Fred Bronson discusses with readers Elton John and Blue, the state of the music industry, pop artists mining classical music, R&B hits, Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" and The Billboard Hot 100, one-hi
I GUESS THAT'S WHY HE CALLS THEM THE BLUES
I got the import CD single of Blue featuring Elton John, "Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word," and remembered that Elton produced a different group called Blue in 1976. A single, "Capture Your Heart," which I found a few years ago, reached No. 88.
There seems to be no connection between the two Blues. I thought this was interesting. I wonder what the original Blue members think about this development?
The original Blue group -- yes, they were men, but I'm resisting that pun -- was a Scottish quartet signed to Elton John's Rocket Records. I loved "Capture Your Heart" and think it should have been a bigger hit in the U.S. In fact, I still go around singing it. Not all the time, just every now and then when it pops into my head.
Listeners of "The Billboard Radio Countdown" heard the Blue featuring Elton John single a few weeks ago in our "Hits of the World" feature, so they already know this new Blue was a horse of a different color.
YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION
In regard to today's music and its possible longevity cited by one of your readers, I read in Billboard recently that a lot of the blockbuster concert acts of today are still the same acts that we've all known over the past 20-30 years. In other words, as far as sold-out tours are concerned, we're still talking the Stones, Clapton, Elton John, U2, Bruce Springsteen, etc.
This is giving the record industry a real headache, because apparently all these acts, while still red hot, are not young anymore, and sooner or later they will retire.
Meanwhile, the new generation of acts cannot sell out arenas the way the aforementioned acts did in their glory days, let alone now. The copies of albums sold by the new acts are not translating to high-grossing numbers on the concert circuit, save for maybe Eminem.
This is a real challenge for the well being of the music industry. So when your reader asked you about how these acts will fare in 2025, I don't think one can just say that we "older generations" don't understand today's music. I think something momentous is going on in the industry. Even now, the number of copies sold per CD pales in comparison to the number of copies per album in the 1970s and '80s.
Furthermore, to underscore the problems with today's music, how many stations have you heard that have a strictly '90s format? We're already in the fourth year of the '00s, and we don't have an all-'90s station in my area. A DJ friend of mine in this area told me some time ago that his station, a top 40 station, was having a hard time finding enough '90s music to fill even one hour of programming of '90s oldies, without people changing stations. Ten years ago, at a similar point in the '90s, the '80s nostalgia was in full swing.
This tells me that there is no demand for an all '90s format, because '90s music has no longevity built into it.
This problem will get worse in the '00s, and I think we will need a Beatles-style revolution to turn it around. Barring that, I think by 2010, the music industry as we have known it up until now will cease to exist.
I'm a bit more optimistic than you about what the state of the music industry will be in 2010. When deserving artists like Norah Jones receive acclaim from their peers, someone is doing something right.
I do agree that we need something along the order of the Beatles to shake things up and motivate people to buy records.
As for '90s radio, I suspect it's coming later in the decade. It seems a little too soon to be nostalgic for the decade just gone by.
With Nasir Jones [a.k.a Nas] blasting onto Billboard's Hot 100 last week as the Hot Shot Debut with his "I Can," it got me to think about all of the other songs that use or interpret classical songs. Nas gives Ludwig Van Beethoven's "Fur Elise" a 21st Century treatment in his latest hit. I can think of other pop songs that did fairly well digging into 18th and 19th century fare to breathe new life into the classics.
The biggest of them all is, of course, Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" reaching No. 1 in 1976 with "A Fifth of Beethoven " interpreted my Walter Murphy. Eric Carmen twice dipped into the well of Rachmaninoff the same year with "All By Myself" and "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again," based on "Piano Concerto No. 2" and his "Second Symphony."
A year before that, Barry Manilow took Chopin's "Prelude in C Minor" to No. 6 with "Could It Be Magic." In 1972, Apollo 100's "Joy," based on Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring," peaked at No. 6. Not to be outdone, the Royal Philharmonic took its "Hooked on Classics," based on a medley of centuries-old tunes, to the top-10.
