"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson discusses with readers: music popularity cycles, "American Idol" and singles charts, commercially released singles, and Nate Dogg.

POP IDOLS

Dear Fred,

Although I always love reading your column, I have truly enjoyed it more in recent weeks. I'm not sure if the topics are more interesting or if I've seen an increase in the variety of topics. I appreciate all of your answers because it is obvious you put a great deal of thought and time into each one.

I have a topic that has been on my mind for a couple of months. We all know that musical tastes are cyclical, especially when it comes to radio formats. I have been wondering when the next "pop" explosion, if there is another one, will take place.

With the success of Kelly Clarkson's new CD; the revival of musicals on the big screen; new Destiny's Child, 'N Sync, and Backstreet Boys CDs in the works; and the success of Justin Timberlake's solo career, I've been thinking that by the beginning of next year, we may see another swing in the musical cycle. Solo artists sometimes fan the flame for the various groups, and it will be interesting to see how they affect the next round of group releases.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this.

Thanks as always!

Dean Smedley
Jackson, Miss.

Dear Dean,

I agree -- as I've said often in this space, everything is cyclical. We just have to wait for things to come around again, and we never know how long it will be.

Even though some people in the music business show disdain for televised pop shows like "American Idol," we can't ignore the fact that as many as 19 million people watch the show every week. New generations are being exposed to music they may not be familiar with; I bet a lot of people watching the April 29 show had never heard of Neil Sedaka until they saw Ryan Seacrest introduce him. I've heard a lot of comments that the Sedaka show was one of the series' best (aside from the Billboard's No. 1 hits eopisode, of course). "American Idol" has already had an effect on the industry, and I think it will continue to do so as the next American Idol is chosen and we find names like Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Kimberley Locke, and/or Joshua Gracin on our charts.

I also think the music business hasn't served the audience for pop music very well, and maybe some label folks are catching on that this is an audience hungry for good new music.



WANING WAX

Hi Fred,

When "God Bless the U.S.A." by the American Idol finalists debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100, I was thinking that by the following week, it would easily go to No. 1, but when I saw the new chart, it took a nosedive to No. 19. I just don't understand. The song was so popular that the finalists even performed it on the show. What could have caused the song to wane so quickly and why is it that songs about the U.S. and its patriotism aren't big hits on the major charts? If you know, please let me know!

Thanks,

Jeevaka Weerasena
Leeds, England

Dear Jeevaka,

You're very informed about "American Idol" for someone living in the U.K. Are you watching the series on ITV2? I was very distressed to learn that my appearance on the show was edited out of the condensed version shown in your country. I don't know how ITV2 had handled the storm of protests, but I'm sure they received thousands of E-mails.

As for the fate of "God Bless the U.S.A." on Billboard's Hot 100, it's important to understand that this chart is compiled by combining sales and airplay data (unlike the U.K. singles chart, which is based only on sales). In its first week of release, "God Bless the U.S.A." sold more than 100,000 copies, easily debuting at No. 1 on the separate Hot 100 Singles Sales chart. But the Idols' song did not receive a lot of airplay, and so its No. 4 debut on the main Hot 100 was fueled by the massive sales (and for the U.S., those are massive sales figures for a single). This week, "God Bless the U.S.A." remains the best-selling single in America, but with fewer copies sold and no additional airplay, a plunge on the Hot 100 was inevitable.

And just to clarify, some No. 1 singles sell in the neighborhood of 10,000 copies in a week, so selling 100,000 copies is very impressive.

I think there are a lot of reasons the Idols' song is not receiving airplay, including the fact that combat in Iraq has come to an end. If the timing had been different, the song might have received more spins at radio. Also, while this is a pop treatment, the song was originally a country tune, and that doesn't win any points at top 40 radio.

By the way, of all the songs on the Hot 100, "God Bless the U.S.A." has the smallest amount of airplay, which is another way of saying that this song is really charting based on sales.



THE SINGLES SCENE

Hi Fred,

There has been a lot of talk in this column about the release of singles, and their popularity and thus usefulness as far as the music charts are concerned.

