Ask Billboard: Alternative's Slow Rides

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


Dear Gary,

I was looking at the top portion of the Alternative Songs chart this week. The list has historically been known for songs debuting high and scaling the chart quickly.

However, this week's top four, and five of the top six, have been on the chart for at least 26 weeks. The exception is No. 5 (Thirty Seconds to Mars' "Kings and Queens"), which totaled "only" 20 weeks.

Is this stagnation due to a lack of new releases by many of the biggest alternative rock artists, or could this be a trend for the format? I know that the Country Songs chart slowed way down in the early part of the last decade, as well.


Brian C. Cole
Tampa Bay, Florida

Hi Brian,

As noted in Chart Beat yesterday (Feb. 25), "two weeks after Phoenix set the mark for longest climb to No. 1 (31 weeks) in the Alternative Songs chart's history with '1901,' Cage the Elephant ties for second-longest ascension to the top, as 'Back Against the Wall' climbs 3-1 in its 29th week. Anberlin's 'Feel Good Drag' also reached the summit in its 29th week on the May 2, 2009, chart."

Slow builds on airplay charts aren't exclusive to alternative, or, as you mention, country. A scan of this week's Country Songs chart reveals three songs that ascend to new peaks after more than six months on the survey. This week's Gospel Songs chart also sports a historic steady rise, as Earnest Pugh's "Rain on Us" is rewarded with a No. 1 ranking in its 33rd week, a new format record for longest coronation.

I reached out to Q Prime/Volcano/Jive Label Group/mom & pop senior VP/promotion Warren Christensen, a longtime knowledgable rock radio analyst.

His response touches on one of the key reasons that formats are being more cautious about playing new music: Arbitron's Portable People Meter (PPM), the audience ratings measurement company's new electronic tool for gauging radio listenership.

In many markets, PPM has replaced the decades-old methodology whereby selected participants would write down their weekly listening habits in a diary. As PPM detects what listeners are hearing in real time, station programmers now receive more accurate and immediate reports of exactly when people tune in or out.

Thus, if programmers see that airplay for a hit song directly correlates to sustained listening, they are more inclined to play hit records, a logical strategy. Of course, that can impede new songs from receiving stronger airplay until they've become more familiar (from repeated plays or exposure on other stations or in other media).

Here is Christensen's thorough take, which also dissects the variety on current alternative radio:

"The format has grown more disjointed in the last year, where poppier-leaning alternative stations are playing even more Vampire Weekend, Temper Trap, Metric and Gorillaz, and the harder, 'active rock'-leaning alternative stations keep playing Slipknot, Chevelle and Godsmack.

"The greater separation has really made it hard to reach critical mass and send a record into the top 10. Couple that with a thought process from radio, which feels that, with PPM, you have to play your power-rotation records more, and for a longer period of time. Thus, stations are playing their top titles significantly more, and for much longer.

"A trip to the chart's upper levels is now slower due to that lack of critical mass caused by the format's diversity.

"The positive is that there are many new bands that are getting exposed at alternative that had a harder time in the past, since there is swing to play more music that leans to the pop/alternative side, as opposed to the active."


Hi Gary,

No review of charted medleys on the Billboard Hot 100 ( "Ask Billboard," Feb. 12) can be complete without these excellent examples, which didn't indicate they were medleys in their titles:

"The Best Disco in Town," Ritchie Family (No. 17, 1976) featured a number of dance hits, including "Reach Out, I'll Be There," "I Love Music," "Bad Luck," "Lady Bump," "Lady Marmalade" and the Ritchie Family's own "Brazil" from the previous year.

"Uptown Festival (Part 1)," Shalamar (No. 25, 1977) incorporated disco-tinged remakes of the following Motown classics: "Going to a Go-Go," "I Can't Help Myself," "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "It's the Same Old Song," "Tears of a Clown," "Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart," "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)," "Baby Love" and "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'."

"Good Old Rock & Roll," Cat Mother & the All-Night Newsboys (No. 21, 1969) included samples of these early rock standards: "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Long Tall Sally," "Chantilly Lace," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Party Doll."

Patrick Kelly
Brampton, Ontario

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for expanding the list of charted medleys.

Some of the cleverest medleys whose titles have not made the scope of their content apparent are DJ Earworm's. In addition to his annual "United State of Pop" mashups, which brilliantly meld the year's top 25 Hot 100 hits, the producer also discovered the similarities between Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy" and Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," as exhibited in his concoction aptly entitled "If I Were a Free Fallin' Boy."

Speaking of medleys ...


Hi Gary,

I was wondering, with the new eight-minute video merging "Imma Be" and "Rock That Body," will the latter track be released as a radio single from the Black Eyed Peas' album "The E.N.D."? I've been hoping it would since the album was released. The song has also been very well-received at their concerts. I'm hoping to hear it on the radio soon!

Thanks for the information,

Robert Becker
Knoxville, Tennessee

Hi Robert,

An executive at Interscope Records tells Billboard that "it is undecided at this time what the next single will be" from "The E.N.D."

In the meantime, the quartet enters an exclusive club of groups that have notched three Hot 100 No. 1s from an album, as "Imma Be" follows "Boom Boom Bow" and "I Gotta Feeling" to the summit.


Hey Gary,

Could you please tell me the latest to-date sales totals for Britney Spears' albums?

I'm always interested in the stats!


Mark Martin
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Hi Mark,

Here is a recap of Spears' career album sales in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan (including release years and Billboard 200 peak positions):

10,554,000, "...Baby One More Time," 1999 (No. 1, six weeks)
9,188,000, "Oops!...I Did It Again," 2000 (No. 1, one week)
4,339,000, "Britney," 2001 (No. 1, one week)
2,987,000, "In the Zone," 2003 (No. 1, one week)
1,647,000, "Circus," 2008 (No. 1, one week)
1,375,000, "Greatest Hits: My Prerogative," 2004 (No. 4)
980,000, "Blackout," 2007 (No. 2)
124,000, "The Singles Collection," 2009 (No. 22)
101,000, "B in the Mix: The Remixes," 2005 (No. 134)

In her career, Spears' U.S. album sales stand at 31,480,000.

Click here to see how high Spears ranks on Billboard's latest annual report on the "Top 40 Money Makers" in music.