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Ask Billboard: Why We Follow The Charts

A monster mailbag features discussions of remakes, country radio, Gloria Estefan and, simply, why fans love following the charts.

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.


Hello Gary,

I just wanted to say that I love the Ask Billboard column. I am quite impressed by all the astute contributions made by your Billboard.com readers!


Scott Volk
San Francisco, California




I just wanted to say that the direction that Ask Billboard has taken is, as far as I’m concerned, the wrong one. People now just write to brag about their knowledge of pop music, which frankly no one cares about.

This column is not supposed to be about chart details that are boring and uninteresting. I wish the column could go back to what it was: an informative Q&A for pop music lovers. Please stop featuring messages from people whose sole objective is to give information.

Thank you,

Vicken Karkoukli
Tarare, France

Hi Scott and Vicken,

As “The Facts of Life” theme song goes, “you take the good, you take the bad …”

Scott, glad you enjoy the stats and interesting angles offered by Billboard.com, Chart Beat and Ask Billboard readers.

Vicken, my apologies if you don’t always find as much interest in some of the information submitted by readers. I would disagree that “no one cares about” chart details. The fact that readers send thoroughly researched e-mails reinforces a deep interest in the minutiae of Billboard’s charts and the quirky tidbits that make chart-watching fun.

When a chart fan takes the time to list all the previous songs with animals in their titles prior to Owl City’s “Fireflies” to reach the top of the Hot 100, I’m happy to publish it. It’s similar to how sports fans will discuss the intricacies of athletes’ accomplishments, or avid followers of politics will emphatically debate key issues. Whatever is your passion, in our case music and charts, you’re fascinated by its ins and outs.

Chart Beat and Ask Billboard readers are knowledgeable, and I think it would be a disservice not to include valuable contributions. Simply, why limit the scope of information we could provide?

Of course, as you note, Ask Billboard has long been a bastion for offering a sample of Nielsen SoundScan sales figures, and that data remains a cornerstone of the column (as you’ll see in this week’s last response). Dialogs about radio, chart policies, and requests for analysis about various musical genres from Billboard’s charts department members will also continue to make up what we hope is always an informative, interesting and fun read each week.

Perhaps think of Ask Billboard like a chart. You might not be a fan of everything you peruse, but hopefully there’s enough you do enjoy that keeps you reading on!


Hello, Gary, from your native New England, and thanks for all you do!

Regarding last week’s Ask Billboard subject of re-worked Billboard Hot 100 hits by their originators, I’d like to add some to the (re)mix:

The Four Seasons hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1976 with “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night),” a song that was remixed by Ben Liebrand in 1994 and released as a single, reaching No. 14, and in the process matched the 27 weeks spent on the chart by the original version.

Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)” was the b-side of the original solo studio version by Paul McCartney. The studio cut reached No. 2 in the U.K., but in the U.S., as the studio mix was slowly moving up the chart, DJs traded in that version for the live one and propelled the song to No. 1.

Charlene’s No. 97 “I’ve Never Been to Me” from 1977 was re-issued in 1982 (I believe with a longer version) and rose to No. 3.

Modern English‘s immortal radio hit “I Melt With You” climbed to No. 78 in 1983, but when reworked for its 1990 album “Pillow Lips,” the new version fared slightly better, peaking at No. 76.

The Australian band Real Life followed Modern English’s blueprint. Its “Send Me an Angel” ascended to No. 29 in 1983. Revamped six years later, “Send Me an Angel ’89” hit No. 26.

The original mix of Frankie Goes to Hollywood‘s “Relax,” which rose as high as No. 67 in the U.S. in its initial run, differed from the 1985 single mix, which became a No. 10 hit.

The Pointer Sisters stopped at No. 30 in 1982 with the original version of “I’m So Excited.” With the success of their 1984 album “Break Out,” the song was remixed and peaked at No. 9.

Depeche Mode reached No. 76 in 1987 with “Strangelove,” and a year later, “Strangelove ’88” fared better, climbing to No. 50.

