Fred Bronson reports on the latest chart achievements of George Strait, Jennifer Lopez, and Mariah Carey, and offers his top-10 songs of 2002.

STRAIT TALK: Texas native George Strait scores his 38th No. 1 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, as "She'll Leave You With a Smile" (MCA) advances 2-1. That ties Strait with Merle Haggard for second place among artists with the most chart-toppers on this tally. The leader is still Conway Twitty, who collected 40 No. 1 hits, from "Next in Line" in November 1968 to "Desperado Love" in September 1986, a span of 17 years and 10 months.

Haggard's span of No. 1 hits stretches from "The Fugitive" in March 1967 to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in February 1988, covering 20 years and 11 months. Strait's run of No. 1s began with "Fool Hearted Memory" in June 1982. With his latest chart-topper, Strait's span expands to 20 years and six months. The success of "She'll Leave You With a Smile" inches Strait closer to toppling Twitty as the country artist with the most No. 1 songs.

'HAVE'-A NICE WEEK: We almost made it without a song debuting inside the top-40 of Billboard's Hot 100 during the 2002 calendar year. But the final week of the year produces the highest new entry of the last 12 months, as "All I Have" (Epic) by Jennifer Lopez featuring LL Cool J opens at a spectacular No. 25. The sole airplay-only track without a commercial retail single to debut higher in the history of the Hot 100 was Janet Jackson's "All for You," which entered at No. 14 the week of March 17, 2001. The highest new entry of 2002 until this week was Madonna's "Die Another Day," which opened at No. 41 the week of Oct. 19.

Here are the 10 highest debuts of 2002 [actually, 11, due to ties]:

"All I Have," Jennifer Lopez featuring LL Cool J (No. 25), Dec. 28
"Die Another Day," Madonna (No. 41), Oct. 19
"What About Us?" Brandy (No. 42), Jan. 26
"Uh Huh," B2K (No. 43), Jan. 5
"Lose Yourself," Eminem (No. 43), Oct. 5
"Without Me," Eminem (No. 44), May 11
"Cry Me a River," Justin Timberlake (No. 44), Dec. 21
"Hot in Herre," Nelly (No. 49), May 4
"A Little Less Conversation," Elvis Presley vs. JXL (No. 50), July 13
"Hey Ma," Cam'Ron featuring Juelz Santana, Freekey Zekey & Toya (No. 50), Aug. 31
"Thugz Mansion," 2Pac (No. 50), Dec. 7

DIDDY BUMPS INTO TOP 10: P. Diddy earns his third top-10 hit of 2002, as his teaming with B2K on "Bump, Bump, Bump" (Epic) vaults 12-7 on Billboard's Hot 100. Diddy also had top-10 hits earlier this year with the two separate parts of "I Need a Girl." "Bump, Bump, Bump" is the 11th top-10 hit for Diddy, aka Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy.

It's the third time that Diddy has scored three top-10 hits in a calendar year. His chart career began in 1997, and he had three top-10 hits that year, and repeated this feat in 1998. He had two top-10 hits in 1999, but then was shut out of that upper echelon until "I Need a Girl."

"Bump, Bump, Bump" is the first top-10 song for B2K. The fast-moving chart entry is looking more and more like the first new No. 1 hit of 2003. If this song does go all the way, it will be the fourth chart-topper of Diddy's career, and his first since "Mo Money Mo Problems" by the Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy & Mase spent two weeks at No. 1 in the summer of 1997.

"Bump, Bump, Bump" was written and produced by R. Kelly. If "Bump" does jump to No. 1, it will be the second chart-topper in the rock era to begin with the word "Bump." The other was R. Kelly's "Bump N' Grind" in 1994.

WHEN THE 'RAIN' BEGINS TO CHART: Talk about close calls. It looked like I was going to have to report that 2002 was the first year in her chart career that Mariah Carey did not have a song debut on Billboard's Hot 100. Beginning with her first entry, "Vision of Love" in 1990, Carey has had at least one new title debut every calendar year. As of last week, her most recent chart entry was the medley of "Never Too Far/Hero," which opened at No. 81 the week of Dec. 29, 2001 (Carey had already charted in 2001 with "Loverboy").

In a last minute, 52nd-week save, Carey's "Through the Rain" (MonarC/Island) enters the Hot 100 at No. 84. Commercially released vinyl singles combined with airplay gave "Rain" enough fuel to drive onto the chart. It's the lowest-debuting song of Carey's 27 chart entries, but given that it keeps her string of chart songs intact, who cares?

In an odd coincidence, Carey also has her first chart entry of 2002 Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. She has had at least one title debut every year since 1990 on this survey as well, and that accomplishment holds as "Irresistible (West Side Connection)" (MonarC/Island) enters at No. 81. Carey is joined on "Irresistible" by Ice Cube, Mack 10 & WC.

PERSONAL FAVORITES: It's traditional for Billboard staff members to compile top-10 lists at the closing of each year. My favorite albums of 2002 can be found in the top-10 lists section of Billboard.com's special 2002: The Year in Music section.

For the last few years, I have listed my top-10 singles and top-10 album cuts in "Chart Beat Bonus." For the first time, I have combined these two recaps into one. It has become more and more difficult (not to mention pointless) to distinguish between singles and album cuts in the U.S. So I offer my top-10 songs of 2002:

1. Kina, "Son of a Liar" (Mariann Grammofon, Sweden)
2. David Bisbal, "Corazon Latino" (Vale Music, Spain)
3. The Crash, "Lauren Caught My Eye" (Warner Music, Finland)
4. Darren Hayes, "Crush (1980 Me)" (Columbia)
5. Black and Becker, "After the End of the World" (Edel, Sweden)
6. Santana featuring Michelle Branch, "The Game of Love" (Arista)
7. Laura, "Addicted to Love" (Warner Music, Finland)
8. Rubinoos, "Up in a Puff of Smoke" and "If My Car Could Only Talk to Me" [tie] (Airmail Recordings, Japan)
9. Marianne Faithfull, "I'm Into Something Good" (Virgin)
10. Alternature, "Over the Water Blue" (Universal, Estonia)

If you'd like to hear my top five songs of the year and tracks from my top two albums, tune into "The Billboard Radio Countdown" that will be posted on billboardradio.com on Tuesday, Jan. 7. It's part of the annual staff favorites show. On Tuesday, Dec. 24, the first part of our two-part countdown of the top 100 hits of 2002 will be posted, and the second part will be available from Tuesday, Dec. 31.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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