Well, I've been following both the U.S. and the U.K. singles charts for many years now. Though the singles market is basically dead in America, it is still booming in the U.K. In fact, every song that reaches No. 1 in that country actually enters the chart at that position, based on sales. As a matter of fact, back in 2000, there was a new No. 1 song practically every week. I was wondering why is it that singles are still hot in the U.K., but hardly sell in the U.S.?

"God Bless the U.S.A." by the American Idol Finalists did debut at No. 4 on the Hot 100 due to first-week sales, but this is obviously a special case. With the present methodology, do you think it is even possible for a regular single to enter at No. 1 in the U.S.? Also, I was wondering why "You Are Not Alone" by Michael Jackson was the first single ever to debut at the top on the Hot 100. Was there a change in chart policy that week back in 1995? And, interestingly, Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" debuted at No. 1 just a few weeks later! (For the record, the first song to debut at No. 1 in the U.K. was "Jailhouse Rock" by Elvis Presley back in 1957).

Also, I was wondering why so many songs that were not released as singles in the U.S. during the '90s were released in the U.K. (and often did very well), for example, "Don't Speak" by No Doubt, and the Fugees' "Killing Me Softly." Both were million-sellers in Britain, but never came out in America despite huge radio airplay.

Thanks for reading this long letter, and going through all my questions!

Keith Kulkarni
Dallas

Dear Keith,

The singles market has all but evaporated in the U.S. because record companies would prefer that you buy entire albums. This trend became full-blown after songs you cite like "Don't Speak" and "Killing Me Softly" were not released commercially. They became big radio hits and helped sell albums instead. In the U.K., record companies continue to release singles and the market for them is still healthy.

There was a chart policy change that allowed Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" to become the first single to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100. Prior to that time, singles were allowed to enter the chart the same week they went on sale in stores. That meant, in effect, that a single's first week only included airplay points, because there were no sales points until the following week, after a single had been on sale for seven days. Once the rule was changed to prevent singles from debuting until they had a full week of sales to their credit, we had a flurry of No. 1 debuts because these songs had no points one week, and then a massive number of sales and airplay points the following week, allowing them to enter in pole position.

Once chart rules were changed to allow airplay-only tracks to enter the Hot 100, the era of high debuts was virtually over. Songs usually receive airplay before they go on sale, so songs enter as soon as they have enough airplay points to chart. Once sales kick in, they can take extraordinary jumps, which explains why Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" was able to leap 52-1.

It's still possible, though extremely difficult, for a song to debut at No. 1. If "God Bless the U.S.A." had more sales the first week, it could have entered at No. 1 instead of No. 4.



DOGGIN' AROUND

Dear Fred,

With Nate Dogg's ascension to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks survey (as a featured artist on 50 Cent's "21 Questions"), it made me wonder whether Dogg is the biggest solo artist to never have his own solo hit on the Hot 100 or the R&B/Hip-Hop charts. So I did some research and found that he's actually been the lead artist on two top-40 hits on the Hot 100, one in 1996 featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg and the other in 1998 with Warren G. But he's been a featured guest vocalist more often than not on some big Hot 100 hits in his career, including the 50 Cent single, and other songs by Warren G, Ludacris, and Fabolous.

Nate Dogg, however, has never had his own top-40 Hot 100 single, where he was the only artist given label credit. And I don't recall him having his own top-40 hit on the R&B chart either, although I admittedly don't follow that chart as much as the Hot 100. But this doesn't make Nate Dogg the biggest solo artist there never was!

That distinction belongs to rap entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who has made a career of collaborating with others (and borrowing hits from the past, I might add) ever since 1996. Every one of P. Diddy's approximately 20 top-40 Hot 100 hits, including his four No. 1 songs, have been collaborations with other artists who have been given label credit. Thus, in taking turns as a featured guest or featuring other musicians, rappers, and singers on all of his hit songs, P. Diddy/Puff Daddy is the most recognizable and easily the biggest solo artist to never have a solo hit single!

Darrell Roberts
Charlotte, N.C.

Dear Darrell,

Great observation. For the record, Nate Dogg did have one solo effort chart on our R&B/Hip-Hop survey. "I Got Love" peaked at No. 45 the week of Oct. 27, 2001.