CHART BEAT CHAT

Fred Bronson discusses the Dixie Chicks, drastic chart drops, freedom of speech, radio airplay, and songs with 'fool' in the title with readers.

THE NIGHT THEY DROVE THE DIXIES DOWN

Fred,

Looks like the title "Landslide" was appropriate. The Dixie Chicks song avalanched this week from No. 10 to No. 43 on Billboard's Hot 100. That's one of the biggest drops ever out of the top-10. Here are the only other songs I could find that fell from the top-10 straight out of the top-40:

• "Even the Nights Are Better," Air Supply (6-42, Sept. 25, 1982)
• "Steppin' Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)," Tony Orlando & Dawn (7-48, Nov. 9, 1974)
• "Auld Lang Syne," Kenny G (8-66, Jan. 22, 2000)
• "Sweet Home Alabama," Lynyrd Skynyrd (8-44, Nov. 9, 1974)
• "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)," Donna Summer (10-59, Oct. 2, 1982)
• "Abracadabra," Steve Miller Band (10-48, Oct. 30, 1982)
• "Get Down on It," Kool & the Gang (10-47, June 5, 1982)

Clearly what's contributed to this is radio's reaction to the Chicks' comments in Europe that were taken as critical of America's involvement in Iraq. Free speech, apparently, has its price.

So to help restore the spirit of international friendship, I suggest a challenge to your readers. How many songs can they find that have made the Hot 100 for at least three different acts, each from a different country?

As an example, and indeed the only instance I can think of, "Just One Look" charted for American Doris Troy, British act the Hollies, and Canadian Anne Murray.

Let's start a musical international coalition!

Pat Kelly
Brampton, Ontario

Dear Pat,

The collapse of "Landslide" is the biggest fall from the top-10 since the Kenny G song you cite, "Auld Lang Syne." And speaking of an avalanche, that's how I would describe the E-mails I received this week from "Chart Beat" readers about the sudden drop of the Dixie Chicks. There were too many letters to print them all, but I've picked a small sample to post here in "Chat."



CHICKS' NICKS MIX NIXED

Dear Fred,

I think the quick descent of the Dixie Chicks' songs on Billboard's Hot 100 once again proves that any airplay-heavy chart is open to manipulation at the hands of radio jockeys. While their album suffered a sales decrease as well, despite the sharp dip, it's still in the top-10. I'm sure there are many fans of the group who support them for their music and not for their political beliefs. The Dixie Chicks committed no crime. They simply expressed their honest opinion. What a shame then for them to face such a backlash in a country that prides itself on the vast freedom of expression it gives it citizens.

The reason I write is merely to point out that when radio stations can boycott a group and cause a song that was in the top-10 to fall below the top-40 the next week, or worse, still a song that was No. 1 two weeks ago to fall off the chart, then maybe it's time to restructure the charts so they don't fall prey to such manipulation. No doubt, the fall of "Landslide" was less steep on the Hot 100 because of the additional sales points it received, no matter how miniscule they were. No matter how small sales of singles may be, even if just a few thousand people buy them every week, they do so because they make a choice to do so -- a choice is something they don't seem to have at radio these days.

Thanks for reading,

Amit Gurbaxani
Mumbai, India

Dear Amit,

I appreciate your comments. Now, I'm going to ask you and other readers to examine this issue objectively for a moment -- in other words, put aside any feelings you have about the comments of Dixie Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines, whichever side of the issue you fall on.

This wasn't about radio programmers trying to manipulate the charts. Maines made a comment and listeners reacted pro and con. So did radio station programmers, sometimes on their own and sometimes based on listeners' comments and requests. Those stations that stopped playing the Dixie Chicks did so to take a stand. As a result, there was a dramatic drop in airplay and "Landslide" and "Travelin' Soldier" plunged or fell off the charts. The charts reflected what happened in the real world, as they should. That's not a reason to restructure the charts -- if anything, it's reinforcement that they are accurate and are working just fine.

As much as I am in favor of keeping the single as a viable format and including sales data in the charts, it would distort those charts to give more weight to sales when some singles sell a few thousand or even a few hundred copies a week. That is indeed a miniscule amount, as you point out, and no way to gauge the popularity of a song in a nation of 290 million people.

