Fred Bronson answers readers' questions about the Billboard chart year, the Bee Gees, Jimmy Webb, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and more.
IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR -- BUT WHEN DOES IT END?
Would you be helpful to us chart hounds by clarifying the week that the 2003 chart year will start? The 52nd week of chart year 2002 will be dated Nov. 23, but I think Billboard will go ahead and include the Nov. 30 charts in the 2002 chart year. Eventually you have to have a 53-week year, and this seems like the right year to have it. But confirmation would be very much appreciated.
Second, a minor correction: in an exchange with a Chart Beat Chat correspondent about the number of top-40 hits achieved by leading women artists in country music, you listed Reba McEntire with 70. I believe that Reba scored her 71st top-40 hit in 2002 with "Sweet Music Man."
As you suspect, the chart year will end with the charts dated for the week ending Nov. 30. The next chart year begins the following week, so the charts for the week ending Dec. 7 will be the first charts for what we'll call Chart Year 2003. The chart year generally runs from the beginning of December to the end of November, so this chart year breaks down into 53 weeks.
The chart year is different from the calendar year because of publication deadlines. If you want to read all about the year in music in the final December issue of Billboard, the charts have to close in November. I'm already working on my year-end copy in order to meet editorial deadlines. Thanks for correcting Reba McEntire's total of top-40 hits.
TALES OF THE BROTHERS GIBB
I love your column, and I read it religiously. I can't wait for the latest version of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits" to be released. Any update on an in-store date?
Also, regarding Robert Ghanem's claim that the Bee Gees had five songs in the top-10 at the same time. I think he must have been referring to a songwriting achievement. I'm not certain about this, but I have a recollection of the Bee Gees having written two other songs that were in the top-10 at the same time as their three hits. "Emotion" by Samantha Sang was one, and the other would have either been "If I Can't Have You" by Yvonne Elliman, or one of Andy Gibb's singles. Am I right?
VP of A&R, Universal Records
Thanks for your kind words about the column, and glad you're looking forward to the book I have spent the last four-and-a-half years completing. One reason it took so long is that I revised the point system used to compile Billboard's greatest hits of the rock era. As a result, the list of the top 5,000 songs from 1955-2002 is very different than previous lists in the first and second editions, and every chart in the book was affected.
I just saw the cover a few days ago. The book is at the printer now, and while we don't know the exact in-store date, it will arrive at retail at the end of this month, or the beginning of December.
Quite a few people wrote in about the Bee Gees. The three older Gibb brothers first had three singles in the top-10 dated Feb. 25, 1978. "Stayin' Alive" was No. 1 for the fourth week, "Night Fever" jumped 17-8, and the former No. 1 song "How Deep Is Your Love" was holding at No. 10 for the third consecutive week.
While we can't say that the Bee Gees had two other songs in the top-10 as artists, or writers or producers, members of the trio were represented with two other songs in the top-10. Andy Gibb's "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water" was No. 2 for the third week in a row. Barry Gibb was one of the producers, and he wrote the song with Andy. Samantha Sang's "Emotion" was bulleted 6-5. Barry was one of the producers, and he wrote the song with Robin Gibb.
The same five songs were in the top-10 the following week, but then "How Deep Is Your Love" slipped to No. 15. The week of March 25, Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You," written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, jumped 14-9. That week, "Night Fever" was No. 1, "Stayin' Alive" was No. 2, "Emotion" was No. 3, and "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water" was No. 6. This set of five songs remained in the top-10 for two more weeks.
One reason people neglected to mention Richard Harris's singing career in his obituaries is that he was a terrible singer. This also was one reason "MacArthur Park" received so much negative attention. I have his album "A Tramp Shining" and some of the songs on it constitute some of the worst vocal performances I've ever heard (on record, anyway); "MacArthur Park" is about the only one I wouldn't consider awful.
That said, Jimmy Webb deserves kudos for some really good songs. I especially like "If You Must Leave My Life. "MacArthur Park" is in a class by itself, however. The music is absolutely beautiful: a three-movement mini-symphony. My favorite part is the second ("There will be another song for me..."); it also has the best lyrics. The lyrics most people make fun of (about the cake melting in the rain, etc.) are hyperbolic and silly, but they aren't as bad as most people claim.
This brings me to a question: is "MacArthur Park" Jimmy Webb's biggest hit? Do you think there's any chance of a major Jimmy Webb tribute album or Broadway revue anytime soon? I think he's due, and I would like to see some of his lesser-known compositions like "The Hideaway" and "Walk Your Feet in the Sunshine" get more attention.