I'm not naive to believe that this list is complete, and I'm sure your readers can probably add to it. But based on the performance of these past hits, Nas may be enjoying his first solo top-10 record with this one.
Thanks for providing a touch of class(ical) to this week's "Chart Beat Chat."
THE OTHER 'NUMBER ONE HITS' BOOK
Dear Mr. Bronson,
First, I have to tell you how much I enjoy your column. Sometimes, it's more interesting than what's happening on the charts.
My question is regarding a reader's question about the upcoming edition of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits." I keep wondering when, if ever, there will be an update of "The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits." The last (and only) edition was printed in 1993, and stopped with the last R&B song of 1990.
While I realize that R&B music today has changed drastically since 1990 (and in my opinion, not necessarily for the better), I still believe that R&B music has played an important contribution to music in general that is often ignored. To a certain degree, I feel that R&B never really gets the proper respect it deserves. If anything, the R&B hits are just as important as pop, rock, or country hits, although I have to admit it's sometimes hard to distinguish the Hot 100 listings from the R&B/Hip Hop listings.
I haven't noticed the same lack of respect for R&B music. In fact, I think it is revered all over the world. Check out this week's album chart in Sweden, where the No. 1 album is a collection of Aretha Franklin's greatest hits, and the No. 2 album is a similar collection of hits by Stevie Wonder.
As for "The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits," it's one of my favorite books that I've worked on. There are a lot of outstanding stories behind the chart-toppers from Billboard's R&B survey. That's due to the hard work of Adam White, formerly international editor-in-chief of Billboard, who had the idea and inspiration for the book in the first place.
Unfortunately, the book did not sell well enough to warrant subsequent editions. It is now out of print, though still available if one searches for it online or in remainder bins.
'TORN' BETWEEN TWO FRIENDS
I've been getting into a friendly debate over how big of a hit "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia was. You see, he looks at the Joel Whitburn books and sees that "Torn" peaked at No. 42, and was comparing it to "What Would Happen" by Meredith Brooks, using it as an argument that it was almost equal in hit status.
I say that No. 42 for Natalie is a bogus chart position because, it came on at No. 42, dropped the next week, and was off the chart completely, only because it wasn't allowed to chart in 1998, with no commercial single. When Billboard changed methodology in December 1998, to allow LP cuts on the Hot 100, "Torn" came on at No. 42, because that's where it was at that time on the way down.
Well, I say it was a No. 1 hit, because it hit No. 1 in airplay that summer, before Billboard allowed it to chart. With songs that were suddenly allowed to chart when the switch took place, you have to use common sense. I think in the case of "Torn," and like one of those Matchbox 20 songs that came on that week, you can't actually say that their peak positions mean anything because of the switch over. It's an artificial peak.
I wanted your take and opinion on this matter, as to how you'd rule on this.
By the way, "Torn" doesn't show up in Whitburn's top 40 book that's sold in bookstores either because of this technicality.
Thanks for your help!
Des Moines, Iowa
Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" will forever remain an anomaly on the Hot 100, for the reasons you mentioned. Had the change in methodology taken place a couple of weeks later, "Torn" wouldn't have charted at all. Had the change taken place a few months earlier, "Torn" would have been No. 1.
Having said that, we can't change what did happen. The fact is, "Torn" went no higher than No. 42 on the Hot 100, but any discussion of that peak position must be asterisked with an explanation. We can't say it was No. 1 on the Hot 100 because it wasn't. But we can say that it was No. 1 for 11 weeks on the Hot 100 Airplay chart, and wasn't eligible for the main Hot 100 until the very end of its chart run, thus giving a false picture of its airplay popularity given today's chart policies.
ONE-HIT WONDERS I
Recently Ed Anderson of Foster City, Mich., asked whether any top-40 hit by a one-hit wonder became a top-40 hit for another one-hit wonder. Counting only those artists who had only one hit on any (meaning even before 1955) Billboard pop chart, but who may have had more than one chart appearance by the same hit, including different versions by that same artist, I found eight such examples.
