Chart Beat Chat

Fred and his readers discuss "Thriller," American Idols and iTunes, French acts and more!



You're bound to get scads of letters complaining about the re-release of [Michael Jackson's] "Thriller" being ineligible for The Billboard 200, and frankly, I disagree with the decision myself. The Billboard 200, I realize, is supposed to be limited to albums less than two years old, hence when the Beatles' original albums were re-released on CD, they too failed to chart. But there are a number of unique factors to the "Thriller" 25th anniversary release which I thought would have merited inclusion in the regular rather than the comprehensive album chart.

First, there is the substantial additional material on the release, enough tracks that if they were released separately, would be sufficient to qualify on their own as an album. That alone should qualify it. If the same rule on re-released tracks were more evenly applied, then one could argue that most "greatest hits" albums should also be excluded from the chart; clearly a silly idea.

Second, at least one of the remixed tracks has already charted on the Hot 100. Since the Hot 100 has a similar rule for excluding non-current material, Billboard must recognize that the remix is substantially new material. Logically, how can an album containing this new material not qualify as a new album?

Third, as I understand it, the two-year rule was intend to stop the bottom half of the chart from getting clogged up with decade-old releases that sold small but steady numbers week after week, year after year. Clearly, this re-release does not fall into that category.

Fourth, and more importantly, The Billboard 200 is meant to be a useful tool to the trade. Excluding any album with sales that would otherwise have reached the top two seems counter to the usefulness of the chart.

I can usually understand Billboard's reasons for the inclusion or exclusion of certain releases based on applying a consistent set of rules, but this would seem to be a case where legalistic nitpicking trumped common sense.

I figure you're going to get many nastier letters than this, and recognize that you, Fred, don't personally make these decisions, so I want to make sure this week's Chart Beat Chat maintains some civility.

Pat Kelly
Brampton, Ont.

Dear Pat,

As I write this, it's only been one day since the current crop of charts was published, but I was with you - I expected a flurry of e-mails on the topic of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" re-entering the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart instead of The Billboard 200. Your e-mail was the only one I received, though that's not to say the chart department hasn't heard from our readership.

So I do appreciate the civility, but that's not unexpected from a regular contributor like you. Rather than answer your letter point by point, I think it would shed more light on the topic to go right to the source. Here is an excerpt from this week's Over the Counter column in Billboard, written by director of charts/senior analyst Geoff Mayfield, who also manages The Billboard 200:

"...the question of whether 'Thriller 25' should be tracked as a new release or as catalog was the subject of hot debate among some of Billboard's readers.

"In fact, the new edition - which features remakes of five of the original album's songs with guest appearances by Kanye West, Akon, Fergie and - indeed bows inside the top five in most of countries tracked in our Hits of the World pages, including No. 1s in France and the Belgium regions of Flanders and Wallonia. The album thus debuts at No. 1 on Billboard_s European Top 100 Albums.

"Some of the countries represented in Hits of the World do not maintain separate charts for catalog, as Billboard and Nielsen SoundScan do in the United States and those that do elected to track 'Thriller: 25' as a new release.

"On Jackson's home soil, Billboard heard passionate (and unsolicited) arguments from record executives about which of our charts should track 'Thriller 25.' Those who worked for Sony BMG companies believed it belonged on The Billboard 200; those who worked for competitors were certain it should be considered catalog.

"To sort through the issue, Billboard turned to the court of opinion who first floated the idea that catalog titles should appear on different charts than new albums even before point-of-sale tracking became a reality: the merchants who sell music. The overwhelming consensus at leading retailers was that despite the new material added to 'Thriller 25,' this essentially represents a re-issue of a 25-year-old album and that it thus belongs on the catalog charts.

"Further, this treatment is consistent with hundreds, if not thousands, of re-issues that have come to market with additional tracks and/or video content since Top Pop Catalog bowed in May 1991.

"The 1995 CD release of the Who's 'Live at Leeds,' the 25th anniversary edition of Paul McCartney's 'Band on the Run' in 1999 and recent deluxe editions of U2's 'The Joshua Tree' and Beck's 'Odelay' are among the examples of albums that appeared on the catalog list after being re-issued with significant additions to content.

"That said, the Billboard charts team knows our chart rules weren't chiseled in stone by a higher power. Our policy revision in November regarding proprietary titles, which allowed the Eagles' Wal-Mart exclusive 'Long Road Out of Eden' to appear on The Billboard 200, should stand as proof that our chart rules are constantly under review, and that we're willing to change those rules when changes in the business indicate the need for new thinking."


