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Ask Billboard: Neil Diamond, Taylor Swift, Queen

What might balladeer extraordinaire Neil Diamond have in common with rockers Kings Of Leon? Read this week's mailbag to find out.

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


Dear Gary,

Per last week’s Ask Billboard discussion, when the question arose in the wake of Sugarland and Kings of Leon charting in the Billboard 200 top 10 simultaneously with albums featuring the same song (“Sex On Fire”), I may have found a prior occurrence of this rare feat.


In 1978, Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond each had solo versions of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” as album tracks. Someone at a radio station played them both at exactly the same time, and the result actually sounded pretty good: the tempos matched, and they were both recorded in the same key. The success of this stunt led Columbia Records to team the two in the studio for what would become the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit version.

Now, I don’t know which of their albums featured the original solo versions, nor whether they both appeared in the Billboard 200 top 10 at the same time, but if readers are going to research this item, my suggestion might be a good place to start.

Andy Ray
Indianapolis, Indiana

Hi Andy,

Thanks for the research. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” is a great example, but, per the original reader question of two artists charting in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 with two different versions of the same song, this one just misses out.

On the Feb. 10, 1979, Billboard 200, Neil Diamond’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” album and Barbra Streisand’s “Greatest Hits Vol. II” spent their last week in the top 10 together, back-to-back, at Nos. 4 and 5. However, each album contained the same duet recording of the ballad, not each artist’s original, separate version (or any combination of solo and duet versions).

The initial solo versions of the song were released, respectively, on Diamond’s “I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight” and Streisand’s “Songbird,” the latter of which never reached the Billboard 200 top 10.

So, while a relevant shot, it looks like we’re still seeking the last pair of concurrent top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 to feature different versions of the same song prior to Sugarland and Kings of Leon’s releases.

As for “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” here’s an odd personal coincidence. The person who originated the idea of the Diamond/Streisand duet by matching their separate versions? Gary Guthrie, now the Chief Marketing Officer for WMVY (MVY Radio) on Martha’s Vineyard, the station I worked at in 2006 before joining Billboard.

From a website celebrating the history of WAKY, the station where Guthrie worked his production magic, here’s his firsthand account of the duet’s origin. (The site also details Guthrie’s subsequent legal wrangling with Columbia Records).

“There’s some misinformation about how Barb and Neil came about. For example, most accounts have me listed as a “deejay,” even though I was rarely on the air. The short story is this: Becky, my wife, and I were going through a very amiable divorce. The previous Fall, we had heard Neil’s version at a friend’s house and I noticed how it made her cry. Fast forward to Spring 1978 and Barbra’s new album (another of Becky’s favorites) came out and, dayumm, there it was again.

“There was just something that clicked in my head and I decided to do it for her. Since we weren’t really sleeping in the same bed at that time, my nights were open and I’d hang out at the station and play with the mix, then take it in to whoever (was on the air and) have them play it while I went out to my car and listened to how it sounded.

“There was a lot of back and forth with that late at night before I ever unleashed it on the daytime public. Once I did, however, all hell broke loose. Requests, record store calls, you name it.

“I had two friends who had an in at Columbia – one who had been their Nashville VP and one who was their local guy in Miami – and I asked both to help me get this up the ladder. They did their job well.

“Word spread quickly, and my 15 minutes of fame was in full force. People magazine, the LA Times, Good Morning America, Merv Griffin, Casey Kasem, even the Aussie version of Johnny Carson came calling for the story.

“Now, 25-plus years later, I’ve finally made it as a trivia question on ‘Jeopardy.'”


Hi Gary,

I have a question about double CDs, and how they count towards sales.

Madonna‘s career-spanning greatest hits collection “Celebration” is out Tuesday. The same day, Mariah Carey releases one full-length CD, “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel” (and a digital version with extra remixes). How will sales count for the albums; does each count as one sale, according to Nielsen SoundScan?

Also, will the DVD sales of Madonna’s video collection count towards Billboard’s video sales charts?

Thank you,

Bryan Sanchez
Denver, Colorado

Hi Bryan,

Sept. 29 is certainly shaping up as a Super Tuesday, with Madonna and Mariah releasing new albums, as are Paramore, Miranda Lambert, AFI, Mario, Selena Gomez & the Scene, Breaking Benjamin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and, in another coincidence, Barbra Streisand.

