busy professional schedule with readers.
Being a longtime Warren Zevon fan, it's pleasing to see him back on the charts with his great new album, "The Wind." [It is] No. 1 on the Top Internet Albums chart and No. 16 on The Billboard 200. Zevon should have had greater success during his 35+ year career. There's so much more to Warren Zevon than "Werewolves of London."
But what does his chart history look like? What are the top singles and albums? How many times has he charted since starting out as one half of Lyme and Cybelle in the '60s?
P.S. Warren Zevon Trivia Question:
What piano-playing songwriter did he record a one-off single with in the '60s under the name the Brothers? They took one side each of the vinyl 45. The songwriter had pop success in the '70s and went on to a career in soundtracks. Which is not that surprising as it runs in the family...
Answer: The Brothers were Warren Zevon and ... Randy Newman!
My print column in the Sept. 13 issue of Billboard has details about Warren Zevon's "The Wind." A brief recap: This final album from Zevon, who announced last year that he is dying of lung cancer, is his highest-ranked set on The Billboard 200 since 1978, when "Excitable Boy" peaked at No. 8.
"The Wind" is the first Zevon album to chart since the now-ironically titled "Life'll Kill Ya" stopped at No. 173 in February 2000. It is Zevon's ninth solo album to reach the chart and the second-most successful, behind "Excitable Boy." In third place is "Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School," which went to No. 20 in 1980.
Only two solo Zevon singles have appeared on the Hot 100. "Werewolves of London" went to No. 21 in 1978 and "A Certain Girl" reached No. 57 in 1980.
I didn't know who Zevon was in 1966, but I liked "Follow Me" by Lyme and Cybelle. That single, issued on the White Whale label, peaked at No. 65. I also liked the duo's version of Bob Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now," but it didn't chart.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN ROXETTE
Thank you for a great column.
I have a question about the Swedish duo Roxette. The group has had four No. 1s in the U.S. ("The Look," "Listen to Your Heart," "It Must Have Been Love" and "Joyride") but now can't even enter [the chart]! Roxette's latest release ("The Ballad Hits") was a complete failure in the U.S., but in the U.K. it peaked at No. 11! How come the group is doing so badly in the U.S.? Do you think that it could ever be on the charts again?
No one will be surprised to learn I am a Roxette fan, given my predilection for Swedish music. Unfortunately, the group have been absent from the U.S. charts for so long, that it's off the radar. I think only devoted fans were aware of the domestic release of "The Ballad Hits," and most of them had probably purchased this CD as an import, along with "The Pop Hits."
Per Gessle's latest album, recorded in Swedish, has been on top of the album chart in Sweden for weeks, but I don't know when we'll see Roxette back on the Hot 100 or The Billboard 200 again.
BOTH FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC
I'm beginning to notice a very negative trend. In every decade since the British Invasion [in 1964], the British and Americans have co-existed on the U.S. singles chart. However, the last British artist to hit No. 1 in the U.S. was Elton John with "Candle in the Wind 1997" / "Something About the Way You Look Tonight" in 1997.
This week, for the second time in my lifetime, there are NO British artists on the Hot 100. Why is this? There are some songs that are OBVIOUSLY not passable as American hit singles. Acts like the Cheeky Girls, Fast Food Rockers and mediocre "Pop Idol" runner-up Gareth Gates could never do well on the Hot 100, despite the fact that every one of these artists' singles (and yes, they amount to more than three) charted at No. 5 or above.
However, there are many acts that are inexplicably unsigned in the U.S. For example, the U.K.'s answer to Ashanti, Lisa Maffia, peaked at No. 2 in the U.K. with her debut single, "All Over." But, since the subsequent release in Australia only made No. 42, Independiente Records and Sony Music have little to no interest in releasing the single in the U.S. Meanwhile, I play my copy of my imported single of this song for people, and they immediately fall in love with it. It is a very good track.
The plight of Lisa Maffia is inexplicable since the American labels, especially Sony, BMG and EMI, are desperate to find new R&B acts to keep with current chart trends and keep up with rivals Warner and Universal. Why not take a chance and promote these records?
The same thing applies to U.K. hip-hop group Big Brovaz. They are a huge chart act in Australia and in Europe. Their latest single, "Favorite Things," just zoomed to No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 3 in Australia. Apparently this will be their first single in the U.S., however I have yet to hear a word about whether or not Sony will actually be promoting the single. BET.com doesn't even list the single or review it.
There is no question as to England's importance in the international musical landscape. However, the eventual decline of British music in North America troubles me, especially with declining record sales and a general apathy by many in my age group (12-17) to top 40 radio. In 1973 and 1974, there were 35 No. 1 singles in the U.S. over a one-year span. In 2002 there were seven. We must do something to revive the musical environment in North America somehow. Maybe taking chances on these new foreign acts will prove prosperous for all.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
PS: Elton John's new single "Are You Ready for Love" is great. I'm glad Southern Fried got hold of it. Will it be released in North America at all?
Billboard has been reporting on the state of British success in the U.S., or more accurately, the lack of it. I don't think there's just one reason why U.K. artists are finding it difficult to have success in America.
