Fred chats with readers about everything from cover songs and "American Idol" to digital downloads and the action on Billboard's country charts.
ACE: OFF BASE?
First of all, hats off to your light and fact-filled response to [a] serious letter a few weeks ago. I'm sure Katharine McPhee was extremely grateful that you leapt to her defense, and I have a suspicion that most of your readers were glad you did as well. While I do think aspiring singers should be familiar with original recordings and at least have a basic knowledge of musical history, you are absolutely right that such things can be taught.
And on top of that, let's not kid ourselves: Americans love a good cover song! You don't even have to be a fan of "American Idol" to know this is true -- think Whitney Houston's definitive version of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" or what Aretha Franklin did to "Respect," and it's easy to see what the judges mean when they say a note-for-note karaoke rendition is simply not good enough.
That said, I see a great deal of truth in the point [the letter-writer] made about younger generations. But instead of being "appalled" at their alleged lack of musical knowledge, I think a much better argument from his position would be pointing out how said lack of knowledge undeniably puts a contestant at a huge disadvantage in a competition like "American Idol" where song-choice and knowing who you are as a performer are crucial to success.
As most fans know, a very clear pattern develops each year when the semi-final rounds begin -- the contestants with an indistinct or unoriginal style are always the first to go. This is exactly why I'd argue that this season's most pleasant surprise is 17-year-old Gedeon McKinney. After his first two performances so accurately tapped into an era dominated by singers like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, I think young Gedeon has done his homework. And when Simon Cowell tells him that he's exactly the kind of singer Berry Gordy would have signed 40 years ago, we as the audience can see from the authenticity in his 17-year-old smile that Gedeon knows exactly who Berry Gordy is and that he knows exactly how high a compliment he's just been given.
But aside from the musical knowledge argument and to make a long story short, I can't imagine there is a "Chart Beat" reader who wouldn't suggest gluing a copy of your "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits" book or maybe Joel Whitburn's "Top 40 Hits" to the hands of each remaining contestant. Those books can turn any casual fan of pop music into a near-expert-and since there are so many great songs that have yet to be attempted on the "American Idol" stage, you know we're tuning in each week hoping that someone chooses to sing one of our favorites.
Now that five paragraphs have gone by, I guess I can finally get to my original reason for writing. Considering the nature of your job, I know you're familiar with the daily iTunes list of their 100 most downloaded songs (which, if I'm not mistaken, is a pretty accurate predictor of Billboard's own Hot Digital Songs chart). Last year, you drew our attention to the amazing spike in downloads for Heart's "Alone" after it was performed to rave reviews by Carrie Underwood during the fourth season of "American Idol." Considering Carrie turned out to be the eventual winner, it seems pretty clear to me that if a contestant can prompt that many downloads of the original song based on his/her televised performance, it probably indicates that he/she is also leading the pack with respect to the highest number of votes.
Keeping that in mind, and considering that the show's producers never reveal more than which two or three contestants receive the lowest number of votes -- and bearing in mind there is no major front-runner this season as the pool of contestants is as talented as they are diverse -- you can only imagine how eagerly I've anticipated download spikes similar to the one Carrie achieved.
Well, as I'm sure you know by now, Ace Young most certainly had something to do with George Michael's "Father Figure" sailing into the mid-60s on the iTunes chart last week. And while impressive, for those who might think of jumping to conclusions concerning Ace as the show's eventual winner, please consider that Chris Daughtry's rendition of "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)" has sent the Fuel tune skyrocketing to as high as No. 22 on this week's chart. That position, for the record, is a full six spots ahead of Underwood's "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and nine spots ahead of Kelly Clarkson's current single "Walk Away."
As a consolation for Ace fans, his rendition of Daniel Bedingfield's "If You're Not the One" has sent that track to No. 63 this week. On a side note Fred, have you any idea why Ace introduced the song as "If I'm Not Made for You" on the show? Ace said he loved this song so much that he wished he'd written it himself -- only to admit seconds later that he really just learned the lyrics that week and, well, there's that whole bit about not knowing the song's actual title.
Something else that caught my attention was Ace mentioning that his brother performed "If You're Not the One" (or whatever you want to call it) with Daniel Bedingfield. I don't know about you, but my immediate thought was, "Is Ace somehow related to Will Young, winner of the original Pop Idol in Great Britain?" That would certainly be quite a "Parent Trap" scenario if it were true, as I have yet to hear Ace speak with a British accent. Considering that both Daniel Bedingfield and Will Young are current artists in the United Kingdom, it's not unfathomable that the opportunity to sing together would present itself -- although it also seems likely to me there would be more press on the issue if Ace and Will were indeed brothers. Do you have any additional information? I hope my letter isn't too long to be considered for your column!