You are correct: sales of Madonna’s album will count as one to Nielsen SoundScan and Billboard. As Billboard 200 chart manager Keith Caulfield notes, “any sale in SoundScan has always counted as just one sale towards Billboard charts, no matter how many pieces are inside a package. Be it a box of 20 CDs or a double-vinyl album, it is still just one sale.”

According to a Warner Bros. press release, the songs on “Celebration” “have all been remastered and selected by Madonna and her fans. They cover the expanse of the Material Girl’s extraordinary career of hits, including ‘Everybody,’ ‘Express Yourself,’ ‘Vogue’ and ‘4 Minutes.’

“‘Celebration’ will be available in a two-CD set as well as a single CD. There will also be a ‘Celebration’ DVD released simultaneously which includes the video visionary’s best videos including several that have never before been available on DVD.”

A Warner Bros. spokesperson says that the “Celebration” DVD will not be sold as a stand-alone product. Thus, it will not be eligible to chart on any of Billboard’s video charts. Similar to Sugarland’s recent “LIVE on the Inside” CD/DVD, for example, because the DVD is sold only as part of the package including the CD, it will be eligible to chart on Billboard’s album, not video, charts.SLOW SWIFT

Hello Gary,

I’ve been buying Billboard magazine since 1983, and I’m still enjoying it through all these years.

This week, Taylor Swift‘s debut self-titled album is in its 152nd week on the Billboard 200. Since Billboard changed its policy on the Billboard 200 in the ’90s by removing catalog albums that fell out of the top 100, which albums have spent the most weeks on the chart?


Jose Graciano

Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic

Hi Jose,

It is truly remarkable how many records Taylor Swift is breaking. She just became the first country artist to win a Moonman at the MTV Video Music Awards, and this week, as noted in Chart Beat Thursday, she scores the first No. 1 country crossover on the Nielsen BDS-based Radio Songs/Hot 100 Airplay chart with “You Belong With Me.”

Her debut album bullets at No. 45 on the Billboard 200 this week. It sold 12,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a 21% gain from last week. At No. 8, her sophomore set “Fearless” sold 46,000, a 37% uptick. To date, “Taylor Swift” has sold 4,330,000 copies, and “Fearless” has sold 3,868,000.

In the May 25, 1991, issue of Billboard, the Billboard 200 converted from ranked sales reports submitted by retailers to point-of-sale data from Nielsen SoundScan compiled from actual scanning of album bar codes. It wasn’t until Jan. 18, 1997, however, that the recurrent policy similar to the one now in place was instituted. As of that latter date, albums more than two years old were removed if ranking below No. 100. (Last year, the two-year limit was changed to 78 weeks).

Because the Jan. 18, 1997 date is the fairest starting point for an apples-to-apples comparison to albums charting today, let’s begin then in analyzing the scope of Swift’s success.

Here are the top 10 Energizer-bunny albums in that almost 13-year span (peak year in parentheses):

156 weeks, Nickelback, “All the Right Reasons” (2005)
152 weeks, Taylor Swift, “Taylor Swift” (2008)
151 weeks, Shania Twain, “Come On Over” (1997)
148 weeks, Norah Jones, “Come Away With Me” (2003)
147 weeks, Daughtry, “Daughtry” (2007)
138 weeks, Guns N’ Roses, “Greatest Hits” (2004)
137 weeks, Carrie Underwood, “Some Hearts” (2005)
134 weeks, Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces” (1999)
133 weeks, Backstreet Boys, “Backstreet Boys” (1998)
133 weeks, Flyleaf, “Flyleaf” (2007)

(Note that many of the sets above racked long chart runs thanks to lengthy strings of hit singles. Others, like Jones’ and Guns N’ Roses’, enjoyed sustained pop culture buzz).

By passing the 151-week chart life of Shania Twain‘s “Come On Over,” “Taylor Swift” becomes the longest-charting album by a country female not only since 1997, but also in the entire Nielsen SoundScan era.

