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Ask Billboard: The Weird Connections Between Mary Lambert & Madonna

In this week's reader mailbag, yet more odd coincidences connecting Mary Lambert and Madonna; a look at the longest-leading No. 1s ever on Billboard song charts; and hit songs with quirky time…

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


First, let’s backtrack to the last “Ask Billboard,” when reader Pablo Nelson noted the following:

Mary Lambert is rising with her first solo Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Secrets.” Mary and the Mother Mary (um, I mean Madonna) sang part of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” at the 2014 Grammy Awards. The song, of course, reworks Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm.” Long before “Secrets,” Madonna earned a No. 3 hit in 1994 with “Secret,” also a tune about self-acceptance.


I responded with another connection between Lambert and Madonna:

Lambert[‘s] debut full-length, Heart on My Sleeve, arrives Tuesday (Oct. 14). [She] and Madonna have been linked from the start, literally for Lambert. She was born on May 3, 1989. At the time, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” was amid its three-week Hot 100 reign.

As it turns out, we were just getting started. Two readers pointed out two more tie-ins:

@gthot20 When Heart On My Sleeve was released (10/14), Mary Lambert was further linked w/Madonna: Lola turned 18 then.

Michael Dean ?@michaeldnc

@gthot20 Another crazy fact: Mary lambert was born while Like a Prayer was No. 1, and that VIDEO was directed by a different Mary Lambert.
Mark Blankenship ?@IAmBlankenship

Nice work, Michael and Mark. Indeed, Madonna’s daughter Lourdes celebrated her 18th birthday a week ago (Oct. 14), the same day that Lambert released Heart on My Sleeve. (The set will bow on the Billboard 200 chart released tomorrow.)

As for the other Mary Lambert, I probably should’ve known that that’s who directed the “Like a Prayer” video. (I’ll chalk it up to growing up with radio, not that fancy, futuristic cable as a 15-year-old in 1989.) She also directed many of Madonna’s early clips, including “Borderline,” “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl” and “La Isla Bonita.” She additionally directed 2011’s campy Syfy movie Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, starring Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. I also should’ve known that since I interviewed Gibson and Tiffany together upon the film’s release. (I’ll chalk it up to the euphoria I experienced at seeing them together, something 15-year-old me would’ve gotten just as much of a kick out of).

The “other” Mary Lambert, by the way, was born on … Oct. 13, 1951. (Her mother couldn’t have waited a few more hours to set the Oct. 14 chain of events in motion then?)

In any case, just a weird series of minor degrees of separation between Mary Lambert (the singer, along with the director) and Madonna (the singer …) Lambert and Madonna made a nice real-life connection at the Grammys this year, Lambert recalls. Not only did they sing “Same Love” together, but Queen Latifah officiated a mass wedding ceremony of gay and straight couples. “I was emotional for weeks leading up to it, just a weepy big baby, because it meant so much to me – not just in my career or for my ego, but as a member of the gay community,” she recently told Entertainment Weekly.

“We did a bunch of rehearsals, and I cried collectively for, like, six hours the day before. We had one final dress rehearsal and they didn’t tell me that during the last run-through they were going to bring in all the couples. I lost it.

“I didn’t get through the song, and everyone was rolling their eyes and getting concerned for the show. Madonna comes over, and she’s got her cut-off leather gloves on. She stands there and goes, ‘Oh, sweetie’ and she wipes away the tears off my face.

“I remember standing there stunned, going ‘What is my life? In what world?’ I was bartending a year ago.”


Hi Gary,

I noticed that “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United has dropped out of the No. 1 spot on the Hot Christian Songs chart after 45 weeks at the top position. It got me wondering: is that the longest-leading No. 1 song of all-time on a Billboard chart?


Isander Velazquez
Humacao, Puerto Rico

Hi Isander,

A milestone well worth celebrating. And, it certainly leads inquisitive chart minds to wonder where the track’s 45-week reign stands among the longest on all songs charts in Billboard‘s history.

I searched our database and below are the charts with the longest-leading No. 1 songs. Notably, most are digital songs charts; more specifically, those ranking niched genres (such as new age and blues). Why? Most songs in those genres sell modest amounts, so when there’s one that sells noticeably well and consistently, it can often rank far ahead of any competitors for a long stretch.

Here’s a look at the Billboard songs charts with the longest-leading No. 1s – those with songs that have reigned for 45 weeks or more, like Hillsong United’s “Oceans.” (Note that for some charts, more than one song ruled for at least 45 weeks; in those cases, only the longest-leading No. 1 is listed).