This may be reaching a little, but as a member of Derek & the Dominos, Eric Clapton hit No. 10 in 1972 with “Layla,” a song he would take to No. 12 solo two decades later in a live, unplugged setting.

And, two Elvis Presley remixes charted higher than their original counterparts: “Guitar Man,” No. 43 in 1968, was remixed in 1981, and not only hit No. 28 on the Hot 100, but reached No. 1 on Country Songs. Originally a No. 69 hit in 1968, “A Little Less Conversation,” as remixed by JXL in 2002, hit No. 1 in more than 20 countries, No. 50 on the Hot 100 and was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Two honorable mentions: New Order‘s “Blue Monday” didn’t make the Hot 100 in 1983 (it reached No. 5 on Dance/Club Play Songs) but did reach No. 68 on the Hot 100 as “Blue Monday ’88” in, of course, 1988.

And, Everything But the Girl‘s 1994 song “Missing” was a laid-back number that stalled at No. 69 in the U.K. before Todd Terry got his remixing hands on it. Fast forward to February 1996, and the single remix took 28 weeks to reach No. 2 on the Hot 100, and about as long to drop off the chart, making it one of the longest-charting songs in the survey’s history (55 weeks).

On a different note, regarding Dana E. McIntyre’s e-mail last week about songs that peaked in the Hot 100’s runner-up slot, she should check out Christopher Feldman’s “The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles” (if she didn’t already use this book for her research). Truly a good read for chart geeks like myself 😉

Ron Raymond, Jr.
Music Director, WMPG-FM
Portland, Maine

Hi Ron,

Thanks, as always, for the in-depth research. I hope all is well in the Vacationland State!

Earlier this year in Ask Billboard, we recapped artists that remade their own hits with other artists (Elton John‘s original “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and his subsequent version with George Michael, for example). Since last week’s Ask Billboard topic stemmed from a mention of Plumb remaking “God-Shaped Hole,” currently No. 32 on Christian Songs, again in solo form as “God-Shaped Hole (2010),” I’ll let your e-mail, which focuses on tracks without featured acts, and the next two submissions, represent the many I received this week from readers (thanks to all who submitted lists).

One more such song I thought of since last week: Josh Groban peaked at No. 4 on Adult Contemporary with a live version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” recorded at a WLTW/New York holiday concert, in 2006. The studio version, from “Noel,” reached No. 1 in 2007.

And, yes, Feldman’s book makes for great reading for all us chart geeks. (Hey, if “Glee” fans are “Gleeks” and Josh Groban fans are “Grobanites” and Yankees fans are insufferable (um, to New Englanders, anyway), what can we call Billboard chart fans? Chart-a-holics? Billboard Boosters? Chartists? Chart Beat-les? Please feel free to think up and e-mail any and all suggestions that could cleverly brand our treasured pastime).


Hi Gary,

I can think of quite a few artists who hit the charts by remaking their own hits, including several who did so without any featured assistance:

The Police re-recorded “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”. While the original rose to No. 10 in 1981, the 1986 version stopped at No. 46.

Chicago reached No. 4 in 1970 with “25 or 6 to 4”. When they re-recorded the rock classic, also in 1986, it peaked at No. 48.

Kiss hit twice with both studio and live versions of “Rock and Roll All Nite” (studio, No. 68 in 1975; live, No. 12 in 1975) and “Shout It Out Loud” (studio, No. 31 in 1976; live, No. 54 in 1978).

Peter Gabriel also recorded studio and live versions of “Solsbury Hill” (studio, No. 68 in 1977; live, No. 84 in 1983).

Sarah McLachlan likewise doubled up with “I Will Remember You” (studio, No. 65 in 1995; live, No. 14 in 1999).

(Not quite the same, but, going forward, I’ll be curious to see if Rod Stewart can help Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson re-chart, as writers, with songs from his new “Soulbook” album).

