Giant-Killer: How Ke$ha Held Back “We Are the World” II on the Hot 100

For months now, the media has been positioning art-damaged dance queen Lady Gaga as the heir apparent to Hall of Fame diva Madonna.

But after Billboard’s release of the latest Hot 100, perhaps Ke$ha is more deserving of the title. With just her first hit single, the party girl has – without breaking a sweat – duplicated a giant-killing feat pulled by Madge’s sixth hit in 1985.

That would be the defeat of “We Are the World,” a heavily hyped all-star charity record both in its original 1985 incarnation and in a mediocre 2010 remake for Haitian relief. The original version by USA for Africa did manage to top the Hot 100 in spring ’85 before being ousted four weeks later – remarkably quickly – by a hotter-than-hot Lady M with her undying ballad “Crazy for You.”

A quarter-century later, the redo by Artists for Haiti has suffered an even greater chart humiliation: not reaching the No. 1 spot at all, thanks to Ke$ha’s now nine-week-old chart-topper “TiK ToK.” While “WATW” ’10 is still selling well, it’s quite likely that its No. 2 debut this week is as high as it’ll ever go.

The Hot 100 of today is pretty radically different from the 1985 chart, but it’s still an interesting thought exercise to compare the chart performances of the two versions (and the pop-diva songs that held them back), to understand how each version reflects the radio and sales landscape of its day.


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An echo in so much space: Why Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” is the Song of the Decade

Picking a favorite song—of the year, or just this minute—is by nature a subjective and personal matter. But I’d argue that picking a Song of the Decade, if you’re doing it right, has to be objectively defensible. It’s got to be larger than you.

That’s why I feel confident that the Song of the Noughts is Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 smash “Crazy.” (At least one major publication, to my pleasant surprise, agrees with me.) You’re of course welcome to dispute this and suggest your own tune. But I’d like to see you mount a better defense than the one marshaled for “Crazy.”

Unlike years or centuries, which have some mathematical and chronological necessity, the named decade—“the ’20s,” “the ’60s”—is a media construct, created only in the last 100 years or so to try to mark movements in the culture. (This is why the 21st Century, inarguably, began in 2001, but it’s pedantic to say this decade isn’t “mathematically over” until the end of 2010; the ’00s started in 2000 and end now, debate over.) When you pick a song to commemorate a decade, you’re summarizing the sensibilities and folkways of a generation, in its best light. At the very least, you’re summing up what contemporary music sounded like when it was firing on all cylinders.

Produced by Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton and co-written with near–stream of consciousness by Thomas “Cee-Lo” Callaway, “Crazy” is not only a superb song. With its elegant lyrics and profound soul, “Crazy” channels something much larger than itself, while remaining fundamentally pop.

Please tell me if you can think of a song over the last 10 years that has all of the following going for it:

A huge, global hit. I don’t think a Song of the Decade needs to be a chart-topper, but it should have moved the culture considerably. On any country’s chart where it made an appearance, “Crazy” made the Top Three (only missing in Sweden, where it peaked at No. 4). The British got it most right, breaking “Crazy” before any other country and making it No. 1 for months. In America, it peaked at No. 2 in the summer of 2006, which is slightly tragic but puts it in the company of such runner-up chart classics as “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Regarded as a new standard. As a pop geek, I tend to value great recordings as much or more than great songs. (I for one think “Superstition” would have been diminished as a composition had Stevie Wonder let Jeff Beck record it first.) But a Song of the Decade should ideally be both: flawless as is, but open to interpretation. Covered by countless acts, “Crazy” proved remarkably malleable. For a while, it seemed like every singer had a take. The best and most acclaimed cover, by gravel-voiced folk-rocker Ray LaMontagne, arguably redefined his career and was so stripped bare, you couldn’t miss the greatness of “Crazy” as a composition. As intricate as Burton’s and Callaway’s original recording was, there was an unmistakably sturdy song there, something you can’t say about many of the recordings we’ve all loved since the turn of the century.

