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Ask Billboard: It’s 2015 … and Madonna & Paul McCartney Are in the Top 40

The icons continue to add new chapters to their incomparable careers. Plus, more albums that have produced bigger hits with each subsequent single.

As always, submit questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet @gthot20



Hi George,

Following Madonna’s accomplishments with “Living for Love” on this week’s charts, that now seems to be the pressing question among her (and chart) fans.

As previously reported, the song makes one of the most historic moves in seven decades of Billboard chart history this week: it tops Dance Club Songs, becoming her 44th No. 1 on the ranking. She ties George Strait for the most No. 1s on any singular chart, as Strait has saddled up atop Hot Country Songs with 44 titles between 1982 and 2009. (He also just missed the summit twice since: “Living for the Night” and “Here for a Good Time” reached No. 2 in 2009 and 2011, respectively.)

“Living for Love” added to its bounty yesterday (Feb. 23), upon the release of the Nielsen Music-based Pop Songs airplay chart by debuting at No. 36. Several iHeartMedia-owned stations, including WHTZ New York (19 plays last week), KIIS Los Angeles and WKSC Chicago (16 each), teamed to play the song in all dayparts last week. The leaders: KZHT Salt Lake City, Utah (27) and WXKS Boston (22), with the latter (aka, Kiss 108) beginning in the ’70s as a disco/pop station and, thus, having been in the top 40 format for Madonna’s entire career.


As for the question burning up the “Ask Billboard” inbox and Twitter feed: does “Living for Love” have, like, a prayer to hit the Billboard Hot 100 when the chart is compiled tomorrow (and released in full on Billboard.com on Thursday)? Sorry to say, but its chances look significantly less than borderline. (I’m trying to ease the sting here a little bit …) Sales projections simply look too low for the song to reach the Hot 100. In fact, the final figure should be noticeably down from its total last week of 17,000 downloads sold. That sum (up 72 percent) was fueled by her performance of the song at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 8, with last week’s chart covering the Feb. 9-15 tracking period. This week’s chart will encompass purchases made Feb. 16-22, past the Grammys afterglow, and the total could be around 5,000-6,000, according to early estimates.

That figure, combined with radio audience and streams, would leave “Living for Love” short of the Hot 100 for another week. Last week, it came close, entering the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under chart at No. 8 (up 102 percent in overall activity).

Still …

Hey Gary,

With “Living for Love” charting on Pop Songs this week, that makes Madonna the oldest female to crack the chart as a lead act, I believe. Carly Simon was around the same age, but with a featured role on a Janet Jackson single.

Her new top 40 appearance is likely temporary, but better than I was expecting, given the wacky release of the song, i.e., its December availability, February radio push and the March release of Rebel Heart.

Hope all is well,

Jim Radenhausen
Reeders, Pennsylvania

Thanks Jim,

Madonna is seemingly timeless, although she is technically 56 years, six months and a week young, having been born Aug. 16, 1958 (12 days after the Hot 100 launched …) As you note, in 2002, Simon reached No. 20 on Pop Songs as featured, with Missy Elliott and P. Diddy, as he was then known, on Janet’s “Son of a Gun.” At the time of its last week on the chart (that Feb. 9), Simon was slightly older than Madonna is now: 56 years, eight months and two weeks.

While both Madonna and Simon are to be lauded for their uncommon longevity, there’s, of course, another icon currently on Pop Songs and he tallies his own achievement this week: Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney’s “FourFiveSeconds” bounds 13-10 (and with the format’s fourth-best gain of the week). McCartney becomes the senior-most artist with a Pop Songs top 10, reaching the region four months shy of his 73rd birthday. He passes an artist who drops off the chart this week: James Newton Howard (63), who, like McCartney, also teamed with a younger-generation talent, as “The Hanging Tree,” featuring Jennifer Lawrence, reached No. 10 four weeks ago.

Given top 40’s penchant for youth, it’s fairly astounding that Madonna, 56, and McCartney, 72, are currently on Pop Songs simultaneously (and following Howard’s chart run). The last time that Madonna and McCartney shared space in the top 40 of Billboard‘s main pop chart? July 15, 1989. That week on the Hot 100 (as Pop Songs would launch in 1992), McCartney’s “My Brave Face” dipped to No. 26 from its No. 25 peak and Madonna’s “Express Yourself” rose to its peak (4-2).

