Chart Beat Chat

Fred and his readers discuss Death Cab for Cutie, gay and lesbian artists, David Cook and more!


Death Cab for Cutie claims its first No. 1 album with "Narrow Stairs" and no write-up in Chart Beat? That achievement is certainly more newsworthy than reporting on Jason Mraz, whose third album sold 10 per cent fewer copies in its opening week than its predecessor "Mr. A-Z." And yet Jason Mraz's personal best gets a write-up while DCFC is only referred to in passing as part of the expansive Frank Sinatra article.

"Narrow Stairs" outsold both Jason Mraz and Frank Sinatra combined. And given that the 50 weeks its critically acclaimed predecessor "Plans" spent on the chart, the lack of attention here makes me question the relevance of this column.

Matt Lax

Dear Matt,

Your e-mail reminds me of a phone call I received from the president of a major record label about 10 years ago. One of his new artists debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200, and he was not happy that I had not mentioned the achievement in Chart Beat.

I told him that while it was great that his artist hit the top of the chart with a debut album, there was no story there other than the album being No. 1. There was no achievement to compare it to and nothing particularly interesting to say about the artist or the CD. He paused for a moment, then agreed with me and said he understood.

When people ask me to explain what Chart Beat is, I often tell them I take the current week's charts and place them in context of the entire rock era. Last week, there was much more to say about Frank Sinatra and Jason Mraz than there was about Death Cab for Cutie in Chart Beat terms.

Since I don't discuss sales figures in Chart Beat per Billboard policy, the number of copies sold wouldn't be a factor in deciding if an item is appropriate for Chart Beat or not. There are other columns that report sales figures, such as Geoff Mayfield's Over the Counter, and the weekly Chart Alert, and those are the places where an album debuting at No. 1 doesn't need a backstory to qualify for inclusion and where an achievement like Death Can for Cutie debuting at No. 1 really would be relevant.


Hi Fred,

The first time I understood just how much the "world" hated me was when a national spokeswoman for fruit juice started a campaign that equated homosexuals with child molesters and perverts. I was a child and didn't know Anita Bryant had recorded four top 40 hits or that she had once been crowned Miss Oklahoma. I didn't even know that I was gay, although a part of me that I tried hard to ignore realized I was different from my friends.

I just knew that the beautiful woman who sang the praises of Florida oranges thought I was evil.

Times have changed, fortunately.

I still remember crying as I listened to Barry Manilow's "All the Time" over and over again. Although I'm sure millions of people could empathize with the words of his song, the idea that there might be someone out there that felt as alone and awkward as I did resonated deeply. Then there was "It's A Sin," a top 10 hit for the Pet Shop Boys, and "Relax," a top ten hit for Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which showed that you could be gay and still retain a fierce wit.

But it wasn't until Jill Sobule released "I Kissed a Girl" with a video that was featured prominently on MTV that I genuinely felt like the world was moving in the right direction. I've bought every CD Sobule has recorded since that one (not because of the statement she made as much as because of what a fantastic singer and songwriter she is), and I've always thought it was wonderful that such a joyous song ended up becoming a minor hit.

Something pretty extraordinary happened recently, though. A woman named Katy Perry released a single called "I Kissed a Girl." It's not a remake; in fact, about the only thing it shares in common with Jill Sobule's track is that the singer feels no shame about kissing another girl and both songs are infectious pop. But while Sobule's recording was met with a large amount of controversy and never could rise above No. 67 on the Hot 100, Perry's song has not suffered a similar backlash and has become a top 40 hit in only two weeks.

I have nothing against Anita Bryant. She did what she thought was right, even if it ended up being (in my opinion) extremely hurtful and ignorant.

But I am so grateful to live in a world where, exactly 13 years after Jill Sobule debuted with "I Kissed a Girl" (on the Hot 100 dated May 27, 1995), Katy debuted with a single by the same name and not only found success but also found acceptance.

What a beautiful world we live in.


Tommy Marx
Hillsboro, Ore.

Dear Tommy,

Given the recent news about same-sex marriage in California and New York, it's not surprising that Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" is doing better on the Hot 100 in 2008 than Jill Sobule did with her same-titled song in 1995 (and thanks for pointing out the coincidence of the debut dates). Since you sent your e-mail, Perry's song has taken another huge leap, surging 40-21 in its third chart week.