This subject has come up before in "Chart Beat Chat," and one explanation I've offered still holds true: the domestic arms of the major labels often give their highest priority to homegrown acts. If the international division of a record company signs an act, the domestic A&R staff doesn't have the same connection to an artist they've signed themselves.
One example: The U.K. office of Warner Bros. signed Cher to the label and had a massive hit in Britain and Europe with "Believe." The U.S. arm of Warner Bros. wasn't very keen on releasing "Believe" in the U.S. because even though Cher is an American act, she was signed to the British label.
As for Big Brovaz' "Favorite Things," I'm hoping it will become a big U.S. hit, for selfish reasons. Having a Rodgers & Hammerstein song on the Hot 100 will give me plenty to write about in "Chart Beat." The same would hold true if Elton John's "Are You Ready for Love" became a hit here, but I haven't heard of any plans to release it.
DEREK GOES FOUR FOR FOUR
Hello, Mr. Bronson,
It has been interesting to see my name in "Chart Beat Chat" three weeks in a row! Some sort of record in itself?
I thought that I would hit a bigger nerve than I did. I only got two E-mail responses, both of them positive. I expected to see my in-box fill up with fans defending ["American Idol" and] its singers. Didn't happen.
All of this has made me wonder a couple of things. What is the volume of mail from which you choose three or four letters a week to post online? What kind of criterion makes a letter worthy to you?
I know you don't send individual replies, for obvious reasons, so a word about these things, I think, would be informative to anyone who has thought of writing but didn't bother, figuring that they would not be posted.
It is interesting to see people do some research and submit a letter based on my original submission. My family and friends were quite interested in seeing my letter online.
The volume of E-mail fluctuates, but if you count all my Billboard E-mail, I usually receive a few hundred missives each week. Most are not suitable for the column, though. There might only be a handful or two each week that receive consideration for posting in "Chart Beat Chat."
A lot of people just want to know where a song or album charted, but that's not a service I can provide. Billboard has a research department that will perform this service for a fee, or someone can go to a library and look up the information. They could also consult one of the chart books published by Billboard Books or by Joel Whitburn's Record Research.
There are also a lot of questions about how many copies an album has sold, no matter how many times I explain that per Billboard policy, I cannot give out sales figures. [Ed Note: The "Ask Billboard" column posted weekly on Billboard.com deals with a limited amount of such requests.]
There are usually a number of questions that would require me to search through every chart over the last 50 years manually to come up with an accurate answer. I don't have the time or inclination to do that.
There are some questions that are repeats of questions that have already appeared in "Chart Beat Chat," so those are usually not considered.
There are a number of E-mails that continue threads begun in earlier columns. Some threads are worth pursuing and some are not, so that's an editorial call on my part.
I do proofread each E-mail and correct spelling and grammar, and make changes in syntax if a letter is unintelligible. If the spelling and grammar are so out of whack that it would take too much time and effort to repair the damage, the E-mail is usually deleted. E-mails written in all upper case or all lower case rarely get consideration because they also require too much work.
And as mentioned here many times, letters without full names at the bottom are not considered. Having a name in an E-mail address is not sufficient, as many times the person writing the letter is not the same person whose name appears in the E-mail address.
Original, thoughtful letters have the best chance of appearing in the column. Letters filled with vitriol do not.
Finally, I do try to give everyone a chance. I know that some names appear in the column a lot, and that's because I also won't keep someone out if they have sent a letter worthy of posting, even if they are a frequent contributor.
IS IT 14:59 ALREADY?
If you're not too busy with your new "American Idol" fame, I have another consulting job that desperately needs your help. (BTW, did the "AI" gig lead to your makeover? I'm still finding it hard to believe I'm writing to the same person as before!)
I bought my yearly batch of CDs, including many compilations/greatest hits packages. Among artist collections, most collected all of the hits, but some had glaring omissions. Dan Fogelberg, .38 Special, Madonna's "GHV2" and Diana Ross' RCA set come to mind. These CDs had plenty of room for other [songs], yet they chose [not to include all of their hits].
Among genre-specific ones, I had the most fun listening to the "Pure Disco" series, and in that case, I was surprised by what was included -- Irene Cara's "Flashdance... What a Feeling," Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" and "Upside Down" by Diana Ross. All fine songs, all big danceable hits, but disco?
Anyway, I thought if you were looking for a little cash, you could help these guys (and us!) out by helping keep these projects on track.
It's amazing what a 40-second appearance on "American Idol" can do for one's career. But a makeover? It's more a case of letting about 11 years elapse between photo sessions. Your E-mail gives me a chance to say thanks to Joseph Masters and Maria Gresley for the new photo session. That's their photo in the print edition of Billboard as well, and another of their photos will appear on the back cover of the fifth edition of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits," due out any week.
I wish had time to take on more consultancy work, but my plate is very full at the moment. It's true that for the first time in six years, I am NOT writing a book, but I've just sold two television projects and am writing "The American Music Awards" for the 10th year running. I've had my share of frustrations with greatest hits collections that aren't complete, though, so I can empathize.