A quarter-century later, ranking among several artists that weren’t even born in 1989 (Rihanna was a year old at the time), the two luminaries continue to write new chapters of chart success.

Notably, that same week in 1989 (five months before Taylor Swift was born), LL Cool J lifted 35-32 on the Hot 100 with “I’m That Type of Guy.” Flash forward to two weeks ago, and he’d host the Grammy Awards at which Madonna and McCartney would take to the stage to perform “Living for Love” and “FourFiveSeconds,” respectively, the latest hits in each artist’s legendary, and ever-evolving, career.


Hi Gary,

When I read last week’s “Ask Billboard” item about albums whose singles have steadily outperformed each other on the Hot 100, including Ed Sheeran’s X, I naturally tried to think of more examples. (I can’t resist this sort of thing!)

The first album that springs to mind is Love. Angel. Music. Baby., the 2005 debut solo collection from Gwen Stefani. Lead single “What You Waiting For?” stopped at No. 47 on the Hot 100, while “Rich Girl,” featuring Eve, followed by soaring to No. 7. Third, “Hollaback Girl” hit No. 1 for four weeks. Who could’ve predicted that “Hollaback Girl” would be such a career-defining song? At the time, that track was a little too cutting-edge to be a lead single for a major artist’s solo debut, so, even if it did become Stefani’s signature hit, I understand why it was released third.

Speaking of a diva’s debut album, how about Madonna? The first three charted singles from her 1983 self-titled record were “Holiday” (No. 16), “Borderline” (No. 10) and “Lucky Star” (No. 4). Soon after, “Like a Virgin” elevated her from an artist with a few hit songs to one who, well, we’re still talking about today when it comes to her new music.

I’d also argue for including the 1987 self-titled debut album from Richard Marx, even if it’s with an asterisk. The first two singles, “Don’t Mean Nothing” and “Should’ve Known Better,” both peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100. Then, his upward climb began: “Endless Summer Nights” heated up to a No. 2 peak and final single “Hold on to the Nights” gave Marx his first of three No. 1s.

Debbie Gibson rose on a similar trajectory with her debut album, Out of the Blue, also released in 1987. “Only in My Dreams” and “Shake Your Love” both hit No. 4; the title track reached No. 3; and then fourth single “Foolish Beat” finally reached No. 1, her first of two career leaders.

I’ll also give an honorable mention to James Ingram’s It’s Real. By the time it was released in 1989, Ingram was already an established star, not least because of “Baby, Come to Me,” his chart-topping duet with Patti Austin. However, the set’s first three singles – the title track, “I Wanna Come Back,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Man” – failed to reach the Hot 100. They all charted on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (at Nos. 8, 18 and 30), but after three misses on the big chart, few might have assumed the album was going to generate a multi-format hit. But, then came “I Don’t Have the Heart,” which climbed to the top of the Hot 100 (and a modest No. 53 at R&B) in 1990. As hard as it is to have your fourth single chart higher than your previous three, it’s even less likely to follow three non-charters with a No. 1.

Thanks for the excuse to think about all this!

Mark Blankenship
New York, New York

Good stuff, Mark!

The late ’80s was a gold mine for acts charting higher with successive singles, as you covered with Marx, Gibson and Ingram, and as I wrote about last week, citing Heart (1985-86) and Def Leppard’s Hysteria (1987-88). It was an era of big albums yielding four or more hits, and often a ballad was held as a later single; it was the age of power ballads, so, even if released third or fourth from an album, they often tended to out-chart uptempo hits, which generally needed to be released first, in order to start off a new album with a more attention-getting beat.

(Notably, Gibson bucked the trend by releasing piano ballad “Lost in Your Eyes” first from Electric Youth in 1989. It spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100. “I don’t remember exact conversations, but it was no contest,” Gibson told Chart Beat last year of the first-single choice. “At that point, I instinctually knew what would work next for me in my career. I had also witnessed firsthand audience response to the song on the Out of the Blue tour. Obviously, dance songs can stand the test of time, but nothing spans all age groups, all ethnicities or all genders like a ballad.”)

Two other acts that similarly built momentum in the late ’80s:

Taylor Dayne released four Hot 100 top 10s from her debut Tell It to My Heart: the dance-pop title cut and “Prove Your Love” each reached No. 7. Then, ballad “I’ll Always Love You” hit No. 3 and final single, the pure-pop “Don’t Rush Me,” became the set’s highest-charting single, climbing to No. 2.