It was a little long, but I did some editing (yes, this was the edited version!).
Let's start with Ace Young, who may have been off-base when he mentioned the title of the Daniel Bedingfield song. From what I gathered by talking to Ace tonight -- and his brother Ryan -- they were given the wrong title, so I wouldn't blame them. The contestants have enough to think about every week, what with choosing a song, learning and rehearsing it and then performing it on the "American Idol" stage.
Since I was talking to Ace and Ryan, I was able to get the answer to your question about Ace's brother performing with Daniel Bedingfield. Ryan laughed, because a lot of people have been asking him about this since Ace sang "If You're Not the One" on the show. What Ace actually said was that he and his brother went to see Daniel Bedingfield in concert. Ryan is definitely not British, and he's not Will Young. None of the five Young brothers, who are from Colorado, are Will Young. In fact, Ryan looks like a taller version of Ace and has been mistaken for him several times while hanging out in Los Angeles. For the record, 25-year-old Ace is the youngest of the five brothers and Ryan is the next oldest, at 29.
While it's interesting to note the continued sale spikes for songs performed on "American Idol," I'm not sure you can determine the winners this way. With over 30 million people watching, and over 49 million votes received, you'd have to compare those numbers to the less than 1 per cent of the viewers who actually purchased digital downloads. I think that's too small a sample to use to figure out who is going to win.
By the way, I believe the sudden chart spurt for Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" is due to its weekly airings on "American Idol." The song had been around for months in America and hadn't made any major chart moves until "Idol" started using it as a theme for the "goodbye video" for the departing contestants.
You mentioned Gedeon McKinney, and as you know by now, he's not in the top 12. I enjoyed his performances of soul hits from my formative years, and I'll miss that element in the remainder of the series' fifth season. I thought he did a great job on "When a Man Loves a Woman."
As for Katharine McPhee, you're right, she was grateful for my defense and she was kind enough to let me know.
Finally, thanks for your suggestion of gluing my books to the contestants' hands. In the past, I've simply handed them over. It's a whole new marketing strategy!
SWEATIN' TO THE NEWIES
A while back you answered a question about how paid downloads of albums affect the singles chart. If I remember right, full albums sold on sites like the iTunes Music Store have no effect on the singles chart, but rather count as an album sold on The Billboard 200.
However, when individual tracks are purchased (but not the whole album), the tracks could conceiveably appear on the singles chart even if they are not being promoted as "singles." We saw this happen to the extreme when almost all the tracks from "High School Musical" appeared on the Hot 100 at the same time, presumably because downloaders were picking and choosing their favorite individual tracks rather than downloading the whole album.
Here's my question: some "albums" on iTunes Music Store are truly "singles" which only contain one or two tracks. Prince's newest release is called "Black Sweat" / "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed" - Single, and it has been one of the best-selling "albums" on iTunes since its release, partially due to a related contest that requires entrants to download the two-song single.
I can't imagine that Billboard would allow a two-song set to appear on The Billboard 200, so how will those sales be reflected on the charts? Will both sides of the single be allowed to chart with equal credit for the "album" sales, and each song getting additional credit for any individual downloads? Or will the individual sales be the only ones tabulated for the chart?
You raise a good question, one that has not been asked before.
Billboard makes its own determinations about what is a "single" and what is an "album."
Prince's "Black Sweat" is definitely a single, not an album. If someone buys the two songs bundled together as a single on iTunes, it counts as one single sold and the sale would be counted for the Hot Singles Sales chart, along with sales of the 12-inch vinyl release.
If someone downloads "Black Sweat" as an individual song, or "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed" as an individual song (and not as the two songs bundled together for $1.98), those sales would be counted for the Hot Digital Songs and Hot Digital Tracks charts. All sales would be counted for the Hot 100.
MY DIGITAL WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT
A few of us on a smaller label's message board have been discussing how the charts are compiled. With physical sales, since not every store reports in, a weighting system was developed to extrapolate sales for the stores that Nielsen SoundScan [doesn't count]. That makes sense.
But in the digital world, is there any such weighting? One person made the suggestion that buying from Napster, for instance, would carry more weight than an iTunes sale.
But my thought was since anyone in the United States could, in theory, choose any store they wanted, and the tracking numbers draw from all of the largest players, such a weighting system would not be necessary. At this point, it's pure sales figures.
Can you provide any insight on the differences there?
You're correct. There is no reason to give any weighting to digital sales. One digital sale counts as one digital sale, whether it's on iTunes or Napster or any other online seller that reports to Nielsen SoundScan.
