"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson answers readers' questions about the Dixie Chicks, commercial and import singles, "American Idol," long artist names, female hitmakers, and Madonna.
IS 'GONE' GONE?
What an exciting day! I just looked at the new Hot 100 and found that the Dixie Chicks are in the top-10! That's pretty exciting stuff for a country band that did nothing to their song to create a crossover hit -- the song is entrenched in country music and is now a top-10 hit! Plus, being a HUGE Dixie Chicks fan ("Long Time Gone" has been No. 1 on my personal chart for 12 weeks and is their 11th consecutive No. 1 song), I am ecstatic for their Hot 100 success!
There is one amazing thing about this whole situation -- I cannot find a copy of their single anywhere in my local stores! That's not to say they are sold out of "Long Time Gone," but they weren't carrying it to begin with! It's pretty frustrating for me not to be able to find any singles for the music I love. I wanted to buy the single in a store to help support the Dixie Chicks, a band that has renewed my spirit in music. Yes, I can get the single off the Internet, but does an online purchase count towards the Hot 100? Plus, who wants to wait for the song?! Instant gratification is what it's all about!
And to settle the old debate, I would buy the single and still be one of the first people in line on Aug. 27 when the stores open so I can buy the album as well.
Thanks for letting a music lover ramble and revel.
As the next E-mail is also about the Dixie Chicks' single, I'll wait to answer some of your questions. But regarding Internet sales, units sold at most popular online retailers do count for the Billboard charts. We even have a separate Top Internet Album Sales chart, although those sales are also integrated into The Billboard 200.
Now, read on and you'll find your questions answered in a moment.
THE 'LONG' AND WINDING STORY
I have a question about "Long Time Gone" by the Dixie Chicks. I know that the single is available to purchase but I have found here in Columbus, Ohio, that many of the stores are using the single to give to people when they advance-order "Home." Are they counting those singles as sales? Or are they counting those as sales for their new album, and just using the single as a promotional tool?
Also, I have noticed at my local Virgin record store, they have been getting new single imports and selling them as low as $3.99. Most of the time the singles are gone by the end of the week. There is STILL a demand for singles in the U.S.; unfortunately, the [import] sales don't count for the Billboard charts (even though the record companies have already decided for us that we don't want them). Do you see that policy of counting imports for the Billboard charts changing in the near future if this trend continues?
Sony Music, which owns the Monument label (see Chart Beat Bonus), employed a unique marketing strategy for the Dixie Chicks' single "Long Time Gone." Copies were sent to stores at no charge. You read that right -- retail outlets did not pay anything for these singles. The stores were then allowed to use them as they wanted. Just before writing this column, I stopped into the Tower Records store in Glendale, Calif., and discovered they were giving the single away free (while supplies last) to anyone who places an advance order for the Dixie Chicks' album, "Home." Nothing wrong with that, although a single given away for free would notcount toward the Hot 100.
Other stores are selling the single for $1.99, but then giving customers a coupon for $1.99 off the "Home" album. That's fair, too, and that counts as a sale.
Still other stores are simply selling the single for whatever price they choose - 49 cents, 99 cents, $3.99, with no discount on the album. Those count as sales, too. Add it all up, and "Long Time Gone" sold over 45,000 copies last week, making it one of the best-selling singles in recent memory ("A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis Presley vs JXL sold 26,000 copies in its first week). Add in the country airplay for "Long Time Gone" to these impressive sales figures, and it's obvious why the single is No. 7 on Billboard's Hot 100.
By the way, I can hear the protests now (from others, not our letter-writers) that giving away singles is "unfair." Get over it! It's about marketing, and it always has been. I think it's a brilliant strategy, sending the single rocketing up the Hot 100 and building interest in the album, which is likely to debut at No. 1. We're likely to see it repeated.
Keith, you asked about import singles. The number of import singles sold in the U.S. each week continues to be so small that these sales would have no significant impact on the Hot 100. While Billboard's director of charts Geoff Mayfield hasn't ruled out ever adding in import sales, it's not a step we're prepared to take at this time.
WHERE WILL THE IDOL DEBUT?