"MacArthur Park" is Jimmy Webb's most successful Hot 100 title as a songwriter, but it's also his third most successful song. To explain why, I'm posting a list of his top-10 hits, excerpted from the third edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits," the same book referred to in the above letter. The story of how "MacArthur Park" came to be is told in my other book, "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits."
I'm a long-time Jimmy Webb fan, too. I always loved the album he wrote for the 5th Dimension, "The Magic Garden." One album that some people may not know is the one Webb produced for the Supremes. Not the Diana Ross-led Supremes, but the '70s Supremes, fronted by the fabulous Jean Terrell.
Included are some fine Jimmy Webb songs like "Once in the Morning" and "5:30 Plane." Motown's catalog division has just released a 2-CD set by the Supremes, "The '70s Anthology." Included are three tracks produced by Webb: "When Can Brown Begin" and "I Keep It Hid," written by Webb, and a remake of Joni Mitchell's "All I Want."
OK. Here's that Jimmy Webb top-10 I promised, with the song title, artist, record label, and year of release:
1. "MACARTHUR PARK"
Donna Summer, Casablanca, 1978
2. "WICHITA LINEMAN"
Glen Campbell, Capitol, 1969
3. "MACARTHUR PARK"
Richard Harris, Dunhill, 1968
4. "WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN"
Brooklyn Bridge, Buddah, 1969
Glen Campbell, Capitol, 1969
6. "UP-UP AND AWAY"
5th Dimension, Soul City, 1967
7. "ALL I KNOW"
Art Garfunkel, Columbia, 1973
8. "HONEY COME BACK"
Glen Campbell, Capitol, 1970
9. "BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX"
Glen Campbell, Capitol, 1967
10. "WHERE'S THE PLAYGROUND SUSIE"
Glen Campbell, Capitol, 1969
ONE 'DAY' AT A TIME
While channel surfing her night I came across the video for Bruce Springsteen's "Lonesome Day," which was surprising since other than retail, radio and video channels have largely shied away from anything by the Boss. What was even more surprising was that the video was showing on Country Music Television and was on their video countdown show! I don't know if the song has been released to country stations; I didn't see it on that chart, though I may have missed this. Would this be Bruce's first single to appear on the country chart?
On an unrelated note, after the discussion here a few months back about the Brothers Johnson's "Strawberry Letter 23" (and the title never appearing in the lyrics), it's amusing that Kellogg's is now using the song in their commercial for Special K with Red Berries, without using any the lyrics that relate to the strawberry tie-in. They are mostly sticking with the opening "Hello, my friend... " Why would an advertiser expect consumers to remember the title of a 25-year-old song?
Haven't seen the Special K commercial, but glad to know Shuggie Otis will be receiving royalties for the use of his composition "Strawberry Letter 23."
I checked the airplay status of Bruce Springsteen's "Lonesome Day" at country radio. Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems monitors 153 country music radio stations in the U.S. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. None of them played "Lonesome Day" even once in the last week, so the chances of Springsteen making his debut on Hot Country Singles & Tracks is not imminent. And yes, it would be his debut as an artist -- none of his previous singles or tracks have appeared on this chart.
DYING TO BUY
Why don't record companies release CD singles like they did a few years ago? I do not understand why Warner Bros. would not release a single for Madonna's "Die Another Day." I know they only released the maxi-single to this song, but this forces consumers to pay $9 for a maxi-single instead of the typical $2.99 we used to pay just for the song. Additionally, a lot of retailers (Best Buy, Circuit City, etc.) will not carry this maxi-single.
Doesn't this limit the possibility of Madonna having another No. 1? How does Billboard calculate sales and airplay into the Hot 100? Last week "Die Another Day" only sold around 29,000 copies of its maxi-single, easily dethroning Kelly Clarkson's song, but very much short of what a No. 1 single would typically sell even a year ago. The Madonna song only climbed to No. 8 [on the Billboard Hot 100].
Has the format for this calculation changed to determine a No. 1 song, or are record companies becoming selfish and relying on the public to purchase the full CD or soundtrack?
Record companies aren't releasing singles because they think if you buy the single, you won't buy the album. And they want you to buy the album, because that's where they make their money. The limited maxi-single release of Madonna's "Die Another Day" was good enough to allow the title to achieve pole position on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales chart, but as you point out, the numbers weren't high enough to catapult the Bond theme to No. 1 on the Hot 100. The maxi-single needed to sell around 60,000 copies to be a serious contender for the top spot.
The Hot 100 has always been compiled by adding sales and airplay information -- that's been true since its inception in August 1958. To keep up with changing market conditions, the formula for adding sales and airplay has changed over the years. In today's climate, where few singles are releases and the ones that do sell in small quantities, airplay is a much bigger factor in where a song will land on the Hot 100.