"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson fields readers' letters about chart-topping singles in 2002, his No. 1 song of the rock era, Mariah Carey, Georgie Fame, and the Beatles.

DULLSVILLE?

Hello Fred!

The 2002 calendar year is over and done, and only seven songs advanced to the top of Billboard's Hot 100. This sets a new record for the fewest number of chart-toppers in the rock era (maybe ever?) and, as I'm sure you feel, makes the charts really dull for chart-watchers. While there were many long-running No. 1s this year, none came close enough to breaking Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men's 16-week record (for "One Sweet Day") to generate excitement. It just made the charts dull to watch with the same people, literally, topping the chart week after week. After the past few years, when the charts seemed to be speeding up again, do you think we're back to those dull days of 10 or less No. 1s or do you think this year of Eminem/Nelly/Murder Inc. was just an aberration?

Although a good long-running hit at the top of the charts can be fun to watch, I personally miss the days when many artists had a shot at the top and there was some excitement to find out who was No. 1 from week to week. Growing up in the '60s when there was a good mix of huge hits and one-week-wonders, you must miss it too. Plus I imagine Nelly being No. 1 every week makes it difficult to write "Chart Beat."

On a different note, regarding singles sales: I see Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" was the only Recording Industry Aassociation of America (RIAA)-certified single released in 2002. I remember that in 1989 the RIAA lowered its certification standards for singles (from 1 million to 500,000 for gold) due to shrinking sales. Do you think they'll do this again, and we may soon see singles hitting gold at 100,000, or maybe even only 50,000? When only two singles have been certified gold in the past two years (Mariah's "Loverboy" being the other) and NO platinum singles, it seems obvious the RIAA needs to review their standards. Or do you think that at this point they don't think it's worth the effort?

I hope you have a great New Year, and I'm looking forward to what 2003 will hold! Plus I'm looking forward to that new "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits" book.

Eric Colley
Bluefield, W. Va.

Dear Eric,

You're right about the calendar year 2002 having fewer No. 1 hits than any other year in the rock era, and as your surmised, fewer than any year since Billboard started publishing a singles chart in 1940.

After a few years of a speeded-up turnover rate, things really did slow down in 2002. As for the effect that has on "Chart Beat," it's a mixed bag. It's always helpful to have new No. 1 songs, lots of debuts, and big jumps in terms of having things to write about. My first reaction when I see a chart with little movement is, what am I going to write about this week? Of course, in the 10 years I've been writing "Chart Beat" (this week's column is the first of my 11th year with Billboard), there has never been a week when there hasn't been something to write about.

The fact that artists like Nelly and Ashanti dominated the Hot 100 in 2002 also gave me something to write about, as those artists helped rewrite the record books. And by the way, I owe some thanks to Nelly and Ashanti -- both of them spent time on the phone in the last few days doing their interviews for the fifth edition of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits," along with Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland, Joe, and Mariah Carey.

I can't speak for the RIAA, but if I was involved in that organization, I wouldn't attempt to change the sales levels for gold and platinum singles again. Sales of singles are shrinking at such an alarming rate in the U.S., that they'd have to be reducing the totals needed for certification every few weeks, until a platinum single could be had for selling 100 copies. If the single is going to perish -- and I don't want it to -- let's let it expire with a shred of dignity.

Thanks for your good wishes to 2003, and for your interest in the new, third edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits." A story about my ranking of the top 5,000 songs of the rock era posted at Billboard.com on Christmas Day has attracted some E-mail. If you didn't see the original story, you might want to read this link before seeing what our next letter writer has to say.



ROUGH REACTION TO 'SMOOTH'

Hey Fred,

I find it difficult to understand how you can say that these are the top 40 singles of the rock era when only three titles in the top-30 are pre-'90s singles.

I just looked at the Spotlight on America-Music/Records/200 section of the July 4, 1976, issue of Billboard which lists the top 200 singles from 1956-1975 and noted that the No. 1 single "The Twist" is No. 19 on your current list. The No. 2 single "Hey Jude" is No. 41 on your current list. The No. 3 single "Mack the Knife" is now No. 33. The No. 4 single "Hound Dog" / "Don't Be Cruel" is now No. 14. There are also three other singles from the 1976 list on your current list that now rank higher than "Hey Jude" that ranked lower in 1976.

Please explain why there is such a change in the relative ranks of the singles that appeared in the 1976 chart.