Multi-genre by nature. I’m not sure that all Songs of the Decade span multiple genres—“Billie Jean” definitely does, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” doesn’t quite. But for the Noughts, the decade of splintered allegiances, it would be insane to pick a song that doesn’t have the range of contemporary music in its DNA. I mean, what is “Crazy”? It’s recorded by people of color and has soul, but it’s much, much more than an R&B song (interestingly, Billboard’s R&B chart was the one list where it underperformed, missing the Top 40). “Crazy” is a pop song, a rock song, a spiritual song—maybe even “indie,” given the way Burton and Callaway recorded it before signing to a label. Though it features no rapping, “Crazy” is clearly the product of hip-hop and based around a well-chosen sample. Speaking of which…

State of the art. “Crazy” was, if not bleeding-edge, fully reflective of its cultural moment. In this decade of the viral phenomenon, its prerelease exposure in fall 2005 via Internet leak was apropos, as was its status in spring 2006 as the first British No. 1 single fueled entirely by digital downloads. Then there’s the recording itself: Based on a sample of the 1968 spaghetti-Western soundtrack tune “Nel Cimitero di Tucson,” “Crazy” was borne of mashup culture—as was Burton’s entire career. The self-dubbed Danger Mouse came to prominence with his unsanctioned 2004 release The Grey Album, which combined Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album and was the first great full-length mashup project. In its use of the Italian sample as underpinning, “Crazy” is more like traditional hip-hop than The Grey Album; but its approach to sampling is clearly post-mashup, weaving in original elements seamlessly and reinventing the original composition from the ground up. It’s a very subtle paradigm-shifter.

Widely acclaimed. With the possible exception of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” in 2003, no other song this decade enjoyed the uncontested critical praise of “Crazy.” It dominated the 2006 Idolator Pop and Pazz & Jop critics’ polls—in the case of the latter, Village Voice–administered survey, by a margin that was among the largest in the poll’s three-decade history.

Lyrically acute. Generation-defining songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Like a Rolling Stone” are usually enshrined for lyrics that seem to channel a larger mood, often elliptically. Cee-Lo’s claim that he practically made up the oblique lyrics to “Crazy” on the spot only enhances the sense that the song is fully plugged into the Zeitgeist—in ways that are both personal (Callaway was singing about his own demons) and global. With 20/20 hindsight, lines like “I remember when I lost my mind,” or “You really think you’re in control?” capture a culture built on quicksand. The fact that it was recorded when the mid-decade economic and tabloid-culture froth were at their apex is even more perfect. The whole song is basically a more-eloquent meditation on the movie cliché, I’ve got a baaaad feeling about this.

Still catchy, brilliant, moving years later. From the moment that first beat drops to the closing droplet of Cee-Lo’s gospel falsetto, “Crazy” demands attention; if I can find any flaw with it, it’s that I have a hard time letting it waft in the background. When I hear it, everything else stops. (Ask my wife: she can barely have a conversation with me when it’s on.) The best pop songs have moments—instants where music and lyrics fuse and connect with you in a deeply empathetic way. For me, it’s the moment when Cee-Lo sings with bombast, “I think you’re crazy!” as the synths and backing vocals mass, then follows with a quieter, “…just like me.” It’s a moment of confession, where one’s self-doubts are laid bare amid an acceptance that we’re all helpless, all at each other’s mercy. As great as “Hey Ya!” or “My Love” or “Crazy in Love” or “Maps” were this decade, no culture-moving song seemed to plumb universal truths quite so incisively.

Those of you who have read my “100 & Single” column and my other writings know that I follow music through the prism of both love and data. Given my particular charts-plus-art perspective among music critics, I come at an exercise like this from my own oddball direction. I realize that the Noughts are a tough decade to summarize with one song, and I do understand that picking a favorite isn’t, after all, a math problem.

Still, to me, the title was never in doubt. I have been convinced since I first heard it that “Crazy” is a new classic, specific to its point in time but timeless in its appeal. So please think of the elaborate defense above as my way of justifying something I feel in my heart, with the kind of “hard” evidence a chart geek demands.

Does that make me eccentric? Possibly.

Comments? Tweet me.


Ga, Ga v. Peas, Peas: The Battle for 2009’s Top Single

As promised a couple of weeks ago, this week I’ve been working on my predictions for the top Hot 100 singles of 2009 according to Billboard. Their year-end issue hits newsstands at the end of next week.

Because my day-job schedule has me busier than usual this week, I probably won’t get around to posting the full-length version of this column until later today or on Saturday. But just to give my loyal chart geeks something to chew on, here’s where I’m coming out when I run my (fragmentary, not ironclad) numbers – a likely 2009 Top 10 might look like this:

1. Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow”
2. Lady Gaga featuring Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance”
3. Lady Gaga, “Poker Face”
4. Flo Rida, “Right Round”
5. Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”
6. T.I. featuring Justin Timberlake, “Dead and Gone”
7. All-Amemican Rejects, “Gives You Hell”
8. Taylor Swift, “Love Story”
9. Miley Cyrus, “The Climb”
10. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”

Quick sneak peek of where my head’s at: I have not been a loyal fan of Gaga’s all year (I warmed to her slowly), but I’m sure as hell rooting for her in her battle with the Black Eyed Peas. I want to give her No. 1 pretty badly; it would represent a massive upset over the Peas, the undisputed chart-dominating act of the year. I don’t think I can, responsibly, but it’s not out of the question.