New Kids on the Block, meanwhile, didn’t initially chart a single on the Hot 100 from their eponymous 1986 debut LP. Then came 1988’s Hangin’ Tough and its first four singles: “Please Don’t Go Girl” steadily rose to No. 10 and “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” became one of their signature songs, hitting No. 3. Two No. 1s then followed: “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” and the title track.

Again, no surprise: as with Marx’s “Nights” and Gibson’s “Beat,” slower, romantic third singles kept Dayne and New Kids on the Block’s chart fortunes on the upswing deep into their respective albums’ single release cycles. (More than 25 years later, Sheeran’s gentle “Thinking Out Loud” has followed the same path.)

Into the ’90s, and on the Pop Songs chart, Alanis Morissette crossed from alternative to top 40 in 1995-97 as each successive single further helped warm her up among mainstream audiences. The edgy “You Oughta Know” and “Hand in My Pocket” both crowned Alternative Songs and hit Nos. 7 and 4 on Pop Songs, respectively. The more accessible sides of Jagged Little Pill followed: “Ironic,” “You Learn” and “Head Over Feet” led Pop Songs for a combined 17 weeks. The set has gone on to sell nearly 15 million albums in the U.S. to date.

And, speaking of Stefani, she similarly first worked her way into the hearts of top 40 listeners with No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom in 1996-97. “Just a Girl” reached No. 24 on Pop Songs and “Spiderwebs” weaved its way to No. 11. Ballad “Don’t Speak” that then took the act all the way to No. 1, ruling the ranking for 10 weeks.

More recently, Justin Bieber fared better on Pop Songs with each of the first three singles from his last proper studio album, 2012’s Believe. Lead track “Boyfriend” became his first top 10 (No. 9) (and in his ninth chart visit); “As Long as You Love Me,” featuring Big Sean, reached No. 3; and “Beauty and a Beat,” featuring Nicki Minaj, climbed to No. 2.

“Radio needs to allow star artists, like Justin, the time to connect,” Def Jam  president/COO Steve Bartels said at the time. “With focus and determination by all involved, things turned, giving him his just due.”


Dear Gary,

A few weeks ago, “Call My Name” by Avery*Sunshine topped the Adult R&B Songs chart while “Call My Name” by Morgan James was also on the chart. How often do two songs with the same title, performed by different artists, chart together?

Music lover / Billboard reader,

Date Ward
Passaic, New Jersey

Hi Date,

Sunshine and James join a fairly rare, but nor entirely uncommon, feat of like-titled hits charting together.

Bobby Brown and Cheap Trick ranked on the Hot 100 together, even in the top 10 with “Don’t Be Cruel” in 1988 (with Brown’s composition an original and Cheap Trick’s an Elvis Presley cover).

In 1997, Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes both charted versions of Diane Warren’s “How Do I Live.” Then, on July 9, 2005, Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice ranked at Nos. 2 and 3 on the Hot 100 simultaneously with takes on “Inside Your Heaven,” as each had recorded the song before finding out who would win that season of American Idol; champ Underwood had launched at No. 1 with her version a week earlier.

Even artists’ names have almost doubled up. Doug Brooks became Doug Stone to avoid similarities to Garth Brooks, while Katy Hudson segued to Katy Perry, since actress Kate Hudson had roared to so much success at the box office. (There’s also Jessie J and Jessy J: the former has, of course, scored pop smashes with “Domino” and “Bang Bang.” The latter hasn’t done too badly, either: saxophonist Jessy J has tallied two No. 1s on Billboard‘s Smooth Jazz Songs chart.)

But, the best part of this email? The word sunshine, since there hasn’t been enough here in the Northeast this winter. In fact, Cumulus Media’s three Worcester, Mass., radio stations flooded last week, due to a pipe bursting in the wake of the cold and snow that have blanketed the region. The stations were temporarily off the air and studio damage appears extensive. Take a tour (from a safe distance) here:

(FYI, I worked at the cluster’s WXLO in 1996-98, as it offered me my first professional airshift. If the station can survive that, it can surely make it through its latest obstacle.)

“The upstairs kai pond was not a good option,” WXLO joked in a Facebook post (Feb. 19). “However, we are back!”