Fred Bronson answers readers' questions and discusses Alison Moyet, success of international artists in the U.S., the future of rap, ranking the top songs of the rock era, online charts, and Billboard
ALISON? HER AIM IS TRUE
This past weekend on VH1 Classic, I caught the Alison Moyet video for "Invisible." I had forgotten how much I liked her voice since I had not heard the song for probably 15 years. I remember when "Invisible" came out, there was a lot of hype surrounding Moyet. However, it never materialized into mainstream success, at least not in the U.S. Do you have any information about what she does now? I assume she had much greater success in Europe, but am not even sure about that. Also, did any other Alison Moyet singles ever chart in the U.S.?
Thanks for writing such a great column!
Sadly, Alison Moyet is one of a number of British acts in the 1980s who never really made the kind of impact in the U.S. that they did at home. Her solo history on Billboard's Hot 100 includes just two singles -- "Invisible," which peaked at No. 31, and "Love Resurrection," which only went as high as No. 85. Both singles charted in 1985. Prior to those two songs, Moyet charted as part of Yaz (known as Yazoo at home in the U.K.). You might know their two classic songs - -"Situation" and "Only You." The former peaked at No. 73 in 1982 and the latter reached No. 67 in 1983. Yaz was a duo, pairing Moyet with Vince Clarke, formerly of Depeche Mode and later of Erasure.
In the U.K., "Only You" went to No. 2 and "Situation" to No. 3. Later, "Only You" was a No. 1 song when it was remade by the a cappella group Flying Pickets.
As a solo artist, Moyet had 16 singles chart in the U.K. between 1984 and 1995. The highest-ranking were "That Ole Devil Called Love" (No. 2 in 1985) and "Is This Love?" (No. 3 in 1986). One of my personal favorite tracks by Moyet is her remake of Marvin Gaye's "Hitchhike," which was only available as an extra track on one of her U.K. singles.
If you want to hear what Moyet sounds like today, you might want to check out her new album. "Hometime" (Sanctuary) was released in September. Michael Paoletta, Billboard's Associate Editor, Dance/Electronic Music & Album Reviews, picked "Hometime" as his No. 1 album of 2002, adding, "After an eight-year break between studio albums, Moyet returned with the most solid album of her career." You can see Paoletta's complete list, along with the top 10s of the Billboard and Billboard.com staff in Billboard.com's special 2002: The Year In Music section by clicking here.
A WORLDLY QUESTION
You recently mentioned in "Chart Beat Bonus" that this year might be about the Russians, especially since the group t.A.T.u. seems to be climbing the Hot 100 with "All the Things She Said." You mentioned that last year was about Sweden with all of their breakthrough groups, which brings me to my question.
In 1974 the Swedish group ABBA made its international debut with a U.K. No. 1 called "Waterloo" by winning the Eurovision Song Contest. Bjorn Ulvaeus was quoted saying it was "the only way." ABBA didn't fare as well here as in the U.K., only having one chart topper ("Dancing Queen" the week of April 9, 1977) as opposed to their nine German and U.K. No. 1s during the 1970s.
In your opinion, why is it so easy now for groups from countries similar to Sweden to break out so easily, while it took a group like ABBA years to break through to the U.S.? And even at that time, they were the first group; the only group. What changed from the early 1970s to now?
On Billboard's Hot 100, the t.A.T.u. single climbs just one rung this week, 85-84, but it does earn Greatest Gainer/Sales honors and reaches a new peak the Hot 100 Singles Sales chart, where it rebounds 10-7. I think the album is one to watch for 2003, and I've already received one letter from a "Chart Beat" reader telling me it's his favorite album of the year. And he meant this year.
I likened the possible explosion of Russian artists to what Sweden has accomplished, not just this year but over a period of time. And I said that because I've heard some other Russian artists who are poised to release albums in the U.S. in the coming months. If t.A.T.u. does make a breakthrough in the States, it will be easier for those artists to demand American attention. One act to look for: 17-year-old Ariana, signed to Sony. Aleksey Kruzin reports on the new artist in the Jan. 11 issue of Billboard. He quotes the Texas-born singer, living in Moscow with her Russian parents: "I think I'm the strongest bridge from Russia to the U.S. because of my dual origin."