The big X-factor is Billboard’s oddball December 1–November 30 chart year, which skews their year-end lists hugely. Counting just since January 1, “Boom Boom Pow” is far and away the biggest-selling single of the year, as well as a No. 1 airplay title. But when you add in nearly six weeks of data at the end of 2008 as per Billboard’s screwy rules, Gaga’s sales for “Just Dance” are practically even with “Pow’s,” and her Top Three–ranked airplay was earned over a longer period.

Honestly, the race for No. 1 could well be a photo finish. At the very least, as you see above, a double-Peas, double-Gaga Top Five (with only pan-flasher Flo Rida breaking it up) is a near-certainty. Developing…

(Tweet me if you have thoughts or predictions.)

In the meantime, the regular charts for this week are pasted below, with Jay-Z and Alicia three-peating atop the Hot 100 but getting Ushered out (sorry) on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

Top 10s
(Billboard issue date December 12, 2009; based on data collected November 23-29)
Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads in parentheses):

Hot 100
1. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (LW No. 1, 12 weeks)
2. Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance” (LW No. 2, 5 weeks)
3. Ke$ha, “TiK ToK” (LW No. 5, 8 weeks)
4. Owl City, “Fireflies” (LW No. 3, 15 weeks)
5. Iyaz, “Replay” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks)
6. Jason DeRulo, “Whatcha Say” (LW No. 4, 16 weeks)
7. The Black Eyed Peas, “Meet Me Halfway” (LW No. 12, 11 weeks)
8. David Guetta feat. Akon, “Sexy Bitch/Chick” (LW No. 7, 17 weeks)
9. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne, “Down” (LW No. 10, 22 weeks)
10. Britney Spears, “3″ (LW No. 9, 8 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs
1. Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance” (LW No. 1, 218,000 downloads)
2. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (LW No. 4, 202,000 downloads)
3. Ke$ha, “TiK ToK” (LW No. 2, 168,000 downloads)
4. Owl City, “Fireflies” (LW No. 3, 147,000 downloads)
5. Iyaz, “Replay” (LW No. 5, 129,000 downloads)
6. The Black Eyed Peas, “Meet Me Halfway” (LW No. 9, 121,000 downloads)
7. Jason DeRulo, “Whatcha Say” (LW No. 7, 103,000 downloads)
8. David Guetta feat. Akon, “Sexy Bitch/Chick” (LW No. 8, 98,000 downloads)
9. Britney Spears, “3″ (LW No. 11, 92,000 downloads)
10. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the U.S.A.” (LW No. 10, 91,000 downloads)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
1. Usher, “Papers” (LW No. 2, 9 weeks)
2. Trey Songz feat. Drake, “I Invented Sex” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks)
3. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (LW No. 1, 13 weeks)
4. Birdman feat. Lil Wayne & Drake, “Money to Blow” (LW No. 5, 12 weeks)
5. Maxwell, “Bad Habits” (LW No. 4, 25 weeks)
6. Maxwell, “Pretty Wings” (LW No. 7, 31 weeks)
7. 50 Cent feat. Ne-Yo, “Baby By Me” (LW No. 9, 12 weeks)
8. Melanie Fiona, “It Kills Me” (LW No. 12, 15 weeks)
9. Drake feat. Kanye West, Lil Wayne & Eminem, “Forever” (LW No. 6, 14 weeks)
10. Gucci Mane feat. Plies, “Wasted” (LW No. 8, 25 weeks)

Hot Country Songs
1. Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” (LW No. 1, 16 weeks)
2. Luke Bryan, “Do I” (LW No. 2, 32 weeks)
3. Reba McEntire, “Consider Me Gone” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks)
4. Carrie Underwood, “Cowboy Casanova” (LW No. 3, 13 weeks)
5. Craig Morgan, “Bonfire” (LW No. 5, 28 weeks)
6. Dierks Bentley, “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes” (LW No. 7, 19 weeks)
7. Taylor Swift, “Fifteen” (LW No. 8, 14 weeks)
8. David Nail, “Red Light” (LW No. 10, 40 weeks)
9. Kenny Chesney feat. Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive” (LW No. 6, 19 weeks)
10. Tim McGraw, “Southern Voice” (LW No. 11, 12 weeks)

