"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson reports on the latest accomplishments of Michelle Branch, Sinead O'Connor, and Nelly.

PLAY 'THE GAME': It's just over a year since Arizona-born Michelle Branch made her first appearance on Billboard's Hot 100, and she's already on her fourth hit single. To be fair, her third and fourth hits are happening simultaneously, and both may end up occupying the top-10 before the end of 2002.

Four hits in a year is something that happened back in the '60s to singers like Lesley Gore -- the teen queen that 19-year-old Branch portrayed on the second episode of the new NBC-TV series "American Dreams."

The first Michelle Branch song to appear on the singles chart was "Everywhere," which debuted at No. 62 the week of Sept. 1, 2001. The song peaked at No. 12 the week of Nov. 10. The follow-up did even better; "All You Wanted" opened at No. 67 the week of Feb. 23, and soared to No. 6 the week of May 25. Then came "Goodbye to You," which debuted the week of Aug. 31 at No. 69. This week, "Goodbye to You" reaches a new peak of No. 21.

Meanwhile, Branch is the featured artist on the first radio hit from the new Santana album, "Shaman." The Arista track "The Game of Love" began its chart life at No. 66 the week of Oct. 5, and has already climbed to No. 12. It should be Branch's second top-10 hit as early as next week.

By reaching No. 12 in its fourth chart week, "The Game of Love" is the fastest-rising of Branch's four chart entries. "Everywhere" was No. 37 in its fourth chart week, and went to No. 12 in its 11th week on the Hot 100. "All You Wanted" had advanced to No. 45 in its fourth chart week, and also reached No. 12 in its 11th chart week, although it continued to progress to No. 6. "Goodbye to You" was only No. 50 in its fourth chart week; it is now in its ninth week on the tally and is expected to continue its upward movement.

NOTHING COMPARES TO HER: It's been at least two years since Sinead O'Connor has had a new album enter The Billboard 200. This week, "Sean-Nos Nua," which marks her debut on the Vanguard label, is new at No. 139. The collection of traditional Irish songs interpreted by O'Connor is her first album to chart since "Faith and Courage" debuted and peaked at No. 55 the week of July 1, 2000.

"Sean-Nos Nua" is O'Connor's seventh album to chart. Her run began with "The Lion and the Cobra," which debuted the week of Feb. 6, 1988, eventually peaking at No. 36. Her next chart entry was her biggest hit: "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" spent six weeks at No. 1, beginning the week of April 28, 1990.

THE YEAR OF NELLY: Summer was just beginning when Nelly took over pole position on the Hot 100 with "Hot in Herre." Now, halfway through autumn, Nelly is still on top of the chart, with "Dilemma" (Fo' Reel/Universal). Except for the two weeks that "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson was No. 1 with "A Moment Like This" (RCA), Nelly has been leading the list since the week of June 29.

"Dilemma," which features another Kelly -- Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child -- is in its ninth week on top, making it the second-longest running No. 1 song of 2002. Only "Foolish" by Ashanti, with 10 weeks under its belt, held on to the top spot for a longer period of time.

Here is a summary of the songs to advance to No. 1 in 2002, ranked by length of stay at the summit:

"Foolish," Ashanti (10 weeks)
"Dilemma," Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland (nine weeks, to date)
"Hot in Herre," Nelly (seven weeks)
"Ain't It Funny," Jennifer Lopez featuring Ja Rule (six weeks)
"Always on Time," Ja Rule featuring Ashanti (two weeks)
"A Moment Like This," Kelly Clarkson (two weeks)

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