LIVING IN A DIGITAL WORLD
Recently I have become concerned about the accuracy of the Billboard Hot 100 with the advent of digital downloads. While the frequent turnover rate of No. 1s is certainly welcome, I’ve noticed a trend with many of the songs that do go to No. 1. Songs that are high in downloads tend to come from albums that aren’t selling that well.
This isn’t always the case of course. There are a few rare instances like Gwen Stefani and James Blunt where the artist can move both large amounts of downloads and albums. However, it only makes sense that if an album is selling very well, most people will not feel the need to also download a copy of the song when they already own it on the album.
The digital downloads era has created something we never saw with physical singles in the past. Now songs can be downloaded individually and that counts toward the artist’s sales and toward the Hot 100. In the past, there were other incentives that would draw people to purchase a physical commercial single such as remixes and previously unreleased tracks. In this case, even if someone already owned the album, they may still have an interest in buying the single. Many people also enjoyed simply owning a physical copy of a single they loved. All of that is gone now and the only reason to download a song would be because you do not already own it.
The peak of Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You” has left me especially concerned. The song has topped four different radio formats, spent several weeks at the top of the airplay chart, achieved one of the highest audience impression peaks of all time, and the album sold more than 2 million copies before the second single was even sent out. Obviously the song is incredibly popular. The digital downloads for this song, however, were lacking. Because of this, the song peaked at No. 3.
Hot 100 chart-toppers this year include “Laffy Taffy” and “Grillz.” The albums that those songs have come from have only sold a small fraction of what Mary J. Blige’s album has sold. Many people downloaded those singles instead of buying the album and so those two songs were able to hit No. 1 because of high downloads.
Sean Paul’s “Temperature” recently went to No. 1 because of high download numbers. Meanwhile, the album is not even in the top 20.
This is not necessarily a new concern. Last year, the No. 1 hit of the year, “We Belong Together,” never reached No. 1 on the Hot Digital Songs chart. Meanwhile, the song became the biggest hit of the year and the album was the biggest album within the calendar year. Many people apparently chose to purchase the album instead of just purchasing the one track.
It seems that, for the most part, artists who create solid albums with long strings of hits can sell many copies of their album but are held back on the singles chart.
On the other hand, artists whose albums don’t seem as enticing can shift many more singles instead. This would seem to give the novelty hit the advantage over the memorable hit by the artist who can sell large quantities of albums.
You began your e-mail by questioning the accuracy of the Hot 100, but then you eloquently explain how sales and airplay have affected chart positions. I would suggest that based on actual sales and airplay, which are the measurements we use to compile the Hot 100, the chart is very accurate, and that your letter actually supports that idea. You might not like the results, but that doesn’t mean the charts aren’t accurate.
In many ways, nothing has changed from the days of vinyl 45 rpm singles and 33 1/3 rpm LPs. People who buy singles may or may not buy the parent albums. A song like “Laffy Taffy” might be very popular as a single, but isn’t the kind of song that drives album sales.
You mention Sean Paul’s “Temperature.” Perhaps the one hit single has not encouraged people to buy the entire album, but that doesn’t make the Hot 100 inaccurate.
Conversely, an album might sell very well but not yield any hit singles. Just because an album moves a lot of copies doesn’t entitle a single to do well on the Hot 100; that single has to earn its own position through sales and airplay.
Then there are blockbusters like Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” The album is about to go six-times-platinum and the five hit singles have sold a combined total of 3.5 million downloads and all have had massive airplay.
Your point about people not buying a single if they already have the album is well-taken, but that was true in vinyl and cassette and CD days as well. Perhaps marketing departments will come up with a reason to buy download singles, such as bundling bonus tracks with A-sides and selling two tracks for $1.99.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LONGEVITY
You recently listed the longest-charted Billboard Hot 100 songs in chart history, in light of Lifehouse’s “You and Me” tying Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” for the third longest run with 60 weeks. The trio will have third place all by themselves if they last just one more week in the top 50.