And, since the set is eligible to remain on the Billboard 200 until it dips below No. 100, it appears that it is a lock to pass Nickelback‘s “All the Right Reasons” as the longest-charting album of the 2000s. Four more weeks on the chart for “Taylor Swift” will tie the two sets, and five more will place Swift at the head of the century’s class.


Hello Gary,

Last week, you provided some numbers for the recent albums released by Queen and Paul Rodgers. I would like to continue with these “quick Queen questions.”

How many albums has Queen sold since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991? How many digital tracks has the band sold? And, what are their top-sellers apart from their biggest (1992’s “Greatest Hits”)?

Some of the numbers you have already offered have been very illuminating for me. I’m a hardcore Queen fan myself, and although I know I may be requesting too much, I have been trying to get this information for several years.

Thank you, and keep up the great work.

Hernan Lopez
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Thanks Hernan,

Including sets with Paul Rodgers, Queen has sold 19,501,000 albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan, since 1991. The band has sold 10,203,000 digital tracks and 1,493,000 physical singles in that span. According to the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), Queen has been certified for sales of 32.5 million units in its entire career.

Here are the Queen albums to pass sales of 500,000 since the advent of Nielsen SoundScan data in 1991, and their totals to date:

6,693,000, “Greatest Hits”
3,433,000, “Classic Queen”
1,001,000, “A Night at the Opera”
953,000, “Greatest Hits I & II”
872,000, “Greatest Hits: We Will Rock You”
854,000, “News of the World”
679,000, “Greatest Hits I II & III: The Platinum Collection”
593,000, “A Kind of Magic”
516,000, “Queen Live Killers”


Hi, Gary,

In yesterday’s Chart Beat Thursday, you wrote that if Green Day‘s “21 Guns” climbs one – and only one – more notch, from 22 to 21, on the Billboard Hot 100, it will join a group of songs whose peak positions are represented in their titles. You mentioned Prince’s “7” and Seduction’s “Two to Make It Right.” Here are a few more:

“Another One Bites the Dust” – Queen (No. 1 in 1980)
“Do That to Me One More Time” – The Captain & Tennille (No. 1 in 1980)
“808” – Blaque (No. 8 in 1999)
“Just the Two of Us” – Grover Washington, Jr. (with Bill Withers) (No. 2 in 1981)
“96 Tears” – Big Maybelle (No. 96 in 1967)
“#9 Dream” – John Lennon (No. 9 in 1975)
“One Bad Apple” – The Osmonds (No. 1 in 1971)
“One More Night” – Phil Collins (No. 1 in 1985)
“One More Try” – George Michael (No. 1 in 1988)
“One More Try” – Timmy T. (No. 1 in 1991)
“One of These Nights” – The Eagles (No. 1 in 1975)
“One Sweet Day” – Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men (No. 1 in 1995)
“The One That You Love” – Air Supply (No. 1 in 1981)
“1, 2 Step” – Ciara featuring Missy Elliott (No. 2 in 2005)
“1-2-3” – Len Barry (No. 2 in 1965)
“1-2-3” – Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine (No. 3 in 1988)
“Seventh Son” – Johnny Rivers (No. 7 in 1965)
“25 or 6 to 4” – Chicago (No. 4 in 1970)
“You’re the One That I Want” – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (No. 1 in 1978)

The same idea can also be applied to artists, as well as song titles. For example:

After 7 reached No. 7 with “Ready or Not” (1990)
Boyz II Men reached No. 2 with both “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” (1991) and “Water Runs Dry” (1995)
Count Five reached No. 5 with “Psychotic Reaction” (1966)
The Five Americans reached No. 5 with “Western Union” (1967)
The Four Tops reached No. 4 with both “Bernadette” (1967) and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)” (1973)
Hi-Five reached No. 5 with “She’s Playing Hard to Get” (1992)
38 Special reached No. 38 with “You Keep Runnin’ Away” (1982)
Three Dog Night reached No. 3 with “Shambala” (1973)
3 Doors Down reached No. 3 with “Kryptonite” (2000)

However, the ultimate in such prophetic numerical song titles belongs to Barenaked Ladies. In 1998, their “One Week” went to No. 1 – for one week!

Blair Buchta
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Hi Blair,

On behalf of all Chart Beat readers, thanks for providing such a detailed rundown. For your efforts this week, you’re No. 1 in my book!