As for Bjorn Ulvaeus' quote, here's exactly what he said: "You have to understand one thing about the Eurovision Song Contest. At that time, that was the one and only vehicle to reach outside Sweden. Because there was no way anyone in England or America would listen to anything coming out of this obscure country. You could send your tapes, knowing they would throw them away immediately. So the only chance was to enter Eurovision." I know that's what Bjorn said, because he said it to me when I interviewed him for the liner notes for the group's "Thank You for the Music" box set.
You asked why I think it's easier for artists from other countries to achieve success in the U.S. nowadays as opposed to the 1970s. It's a different world. Thanks to the Internet and satellite television, there is so much more information within our grasp. A few years ago, there was no way I could watch the British TV series "Top of the Pops." Now, I see it on BBC America just a few days after it's broadcast in the U.K. MTV has channels in many different parts of the world, so they knew about Las Ketchup as soon as people in Spain did. American advertisers use international songs like Dirty Vegas' "Days Go By" and Telepopmusik's "Breathe" on U.S. television commercials. The major record labels have offices in countries all over the world, looking for talent to sign and break internationally -- not to mention that four of the five majors have their corporate headquarters outside of the U.S. (Sony in Japan, EMI in the U.K., Universal in France, and BMG in Germany). And event with all that, it's really not that easy for international acts to do well in America. Just ask Robbie Williams!
NOT FADE AWAY
I have a question for you. This month [December] I looked at the top-40 [of Billboard's Hot 100] and about 80 percent of the songs in the top-10 are hip-hop/rap. However, when I look at The Billboard 200, it shows a whole different story. Only one or two of the top-10 albums are rap (such as the "8 Mile" soundtrack album and Jennifer Lopez). Most of the albums that are in the top-10 so far this month have been country (such as Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill) as well as rock albums (Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Avril Lavigne, etc.) Also noted, rap acts like Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, and Busta Rhymes didn't do as well this year as last year.
Why is there a discrepancy between the top-40 of the singles chart and The Billboard 200 album chart? Do you think that rap has reached its plateau and the genre is about to lose its appeal?
Bill Eddy Jr.
Country albums did particularly well at the end of 2002, thanks to releases from the artists you mentioned. But don't count rap out. "The Eminem Show" was the biggest-selling album of the calendar year 2002 with 7.4 million copies moved in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, and Nelly's "Nellyville" was in second place, with more than 4 million sold. Ludacris and Ja Rule also had albums that sold well.
The Hot 100 combines airplay and sales information. With sales declining at a rapid rate, airplay is heavily weighted on this chart, and so it reflects what radio is playing. Mainstream top 40 stations heavily favor hip-hop, so that's reflected on the Hot 100.
Everything is cyclical, but I don't see any sign of rap fading away.
Now, before you read the next E-mail, you'll need some background. Last week there was some discussion about my ranking of the top 5,000 songs of the rock era in the third edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits." If you missed that discussion, or the original news story posted Christmas Day on Billboard.com, you might want to read that story here before moving on.
RANKING THE TOP 5,000
I have been a fan, and a dedicated reader of every column you've ever written in Billboard magazine, which also happens to be my favorite magazine since 1969, when I could sneak into my college's radio station and see the latest charts, which I always awaited with much anticipation.
To give you the benefit of the doubt, I am willing to bet that when you first started drafting [the third edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits"] and setting the criteria, you probably never imagined what the results would be. But there must have been a moment when you realized that there had to be something wrong with your parameters, as your findings contradict every rock history book, every discernible advancement in social, or pop culture development that each one of these songs had, as they affected the every day lives of millions upon millions of Americans, and people the world over.