Hot Alternative Tracks
1. Muse, “Uprising” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks)
2. Weezer, “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To,” (LW No. 2, 15 weeks)
3. 30 Seconds to Mars, “Kings and Queens” (LW No. 3, 8 weeks)
4. Rise Against, “Savior” (LW No. 4, 24 weeks)
5. Breaking Benjamin, “I Will Not Bow” (LW No. 5, 16 weeks)
6. Three Days Grace, “Break” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks)
7. Foo Fighters, “Wheels” (LW No. 6, 10 weeks)
8. Phoenix, “1901″ (LW No. 10, 21 weeks)
9. Death Cab for Cutie, “Meet Me on the Equinox” (LW No. 8, 11 weeks)
10. Cage the Elephant, “Back Against the Wall” (LW No. 9, 17 weeks)


Chart Update: Jay-Z Don’t Need Dem Bums to Hit No. 1; Hipsters Go Top 10

Note to my dear readers: Thanks to the dozens of you who sent good wishes my way last week, on Twitter and elsewhere, as I took “100 and Single” to my own blog. Also, apologies for the ongoing commenting glitches; I hope to have that fixed by the time I do my next full-length column. Below is a mini-column. For the past year on Idolator, the column has been biweekly, but now that I’m taking it back I’m hoping, as my work schedule permits, to produce something every Friday – a full-length piece one week followed by quicker, shorter rundowns the next. Please bear with me during this transitional period.

How he broke the curse: Completely contrary to my confident prediction last week, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys rise to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with “Empire State of Mind,” making it the first song specifically about New York City to reach the penthouse. As if taunting me, Billboard’s own “Chart Beat” team does a better job than I did running down previous NYC-centric hits. (My biggest mistake: forgetting to search for hits with “Harlem” or “Broadway” in the title. Aretha Franklin’s “Spanish Harlem” peaked at No. 2, among several other Gotham-based tracks. Still, I was right about no NYC songs going to the top before.)

Incidentally, “Empire” is also the first-ever chart-topper for Jigga as a lead, not featured, act; he’s dropped rhymes over the bridge or lead-in of three prior chart-toppers, by Mariah Carey (“Heartbreaker,” 1999), future wife Beyoncé (“Crazy in Love,” 2003) and protégée Rihanna (“Umbrella,” 2007). Scoring his first No. 1 one month before his 40th birthday is sort of unbelievable. It’s doubly so when you consider his album-chart record: 11 chart-toppers as of two months ago, the most among solo acts and second place among all acts, behind the Beatles. (So much for that old rock-critic theory that hip-hop is a singles-based, not album-based, medium…)


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These Little-Town Blues: Jay-Z’s Yankee Anthem Gives NYC Its Best-Ever Chart Berth

In 2000, John Mellencamp gave one of the more heartfelt Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speeches I’ve ever seen, honoring the Lovin’ Spoonful. In the midst of his speech, the ex–Johnny Cougar sang a whole verse and chorus of the Spoonful’s 1966 No. 1 smash “Summer in the City.” Said Mellencamp: “That song meant a lot to a small-town boy from Indiana.”

Well, sure it did, I thought. But I bet you wouldn’t have liked the song half as much if it’d been called “Summer, New York City.”

It was smart of Spoonful leader John Sebastian and his brother Mark, both native New Yorkers, not to namecheck their hometown in their biggest hit. If they had, I can guarantee you “Summer in the City” wouldn’t have topped Billboard’s Hot 100. More than 50 years into the Rock Era, no song specifically about New York has gone all the way to No. 1.

But damned if that’ll stop Jay-Z. One week after his hometown ballclub won its 27th World Series, he and fellow New Yorker Alicia Keys find themselves one rung from the top of the charts with “Empire State of Mind.” It’s a song Jay wrote seemingly predicting a Yankee victory season, and its timing has been impeccable. If it weren’t for a competing hit by a bedroom pop geek from Minnesota, Jigga and Alicia would have the first-ever explicitly New York City–related chart-topper.

But then, songs about New York City are like baseball teams from New York City: something most of the country takes pride in loathing.


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Chart Blog Migration: Coming Soon

To anyone who might have stumbled across this site in the last couple of days, given recent changes at the music blog Idolator: Yes, I am hoping to continue writing about the Billboard charts, and I am working on migrating my column here.

