Fred Bronson answers questions on Madonna, one-hit wonders, featured artists, the Ramones, and airplay-only hits.

CAUTION: This week's Chart Beat Chat ends with a surprise twist you won't see coming until the very last second! Uh-uh, don't scroll down there now -- have a little patience!

'LIFE' GOES ON

Hello Fred,

I just purchased Madonna's "digital" single "American Life" on her official Web site for a cheap price of $1.49 and I am anxiously awaiting [for it to arrive] on March 24, but until then I'm hoping you would be able to fill the void by explaining exactly how this "digital" single will count toward Billboard's singles chart.

If it does indeed appear on that chart a few weeks before the commercially-released maxi single, which I still intend to buy, could you let us know if you think this will debut strongly on the Hot 100? Will Madonna be the first artist to debut on the Hot 100 on digital points? I am rather excited at this prospect of new chart policies!

And lastly, please let your readers know if you've heard her new single or album at all. What did you think of it? Will we possibly see a 13th No. 1 single and another No. 1 album?

John Stephenson
Buffalo, N.Y.
MadonnaJon@aol.com

Dear John,

I haven't heard Madonna's "American Life" single or the new album yet, but I'm looking forward to both. I've been receiving a lot of mail from Madonna fans on this topic, as has Keith Caulfield for his "Ask Billboard" column. Keith might also be receiving a lot of this mail because he's an avowed Madonna fan.

The latest information is that SoundScan will be tracking paid downloads of "American Life," and these sales will count toward the song's position on the Hot 100. It is not the first time a digitally available MP3 track has been counted, but in the past the number of paid downloads per song was so small that there was no effect on chart position.

In this case, "American Life" will be the first digital-download-only single to appear on the Hot 100 Singles Sales chart. As you mentioned, the downloads can be purchased now, but the track won't be sent until March 24. That means sales will be counted in the tracking week that ends March 30 for the charts that are compiled on Wednesday, April 2. Those charts will be for the week ending April 12 and will appear in that issue of Billboard. They will be posted on Billboard.com on Thursday, April 3.

A commercial CD single will be released on April 8, so those sales figures won't kick in until "American Life" is already on the sales chart because of the paid downloads. Where the song appears on the main Hot 100 will depend on how much airplay it receives, and how many copies it sells. A potent combination of sales and airplay could indeed mean Madonna will collect her 13th chart-topper. We'll just have to wait and see.



ONE SINGULAR SENSATION

Hi Fred,

With all of the talk about one-hit wonders recently, I've gotten into debates on the criteria for a one-hit wonder. I want to run some artists by you, and I want to know your take on them.

First, I agree with you on a pure one-hit wonder, as an artist that had, let's say a top-40 hit, and never hit the Hot 100 again. When people think an act like Lipps, Inc. is a one-hit wonder, I can see why and generally let it go, because usually only avid chart watchers know about songs like "Rock It." However, someone like Gary Numan had one Hot 100 hit, but over 30 top-40 hits in England. I can't bring myself to call someone like him who had hits, albeit in another country, a one-hit wonder.

Then there's Don Williams, whose only hit on the Hot 100 was "I Believe in You," not counting his work with the Pozo-Seco Singers. Or John Anderson, who went to No. 43 with "Swingin'," his only pop hit, although he has appeared over 50 times on the country chart. How can these be considered one hitters?

Then there's the case of Queensryche, who had one chart entry, "Silent Lucidity," but many
successful albums, and many hits on rock radio. Finally, Frida, who had only "I Know There's Something Going On," but sang on plenty of tunes with ABBA. Should she be considered a one-hit wonder, when her voice has been heard on several tunes?

To me a one-hitter would be someone like Peter McCann, Bobby McFerrin, or Stallion. I just wondered your take on this.

Sincerely,

John Jayne
Des Moines, Iowa
city5705boy@yahoo.com

Dear John,

I did have to give this matter a lot of thought when I assembled the list of the top 100 one-hit wonders of the rock era for the third edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits." I decided that an artist like Frida or Don Williams, who might be one-hit wonders counting only their solo careers, are by common sense not one-hit wonders, and that their work with ABBA and the Pozo-Seco Singers should be counted. If you think about it, calling Frida a one-hit wonder doesn't ring true.

On the other hand, Gary Numan is clearly a one-hit wonder in the U.S., thanks to "Cars," but not in the U.K., and that's what I wrote in my book. Other acts, such as Queensryche, are one-hit wonders on the Hot 100, but not other Billboard charts.

Then there are artists unlucky enough to be one-hit wonders on more than one chart. Dale Ward is a one-hit wonder on the Hot 100 thanks to his 1964 single "Letter From Sherry," but also a one-hit wonder on the country singles tally, where he only charted with "If Loving You Means Anything" in 1968.

Then there's the case of the triple one-hit wonder, though technically she doesn't qualify under the Frida-Don Williams rule. On the Hot 100, London-based group Pickettywitch had just one entry, "That Same Old Feeling," which peaked at No. 67 in 1970. In 1975, lead singer Polly Brown had just one chart single on her own, when "Up in a Puff of Smoke" (a personal favorite of mine) reached No. 16. A year earlier, Brown had just one chart entry as half of the duo Sweet Dreams. Their cover of ABBA'S "Honey Honey" went to No. 68.



OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION

Hi Fred,

I have been a chart fanatic since 1978 and have read Chart Beat for a few years. This is my very first comment that I have sent to you. In the last few months a lot of letters and comments have been written about featured artists listed in the charts and whether they should get full credit or not. There was a dispute about new records which have been set -- for example, by counting Ashanti's work as a solo artist and her work as a featured artist to achieve that new record.

