Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.
CATALOG VS. CURRENT, CONTINUED (AGAIN)
As usual, thanks for all you do for chart geeks like myself. I'm sure you are being bombarded with questions regarding Michael Jackson, and I can't help but add another.
Realizing that Billboard Hot 100 chart rules have changed over the years, any chance, with all of the digital downloads and airplay, of Michael Jackson songs re-entering the Hot 100?
Since the Hot 100 revolves more around digital singles than physical ones, can you refresh my memory as to what it would take for Jackson to re-chart with high-selling digital songs like "Man in the Mirror" or "Thriller?"
I thank you again for all that you do!
Ron Raymond, Jr.
Thanks for reading and regularly submitting knowledgeable e-mails.
If anyone has read Ask Billboard since Michael Jackson's passing, or perused the comments below some of our chart news stories online, you know that chart fans have had strong opinions on whether the Billboard 200 should contain catalog albums. Your entry is the first I've received as to whether his older songs should appear on the Hot 100.
When Jackson's songs first began inundating airwaves after his death, "Billie Jean," "Thriller" and "Man in the Mirror" all would have ranked at Nos. 5-7 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated July 11 if non-current songs were allowed to chart. Having not been re-recorded or promoted again to radio, the songs were not eligible to appear on the current-based chart. They did, of course, show on Hot 100 Recurrents and Hot Digital Songs.
Some e-mailers and commenters have wondered why the Billboard 200 has a recurrent rule, which states that albums 18-months-old or older are removed once dropping below the top 100 (unless a single remains charting on a format airplay chart). Why not simply list the top-selling albums each week, regardless of their age? The same goes for the Hot 100, regarding songs of any era. It is certainly a fair question. And we can offer an explanation.
Please feel free to continue to send in your thoughts on this topic, though I think that running most of Billboard 200 Chart Manager Keith Caulfield's "Over the Counter" column that originally appeared in the July 18 print issue of Billboard will stand as our view on the topic going forward until we make any significant changes to our chart methodologies.
Also please know that we can't stress enough that issues such as this could not be of more importance to Billboard's charts department. As we serve the music industry and our readers, and as fans of the charts ourselves, we want nothing more than for our charts always to be as accurate and useful as possible. Billboard has informed readers the world over since 1894. We consider it our utmost responsibility to continue its legacy as the music industry's bible, and to ensure that our charts remain the world's most respected.
Here is the bulk of Keith's column from the July 18 Billboard issue:
"On May 25, 1991, Billboard introduced its first charts powered by Nielsen SoundScan's point-of-sale data: the Billboard 200 and a new Top Pop Catalog Albums list.
Both were revolutionary, because for the first time, Billboard was able to base album charts on actual sales data, instead of having to rely on rankings obtained from record stores, over the telephone or by fax machine.
Industry executives were concerned at the time that the new SoundScan system would allow older albums to prevent newer releases from reaching the Billboard 200.
To address those concerns, Billboard's then-publisher Howard Lander wrote, 'Because the new system measures actual sales of all albums, a major objective was to ensure that older albums, which might be strong sellers, would not crowd current titles, and especially titles by developing acts, off the charts. Billboard has a historic commitment to foster development of new talent. We believe the solution is the creation of catalog charts, which are being launched in this issue.'
The following week, former director of charts Geoff Mayfield wrote in his "Over the Counter" column that the catalog chart 'is proving to be a great tool for identifying strong older titles. Point-of-sale information places many of these recordings among the nation's best sellers. In fact, if the catalog albums were included in the [Billboard 200], all 50 would show up on the 200-position chart.'
At that time the thought of a catalog album outselling the top current album was unimaginable. How could an old album possibly do better than a hot, new release?
But, it happened.
In the wake of Michael Jackson's June 25 death, his "Number Ones" climbed to No. 1 on the Top Pop Catalog and the all-encompassing Top Comprehensive Albums charts with 108,000 copies sold.
How historic is that? In the (949) weeks that Billboard has been using Nielsen SoundScan data to power the Billboard 200 and Top Pop Catalog charts, only (three times) has a catalog album outsold the top-selling current or new album. And only Jackson could have done it.