As a life-long chart-watcher and music lover, I always enjoy the anticipation of exciting new releases from my favorite artists. I am very happy to say that there are many new releases that are stirring up feelings of excitement. LeAnn Rimes, Monica, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Shania Twain, Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, and Faith Hill have all been absent from the Hot 100 for too long in my opinion. Do you think the times have changed too drastically and these favorite artists of mine are not going to be able to repeat their past successes?
I know it's all about airplay these days and I fear that radio programmers are going to decide that the public does not want to hear these artists anymore. Recent releases by Celine Dion and Cher have failed to ignite excitement from pop radio programmers. Celine failed to go top-10 and Cher couldn't even crack the top-40. I know that the music industry is cyclical and I am hoping that all of these exciting new releases are indicative of a comeback of my favorite kind of music on the charts. Do you think my hopes will be crushed? I've already noticed that Whitney's new single is getting a lukewarm response. Should I be worried?
Also what do you think will be the fate of the contestants on "American Idol"? Do you predict strong sales? Do you think radio programmers are actually going to add them to the playlists? I have to admit that it seems unlikely, but I hope I am wrong because I would love to see Christina, Kelly, and Tamyra all have long, successful careers.
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
Let's start with your "American Idol" questions. The U.S. version of the British "Pop Idol" show has been one of the success stories of the summer, with ratings building every week. More than 15 million people watched the Aug. 20 show, a new record for this series. The winner will record a song that will be released as a commercial single. With all of the exposure on "American Idol" and other shows, this song won't need any radio airplay to sell copies.
That won't be a problem. Let's imagine that the audience for "American Idol" doesn't increase over 15 million people (it will), and that 1.5% of the people who watch the finale will go out and buy the single - a very conservative estimate. That would be enough to allow the single to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100 without any radio airplay at all.
To put it another way, if the single sells 100,000 copies in its first week, it could debut in the top-10, and most likely, the top-5. If the single flirts with the 200,000 mark in its first week, that should insure a No. 1 debut, something that hasn't happened since chart rules were changed to allow airplay-only tracks on the Hot 100.
One caution: numbers are relative only to how other songs are doing in the same week. It's impossible to guarantee exactly where a single will debut given sales of 100,000 copies in a given week, which is why I said it could debut in the top-10, and possibly in the top-5.
As for your questions about how some of the artists you mentioned will fare with their new singles, we'll just have to wait and see. It's true that radio seems to be interested in the flavor-of-the-moment, and being popular last Tuesday doesn't mean you will be popular tomorrow. That makes it hard on veteran artists releasing new material. At the moment, Monica's "All Eyez on Me" is down to No. 79 in its fourth week on the Hot 100, having peaked at No. 69. I wouldn't count this song out yet, given the track record of Clive Davis and J Records, but you never know.
Regarding Whitney, yes, you should be worried. But more about why she would record a song like "Whatchulookinat" than how it's going to do on the Hot 100 (it's still No. 96 after debuting in that position last week).
In answer to Gary Hennion's question about the longest name for a recording act that had a hit, I remember a couple of decades ago Casey Kasem said the longest name at that time was the Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. I have not kept track of long names since then, so I don't know that they still have the record. But they would be hard to beat.
Forest Grove, Ore.
Recently Gary Hennion was asking about the longest name of a "non-featured" artist. I say that the Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards is that artist. In 1972, this act's "Amazing Grace" peaked at No. 11 (and started the tradition of playing "Amazing Grace" with bagpipes at the funerals of policemen and firemen).
Garden Grove, Calif.
I enjoy reading your column every week, and can't wait for the next edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits," which should be published soon (I hope?).
Anyway, the longest artist name I've found to hit Billboard's Hot 100 up until this year appears to be the Pipes and Drums and The Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, who hit in 1972 with "Amazing Grace." Surprisingly, Billboard listed the entire artist name on the Hot 100 (sans the article "the"), as your font/layout was a little looser back then (which also allowed the full title of the Stars On 45 "Medley" to be printed in 1981; imagine if you tried to do that today? LOL).
Dear Larry, David, and Aaron,
Thanks to the three of you for remembering the Pipes and Drums and... well, you know.