There are several reasons why a single may stay in the top-10 for an indefinite time, but if it really doesn't reflect an era, all the awards in the world, all the accolades that it may garner, even from Billboard, will not really amount to much.
For some reason I can't understand, the list starts making full sense from the No. 5 song downward, so there must have been a variable, or the lack of one, or several of them, which distorted the rankings accordingly. The mere fact that you mentioned the Beatles and Elvis Presley as being overtaken by the likes of say, Los Del Rio, tells the full story.
Perhaps "Macarena"'s huge stay on the charts and its remarkable points earned were aided further as a result of the fact that there wasn't any other ouput by Los Del Rio out there, before during and after, to "compete" with the single itself.
The same could be said about "Smooth," whose only competition, as far as other Santana singles, was the also quite succesful "Maria Maria." As you know, these two singles by Santana were released five months apart so, in a way, the missing variable I mentioned earlier may be just that singles (or albums for that matter), ought to be judged not just by their ability to reach No. 1 and stay as long as they possibly can in the top-10 in the face of normal competition vis-a-vis other artists' singles, but also by their capacity to remain there even in the face of top-10 competition from a follow-up single from the same performer.
Couldn't you perhaps have devised a system by which additional weekly points would be earned by a No. 1 single, for remaining in the top-10, and for as long as another single by the artist shares its run in the top-10, too?
You obviously have a strong passion and interest in the charts, and I appreciate your letting me know how you feel about the list of the top 5,000 songs of the rock era. But I think you've missed what the chart represents. You bring up issues like pop culture and the influence that songs had on people's lives, but that's not what I measured. Such a chart would be very interesting -- subjective, but interesting. My guess is, you'd find songs like "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock," "Heartbreak Hotel," "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "I Will Survive," "Rapper's Delight," and "Stan" doing very well on such a chart.
I don't think having other songs by the same artist on the chart has any relevance to my rankings, either. Through the rock era, there have been many cases where an artist had multiple songs on the chart, but to add or subtract points accordingly would have produced artificial results.
What I measured was chart performance on the Hot 100, and its predecessor chart, Best Sellers in Stores. The higher a song charted, the longer it stayed in peak position, and the longer it remained on the chart, the higher the song ended up in the top 5,000. That's how a song like "Macarena" -- no matter what anyone thinks of it personally -- can rank higher than all Elvis Presley and Beatles singles. I'm not saying "Macarena" is better (or worse) than "Don't Be Cruel" or "Hey Jude." I am saying that "Macarena" had a more successful chart run.
The point system I used for the third edition of the book -- revised from the first two editions -- did allow songs from the 1960s to be more competitive against songs from the '90s, even if it doesn't seem so from looking at the top-40 that was posted at Billboard.com. But the fact is, songs in the 1990s had longer chart lives than songs from the 1960s. Some readers have suggested that I artificially weight songs from the '60s so they can rank higher on the top 5,000, but that's what you'd get -- artificial results.
For better or worse, my list is an accurate ranking of songs according to their chart performance. Nothing more, nothing less. Personally, I think it's fascinating to scan down the list and see how all of these songs fared against each other. And trust me, Jim, I wish some of my favorite songs had ranked higher, and I probably get just as frustrated as you do when I see a Motown classic ranked below a song I consider more lightweight or disposable. But as Walter Cronkite used to say, that's the way it is.
END OF AN ERA?
So does the "Rock Era" just go on eternally? Today's music has very little to do with rock. It's mostly rap, hip-hop, pop, and country pop. I think it unfair to compare today's songs (when there is more purchasing power then a few decades ago) with those of the real rock era.
"Smooth" may have won the Grammy awards but is nowhere as good as [Santana's] old albums from the 1970s. There is also less gifted competition today (a judgment call on my part) and so easier to make a run. How else would the Beatles (as good as their music is) be able to be No. 1 for eight weeks last year with almost 40-year-old music?