Billboard’s Longest-Leading No. 1 Songs:
(through charts dated Oct. 25, 2014)

World Digital Songs
185 weeks at No. 1, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’Ole, having first reached No. 1 in 2010

Latin Rhythm Digital Songs
180, “Danza Kuduro,” Don Omar & Lucenzo, 2011

Blues Digital Songs
122, “At Last,” Etta James, 2012

New Age Digital Songs
85, “Only Time,” Enya, 2010

Jazz Digital Songs
84, “What a Wonderful World,” Louis Armstrong, 2011

Gospel Digital Songs
70, “Take Me to the King,” Tamela Mann, 2012

Tropical Digital Songs
67, “Vivir Mi Vida,” Marc Anthony, 2013

Country Singles Sales
66, “Down Home Girl,” Old Crow Medicine Show, 2006

Latin Pop Digital Songs
64, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” Shakira feat. Freshlyground, 2010

Comedy Digital Tracks
63, “I Just Had Sex,” the Lonely Island feat. Akon, 2011

Classical Digital Songs
59, “You Raise Me Up,” Josh Groban, 2010

Regional Mexican Songs
59, “Intentalo,” 3BallMTY feat. El Bebeto y America Sierra, 2011

Reggae Digital Songs
52, “Three Little Birds,” Bob Marley and the Wailers, 2010

Hot Gospel Songs
46, “Never Would Have Made It,” Marvin Sapp, 2007

Hot Christian Songs
45, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail),” Hillsong United, 2013

First, the top song on the list: as if “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” wasn’t already iconic from its centerpiece placement in The Wizard of Oz, it’s added the honor of longest-leading No. 1 ever on a Billboard songs chart. Kamakawiwo’Ole’s ukulele-based version was released in 1993 and has maintained its profile thanks to numerous synchs, including in 50 First Dates, ER and Scrubs. The cast of Fox’s Glee covered it, too … meaning that the act with the most Billboard Hot 100 appearances (207) has covered the song with the most weeks ever atop a Billboard songs chart.

Kamakawiwo’Ole’s version has sold an astounding 4.2 million downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (Not bad for a song that never reached the Hot 100. Sadly, Kamakawiwo’Ole passed away in 1997.)

(Also worth noting: Billboard‘s digital genre charts debuted in January 2010, so it’s likely that many of the classics above that were released earlier could’ve totaled much longed coronations than the still-impressive ones they’ve tallied since then.)

But, this email started with Hillsong United. What spurred the 45-week domination of “Oceans”? In part, Hot Christian Songs last year adopted a hybrid methodology of airplay, sales and streaming (like the Hot 100 and other main genre charts), helping an across-the-board genre hit like “Oceans” rank above other format titles for so long.

But, the song has largely ruled on its own merits, says Billboard‘s senior chart manager Wade Jessen, who manages Billboard‘s Christian charts (and country, bluegrass and gospel). “Worship music often finds its way onto Christian radio playlists, but ‘Oceans’ would likely have been just as big a hit even if it hadn’t received much airplay. Worship music finds its most devoted and active audience in local churches, and ‘Oceans,’ with its compelling inspirational message – overcoming hopelessness and defeat – redefined contemporary worship music.

“It also raised the bar for songwriters in the genre,” Jessen says. “It helped the industry reimagine the potential and reach of worship music.”


A couple months ago in “Ask Billboard,” reader John Stardom of Ottawa brought up the topic of hit songs with odd time signatures, noting that Disclosure’s “Latch” (featuring Sam Smith) is in 6/8 time, and that even the duo itself thought it was unlikely that the song would’ve become as big a hit as it did (reaching No. 7 on the Hot 100; clearly, Smith’s vocals were a big part of its draw, too).

We covered some other hits throughout the rock era constructed in unique signatures, or those that swung back and forth between very different ones, like the Beatles’ ‘”We Can Work It Out.”

I wanted to delve a bit deeper into the topic, so I reached out to someone with experience both in charts and writing and performing music: former Billboard Latin charts manager Jose Promis, who, based in Los Angeles, now plays shows regularly. Here are his thoughts:

“Ah yes … time signatures. I remember as a kid being fascinated by Natalie Cole’s ‘I Live for Your Love’ because, if I’m correct, it’s in a 3/4 time signature. In other words, a waltz.

“I have written songs in unusual time signatures. Sometimes it’s done to perhaps evoke a different era or culture or musical style … like a waltz or something vaguely Greek or whatnot.

“4/4 is the basic time signature for pop music – think Echosmith’s ‘Cool Kids’ – as our Western minds are very used to that beat. It resonates easily.

“I think using different time signatures can make a song a bit more musically … sophisticated.”

The topic also seemed fitting to revisit this week after Billy Joel posted an anniversary video celebrating the Oct. 17, 1989, release of his album Storm Front. On this exact date (Oct. 21) in 1989 – 25 years ago today – the set’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” entered the Hot 100’s top 40 (58-40), on its way to becoming Joel’s third and most recent No. 1.

Storm Front yielded another four singles, including the No. 6-peaking “I Go to Extremes” and, my favorite Joel song, “The Downeaster Alexa.” Joel says that a key part of the song’s appeal, other than its sympathetic storyline about the challenges facing modern commercial fishermen, is its time signature. “The downbeat on that song is on 1 and 3,” he explains passionately (and with the knowledge befitting his iconic place in pop history). “Most downbeats in rock and roll are on 2 and 4. [‘Alexa,’ named after his and Christie Brinkley’s daughter] is kind of a backwards beat. That really made it more of a folk song.

“It was hard to do,” Joel says of the track, which reached No. 18 on Adult Contemporary in June 1990. “But, the reason it was successful is it doesn’t sound like it was hard to do.

“The better things are the ones that are more complex than they seem. You shouldn’t hear the seams and the bolts and the rivets. You should just hear … something that sounds like it just came effortlessly, naturally.”