1. "Nuttin' for Xmas," Joe Ward (top-30 on Most Played in Juke Boxes, Best Sellers in Stores, and The Top 100 in December 1955) and "(I'm Gettin') Nuttin' for Christmas," Ricky Zahnd (top-40 in Best Sellers in Stores and The Top 100 in December 1955)
2. "Stranded in the Jungle," the Jayhawks (top-40 on Best Sellers in Stores and The Top 100 charts in July 1956) and the Gadabouts (No. 39, issue date Aug. 4, 1956, The Top 100)
3. "Oh Julie," the Crescendos (top-10 on all Billboard pop charts in February 1958) and Sammy Salvo (No. 23, issue date March 3, 1958, Most Played By Jockeys)
4. "Forever," the Little Dippers (No. 9, issue date March 28, 1960) and Pete Drake (No. 25, April 25, 1964)
5. "Look for a Star," Garry Mills (No. 26, issue date July 25, 1960) and Garry Miles (No. 16, issue date Aug. 1, 1960) -- Yes, Garry Mills and Garry Miles are two different artists.
6. "Abraham, Martin, and John," Moms Mabley (No. 35, July 19, 1969) and Tom Clay (No. 8, Aug. 14, 1971, as a part of the medley "What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin, & John")
7. "One Tin Soldier," Coven (No. 26, Nov. 27, 1971 -- even though this version recharted starting Dec. 29, 1973 and another version charted starting July 21, 1973) and the Original Caste (No. 34, Feb. 14, 1970)
8. "Americans," Byron MacGregor (No. 4, Feb. 9, 1974) and Gordon Sinclair (No. 24, Feb. 9, 1974)
This list does not include any occurrences of these hits on any Billboard pop chart by an artist who was not a one-hit wonder. I also found 22 other hits that reached the top-40 by at least one one-hit wonder and also reached the top 100 by at least one other one-hit wonder.
I have been studying and writing on chart hits for over 30 years but have rarely, if ever, had the pleasure of composing such an unexpectedly delightful short list of all-time classics that includes artists from genres as diverse as pop, R&B, country, spoken, Christmas, and movie themes. Kudos to Mr. Anderson!
Garden Grove, Calif.
ONE-HIT WONDERS II
I took Ed Anderson's question as a challenge and looked for other cases where the same song was the only hit for two different one-hit wonders. Here is what I found:
In 1947, five different versions of "Open the Door, Richard" hit the Best Seller chart and for two of the acts, it was the only hit they ever had. The Three Flames hit No. 4 and Jack McVea & His All Stars hit No. 7.
In 1955, Joe Ward hit No. 22 with "Nuttin' For Xmas" and Ricky Zahnd & the Blue Jeaners hit No. 21 with "(I'm Gettin') Nuttin' For Christmas."
Moms Mabley hit No. 35 in 1969 with her remake of "Abraham, Martin and John." Then in 1971 Tom Clay included it in a medley (of sorts) titled "What the World Needs Now/Abraham, Martin and John," which peaked at No. 8.
In 1974, Byron MacGregor hit No. 4 with "Americans" and the song's author, Gordon Sinclair, hit No. 24 with "The Americans (A Canadian's Opinion)."
I confined my search to songs that hit the top-40 because Ed seemed to be interested in that portion of the chart. In the interest of brevity, I left out many songs that did it on the Juke Box and Disc Jockey charts.
I did not specifically look for acts that had only one top-40 hit, but other chart hits. However one such incident did come to mind. The English language version of "Sukiyaki" that hit No. 8 in 1995 made 4 P.M. a one-hit wonder. But Kyu Sakamoto did have one minor-hit follow-up to his No. 1 Japanese language original in 1963. ["China Nights," a personal favorite - Fred]
We also came close to another situation where the two singers had almost-identical names, although Garry Miles was a stage name. In 1960, his version of "Look For a Star" hit No. 16 while Garry Mills's hit No. 26. Garry Mills was a one-hit wonder, but Garry Miles also had a hit as a member of the Statues.