Now the number of artists who are credited with a top-10 hit every week seems to increase more and more. Whereas in the good old days we had a top-10 with 10 songs and 10 artists we now have 10 songs with 15 or more artists (I am glad I gave up compiling my own personal chart statistics of the top-10 because it would be double the work nowadays).

So when was the last time we had a top-10 with 10 artists only ? It was the chart of Nov. 25, 2000. Since then we've had at least 11 names represented in the top-10, with a record of 22 names on the chart dated Aug. 17, 2002 (or even 23 if you count "Irv Gotti presents The Inc." as two artists).

I wonder if this phenomenon of featuring everybody who added just a few words to the song will ever disappear again. What do you think? I still remember the times when a collaboration was not an everyday thing and caused excitement, like the duets of Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand or Electric Light Orchestra and Olivia Newton-John.

Best regards,

Karl Steinmetz
Munich, Germany

Dear Karl,

Thanks for your first E-mail to Chart Beat. The practice of artists appearing on other artists' songs and receiving credit has certainly become widespread. As long as an artist is namechecked in the credits, they receive credit for the song, whether they are the lead artist or the featured artist.

Everything is cyclical (an oft-mentioned philosophy of mine), so I'm sure there will come a day when the word "featuring" won't even appear on the Hot 100. Just don't ask me when.



A LESSON FROM ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL

Hi Fred,

In recent years some tribute albums to rock artists have charted well, such as "Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles," "Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin," "Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix," and "Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved."

With the release several weeks ago of "We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to the Ramones" and its debut at No. 43 on The Billboard 200, this must be the first time a tribute album to an artist actually charted higher than any of the artist's own releases. Listed below are the Ramones' chart placements:

"Ramones," No. 111 (1976)
"Leave Home," No. 148 (1977)
"Rocket to Russia," No. 49 (1978)
"Road to Ruin," No. 103 (1978)
"Rock 'N' Roll High School" soundtrack, No. 118 (1979)
"End of the Century," No. 44 (1980)
"Pleasant Dreams," No. 58 (1981)
"Subterranean Jungle," No. 83 (1983)
"Too Tough To Die," No. 171 (1984)
"Animal Boy," No. 143 (1986)
"Halfway To Sanity," No. 172 (1987)
"Ramones Mania," No. 168 (1988)
"Brain Drain," No. 122 (1989)
"Mondo Bizarro," No. 190 (1992)
"Acid Eaters," No. 179 (1994)
"Adios Amigos," No. 148 (1995)

After all these years with this high charting tribute and their induction in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame last year, the Ramones finally get acknowledged for their greatness!

Steve Golisch
New Windsor, N.Y.

Dear Steve,

Thanks for noticing the irony of the Ramones' tribute album peaking one place higher than the band's own loftiest position. I don't know if you were the only one who noticed this, but you were the only one to write to Chart Beat Chat!



REALITY CHECK

Dear Fred,

I'd like to put my two cents into the endless (and pointless) "'Don't Speak' and 'Torn' would have hit No. 1" debate. During the '90s, singles that hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 were still platinum sellers. I believe that during the time "Don't Speak" was at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 Airplay chart, it wouldn't have dislodged "Unbreak My Heart," "Wannabe," or "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" (a double-platinum single) from No. 1 on the Hot 100 because of sales points of those singles versus the absence of sales points for "Don't Speak." The same can be said of "Torn," which would have competed with the double-platinum "The Boy Is Mine" as well as the platinum singles "My All" and "Too Close."

If you look at the first year of album-cut inclusion on the Hot 100, no album cuts hit No. 1 because sales still had significant enough levels despite the 25% share on the Hot 100. In 1999, the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" stopped at No. 6 and Smash Mouth's "All Star" stopped at No. 4. Both of those album cuts hit No. 1 on Hot 100 Airplay but were beat out by singles with retail strength to back them up.

Since 2000 there have been only a handful of singles which made gold status and not platinum, which makes it easier for album cuts to hit No. 1. However, as the charts have shown over the last couple of years, a big retail release can still move 50 positions up the Hot 100 without much airplay. So sales can still make a difference if people are buying the single.

Therefore I believe that those No. 1 airplay album cuts prior to December 1998 would have stopped somewhere in the top-5. However, if the current Hot 100 formula was in place
at that time, the difference in weight distribution (75% airplay used since December 1998, as opposed to 60% airplay used prior to December 1998) could have changed results for songs that already appeared on the chart. Such singles as "You Were Meant for Me" or "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" could have spent some time at No. 1 on the Hot 100 since they hit No. 1 on the airplay chart and were also platinum singles.

I hope this buries the '90s album cut debate for a while. The No. 1 singles of the late '90s earned their place for their sales even if radio embraced other songs more. However I'm sure there are those who will say this about album cuts: "Well, if they had been released as singles they would have hit No. 1." I'll take a "Stairway to Heaven" out of that conversation. Would have, could have -- let's stick with "what is."

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

Dear Richard,

I can see why you picked your E-mail address; my head is spinning from trying to sort this all out. But seriously, I've been a long-time advocate of measuring what was so, not what might have been. I'll leave the alternate-earth Hot 100 possibilities to Showtime's "Farscape," which sadly leaves us on March 21 with its final episode.

And that's our surprise twist ending. Well, it worked for "Joe Millionaire."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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