Here are some interesting notes about the record holders:
Three reached pole position (Los Del Rio, 14 weeks; LoneStar, two weeks and Santana featuring Rob Thomas, 12 weeks)
Three peaked at No. 2 (LeAnn Rimes, 4 weeks; Jewel, two weeks and Everything but the Girl, one week)
Three had sequencial top 10 peaks (Lifehouse, No. 5; Faith Hill, No. 6 and Creed, No. 7)
The last two, Paula Cole and Duncan Sheik, didn’t even reach the top 10 (No. 11 & No. 16 respectively).
Believe it or not, all of these songs are still getting radio play to this day on selected formats and that solidifies their long-lasting popularity. Funny what a song can accomplish.
I enjoy the column as usual. By the way, when will you be working on that sixth edition of The Billboard Book of Number One Singles?
Dana E. McIntyre
Since you sent your e-mail, Lifehouse has racked up a 61st week on the Hot 100 with “You and Me.” I don’t think LeAnn Rimes (who holds the record with 69 weeks for “How Do I Live”) is shaking in her boots yet, but we’ll see.
There’s no paperwork signed yet, but the sixth edition of “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits” is tentatively set for publication in 2008.
MERRY AND BRIGHT
Since you listed in last week’s “Chart Beat Chat” the songs that stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 the longest, I thought I would mention another one that spent a lot of weeks on the pop charts. The original version of “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby (with uncredited help from the Ken Darby Singers and John Scott Trotter’s Orchestra) spent a total of 72 weeks on the chart in 18 chart runs from 1942 to 1962.
One thing that makes this feat more impressive is that for most of that time the charts had less than 100 positions. Another thing that adds to its impressiveness is the reason why the song stopped hitting in 1962: Billboard stopped listing Christmas singles on the Hot 100 and listed them only on the Christmas chart. However, they re-recorded the song in 1946, so technically we are dealing with two different hits.
Forest Grove, Ore.
Thanks, as always, for coming up with pre-rock era trivia that relates to chart feats discussed in “Chart Beat Chat.”
DANCING WITH THE CHARTS
Which dance music chart was Billboard publishing in the 1970s, during the disco era? Was it actually called the Disco Chart or was it the Club Play Chart?
The evolution of the main Billboard charts has been covered extensively, but I’ve heard very little about the changes this one has gone through.
Thanks for your help, Fred!
The very first “disco” chart was published the week of Oct 26, 1974. The 10-position survey only measured song popularity in New York. The chart was called “Disco Action,” and the first No. 1 was “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor. The chart remained regional and different cities were featured until the first national chart was published the week of Aug. 28, 1976. This was a 30-position tally at first, expanding to 40 positions as of Sept. 11, 1976.
There was one 60-position chart printed the week of April 7, 1979, and the following week the survey expanded again and was renamed the Disco Top 80, expanding once more on Sept. 8, 1979 to the Disco Top 100. It reverted to the Disco Top 80 on Aug. 1, 1981 and was re-named the Dance/Disco Top 80 the week of March 27, 1982.
More name changes followed. As of Oct. 20, 1984 the chart was called Hot Dance/Disco, and on March 16, 1985, the words “Club Play” were added for the first time. “Disco” was dropped as of Sept. 19, 1987. Four weeks later the name changed to Hot Dance 50 – Club Play and two weeks later it was dubbed Hot Dance Music – Club Play.
Unlike any other chart, the Disco/Dance lists allowed multiple formats to appear on the same chart, mixing singles (both 7-inch and 12-inch), album tracks and even entire albums. This changed the week of Feb. 23, 1991, when it became a song chart, only allowing individual songs to occupy chart positions.
BY ANY OTHER NAME
With Prince topping the album chart with “3121,” I started to think about Prince’s song charting history.
It’s common information that Prince, the recording artist, has recorded under a symbol and the name “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” What many may not know is Prince has also has written and produced songs credited as “Jamie Star,” “Alexander,” “Christopher Tracey,” “Joey Coco” and many more.
