Chart Beat

This week's examination of Billboard's chart stats is overwhelmingly country, with George Strait, Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash all in the spotlight, along with hip-hop act D4L and late

STRAIT TO NO. 1: A chart record that has stood unchallenged for almost 20 years yields this week to a contender who has been on a straight and steady path since he first topped Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart the week of June 19, 1982, with "Fool Hearted Memory."

George Strait collects his 40th No. 1 on the country tally, thanks to the 2-1 move of "She Let Herself Go" (MCA). That ties all-time champ Conway Twitty, whose run of 40 chart-toppers stretches from "Next in Line" on Nov. 2, 1968 to "Desperado Love" on Sept. 6, 1986.

It took Twitty 17 years, 10 months and one week to amass his 40 No. 1s. Strait took a little longer -- 23 years, six months and four weeks. Since he is an active recording artist, it's not hard to imagine that Strait will soon have his 41st No. 1 hit, making him the champ in his own right.

Before Twitty had his 40 No. 1s on the country chart, he topped the Hot 100 in 1958 with "It's Only Make Believe." Twitty abandoned his rock and roll career in 1965 to become a country star. A year later, he made his debut on the country chart with "Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart," which peaked at No. 18.

With Strait and Twitty now tied for the most country No. 1s, their nearest rival is Merle Haggard, with 38. Ronnie Milsap is close behind with 35.

HERE SHE COMES AGAIN: Dolly Parton is back in the top 10 of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart for the first time in 14 and-a-half years. She is featured on Brad Paisley's "When I Get Where I'm Going" (Arista), which takes an 11-8 hike.

Parton's last visit to the top 10 was also collaborative, only she was the lead artist. Ricky Van Shelton was featured on Parton's "Rockin' Years," a No. 1 hit in May 1991.

Returning to the top 10 makes a nice birthday present for Parton, who turns 60 on Jan. 19.

WHAT BECOMES A 'LEGEND' MOST: A 3-2 move for "The Legend of Johnny Cash" (Legacy/Columbia/American/Island) gives that album a new peak position on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. That allows the late artist to equal his highest position on this chart as a solo artist in the last 34 and-a-half years.

Cash's "Man in Black" LP spent two weeks on top in July 1971. Since then, he has peaked at No. 2 with "A Thing Called Love" in 1972, "One Piece at a Time" in 1976, "American IV: The Man Comes Around" in 2003 and now "Legend" in 2006. Teamed with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, he had a No. 1 album in 1985 with "Highwayman."

Cash, the subject of the current biopic "Walk the Line," is also having a stellar chart week on the Top Country Catalog Albums chart. His "16 Biggest Hits" (Legacy/Columbia) continues at No. 1, while he occupies four other positions in the top 10. He is No. 4 with "The Essential Johnny Cash" (Legacy/Columbia), No. 5 with "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" (Legacy/Columbia), No. 6 with "Super Hits" (Legacy/Columbia) and No. 7 with "American IV: The Man Comes Around" (American/Lost Highway).

SWEET TALKING GUYS: D4L stands for "Down for Life" but this Atlanta-based quartet is definitely up this week -- all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Laffy Taffy" (Deemoney/Asylum/Atlantic) may only be speaking about candy in a metaphorical sense, but it is the 17th No. 1 hit in the rock era to mention food in its title.

Here is a menu of those edible No. 1s, whether literal or metaphorical.

"Peppermint Twist," Joey Dee & the Starliters (1962)
"Sukiyaki," Kyu Sakamoto (1963)
"Sugar Shack," Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs (1963)
"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," Four Tops (1965)
"Incense and Peppermints," Strawberry Alarm Clock (1967)
"Honey," Bobby Goldsboro (1968)
"Sugar, Sugar," the Archies (1969)
"No Sugar Tonight," Guess Who (1970)
"One Bad Apple," the Osmonds (1971)
"Brown Sugar," the Rolling Stones (1971)
"Candy Man," Sammy Davis, Jr. (1972)
"American Pie," Don McLean (1972)
"Lady Marmalade," Labelle (1975)
"Honey," Mariah Carey (1997)
"Lady Marmalade," Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink (2001)
"Candy Shop," 50 Cent featuring Olivia (2005)
"Laffy Taffy," D4L (2006)

ALBUM 17 BY RICK: Ricky Nelson's seventh album to chart was called "Album Seven by Rick." This week, his 17th album to appear on The Billboard 200 makes its debut, but the title is "Greatest Hits" (Capitol) and its release is timed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Nelson's death in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1985.

One of the rock era's earliest teen idols, Nelson has a string of hit singles that stretches from his debut single on Verve in 1957 to "Palace Guard," the follow-up to "Garden Party" in 1973.

This new "Greatest Hits" collection enters the chart at No. 102, making it Nelson's highest-charting set since the "Garden Party" LP peaked at No. 32 in 1973. It is Nelson's first appearance on The Billboard 200 since 1981, when "Playing To Win" went to No. 153.

By returning to the Billboard album tally after a gap of almost 25 years, Nelson's chart span expands to 48 years and two months, counting back to the debut of "Ricky" the week of Nov. 11, 1957.

As a three-generation musical family, the Nelson legacy stretches over an even longer expanse of time. Patriarch Ozzie Nelson was recording as a bandleader as early as 1930, and his recordings featured vocalist Harriet Hilliard, who became Mrs. Ozzie Nelson and the mother of Ricky and his older brother David.

Ozzie first appeared on a Billboard survey just one month after the magazine began publishing a weekly chart. "I'm Nobody's Baby" debuted the week of Aug. 24, 1940, giving the Nelson family a chart span of 65 years, four months and three weeks. That span would include chart entries by Ozzie and Harriet's grandsons, identical twins Gunnar and Matthew Nelson. The offspring of Ricky Nelson had a No. 1 single on the Hot 100 in 1990, "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection."