Chart-based stories on Ja Rule, Epic Records, Paul McCartney, Janet and Michael Jackson, Carly Simon, and Kabouter Plop.

THE RULE OF THREE: A number of "Chart Beat" readers sent E-mails this week asking if Ja Rule had set a record by making three appearances in the top-20 of The Billboard Hot 100. For the week ending Dec. 8, Ja Rule was No. 6 with his own single featuring Case, "Livin' It Up" (Murder Inc./Def Jam). He also occupied the adjacent slot, as "I'm Real" (Epic), the Jennifer Lopez track which features him on a remix, dips 6-7. And the follow-up to "Livin' It Up," "Always on Time" featuring Ashanti, leapt 31-20.

While it's a rare achievement, it's not unique. The week of May 30, 1998, Master P had a trio of titles in the top-20. He was featured on Montell Jordan's "Let's Ride" at No. 12. He was also No. 16 with "Make 'Em Say Uhh!" and No. 20 with "I Got the Hook Up!"

In March 1993, Whitney Houston had three singles in the top-20 for three consecutive weeks. "I Will Always Love You," "I'm Every Woman," and "I Have Nothing," all from the soundtrack to "The Bodyguard," shared space in this upper region of the chart.

This week, on the Hot 100 dated Dec. 15, Ja Rule's three charted entries are all in the top-13. "Livin' It Up" is down 6-8. "I'm Real" slides 7-10, and "Always on Time" advances 20-13. That doesn't beat Houston, who had three hits in the top-11 for two of those weeks in March 1993.

ANOTHER RULE OF THREE: The Jennifer Lopez/Ja Rule single figures in to another hat trick in the top-10. "I'm Real" is one of three singles on the Epic label in the current top-10. Ginuwine rebounds 8-7 with "Differences" and Shakira has her first top-10 hit as "Whenever, Wherever" leaps 14-9.

Going back to 1983, I found many instances where Epic had two singles in the top-10, but no other instances of three songs on the imprint occupying the top-10 simultaneously.

CHIMES OF 'FREEDOM': Paul McCartney has his first entry on The Billboard Hot 100 in just over four-and-a-half years. "Freedom" (MPL/Capitol) is new at No. 97 this week.

It's the first McCartney song to chart since "The World Tonight" peaked at No. 64 in May 1997. That adds another decade to McCartney's column, and gives him a total career chart span of 37 years, 11 months, dating back to the debut of the Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand" the week of Jan. 18, 1964.

Just counting McCartney's solo career still produces impressive numbers: his post-Beatles chart span is 30 years, nine months, and one week, harking back to the debut of "Another Day" / "Oh Woman Oh Why" the week of March 6, 1971.

LEGEND IN HER OWN TIME: There are only two songs that move into the top-30 portion of The Billboard Hot 100 this week, and they're both by members of the same family. Janet Jackson hikes 33-29 with "Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)" (Virgin), while her brother Michael Jackson floats 32-30 with "Butterflies" (Epic).

Janet's song is based on Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" and features Simon, along with Missy Elliott and P. Diddy. It's the first time Carly Simon has been in the top-30 since 1987, when "Coming Around Again," her first single for Arista, peaked at No. 18.

PLOP MUZIK: Dutch chart expert Johan van Slooten reports on the latest Gnome news. A check of the Dutch singles chart reveals that "De Kabouterdans" ("The Gnome Dance") by Belgian TV character Kabouter Plop ("Gnome Plop") celebrates its first full year in the chart, with a run of 52 consecutive weeks. It is the first single in Dutch chart history to have a consecutive chart run of at least one year.

Kabouter Plop is the main character in a Belgian children's TV show about a gnome community, and two years ago, the Plop team released its first recordings. In December 2000, the "Kabouterdans" entered the Mega Top 100. After months in the middle and lower regions of the chart, the single finally reached the top-20 in April. The belated popularity of the song was caused by the fact that it was played extensively in the European ski resorts during the winter season, and as holiday makers went home, they all bought the Plop single they had heard so often (and had danced to) during their holiday.

But the "Kabouterdans" wouldn't go away -- during the summer, it was a hit again with holiday makers, now in the sunny resorts in the south of Europe. Again, the single refused to leave the chart. A couple of weeks ago it broke the record of longest chart run (the previous record holder had spent 41 weeks in the chart) and now it celebrates its first chart year. It moved up to No. 41 on the chart dated Dec. 1.

Van Slooten lists the longest running hits in the Mega Top 100:

52 weeks: "Kabouterdans," Plop
41 weeks: "Zelfs Je Naam Is Mooi," Henk Westbroek
41 weeks: "The Road Ahead (Miles of the Unknown)," City To City
40 weeks: "Nobody's Wife," Anouk
39 weeks: "You're Still the One," Shania Twain
39 weeks: "Que Si Que No," Jody Bernal

All of these artists are Dutch, except Shania Twain who is Canadian and Plop who is Belgian.