Aaron, the third edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits" is on track to be published in November. It's a more thorough revision than usual, with a new, more accurate point system used to compile the top 5,000 songs of the rock era. Even after turning the first draft in, I continued to update all chapters through the Hot 100 for the week ending June 29, 2002. As a result, I have just completed the list of the top 5,000 songs that will be found in the back of the book, and the 5,000 song-index that follows. And boy, are my fingers tired.
DOWN FOR THE COUNT
Kenton Beerman, in the list of female artists with five top-10 hits in a calendar year, refused to count Janet Jackson's "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" because it didn't hit the top-10 until the first chart of the next year.
However, Madonna's "Like a Virgin" was counted, in spite of the fact that it hit the top-10 in the previous year. In fact, it hit No. 1 in December 1984, if I'm not mistaken.
Either Madonna only had four 1985 top-10s, or Janet Jackson had six in
1990. It can't be both ways, in my book.
I have to side with Kenton on this one. It's true that "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" didn't reach the top-10 until the chart dated Jan. 5, 1991 (which actually makes it a grey area -- that means the song didn't make the top-10 until 1991, although technically, that chart was in effect from Dec. 30, 1990).
That technicality aside, "Like a Virgin" did first enter the top-10 in December 1984, the week ending Dec. 15, to be exact. However, "Like a Virgin" remained No. 1 through the week ending Jan. 26, 1985, and stayed in the top-10 through the week ending Feb. 9, 1985. So even though the song peaked in 1984, it still spent time in the top-10 in 1985.
This same principle applies to Elton John's record of spending at least one week in the top-40 every year for 30 years. Some of the songs that count for this record straddled calendar years.
Just thought I'd offer my two cents on why singles aren't very popular anymore. I think the bottom line is, why spend $5 to get a couple of songs (and maybe a couple of pointless remixes), when it's a much better deal to spend $15 and get 10-15 songs? Buying the whole CD just makes more sense.
There's also the problem of buying a single, and after a few more songs from the album are released, you realize that you'd like to have the whole album, and that you wasted your money when you bought the single.
You also mentioned customers being disappointed because there isn't a commercially available single of Avril Lavigne's "Complicated." But why would anyone want to buy that, when you can just turn on your radio and wait five minutes? I'm not complaining (okay, maybe a little, but it is a good song), but you can hear it for free pretty easily.
I think it makes more sense to use that song to promote Avril Lavigne as an artist, making people want to go out and buy the album (which many people are doing). I do think it's smart that the new Elvis song is a single, since most of his true fans have no need to buy the greatest hits album on which the song appears. But for the most part, buying a single seems pretty silly.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
While your points are well taken, there are a lot of kids and young teens who may not have the funds to purchase a few albums every month. They might like a song and be willing to part with $3 or $5 to buy a single or two, though.
I should point out that if "Complicated" had been released as a commercial single, Avril Lavigne probably would have had a No. 1 song on the Hot 100. That's a career milestone many artists would like to enjoy.
WILL MADONNA HAVE HER 'REVENGE'?
I believe an old Madonna demo called "Revenge," which never made Madonna's "Ray of Light" album, is making the rounds on U.S. radio after it appeared on the Internet. Many stations -- not doing their homework properly -- believe it to be her new single, but as we all know, that's going to be "Die Another Day."
So is "Revenge" a bootleg CD making the rounds, or something downloaded from the Internet by radio stations? And if enough stations play it, will it be eligible for one of your many Billboard charts?
For all things Madonna, I turn to Billboard's resident expert on the Material Girl, our own Keith Caulfield (author of the "Ask Billboard" column here at Billboard.com).
Keith acknowledges that a few of Madonna's demos have been showing up at various Web sites. Some of these are aborted tracks from the "Ray of Light" sessions. Keith is only aware of one U.S. radio station playing "Revenge," and only once. There's little chance that most radio stations would play a bootlegged track enough to cause even a blip in the airplay data collected by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems.
Keith reminds that "Die Another Day," Madonna's theme to the upcoming James Bond film of the same name, will be released either at the end of September or in early October.