Sobule's "I Kissed a Girl" also made me a fan of this Denver-born artist. I've made it a point to collect all of her releases ever since and I've never been disappointed. Fans of Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" can find videos of both songs on YouTube. While both songs are based on the same theme, Sobule's is a bit lighter and Perry's is bolder and more overt.

Tommy, you've been a frequent contributor to this column over the years, so thank you for that and for your openness and honesty.


Hi Fred,

David Cook's domination of this week's Hot 100 (11 debuting titles!) is certainly impressive, but I have to ask is it fair? I ask because of the chart rule that prevents older songs from entering the Hot 100. As you've often stated, an older title that sells well as a digital single (such as Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" or Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'") is not eligible for the current Hot 100 unless it is re-promoted to radio and marketed as a new release (such as the case with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 1992).

But other than Cook's winning "Idol" song, "The Time of My Life," are any of those older performance tracks being promoted to radio? Is there a label working them as current singles? For comparison, let's look at Tom Petty's recent success at the Super Bowl; "Free Fallin'" reached the top 10 of the Hot Digital Songs chart, but did not enter the Hot 100 because it was an older title. But if a download of Petty's live performance of "Free Fallin'" had been available and sold well, it most likely would have been allowed to chart, correct? It would be the same song benefiting from the same exposure, with neither being marketed as a new single. I guess my confusion lies in allowing live performances of older songs to chart, with no active promotion at radio, while the studio versions of the same songs aren't allowed to chart. It seems that all best-selling singles should be allowed to chart regardless of age---or live performances of older songs that aren't being promoted and actively marketed shouldn't be eligible for the Hot 100. One could also make the claim that album cuts not actively being worked to radio, such as those in recent years by Hannah Montana and Danity Kane, shouldn't be eligible either. But if the Hot 100 is a song chart now rather than a singles chart, then older titles that currently sell well should be eligible and reflect continued popularity for older songs and artists. I know you often turn these kinds of questions over to chart manager Silvio Pietroluongo, maybe he can clear it up?

At any rate, I'm not claiming any Billboard bias for Cook, and I congratulate him for his phenomenal success this week!

Eric Colley

Dear Eric,

When the "American Idol" finalists performed songs live on the series this season, they also recorded studio versions, which were sold on iTunes. But the real issue here is whether the David Cook tracks are "old" or "current." Unlike Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" or Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," songs originally released in the '80s, Cook's tracks were all performed within the last three months on "Idol." That doesn't really qualify them as "old" songs; they are still considered current.

Since chart rules were changed on Dec. 5, 1998 to allow airplay-only tracks on the Hot 100, songs do not have to be released as singles to chart. The situation that occurred this week with 11 David Cook tracks debuting at once could theoretically have happened any time since those new rules were put into effect almost 10 years ago. Of course, the circumstances that would allow that to happen are very rare, which is why it hasn't happened until now, and the rise of the digital download has made it more possible in 2008 than 1998.


Hi Fred,

I am looking at the new Hot 100 dated June 7 and David Cook, as you know, has six singles in the top 50. Is this wise on the part of the record label? When Peter Asher insisted on releasing Linda Ronstadt's "It's So Easy" at the same time as "Blue Bayou," "Easy" stalled at No. 5 and "Bayou" became arguably the biggest hit of her career (Asher had no confidence in the song choice). When "Into the Groove" by Madonna was getting airplay as a 12-inch single, it was not released as a 7-inch because it would have competed with "Angel," which was the current single from "Like A Virgin." It seems to me that not only are David's singles going to compete with each other, but they will over-expose him at radio and ruin a potentially great career. I know the Beatles pulled it off, but...? I'm mean, come on, the kid just won 'Idol' last week and he's halfway to a greatest hits package--LOL! Any thoughts?

Still love your column and live by your books.

David Brosius
Brookville, Penn.

Dear David,

There's only one David Cook single at the moment, and that's "The Time of My Life," the song Cook performed in the closing moments of the seventh season finale of "American Idol." The other 10 Cook tracks that debuted on the Hot 100 are studio versions of songs he performed on the series, either during the season or on the two-night finale.

As noted in my reply to the above e-mail, chart rules in effect since Dec. 5, 1998, allow tracks to chart whether they are singles or not. Given enough sales and/or airplay, another artist could accomplish the same thing.