Hi Fred,

I have been a fan of your column for quite some time now. I actually long for the days of yesteryear when I could hear Casey Kasem and then later Shadoe Stevens count down Billboard's top 40 hits on my local radio station. Well, times have certainly changed, which brings me to my question.

How will the announcement that the songs sung by "American Idol" contestants can be downloaded on iTunes affect the charts? Is it possible (if there are enough downloads) we could see several contestants chart every week through the end of this year's season? If so, season seven may hold the record for the most contestants to chart even before a winner has been crowned.

Donovan Dechambre
Houston, Texas

Dear Donovan,

That was my initial reaction -- that the current total of charted Idols would advance rapidly, and that contestants from season seven would be on the chart earlier than any other season.

Then I read the fine print.

You'll find a note on the iTunes chart that these downloads from "American Idol" will not appear on the iTunes chart. And since sales of these downloads won't be reported to Nielsen SoundScan, they won't be appearing on any Billboard chart, either.

If you think about it, it's logical. Since "Idol" debuted, the show has never revealed the vote total for contestants on the results shows. There is a belief that if viewers know what the vote totals are, it will affect how they vote the following week. Revealing where each finalist is on the charts each week could have a similar effect.

So we'll have to wait until a winner is declared before we see a season seven finalist on a Billboard chart. Meanwhile, Australian-born Michael Johns has already had an impact on one Billboard chart this week. For details, read the latest Chart Beat.


Hello Fred,

With Yael Naïm [debuting at] No. 9 on the Hot 100, I think only two other French acts have been inside the top 10: Paul Mauriat (No. 1 with "Love Is Blue") and Franck Pourcel (No. 9 with "Only You").

Other French artists have appeared on the chart but haven't ranked as high. They include: Edith Piaf, Les Compagnons de la Chanson, Michel Polnareff, Sheila, Patrick Hernandez, Sylvie Vartan and Jordy.

Also: La Belle Epoque, Bimbo Jet, Serge Gainsbourg, Cerrone, Daft Punk, Deep Forest, Banzaii, Fruit de la Passion, Danyel Gérard, David Halliday, Kaoma, Kongas, Francis Lai, Raymond Lefevre, Michel Legrand, Claudine Longet, Magazine 60, Jacky Noguez, the Peppers, Space, Stardust and Voyage. I consider FR David and Richard Cocciante to be French acts even though they weren't born in France.


Michel Nicolas
Vigneux, France

Dear Nicolas,

Yael Naim surpassed Frank Pourcel last week when her song "New Soul" peaked at No. 7. Unfortunately, this week it plummets to No. 43, but since it's still being heard on commercials for Apple's MacBook Air, perhaps it will reverse course and head back up the chart.

You compiled a very complete list of French artists who have appeared on the Hot 100, so thanks for doing all of that research.

I think some people might be surprised to know that Edith Piaf charted on the Hot 100. Her Capitol single, "Milord," went to No. 88 in 1961. But that was her only entry on this chart, leaving the legendary subject of the film "La Vie en Rose" a one-hit wonder in the United States.


Dear Fred,

I noticed that on last week's Hot 100, there were 10 songs by artists under the age of 21 in the top 50 alone. Was there ever a time in Billboard history where there were this many stars not even old enough to go to a bar [in the top 50]?


William Raney
Carmi, Ill.

Dear William,

My first reaction to your question was the same reaction to most questions of this nature -- coming up with an accurate answer would require a manual search of every chart from the last 50 years, something that would be beyond the time and scope of Chart Beat Chat.

But when I thought about it for a moment, I realized that there was a time when it was very common for teen-aged artists to dominate the charts. I looked back at some random charts in the early '60s, and quickly found a Hot 100 that had 12 acts under the age of 21. From that chart, dated July 7, 1962:

No. 11: "Cindy's Birthday," Johnny Crawford (16)
No. 12: "Sealed With a Kiss," Brian Hyland (18)
No. 13: "A Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine," Paul Anka (20)
No. 14: "The Wah-Watusi," The Orlons (ranged in age from 17-19)
No. 15: "Sharing You," Bobby Vee (19)
No. 16: "Gravy," Dee Dee Sharp (16)
No. 18: "I'll Never Dance Again," Bobby Rydell (20)
No. 24: "Johnny Loves Me," Shelley Fabares (18)
No. 30: "Dancin' Party," Chubby Checker (20)
No. 34: "The One Who Really Loves You," Mary Wells (20)
No. 38: "(Girls, Girls, Girls) Made to Love," Eddie Hodges (15)
No. 41: "Fortuneteller," Bobby Curtola (18)

Since I found this so quickly by looking at random charts, I'm guessing there are other Hot 100s with as many or even more underage artists, but finding all of them really would be beyond the time and scope of Chart Beat Chat.