"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson answers readers questions about airplay, Kelly Clarkson and the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the success of international acts in the U.S., and more.

A GRAMMY FOR KELLY?

Fred,

Greetings from Puerto Rico.

When "A Moment Like This" entered Billboard's Hot 100, it was based on radio airplay, not sales. However, the airplay occurred because the song was recorded from the broadcast of "American Idol," not from an official release. Since Nirvana's latest song is also receiving some airplay and is not an official release, what is Billboard's policy regarding the airplay of songs that are not officially released by a record label?

With the release of Kelly's single, she is eligible to receive some Grammy nominations including best new artist. With the release of the "American Idol Greatest Moments" album, the remaining nine finalists are also eligible to receive Grammy nominations. Is it possible that Tamyra, Justin, or even Nikki could receive a best new artist nomination solely based on that album's release?

Caesar G. Calderon
San Juan

Dear Caesar,

It's true, Kelly Clarkson debuted at No. 60 on The Billboard Hot 100 based solely on airplay. It didn't matter if the airplay was from the actual single or taken from the broadcast of "American Idol." A lot of morning shows did play the song from the television broadcast the morning after the finale, but radio stations in the U.S. were quickly supplied with the track from RCA and were able to play that version. The label was prepared to strike immediately with either Clarkson's recording, or Justin Guarini's version of the same song, had he won. The label was so prepared to go with either version that retail outlets had to order both Kelly and Justin's single, with the order for the runner-up's version cancelled as soon as the winner was announced on television.

Nirvana's new song, "You Know You're Right," is an official release from DGC/Geffen. The track debuts at No. 22 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart this week (see "Chart Beat Bonus").

But the answer to your question is that a song does not have to be officially released by a label to chart in Billboard. All airplay counts, even if radio stations are playing a downloaded track from a Web site, or a song recorded from a television broadcast.

As for Grammys, the "American Idol" contestants are eligible, but I wouldn't look for any of them to walk away with Grammys next year. The voters of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences typically would not vote for the winners of a televised contest. With all respect to Kelly Clarkson, Grammy voters will be considering names like Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton, and Norah Jones for best new artist, and if I were a betting man, I would put my money on Lavigne or Jones.



WHICH JUMP IS BEST?

Hi Fred,

Congratulations to Kelly Clarkson on the phenomenal success of her first single! The jump of "A Moment Like This" from No. 52 to No. 1 is truly remarkable. However, is it really appropriate to compare this jump to the jump of the previous record holder, the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love"?

After all, had "A Moment Like This" been released under the same chart rules as "Can't Buy Me Love," it would not have been No. 60 and No. 52 over [its first] two weeks; it would not have been eligible to chart, and thus would have debuted at No. 1 when the single was released.

Now, that's no small feat itself, but the changing chart rules mean that the Beatles' jump to No. 1 was quite different from Clarkson's. Currently, any song with very high single sales in its first week of availability but smaller radio exposure could repeat this large jump to No. 1.

Greg Dreher
Westfield, Ind.

Dear Greg,

Yours was not the only letter questioning the value of Kelly Clarkson's 52-1 jump with "A Moment Like This" compared to the 27-1 leap of the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" in 1964. With all respect to you and the other readers who wrote about this topic, here's my take on the subject:

First, it's not true that had "A Moment Like This" been playing by the same rules as "Can't Buy Me Love," it would have debuted at No. 1. Keep in mind that no song debuted at No. 1 until Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" entered in pole position in 1995, and that there was a narrow band of time, from 1995 to 1998, when songs debuted at No. 1. There is a reason why this happened. Just before "You Are Not Alone" charted, the rules were changed to only allow singles to debut after they had a week of sales under their belt. Previously, songs could debut in the same week they were being released as singles. That meant that all of a title's points in its first week on the Hot 100 came from airplay only.

While I can't go back and look at the raw data to see why "Can't Buy Me Love" debuted at No. 27, I'm certain that it did so based on airplay, and once sales kicked in, it shot to No. 1. If it had been playing under the same rules as "You Are Not Alone," it couldn't have debuted the week of April 4, and would have entered the chart at No. 1 the following week.

Second, since these latest chart rules were put into play the first week in December 1998, no other song has made a move anywhere close to the 52-1 leap of "A Moment Like This." So it's not a case of it's so easy that everyone is doing this. This is a unique achievement.

