CLIMB UP, WAY UP HIGH
I’m not quite sure I understand how Billboard ranks songs for any given year. I am under the impression that it goes by record sales and the number of requests that radio stations get to play a certain song.
However, I was recently reviewing historical Billboard rankings and was wondering why, for instance, Led Zeppelin doesn’t show up in 1971. I am pretty sure that Led Zeppelin IV sold 23 million copies that year in the United States alone, and I always thought that “Stairway to Heaven” was the No. 1 hit that year. But it doesn’t show up in Billboard’s top 100 [songs of the year]. Perhaps I don’t fully understand how songs are ranked – can you explain it to me? Does Billboard perhaps only rank a certain genre of music, and Led Zeppelin simply does not meet that criterion?
Mark L. Hotz
Brentwood Bay, BC, Canada
Let me address the issue of how Billboard compiles year-end rankings first. How we do it now and how we did it in 1971 is different, thanks to modern technology. Today, recaps of our sales charts are based on actual total sales over the 52 weeks of the chart year, recaps of our airplay charts are based on actual total airplay over those same 52 weeks and recaps of our charts that combine sales and airplay are based on total sales and total airplay combined.
In 1971, long before Nielsen SoundScan and Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems existed, the year-end recaps were simply based on chart positions during the year.
(And just to be clear, requests to radio stations do not figure in at all, either in the annual recaps or the weekly charts).
The album we know as “Led Zeppelin IV” did not sell 23 million copies in a year, nor am I aware of any album that has ever sold that many copies in a single year. While I can’t address actual sales in Chart Beat, I think I know where you got the figure of 23 million. “Led Zeppelin IV” is certified 23 times platinum by the RIAA. Of course, certifications are based on units shipped to stores, not units sold to consumers.
Labels are free to file for certifications at any time, and can sometimes wait years before seeking gold and platinum certs. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that “Led Zeppelin IV” was certified gold in 1971 and platinum in 1990. The album was also certified 10 times platinum in 1990, 16 times platinum in 1996, 22 times platinum in 1999 and 23 times platinum in 2006.
Now let’s deal with “Stairway to Heaven.” As popular as this track was, it wasn’t released as a single. So despite all of the radio airplay, it wasn’t eligible to chart on The Billboard Hot 100. As a result, the song wouldn’t show up on the annual recap of the Hot 100, either. The genre of music doesn’t matter, as all songs are eligible for the Hot 100. In 1971, there weren’t as many radio formats as there are today, so the Hot 100 generally reflected what was being played on top 40 radio.
I just wanted to add one more movie [song] to your list of Shirley Bassey’s James Bond themes.
After “Goldfinger” (1964) and “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971), there was “Moonraker” (1979).
Thanks for the endlessly fascinating columns!
First, I should explain that your letter is a result of an item in this week’s Chart Beat about Shirley Bassey’s return to the Billboard charts after a 10-year absence. Her remake of Pink’s “Get the Party Started” is a new entry on the Hot Dance Club Play chart.
I mentioned that Bassey is best-known for her James Bond themes “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever.” You’re right about her also recording the theme to “Moonraker,” which remains the least known of her three Bond title songs. Unlike “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” it did not find a berth on the Hot 100.
While Bassey is the only artist to record three Bond themes, she almost didn’t complete that hat trick. Originally, Kate Bush was asked to write and record the movie’s theme, but when she declined, composer John Barry and lyricist Hal David wrote “Moonraker” and offered it to Bassey.
FATHER-DAUGHTER TEAMS ARE ‘GO’
It’s very rare that a father-and-daughter hit reaches the top 40 portion of the Hot 100 these days. So rare, as a matter of fact, that last week’s 44-40 move of “Ready, Set, Don’t Go” by Billy Ray Cyrus with his daughter, Miley Cyrus, became the first top 40 pop showing by an act of this nature since (from what I can remember) May 1980 when Neil Sedaka and his (then) 15-year-old daughter, Dara, reached No. 19 with “Should’ve Never Let You Go.”
Meanwhile, over on the Hot Country Songs tally, this week “Go” soars 8-4, making it the fifth highest country ranking of Billy Ray’s career, behind 1992’s No. 1 “Achy Breaky Heart” and the No. 2 “Could’ve Been Me,” 1993’s No. 3 “In the Heart of a Woman” and 1999’s No. 3 “Busy Man.” The way it moved up this week, the song is shaping up to become his biggest hit in nearly 15 1/2 years.
Burt County, Nebraska
I am always running into people who tell me how much they love “Should’ve Never Let You Go” by Neil Sedaka and his daughter Dara. We’ll see if “Ready, Set, Don’t Go” also becomes a sentimental favorite as the years go by.
And John, your e-mail made me realize that both the Sedaka and Cyrus families had hits with titles ending in “Go.”