But don't count sales out yet. There are two titles on this week's Hot 100 that are a harbinger of things to come. Madonna's "American Life" and Fleetwood Mac's "Peacekeeper" are both on the chart thanks to sales of paid downloads. It's early days, but as the practice of selling paid downloads becomes more widespread, look for sales to be a stronger factor in compiling the Hot 100.



FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Fred,

I am having a hard time with this huge fall from the top-10 by the Dixie Chicks. I know it's because radio programmers have decided to stop playing their songs because of negative comments made by the lead singer about our President.

I thought we lived in a country where freedom of speech is allowed, but it seems as we are no different than who we are fighting. It shows that if everyone isn't totally for our President and the war then we are against the country as a whole. This also shows how radio programmers think.

Why follow in everyone's footsteps -- if a song is good, why should the personal views of the artist matter? I tried to explain my feelings to one radio station here in Tucson that stopped playing "Landslide" and asked them to let me speak on the air about my views about taking the song out of rotation, but they felt it would hurt their ratings. We have no real freedom of speech in this country.

Jeffrey Morgan
Tucson, Ariz.
a1boyz2002@aol.com

Dear Jeffrey,

You do make a good point about being able to exercise freedom of speech without being branded anti-American. However, the issue of freedom of speech is often misunderstood. Natalie Maines absolutely had freedom of speech to express her opinion. Those radio stations that removed the Dixie Chicks from their playlists weren't interfering with Maines' freedom of speech. Right or wrong, they had as much right to remove "Landslide" and "Travelin' Soldier" as Maines had to say what she felt about the President.

There is no inherent right to have your song played on the radio. Think back to the protests of the gay and lesbian community about Laura Schlesinger having her own television series. Those that felt she shouldn't be on the air had the right to express that opinion. Schlesinger had no inherent right to have her own TV series; that was more about her viability in the marketplace.

It remains to be seen how the Dixie Chicks will fare in the future when it comes to airplay and sales. Of those who objected to what Maines had to say, some will forgive and forget and others will hold this against them for decades (think of all those people who still have it in for Jane Fonda).

By the way, you didn't mention if the station you called normally airs listeners' editorial opinions. In Los Angeles, our all-news radio stations regularly broadcast editorials as well as editorial replies by listeners, but our music stations do not. The issue might not really have been that you would hurt the stations' ratings, but that they didn't want to set a precedent of airing listeners' grievances.



FOOLS #1-25

Dear Fred,

Since April Fool's Day is coming up I thought it would be appropriate to list the top-25 songs with the word "fool" in the title. Of course, this list was compiled from your Top 5000 Songs of the Rock Era list in your current edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits."

1. "Foolish Games," Jewel (1997)*
2. "Foolish," Ashanti (2002)
3. "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," Connie Francis (1960)
4. "Poor Little Fool," Ricky Nelson (1958)
5. "What a Fool Believes," Doobie Brothers (1979)
6. "Foolish Beat," Debbie Gibson (1988)
7. "Chain of Fools," Aretha Franklin (1968)
8. "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," Elvin Bishop (1976)
9. "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," the Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon (1956)
10. "Fool #1," Brenda Lee (1961)
11. "(Now and Then) There's a Fool Such as I," Elvis Presley (1959)
12. "Everybody Plays the Fool," Main Ingredient (1972)
13. "The Fool," Sanford Clark (1956)
14. "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," Diana Ross (1981)
15. "Foolish Little Girl," the Shirelles (1963)
16. "She's a Fool," Lesley Gore (1963)
17. "The Fool on the Hill," Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 (1968)
18. "(Fool) If You Think It's Over," Chris Rea (1978)
19. "Nobody's Fool," Kenny Loggins (1988)
20. "Everybody Plays the Fool," Aaron Neville (1991)
21. "Kissing a Fool," George Michael (1988)
22. "What Kind of Fool," Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb (1981)
23. "Fools Rush In," Rick Nelson (1963)
24. "Don't Want To Be a Fool," Luther Vandross (1991)
25. "What Kind of Fool Am I," Sammy Davis, Jr. (1962)

• "Foolish Games" was the flip side of "You Were Meant for Me" and wasn't listed until the single's 42nd week on the Hot 100.

Only a fool such as I would think of a list such as this.

Richard K. Rogers
Brooklyn, N.Y.
dizzydoctors@hotmail.com

Dear Richard,

I can't wait to see what list you're going to put together for Arbor Day! But no foolin', thanks for taking the time to compile this top-25. It's truly a fools' hall of fame.