Third, there was no guarantee that "A Moment Like This" was going to get any airplay at all. The song debuted at No. 60, mostly based on airplay that occurred the day after the finale of "American Idol." The song could have easily fallen down the chart the next week if airplay had declined. As it turns out, airplay increased, and so "Moment" made a small climb, to No. 52. Then massive sales kicked in, boosting the single to No. 1. My point is, "Moment" didn't make the biggest leap to No. 1 in history because of any marketing manipulation, but because of real conditions in the world. Under any chart policy, this is a remarkable, history-making move.

Fourth, chart rules have changed many times over the years. If we can't compare chart moves of today to 1964 because the rules are different, then we can't compare any chart achievements. That would severely limit what I could write about in "Chart Beat," so we don't want to go there! But seriously, one thing is constant on Billboard's Hot 100: every week, there are 100 positions, and songs move in relationship to each other. I think it's fair to compare chart achievements under all the different sets of rules that have existed, not to mention the changing conditions in the marketplace over the years.

I know not everyone will agree with me, and that's OK. I'm not here to impose my will, just offer my own perspective of what's happening on the "Chart Beat."



ELVIS, THE BEATLES, KELLY, WILL, AND GARETH

Hi Fred,

I'd like to point out a couple of oddities, which may or may not be unique, with regard to this week's No. 1 single in the U.K., "The Long and Winding Road" / "Suspicious Minds" by Will Young and Gareth Gates.

First, with Kelly Clarkson sitting on top of the U.S. charts, the same TV program, or at least the same format, is the source of No. 1 singles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Second, with "ELVIS: 30 #1 Hits" by Elvis Presley at No. 1 in the U.K. album chart, "Suspicious Minds" tops both charts by different artists.

As a postscript, with this single, Lennon and McCartney extend their lead at the top of the "songwriters with most No. 1 singles" list. It's their first since Wet Wet Wet's "With a Little Help From My Friends" in 1988 and the score is now: John 29, Paul 28, with 25 together. In third place are Benny & Bjorn of Abba with 12.

Keep up the great column, and I look forward to the next edition of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits."

Michael Churchill
Southampton, England

Dear Michael,

It is a week of chart coincidences, that's for sure. It gives a "Chart Beat" columnist plenty to write about. Elvis Presley's No. 1 album and Will Young and Gareth Gates' single are the topics in this week's print edition of "Chart Beat" in Billboard magazine.

We're about a year away from publication of the fifth edition of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits." I'm writing it now for a November 2003 publication date.



IMPORTS AND EXPORTS

Hi Fred,

I have read your column for many years in both the publication and more recently on the Web site. I have a question that stems from how record companies choose which foreign artists they will attempt to expose to the U.S. market.

For example, the British group Atomic Kitten has had phenomenal success in the U.K., but we have yet to be exposed to them in the U.S. We are only now getting a few selections from [the Irish boy band] Westlife, yet they have been a major U.K. act for the past few years, even recording a song with Mariah Carey. Although Kylie Minogue was known in the U.S. some of her past few recordings weren't even distributed here. Then there are artists like Robbie Williams who has had some success in the U.S., but the availability of his catalog is minimal at best.

What reasoning is used to by the record companies to have a comparable U.S. release or to promote a successful artist in another country to the U.S. market? I know that we have a big import market in the U.S. (otherwise I would never be able to buy many of the artists I like). But wouldn't it be more advantageous to the artist and the record label to have a U.S. release?

Randy J. Sams
randyjsams@attbi.com

Dear Randy,

Most artists who do well in other countries would love to break in the U.S., because it is the world's No. 1 market for music - not to mention the birthplace of rock'n'roll. But there's no one answer as to why certain artists are made priorities here and others aren't. I think most people know I pay close attention to music from all over the world, and I have heard a lot of artists from other countries that I thought would be very successful in the U.S.

Of the five major record companies in the U.S., four are internationally owned, and all five have labels and offices spread all over the world. Normally, the American arm of a label would have the first option on an artist signed with that label in other countries.

That doesn't mean the U.S. division of a label will take every act signed to that company in other territories. Last year, my No. 1 album of the year was by a Swedish duo, Standfast. They had an album out on EMI in Scandinavia. I don't even know if the folks at EMI's American labels are aware of Standfast, let alone if they have any interest in releasing the album here.

You mentioned Westlife and Robbie Williams, two acts with huge success in the U.K. Westlife was originally signed to Arista, and had one single released in the U.S. Now, three years later, the quintet is signed to another label in the BMG family, RCA, and will have an American album released in 2003. And you can bet that Williams, a former member of Take That, wants to be a star in America. EMI's Capitol label tried to break him in the U.S., but never succeeded. Williams has just signed a new deal with EMI in the U.K., and you can be sure that in negotiations, he mentioned the fact that he would like to be a priority in the U.S.