Phew …

Be well,

Dave Baskind
Saginaw, MichiganJUMPED THEN FELL

Dear Gary,

Thanks for posting my letter in Ask Billboard last week.

This week, I have a question about – this is Chart Beat, who else? – Taylor Swift. With “Jump Then Fall,” um, jumping onto the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 10 last week before, well, falling to No. 41 this week, not only does Swift now have 13 top 40 hits from “Fearless,” as mentioned in this week’s Chart Beat, but she also has five top 10s.

Of course, other artists, most recently Lady Gaga, have notched five Hot 100 top 10s from an album, but Swift is the first country artist to do so, as well as the youngest among artists of any genre.

Also, in response to last week’s Ask Billboard question about artists who have charted with re-recorded versions of their own hits, I thought of four such instances:

The Ventures, “Walk Don’t Run” (No. 2, 1960), “Walk Don’t Run ’64” (No. 8, 1964).

Neil Sedaka, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (No. 1, 1962), slower version (No. 8, 1976).


Jeff Lerner
Long Island, New York

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for another e-mail packed with insight. Just when you think we’ve found all the chart successes that Swift has managed …


Hi Gary,

I always enjoy reading your column. With Carrie Underwood‘s “Play On” and “Cowboy Casanova” topping the Billboard 200 and Country Songs, respectively, this week, I wanted to point out a fact that shows the effect that I feel Underwood has had on country radio since she first hit the top of the country charts.

“Jesus, Take the Wheel” reached No. 1 on the Country Songs chart dated Jan. 21, 2006. In the three years and 10 months since, no solo female artist who had hit No. 1 before Underwood has been able to return to the top spot as the lead artist. Dolly Parton did so as a featured act on Brad Paisley‘s “When I Get Where I’m Going,” but all of the No. 1s by females since Underwood’s first chart-topper have been by females who had never led the chart prior to Underwood’s career launch.

In the year leading up to Underwood’s first No. 1, Jo Dee Messina, Faith Hill and Sara Evans had all reached the top. The closest any “veterans” have ventured towards No. 1 as a lead artist since “Jesus, Take the Wheel” has been No. 2: LeAnn Rimes‘ “Something’s Gotta Give” and Reba McEntire‘s “Because of You.” Interestingly enough, McEntire reached second-place with the help of Underwood’s fellow “American Idol” alumnus Kelly Clarkson.

Personally, I’m rooting for McEntire’s “Consider Me Gone” to break the streak, but until someone does, Miss Underwood will stand as a buffer between the old and the new among chart-topping country females.

Michael Marquardt, Sr.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Hi Michael,

A very observant analysis. I would add that country music has clearly seen a change in guard since the dawn of not just the Underwood era, but also the Taylor Swift era, which also began in 2006 after Underwood’s arrival.

Since January 2006, there have been 12 No. 1s on Country Songs by solo women. Eight are by Underwood. The other four belong to Swift.

There have also been six No. 1s by female-led duos or groups sporting lead artist credit in that span: five by Sugarland and one by the Wreckers. Both acts had also not reigned before Underwood began her chart stampede.

In the ’90s, Country Songs boasted No. 1s by the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Deana Carter, Patty Loveless, Wynonna and Trisha Yearwood. Those and similar artists have released less product in recent years, or segued to different sounds (bluegrass, folk, adult), which joined the Underwood onslaught as factors in certain artists’ disappearance from the chart’s summit. It will be interesting to see how the format responds to the next release from Shania Twain, who last charted in 2005.

Please read yesterday’s Chart Beat for details on Underwood and Swift’s latest chart achievements. The two have, in such a short time, inked chart feats that place them in the company of some of the biggest names in music history.

I also passed your e-mail on to Billboard country charts manager Wade Jessen for his take on the Underwood, and Swift, era. While noting that women have always had a harder time receiving heavy rotation on country radio than men, Wade muses that while “Idol” and Underwood have changed that to some extent, the show and its 2005 champion are not solely responsible for recent trends at the format regarding female artists:

“I think the female vets were in trouble, in terms of the consensus vote at radio, long before Underwood came on the scene. I think it might be less a matter of Underwood’s dominance than it is about inactivity (Hill), less radio-ready records, in my opinion (Evans, Rimes), and stylistic confusion (Hill, Martina McBride).