Forest Grove, Ore.
Dear David and Larry,
Thanks for the time and effort expended on searching for these one-hit wonders!
THE RUNNING MAN
I had to comment on the "one-hit wonder" question, because, like you, I think a lot of acts are unfairly tapped as one-hit wonders. Although in my opinion, Lipps, Inc would be a one-hit wonder because we only hear what's on the radio and what singles we (used to be) able to buy. You get to see their entire output based on your access to the full chart.
But I'm writing because I just had the pleasure of running the Nike Run-Hit Wonder 10K through the streets of Hollywood two Sundays ago. At each mile marker was a "one-hit wonder" band playing their one hit for encouragement, hence the race's title and hook. But I was indignant at the unfair labeling of some of these acts and I wonder if the organizers were lazy or they just got what they could get. As we ran past A Flock of Seagulls (three hits), they weren't even playing "I Ran." They were performing "Space Age Love Song," and very well, I might add.
OK, Gerardo did sing "Rico Suave" and Ratt performed "Round and Round," but as Animotion was about to sing "Obsession" at Mile-5, I ran past them yelling, "sing 'Room to Move'!" I wanted them to feel better that at least one runner knew they had two top-10 hits.
I have come to the conclusion that "one-hit wonder" is an easy generalization, much like "supermodel" or "reality series." And it seems if the act wants the VH1 nostalgia special appearance, the occasional live gig, or the extra 15 minutes, then they accept the label. But we know the real tallies.
I think we have to give major kudos to Nike for coming up with something as clever as the "Run-Hit Wonder" 10K, and then actually finding one-hit wonders (or something close) to perform.
You're right on two counts: first, people often call an act a "one-hit wonder" if they can only remember one song by that act, or if that act is only known for one major hit, even if they charted on the Hot 100 with other songs. And second, a lot of acts that aren't one-hit wonders don't mind the tag if it keeps them working.
TOP VS. HOT
I just got my copy of your new book ["Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits," third edition], and I commend you for an excellent publication. I have been a chart fan for many years and have most of Joel Whitburn's books in my collection.
I have one question about your book. For the period from July 1955 to July 1958 (before the advent of the Hot 100 Chart) you use Billboard's Best Sellers in Stores as your source. I'm curious why you didn't use the Top 100 Chart, which began on Nov. 2, 1955 and was described by Billboard as a "combined tabulation of Dealer, Disk Jockey and Juke Box Operator" surveys, which to me seems like the forerunner to the Hot 100 Chart.
Thanks for your comments, and I'm glad you're enjoying the new edition.
When I started writing "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits," I only wanted to use one chart before the introduction of the Hot 100. The Best Sellers in Stores chart was the best indication of a single's popularity in those days, so I settled on using that list. That was also consistent with the decision I made of which charts to use in "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits."
I don't believe the Top 100 chart had the weight and authority that the Hot 100 did once in was introduced. The Top 100 was even accompanied by a caution to record retailers and juke box operators that the chart was "not designed to provide tested information for buying purposes."
I was looking at The Billboard 200 on the Internet and something seems a little weird. Numerous albums have jumped up an average of 10 to 20 spots and have not received a bullet. I know in past issues an album can jump a few spots up and not receive a bullet but this issue seems 100 times more extreme. Should they really have bullets or is it just an odd occurrence? Thank You.
Bullets are normally awarded for sales increases, not for jumping up a certain number of positions on the chart. In any given week, you can be sure that the album listed at No. 28 sold more than the album listed at No. 29. But you can't be sure that the album at No. 28 sold more copies than the album that was No. 40 the previous week.
For the week you are asking about, blizzard-conditions on the East Coast caused many shoppers to stay home, and that had a big effect on sales volume. As director of charts Geoff Mayfield reports in his "Over the Counter" column in the March 8 issue of Billboard, there was a 16% decline in sales this week over the week before. So a number of albums that had big drops in sales actually moved up the chart. That's why you see some albums jumping up 10 places or more without receiving bullets.