For the last two years–plus, I’ve been Idolator’s chief chart analyst/columnist. Since the fall of 2007, I’ve written “100 & Single,” the biweekly pop-chart column I conceived. Thanks to the support of Idolator editor Maura Johnston, it’s been the best music-writing assignment of my career.

Sadly, Maura was compelled to step down as Idolator’s editor on 9 November, and a new editorial team has taken over. With her departure, my tenure at Idolator likewise ends.

I’ve had too much fun writing “100 & Single” and gotten to know too many smart people to give it up now. I daresay I’ve had a rare privilege – writing about music on the Internet and generally loving the people who show up to comment on what I write! It would break my heart to say goodbye to all of my fellow chart geeks.

Please bear with me as I try to revive this old blog of mine, which has laid essentially dormant since I began writing for Idolator in earnest in 2007. I hope to check in with a roundup of this week’s Hot 100 goings-on this Friday, 13 November, and keep to some kind of regular schedule thereafter. Thanks in advance for your patience, and your continued interest.

Your humble chart geek &c.



Sound the trumpets! For the music business, Black Friday was…well, in the black, sorta. Sales for the massively important Thanksgiving week were flat with the same week last year – which, in this dismal year, is a kind of triumph; 2006 weekly sales have lagged the year before almost every week since January. And speaking of black…

The Blah Album? His will was done: Jay-Z nailed down the Billboard 200’s #1 spot with Kingdom Come, his Jordan-joins-the-Wizards album. But the victory may have been Pyrrhic. Not only did the disc earn lackluster reviews, it fell considerably short of expectations. A day or two after the album’s release, early forecasts pegged Kingdom Come’s first week at nearly 800,000 copies. The final tally? About 680,000 – while that’s still the best one-week sales total of Jigga’s career, it’s a ways below the biggest sales winners this year. And make no mistake, the Def Jam mogul wanted to own that title (this is a guy who supposedly named his last CD after the day record stores turn a profit). Instead, the one-week record for 2006 sits comfortably with country cutie-boys Rascal Flatts, who nailed it last April with 722,000 in sales for Me And My Gang. Still, for a businessman like Mr. Sean Carter, it’s better to take the long view: this is his ninth #1 album, tying him with the Stones for third place among all chart-toppers. And if J-Hova decides to stay out of retirement, one more #1 disc will tie him with Elvis Presley for second place. Then he’ll just have to post nine more #1s to beat this other little band, who also released a record last week

Rubber Sold. The Beatles’ Love, the band-approved, George Martin–produced mashup revue of the band’s recorded catalog that serves as a soundtrack to Cirque de Soleil’s Vegas extravaganza, debuted at #4 with about 272,000 copies. That’s either mediocre for the biggest pop group of all time or excellent for a strange mishmash of old, much-purchased music. Indeed, there’s not much precedent to draw upon to determine how well Love should have sold. The only other major act to release a label-sanctioned mashup album was – ha ha! – Jay-Z, whose Collision Course debuted at #1 in the fall of ‘04 with similar numbers and an assist from Linkin Park. (And we’ll never know how many copies The Grey Album “sold” – what is it about the Fabs and Jigga and mashups?) The very concept of Love is a little hard to explain to casual record buyers – unlike, say, The Beatles 1, the compilation that dominated Christmas 2000 and kicked off the ’00s trend of best-selling, all-encompassing single-disc greatest-hits albums. If Love is going to sell beyond the hardcore Beatles base – admittedly, a large base – one of two things will have to happen: (a) word of mouth will get around that it’s not only unusual but good – most critics, me included, have been pleasantly surprised by the artistic merit of the circus-show soundtrack; or (b) the Beatles’ promotional army will have to give the CD a big push, which, if the rumors are true, would come in the form of a big Steve Jobs coming-out party. Maybe even a green Apple Corps. iPod?

Last laugh. Standing between Jay and the Fabs on the album chart was the biggest debut by an American Idol contestant so far this year: the goofily titled “band” Daughtry, fronted by Idol ’06’s fourth runner-up Chris Daughtry. The record’s jaw-dropping 304,000-disc first week came just 12,000 copies short of the debut CD by Carrie Underwood last November – and she was the winner of the ‘05 Idol. At the risk of insulting the very manly Chris, he appears to be the next Clay Aiken – a non-winner who exacts revenge on the actual Idol victor months later on the charts, the way Aiken has consistently outsold the man who beat him, Ruben Studdard. Under ideal circumstances, the Idol franchise should have teed up ‘06 winner Taylor Hicks’s CD for the Thanksgiving-week retail slot, but Hicks’s slow-going debut wasn’t ready yet (and if the rumors are true, he very nearly missed the holiday season altogether). Instead, Taylor Hicks the album will appear in an awkward mid-December slot, three weeks after Daughtry enjoyed Turkey Season and the fat sales that go with it.

