Chart Beat Chat

Fred and his readers discuss "American Idol," Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah," Usher's "Love In This Club" and more!


Hi Fred,

For anyone who still has doubts that "American Idol" is changing the landscape of music, look no further than the top of the digital songs chart this week. Not only is the show exposing us to new singers each year that are finding their way to the top of some of Billboard's key charts, not to mention turning unknown non-contestants such as Daniel Powter ("Bad Day") into chart-topping singers by exposing their original music to the masses, but now we have a song from the past being catapulted to the top of the charts merely by having it sung by a contestant on the show.

With Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" debuting on the digital sales chart at No. 1, "Idol" has once again proven that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Congrats to Jeff Buckley on having his classic version of this song finally find the success that it deserves. And thanks to "American Idol" for exposing this Leonard Cohen-penned gem to so many people who had never experienced it before. There are many great versions of this song and if anyone has never heard the powerful k.d. lang version, I urge you to search it out and give it a listen.

While contestant Jason Castro and Jeff Buckley give masterfully subdued versions of "Hallelujah," lang's incredible voice turns this song into an event that stands up with the best of them. My hat's off to the exposure this song is getting right now.

I always look forward to your column.

Michael Marquardt, Sr.
Gettysburg, Penn.

Dear Michael,

As you note, we've had original versions of songs performed by contestants on "American Idol" show up on our charts before, especially the Hot Digital Songs tally. But the No. 1 debut of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" after Jason Castro performed the song on the show is unprecedented.

For more information about this unique chart feat, you might want to read Billboard director of charts/senior analyst Geoff Mayfield's "Over the Counter" column in the March 22 issue of Billboard. You can access that column by clicking here.

Meanwhile, let me dig out my k.d. lang CDs and listen to her "Hallelujah" again.


Hi Fred!

I was checking the chart news and I noticed that, like you said in last week's column, adding sales to airplay can be like adding Mentos to Diet Coke. But there's one thing that really surprises me - Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" tops the Hot Digital Songs chart, but does not even appear in the top 50 of The Billboard Hot 100. I [don't see how] a song with that [kind of] sales did not [debut] on the Hot 100. Is there a rule that explains this situation?

Thank you for your help. Love your column.

Fued N. Martin

Dear Fred,

Yes, it's a chart policy that has been detailed many times in this column and applies to Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah." The Hot 100 is a chart for current songs, and Buckley's recording of "Hallelujah" is not a current song. It can't appear on the Hot 100 anymore than Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" or the Beatles' "Blackbird" could should they sell enough digital downloads in a week to debut on Hot Digital Songs.

It would be a different story if the late Buckley's record label decided to promote "Hallelujah" as a current song, but that hasn't happened. I don't know if "Hallelujah" will continue to sell over the next few weeks or if there will be a big drop-off in sales as Jason Castro's performance fades into history, but either way its progress will continue to be charted on Hot Digital Songs rather than the Hot 100.



Well, you've had an interesting week! Not only getting interviewed (for the third time!) on "American Idol," but being in the audience for the top 12 round. And according to season five contestant Chris Sligh's blog, spending most of Sunday with him and Jon Peter Lewis at an "American Idol Extra" taping. (Chris calls you "a walking encyclopedia of music charts knowledge" at

And if my suspicions that next week's theme is the already-announced category of "songs from the year you were born," probably making repertoire suggestions to the "Idol" contestants.

So without breaking confidences, what can you spill? Inquiring minds want to know!

Patrick Kelly

Brampton, Ont.

Dear Patrick,

Glad you saw my appearance on "American Idol" this week. Apparently several people watch the show, because I have heard from a few others that they also saw me talking about John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the show's opening minutes.

The producers were kind enough to invite me to sit in the audience for the top 12 performance show, although I didn't realize they were going to show me sitting there right after the Lennon-McCartney piece. I did see the camera come to my row, but since I was sitting next to Taye Diggs, I just assumed they were focusing on him.

Hanging out with Chris Sligh happened the previous weekend while I was interviewing a dozen Idols for a story that will be posted next week (stay tuned!). The former finalists were gathered in Burbank for a three-day taping session of "American Idol Extra," the Fox Reality Channel series that airs Thursdays at 7 and 10 p.m. ET and PT.

Although I had met Chris during his season, we really hadn't spent any quality time together until last weekend. I found him to be totally charming and personable, and fascinated with music and music trivia.

Jon Peter Lewis wasn't at that taping, but he's been a friend since I met him during season three and I saw him a few weeks ago at a party introducing the top 24 contestants from the current season.

As you now know, the theme for next week's show was changed at the last moment. The top 11 will return to the Lennon-McCartney songbook. I haven't made any suggestions, and wouldn't unless the show asked me to, as they did the week in season five when the contestants could choose any song from any Billboard top 10 (and my first suggestion to Katharine McPhee was "Black Horse & the Cherry Tree"). Since "American Idol" is a competition and the finalists stay or go depending on their song choice, it's important that they make their own selections. You can imagine what could happen if I did make suggestions: the person with the lowest vote would always wonder if they would have survived another week if only they hadn't listened to me.

Hmmm, you want me to spill behind-the-scenes news? I wish I had some, but I don't. I can tell you that I gave each of the top 12 contestants copies of the fourth edition of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits" this week [so maybe I will end up helping them with song selection, just by virtue of them reading my book].

Here's an inside scoop: I found out that one of the top 12 has been "obsessed" with my books for years. I won't say who it is while they are still in competition, but I promise to interview this finalist after season seven concludes and I will ask them to tell me more.


Hi Fred,

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if my calculations are correct, whoever takes over Usher will have the 1,000th No. 1 single on the Billboard singles chart (the Hot 100 and its earlier incarnations). I'm counting from "Let Me Go, Lover" by Joan Weber, which was the first No. 1 single of 1955, the year generally regarded as the beginning of the rock era.

Joel Whitburn typically lists that as the first No. 1 in his books. I'm not sure if Billboard is keeping the same tally, since "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets has also been mentioned as the first No. 1. By the way, this only becomes relevant if you list "The Twist" by Chubby Checker twice as I did.

If not, Usher's "Love in This Club" is No. 998.


J. Vernon Gonsalves
Trinidad, West Indies

Dear J. Vernon,

Joan Weber's "Let Me Go, Lover" was the first song to advance to No. 1 in 1955 on the Best Sellers in Stores chart, succeeding the Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman" the week of Jan. 22. But the Billboard singles chart had been appearing on a regular basis since July 1940, when "I'll Never Smile Again" by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (with vocals by Frank Sinatra) was the first No. 1 song.

While it would be convenient for the rock era to begin on Jan. 1, 1955, historians have fixed the start date as July 9 of that year, the day that Bill Haley and His Comets' "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" moved to pole position. In my book, "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits," "Rock Around the Clock" is listed as the first No. 1 of the rock era. By that count, and considering Chubby Checker's "The Twist" as one No. 1 and not two, Usher's "Love in This Club" is the 994th No. 1 of the rock era. However, any count that doesn't begin with "I'll Never Smile Again" is purely arbitrary.

If you only count No. 1 songs on the Hot 100, Usher's latest is the 955th No. 1. That's less arbitrary.

Whichever way you choose to count, I'll be acknowledging the 1000th No. 1 of the rock era in Chart Beat. That'll happen just six No. 1s from now, which means it will occur sometime in 2008.