He has a history of altering Billboard's chart landscape. He was the first to chart seven top 10 Billboard Hot 100 singles from one album, with "Thriller." He was the first to have five Hot 100 No. 1s from one album, with "Bad." He was the first to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, with "You Are Not Alone." And he continues to reign as the artist with the longest-running No. 1 on the Billboard 200, with "Thriller." It spent 37 nonconsecutive weeks atop the chart.
All these feats were seemingly impossible to achieve - until Jackson did it. And he continues to break records.
No one is denying that he has had the best-selling album in the United States for the past (three) weeks. But, since Jackson's top sellers are absent from the Billboard 200 - long considered the albums chart of record in the United States - it gives one pause.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to ponder what the Billboard 200 would be like if it included catalog albums.
In a shifting landscape where every day brings a new way to buy and sell music, we must consider how to properly chart and reflect industry change ... If we were to consider altering our chart rules, we would do so with a measured approach and much thought. We must be open to new ideas and change as we move forward."
MAD ABOUT HER
I am a big Belinda Carlisle fan, and I heard rumors about the release of her new album next year. Do you know anything about it? Will it be just another greatest hits album? I'm also curious to know how many copies she's sold solo and with the Go-Go's?
I am such a fan of Belinda Carlisle, too. Her "Heaven on Earth" album, as far as I'm concerned, is the ultimate in melodic '80s pop.
According to her official website, belindacarlisle.tv, Belinda is abuzz. She has European tour dates lined up through next month, she has been in the studio recording material for an original album due next year and she will release her autobiography next February.
Because her biggest albums were released prior to the advent of Nielsen SoundScan data in 1991, let's use Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) award information to gauge her success.
With the Go-Gos':
1981, "Beauty and the Beat," double Platinum
1982, "Vacation," Gold
1986, "Belinda," Gold
1987, "Heaven on Earth," Platinum
1989, "Runaway Horses," Gold
In the SoundScan era, the Go-Go's' top seller is their 1990 best-of set "Greatest," with 402,000 copies sold to date. Carlisle's best-selling solo album according to Nielsen SoundScan is 1992's "Her Greatest Hits" (290,000).
Has Billboard given serious consideration in recent months to discontinuing the Adult Contemporary chart? Week after week, the songs and their positions seem to stagnate. Approximately how many stations fall into this category?
Ouch - not only do I manage our Adult Contemporary chart, today (July 17) happens to be the list's birthday. The chart first appeared, as the Easy Listening survey, in the Billboard issue dated July 17, 1961. At age 48, it's only slightly younger than the Billboard Hot 100, which celebrates its 51st anniversary Aug. 4.
The chart does certainly reflect the conservative adult contemporary format. Because AC stations program playlists containing music from as far back as the '60s, with several stations focusing largely on the '80s, '90s and '00s, current songs comprise only a portion of what goes on the air. That's different from say, mainstream top 40, which plays only a handful of older tracks among its majority of currents.
Still, record labels and artists benefit greatly from adult contemporary airplay. The format is heavily researched by programmers, and when listeners declare that they like a song, its spins can produce royalties for decades. It's not uncommon for a song like "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers - from 1965 - to be a top-tester in AC research and thus remain in rotation.
Crossing over to AC from other formats can also expose an artist to a new listening - and, more importantly to labels and artists - buying audience. Adult listeners, especially women, weren't likely purchasing Hoobastank's album "The Reason" based on airplay of any of the set's tracks at rock radio until the title cut became a hit at AC. Fergie also found new fans from the AC airplay of "Big Girls Don't Cry" after songs like "London Bridge" and "Fergalicious" may have been too young-sounding for listeners who prefer a diet of more gentle mainstream pop from the past few decades.
The adult contemporary format also enjoys strong ratings and bills very well in many markets. At 96 stations, our reporter panel is one of the biggest among our airplay charts.
This week, the artist with the most Adult Contemporary hits ranks at No. 23. Elton John's "Electricity" is his record-extending 68th entry.
The first No. 1 on the chart, known at times as Middle-Road and Pop-Standard Singles (and which spun off the more pop/rock-leaning Adult Top 40 chart on March 16, 1996)? Brook Benton's "The Boll Weevil Song."
Uncle Kracker's "Drift Away," featuring Dobie Gray, holds the mark for longest run atop the tally, having reigned for 28 weeks in 2003-04.