REVIEWING: THE SITUATION
I've been a reader of yours for many years, way back to when you took over the "Chart Beat" reins and want to thank you for everything you've contributed to the world of music. It's great to see true music lovers such as yourself in influential positions in the industry.
My question isn't directly about the charts, but more of a comment about some single reviews which I've read recently. They seem to be increasingly opinionated and unfairly represent the single, which to me doesn't help its chances of climbing the chart. Some songs I'm referring to are "Who Says You Can't Go Home" by Bon Jovi, "Black Sweat" by Prince and "Crooked Teeth" by Death Cab for Cutie. The first two seem to be doing well on the charts, and the third sounds to me like a perfect pop melody which could be a big hit for Death Cab.
I realize that one review in a magazine isn't going to affect a song's chart performance, but I've always appreciated Billboard for its objective stance on music, leaving it up to the listener to decide if he or she likes a particular tune.
We all have our personal likes and dislikes, and it's impossible to predict who will have the next big hit, but I would think some of the veteran artists and newcomers would appreciate a review which isn't a slap in the face. There are plenty of other publications for that. What do you think about this?
Thanks for being a long-time "Chart Beat" reader. It sounds like you have been reading our singles reviews for a long time as well, so you've seen the tone change over the years, depending on who is editing the singles reviews.
Billboard does maintain objectivity in our news pages, but reviews are not meant to be objective. Along with editorials, they are meant to provide a subjective point of view. While I don't agree with every review, I do think many of them are brilliantly written. I think there wouldn't be much point to having reviews if you knew in advance that every review was going to be a good one, no matter what.
In the long run, I don't know how much effect any review will have on a record's fortune. The same goes for reviews of television shows and to some degree, motion pictures. The one place where reviews have an immediate economic impact is Broadway shows. Many a show has closed based on the reviews in the New York papers, particularly the New York Times.
Speaking of the power of reviews, I remember once looking up the review of the first episode of "Bonanza" in our sister publication, the Hollywood Reporter. It was an unkind review suggesting the series would not have a long life. It ran for 14 seasons.
BY THE NUMBERS
I'm a big fan of your column. It's a good thing that it's available online. Before the Internet, I had to wait for weeks before Billboard hit the newsstands here in Las Pinas.
I want to ask a simple question: who is the female artist with the most songs to chart on the Hot 100? I believe it is Mariah Carey, but my best friend argues that it has to be either Barbra Streisand or Diana Ross. Could you please shed some light on this issue? I would really appreciate it.
Thanks a lot, Fred!
John Paul Abellera
Las Pinas, Philippines
It's not Mariah Carey, but remember, she first appeared on the Hot 100 in 1990, so there are female artists who have been charting for almost 30 years longer who are contenders.
It's not Barbra Streisand, who has been recording for a long time, but hasn't released a great quantity of singles.
It's not Diana Ross, even if you add her Supremes' hits with her post-Supremes songs. Doing so would give her a total of 71 chart entries.
The champ, with 76 chart entries between 1961 and 1998, is Aretha Franklin.
A COUNTRY HIT? THEY GOT IT!
I noticed in this week's "Chart Beat" you mention a couple of country chart feats. I know you can't mention every single feat each week, but I'd like to point out a certain group's success on the Hot Country Songs chart.
This week, "Who Says You Can't Go Home" by Bon Jovi featuring Jennifer Nettles leaps 11-8, giving Bon Jovi its first top 10 country hit.
The collaboration makes the band the first artist since Roy Orbison to score country and rock top 10 hits. Orbison hit the top 10 on the country and rock singles charts in 1989 with "You Got It." As many readers know, Bon Jovi had great rock and pop success in the '80s, and this week, the band can boast country success as well.
"Chart Beat" did seem overloaded with country chart items this week, but Bon Jovi's first top 10 hit on Hot Country Songs is certainly worth noting. Thanks to you, we get to do it in "Chart Beat Chat" instead of "Chart Beat."
For another country item that could have appeared in "Chart Beat," see the next e-mail.
MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION
With all your interesting comments in this week's "Chart Beat" about Jessi Colter and the Hank Williams dynasty, I'm surprised you didn't mention that Jessi's son Shooter Jennings was only two notches below her on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart.
Take care and best wishes,
Abbotsford, British Columbia
I have to admit with everything else going on in country music this week, I didn't notice how close Colter and her son were on the chart. Shooter Jennings' "Put the O Back in Country" album is holding at No. 63, while his mother's "Out of the Ashes" enters at No. 61.
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