The rock era ended somewhere in the early '80s. You should change it to the biggest singles of all times (according to your charting methods) and leave the rock era out of it. Whitney Houston, Pat Boone, and Celine Dion, amongst others, are rock artists? Thirty-one of your songs are from 1990 or later; the music wasn't that good to dominate, so increased spending power and lack of good music are two strong factors. There hasn't been good consistent rock for a couple of decades. Where is "Theme From the Apartment?"
I certainly do not challenge your knowledge of musical facts but I think your chart is very distorted. Thanks for the opportunity to express myself and I do like Billboard and you.
That's what "Chart Beat Chat" is here for -- so readers can express themselves, and I appreciate that you're interested enough in our charts and my ranking of the top 5,000 songs of the rock era in the third edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits" to write to me.
As I mentioned last week, the rock era is acknowledged as starting on July 9, 1955, by consensus of pop historians. That date was selected because it's the day "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart. Of course, as I said last time, people didn't walk around saying, "Did you hear the news? The rock era started today!" It was only with historical perspective that people starting talking about "the rock era."
Maybe it will end some day, but again, we'll only recognize that from some point in the future, looking back at the demise of rock and roll. But please keep in mind, the rock era includes all kinds of music, not just rock. The people you mention have all been part of the rock era, as have Chuck Berry, the Supremes, Frank Sinatra, U2, Shania Twain, and Eminem.
I couldn't call my list the top 5,000 songs of all time, because I only cover the period 1955-2002. Billboard started charting singles in 1940, but those first 15 years of singles charts aren't part of the top 5,000.
WORKING OUT THE KINKS
In the online version of the Hot 100 for Jan. 4, Madonna's "Die Another Day" drops from No. 35 to No. 46 but is shown as bulleted (it is Greatest Gainer/Sales). Is this another mistake like the recent case with Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This"?
The computer program that translates the charts into HTML for online posting believes that if you are the Greatest Gainer in sales or airplay, you should automatically receive a bullet. When Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" dropped but won Greatest Gainer/Sales honors, it was mistakenly awarded a bullet online. We scolded the program and told it to never, ever do that again, but it has obviously misbehaved. The punishment will be severe this time.
Hi there Fred,
After reading the long prologue about changing the way the year-end chart was calculated, I could only come to one conclusion: the formulas were changed or manipulated in order for "How You Remind Me" to be No. 1.
If we used "Method X" to calculate the weekly charts for the whole year, why do we need to use "Method Z less $ divided by (the editors opinion)" to calculate the year-end charts?
Yours sincerely and unashamedly,
Michael de Vries
Johannesburg, South Africa
When your E-mail arrived, I quickly (as quickly as DSL allows) checked out "The Year in Music 2002" section of Billboard.com to see what the prologue said, so I could figure out what made you angry. I think you misunderstood the changes that were implemented. They didn't affect the recap of the Hot 100 at all. The year-end recap of this chart has been figured the same way since a change that was made in the early 1990s. With the advent of new technologies for computing the charts (sales data from Nielsen SoundScan and airplay information from Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems), Billboard started compiling the year-end Hot 100 recap by adding up total sales and airplay points for the chart year. Prior to SoundScan and BDS, a simple inverse point system was applied to the Hot 100 to come up with the biggest hits of the chart year.
The change that Geoff Mayfield was referring to only affected the year-end recaps where information from singles and albums charts are combined, not the singles chart recaps or album chart recaps themselves. These include the overall pop, country, R&B (and other genres) lists of artists and labels of the year. In my own copy about the year-end recaps, when I say: "Combining the Hot 100 and the Billboard 200, Nelly is the No. 1 artist, followed by Ashanti and Eminem. The top groups are Creed, Nickelback, and Linkin Park," these are the overall lists that Geoff is referring to, and the only lists where a change was made.
One thing puzzles me about your E-mail: why you think Billboard would manipulate the information, and why you think we would favor "How You Remind Me" by Nickelback over any other song? There isn't any reason why we would favor one song over another; the rankings are objective, based on sales and airplay information.