"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson reports chart-based stories on Ray Charles, Vanessa Carlton & Billboard's AC chart, Ashanti, and "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson.

WE CAN'T STOP LOVING HIM: Ray Charles' "Mother" (E-Nate/Cross Over) returns to Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week at No. 93. That helps cement Charles' record for the longest career chart span in the R&B tally's history.

As one-third of the Maxin Trio, Charles went to No. 2 in 1949 with "Confession Blues." Two years later, he charted under his own name with "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand," which peaked at No. 5. Whichever single you start counting with, Charles owns the record for longest career chart span. Going back to "Confession Blues," his span is 53 years and five months. That tops the 48-year, 10-month, three-week span of Nat King Cole.

"Mother" also helps give Charles another rare distinction: he has charted in seven consecutive decades, the only artist to do so on the R&B singles chart.

A NEW SONG HAS COME: The turnover rate of No. 1 songs on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart has suddenly speeded up. The pace had been so slow, that as of the chart dated Aug. 17, only two songs had advanced to the AC pole position in 2002. "Simple Things" by Jim Brickman featuring Rebecca Lynn Howard moved to No. 1 the week of Jan. 5, and Celine Dion's "A New Day Has Come" (Epic) reached the top the week of March 30 (in between, Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" (Interscope), a No. 1 song from 2001, reclaimed the lead position).

Things couldn't be more different now. In the last five weeks, three different songs have taken turns at No. 1. Dion's reign ended when Josh Groban's "To Where You Are"(143/Reprise) captured the top spot the week of Aug. 24. After a two-week run, Groban's song was replaced by "Do It for Love" (Arista/RCA/BMG Heritage), the very first AC chart-topper by Daryl Hall and John Oates. The veteran duo held on to the summit for just two weeks, and have now been succeeded by Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" (A&M/Interscope), her first chart entry.

That makes "A Thousand Miles" the first debut song by a female artist to reach No. 1 on the AC chart since Dido did so with "Thank You" in June 2001. The last debut song by a male artist to go to No. 1 was Groban's "To Where You Are."

"A Thousand Miles" is the first AC No. 1 on the A&M label in seven years. In June 1995, Bryan Adams' "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" began a five-week reign.

SEPTEMBER SONG: It's only the ninth month of the calendar year, but Ashanti has already scored six top-10 hits on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. That beats Ja Rule, who has had five top-10 hits in 2002.

Ashanti reaches her new total thanks to the 13-10 move of "Baby" (Murder Inc./AJM). It's the third solo effort of her career, and the third of those three to make the top-10 this year. The first two were "Foolish" and "Happy," both of which are still on the chart (the former is No. 38 and the latter No. 21). Ashanti has also made the top-10 this year by guest starring on a Fat Joe song, "What's Luv?," and joining Ja Rule, Charli Baltimore, and Vita on "Down 4 U" by the Inc.

Ashanti also spent time in the top-10 this year by being featured on Ja Rule's "Always on Time." That song first entered the top-10 in 2001 and advanced to No. 1 in January 2002.

NOT A 'MOMENT' TO LOSE: Radio airplay has spoiled Kelly Clarkson's opportunity to debut at No. 1 on The Billboard Hot 100 with her first single, "A Moment Like This" (RCA). The likelihood that Clarkson would enter the chart at the top was predicated on her song receiving little or no airplay. Once massive sales kicked in, the theory went, she would be unstoppable.

Instead, U.S. radio stations gave Clarkson plenty of airplay the day after her "American Idol" victory. While airplay dropped off the rest of the week, her seven-day total was high enough to allow her to enter the Hot 100 at No. 60, the highest debut of the week.

So what happens now? If airplay continues to decline, "Moment" could slide down the Hot 100 next week. With a commercial single being released on Sept. 17, "Moment" should get an enormous sales boost in two weeks. That opens the door for Clarkson to set a chart record with the biggest leap to No. 1 in Hot 100 history. The current champ is the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love," which rocketed 27-1 in 1964.

In December 1998, "I'm Your Angel" by R. Kelly and Celine Dion appeared to move 46-1, but that was a false move, as the No. 46 position was based on a test chart from the previous week, not the actual Hot 100. Even allowing that illusory move to count, Clarkson could score a bigger leap to No. 1 if she does not make a big move next week.