Take care and best wishes,

Jerome Fransblow

Dear Jerome,

Just to be clear for readers who may have missed the story here at Billboard.com, Jerome is referring to my ranking of the top 5,000 songs of the rock era, a list led by Santana and Rob Thomas' 1999 hit, "Smooth." The top-40 portion of that listed was posted at this site on Christmas Day, and if you didn't access it from the link above, you can read it by clicking here.

Jerome, I appreciate your interest in the Billboard charts. If it wasn't for people like you, there wouldn't be any reason to write "Chart Beat," or my books.

The chart than ran in the Bicentennial issue of Billboard bears no relation to the ranking of the top 5,000 songs of the rock era as listed in the third edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits." Different criteria were used, so different results should be expected. The same holds true for the list of the top 100 songs in the history of the Hot 100 than ran in the special 100th anniversary issue of Billboard, published in November 1994. The methods used to compile that particular chart were similar to the one I used for my book, so these lists are somewhat similar in results, although we have eight more years of chart hits to include.

As explained in the news story posted Dec. 25 on Billboard.com, my rankings were determined by an inverse point system applied to the Billboard pop singles chart from July 1955 to June 2002. The beginning date was chosen because July 9, 1955, is widely acknowledged as the start of the rock era. That's the date "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets went to No. 1 (and of course, this date was only determined later, with the advantage of looking back historically. No one went around on July 9 congratulating people on the start of the rock era). The book ends in June 2002 because I had to stop somewhere in order to meet publication deadlines.

The top 5,000 is weighted in favor of songs that charted in the 1990s, because songs in the '90s have had much longer chart lives. This is a function of over how long a time records sell, and over how long a time songs are played on the radio. As long-time readers of my books are probably tired of hearing, the charts in the '60s turned over very rapidly, and so songs by the Beatles and the Supremes, for example, had very short lives compared to songs by '90s artists like Boyz II Men and Toni Braxton.

When you see the entire list of 5,000 songs, you'll find songs from all six decades of the rock era, from "Heartbreak Hotel" to "Hot in Herre." And as I've already given away the top 40 songs on the list, here's another revelation: the bottom two. No. 4999 is "Pineapple Princess" by Annette and No. 5000 is "Motorcycle Mama" by Sailcat, two fine alliterative titles to close the top 5000.



TOP 10 OF 2002

Hi Fred,

Thanks for posting your favorite songs of 2002. Since radio seldom plays new stuff, I'll be checking them out via Billboard Radio.

I know you recently mentioned Mariah Carey kept her Hot 100 streak alive with a debut in the last week of the year. An even more significant record in my mind is her tying Prince's 12 years in a row with at least one top-10 song, which is more difficult. Her streak of 11 years in a row with a No. 1 was broken last year, and this year she is stopped at 12 years of top-10 songs, as no song came close to the top 10. Interestingly, Prince has not had a top-10 since his streak ended. With Mariah's comeback being much publicized, we'll see if she suffers a similar fate.

Happy new year!

Wade Mears
San Diego

Dear Wade,

Hope you enjoy listening to my top choices of 2002. They'll be posted at the Billboard Radio Web site on Tuesday, Jan. 7 as part of the annual "staff favorites" show. The current show is part one of our countdown of the biggest hits of the year according to chart performance on the Hot 100. Part two will be posted Tuesday, Dec. 31.

There are more Mariah Carey singles to follow from her new "Charmbracelet" album, so we'll see if she returns to the top-10.



WAS FAME FLEETING?

Hi Fred,

Re: Georgie Fame's "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde," did it not go to No. 1 in the U.K. the week of Dec. 2, 1967? Or did it hit No. 1 after the Beatles' "Hello Goodbye" completed its 7-week reign at the top, which would be the week of Jan. 27, 1968? Just curious.

By the way, as you probably know, even though the song had nothing to do with the movie, Mitch Murray and Peter Callander (the song's co-writers) were inspired to write the song after seeing the movie.

To quote Hoyt Axton, "I've never been to England, but I kinda like the Beatles"!

All the best,

Louis Busutil
loubee41@hotmail.com

Dear Louis,

According to the 15th edition of "British Hit Singles," published by Guinness World Records, Georgie Fame's single "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde" didn't even debut on the U.K. singles chart until the week of Dec. 13, 1967.

The Beatles' "Hello Goodbye" began its seven-week run at the top the week of Dec. 6, 1967, succeeding Long John Baldry's "Let the Heartaches Begin." The week of Jan. 24, 1968, Fame's "Bonnie and Clyde" song replaced "Hello Goodbye" at No. 1.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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