My question is how is this accounted for when adding up his charting success? Are all the pseudo names credited to Prince, or are they a separate distinction? Further, how are artist name changes reconciled as far as credit, such as Puff Daddy also recording as P. Diddy and Diddy or the Supremes changing to Diana Ross and the Supremes, or the Jackson 5 becoming simply the Jacksons.
There have been a number of artists who have charted under different names — the first example that comes to mind is John Cougar/John Cougar Mellencamp/John Mellencamp. He is clearly the same artist no matter which name he is using, and that’s how he would be considered. The same would go for Sean Combs, whether he calls himself Puff Daddy, P. Diddy or Diddy.
The Jackson 5 and the Jacksons are the same group, as are the Supremes and Diana Ross and the Supremes, or the Miracles and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles or Martha & the Vandellas and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas.
Prince is also the same artist whether he is using a symbol or a name, and his writing credits are all credited to him, no matter what name or pseudonym he uses.
I’ve been checking songs that made the year end charts. I’d like to know if there are songs that didn’t make the Hot 100 year-end chart even if they hit No. 1.
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons was No. 1 for five weeks starting Nov. 17, 1962, but never appeared on either the 1962 or 1963 year-end chart. How come?
I’m not sure about the songs “Dominique” by the Singing Nun with our weeks at No. 1 in December 1963 and “Yesterday” by the Beatles, four weeks at No. 1 in October 1965 but I know their “scores” got split.
Split-year records includes some famous casualties like “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton, No. 81 on the 1996 year-end chart and No. 4 on the 1997 year-end [recap]; and Santana’s “Smooth,” No. 19 on the 1999 year-end chart and No. 2 on the 2000 chart. The song should have been No. 1 for either year.
Quezon City, Philippines
Your point would be well-taken if these year-end charts were actually lists of the top songs of each calendar year. They’re not, even though many people think of them as such.
The year-end recaps are actually summaries of specific 52-week periods that traditionally run from the first week in December to the last week in November of the following year.
Songs that are popular in November and December generally do not perform very well on these recaps, because their chart lives are split between two year-end recaps. While “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas might have been No. 1 on a year-end recap if it had been a hit in July, it truly wasn’t the No. 1 song of the recap ending in November 1999 or November 2000.
If you want to see year-end charts with a different point of view, you might want to check out the third edition of my book, “Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits.” I have compiled top 100 lists for every year of the rock era, beginning with 1956. Songs are listed under the year they peaked, and all of their points are credited, even if they were collected in the previous or following year. That allows year-end hits like the Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and Don McLean’s “American Pie” to show up higher than they would on the 52-week recaps.
IMPACTING IN FIVE SECONDS…FOUR…THREE…
What does it mean when a single impacts radio? I heard Mariah Carey’s “Say Somethin'” on the radio two weeks before its official April 4 impact date. Just wondering.
Also, why is it if you look on some album covers they say “including the No. 1 single…” when some of the songs they have listed did not reach pole position on the Hot 100? Does that mean they went No. 1 on another chart?
San Diego, Calif.
I know that “impact” sounds like something you would hear on “Star Trek,” especially when an object is about to collide with the Enterprise. But it’s also an industry term used by labels when they send product to radio. The labels usually pick a date they would like radio to add a particular song. That focuses airplay on a specific date, so they hopefully have the most-added song at radio that day, which they hope will encourage other stations to add the record.
Of course, radio stations are free to add songs whenever they wish. Any station could have been playing “Say Somethin'” from the moment Mariah Carey’s “The Emancipation of Mimi” CD was released. Since it’s been known for a few days that the single has gone to radio, a station anxious to add the song might not wait for the “impact date” designated by the record company.
To answer your second question, there are a number of possibilities. In most cases, if the song didn’t reach the top of the Hot 100, it was probably No. 1 somewhere else. Remember, the Billboard Information Group compiles dozens of charts every week. A song could be No. 1 on Adult R&B, or Mainstream Top 40 or the Pop 100, and it’s fair to call it a No. 1 song.
A song could also be No. 1 on a local radio station, or MTV’s “TRL” or on a sales chart in one city. Or a record company might be stretching the truth, but that would only be in extremely rare cases. Right?