As McEntire is demonstrating with her current single, if women release the kinds of records programmers are comfortable playing, they’ll enjoy success.

I think radio is leaning toward Underwood because she drives a desirable demographic and theoretically attracts new listeners who know her from other avenues (“Idol,” press, pop/adult radio), as does Taylor Swift.

Should country radio decide that Underwood is no longer the flavor of the day, some of the more astute female veterans, or a previously unknown act or two, may gain ground in the female category, which I feel would be a healthy change for the format in the long run.”


Hi Gary,

In Ask Billboard last week, you stated that Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and Madonna are tied for second-most top 20 Billboard Hot 100 debuts, trailing Taylor Swift, in the chart’s history. Could you please list each song and the debut positions for each?


Jarohn Johnson

Hi Jarohn,

Here are the songs by Carey, Jackson and Madonna to launch at such lofty levels:

Mariah Carey
No. 13, “I’ll Be There” (1992)
No. 1, “Fantasy” (1995)
No. 1, “One Sweet Day” (1995)
No. 2, “Always Be My Baby” (1996)
No. 1, “Honey” (1997)
No. 2, “My All” (1998)
No. 11, “Obsessed” (2009)

Janet Jackson
No. 14, “That’s the Way Love Goes” (1993)
No. 15, “Again” (1993)
No. 5, “Scream/Childhood” (With Michael Jackson) (1995)
No. 6, “Runaway” (1995)
No. 9, “Together Again” (1997)
No. 3, “I Get Lonely” (1998)
No. 14, “All for You” (2001)

No. 15, “Rescue Me” (1991)
No. 13, “Erotica” (1992)
No. 8, “You’ll See” (1995)
No. 17, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (1997)
No. 8, “Frozen” (1998)
No. 5, “Ray of Light” (1998)
No. 20, “Hung Up” (2005)

Interestingly, six of Carey’s seven top 20 debuts reached No. 1 (three debuted at the summit), and four of Jackson’s have. However, none of Madonna’s top 20 entrances have led to No. 1 finishes. Of her seven, “Frozen” went on to peak the highest, at No. 2. Identically, of Swift’s eight top 20 debuts, she also has risen as high as No. 2, with “You Belong With Me.”


Hello Gary!

I’m a fan to death of Gloria Estefan. I’m only 20, but I really love this woman as if I were 40 or more. I’m really interested in knowing which of her albums have sold the most. If you could please provide that information, I would be thankfully happy!


Carlos F. Olachea
San Diego, California

Hi Carlos,

I’ve always liked her music, too, as she was a staple at adult contemporary radio from the mid-’80s through earlier this decade. In the span since her first appearance with Miami Sound Machine on the AC chart dated March 22, 1986, with “Bad Boy,” her 30 hits trail only the sums of Celine Dion (39), Elton John (38), Rod Stewart (33) and Michael Bolton (31).

Here is a look at Gloria Estefan’s top-selling albums in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. (Please note that SoundScan data began in 1991, several years after Estefan and Miami Sound Machine’s first release, so figures for albums released before 1991 are for sales only since that year):

2,976,000, “Greatest Hits” (1992)
1,818,000, “Into the Light” (1991)
1,724,000, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” (1994)
1,209,000, “Mi Tierra” (1993)
879,000, “Destiny” (1996)
874,000, “Christmas Through Your Eyes” (1992)
701,000, “Cuts Both Ways” (1989)
573,000, “Gloria!” (1998)
470,000, “Let It Loose” (1988)
437,000, “Abriendo Puertas” (1995)

Estefan, including efforts with Miami Sound Machine (through 1988), has totaled U.S. album sales of 13,205,000 to date, according to SoundScan.

You can view dynamic footage of Estefan in concert recently on her official web site.