Immoveable object vs. “Irreplaceable” force. Last week, hip-hop friendly crooner Akon pulled a rare coup on the Hot 100 singles week, nailing down both #1 and #2 simultaneously. He did it not with “Smack That,” his collabo with Eminem that’s been sitting in the top five for a month; but with the Snoop Dogg team-up “I Wanna Love You,” which got a big boost from its iTunes debut and vaulted 16 places into the #1 slot. (I suspect a large chunk of the single’s buyers were enticed by its uncensored title.) The wall of Akon looked unbreachable, but this week one of his two hits falls away, as “Smack” is kicked out of the #2 spot by Beyoncé’s much-beloved single “Irreplaceable.” B’s single has been Billboard’s biggest airplay gainer for the last three weeks, which means we’re looking at a classic airplay-vs.-sales battle for the top of the chart: Akon’s airplay is modest but growing, but his sales are huge; B’s airplay is dominant but her sales fall just shy of Akon’s. It’ll be interesting to see how holiday iPod giving affects sales of both digital songs.

We sold for cheap. Jay-Z will almost definitely repeat at #1 next week – and if he doesn’t, look for haters in the press to point and laugh at him. The week’s biggest debut will likely be the too-long-in-exile Clipse, who just released what is reportedly the best hip-hop album of the year. Seeing them come close to topping Jigga next week – unlikely, but stranger things have happened – would be mind-blowing.

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Last week I found myself grumbling about a Disney-TV starlet who held back a cool rock album from #1. This week, I found myself rooting for her:

Karmic payback for Colbert. I dropped a little hint at the end of my post last week suggesting that Barry Manilow would debut at #1 with The Greatest Songs of the Sixties, an instant followup to last February’s smash #1 CD The Greatest Songs of the Fifties. This would have given Manilow a mind-blowing two #1 albums in a single calendar year – something he’d never achieved in his ’70s heyday – and also given Barry the record as the oldest guy ever to score a pair of chart-topping albums. Well, forget all that: Miley Cyrus, star of the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana, held on to #1 in her second week by the tiniest of margins, 203,000 copies to Manilow’s 202,000, according to Billboard. This is the second consecutive week that the Hannah soundtrack confounds sales predictions, following last week’s easy trouncing of My Chemical Romance (who tumble a worrying 64% in their week two). Manilow’s album looked like a strong contender, and like most adult-oriented albums nowadays, it gets a boost from such atypical sales channels as – no joke – QVC. Unfortunately for Barry, when you buy an album from a TV ad, shopping channel or website, the sale only gets booked to the SoundScan charts when it ships; thus any CDs purchased over the weekend and shipped the following Monday or Tuesday fall into the next week’s charts. So look for Barry’s Sixties album to hold well in its second week. As for me, I have no major beef with Barry, schlocky though he is. But after this year’s Colbert-vs.-Manilow Emmy travesty, I must say I’m not favorably inclined toward the man who Writes The Songs. So, Hannah Montana, I thank you, and Stephen Colbert thanks you.

Third time’s the charm? There’s no major action or upsets on the Hot 100 singles chart this week; Justin Timberlake takes a second-week victory lap with “My Love,” and most of the Top Five is static. But Beyoncé Knowles takes a big leap into the Top 10 (24–9) with the third single from her B’Day album, “Irreplaceable” (with its sassy refrain, “To the left, to the left/Everything you own in a box to the left”). In this space two months ago, I predicted that her acerbic second single, “Ring the Alarm” – which debuted high, just outside the Top 10 – would die a quick death due to its radio-unfriendliness. In short, I was proved right: after materializing all the way up at #12, “Ring” crept briefly to #11 before tumbling. Indeed, in general, B’Day has underperformed by Beyoncé standards, as none of its singles has sunk in for very long at radio, and after the album’s sizeable sales debut it hasn’t spent much time in the Top 10. But the acoustic-ish, midtempo “Irreplaceable” should reverse all that, doing for Ms. Knowles what “My Love” is doing for JT: keeping a big-splash album alive well past its on-sale date.

Hicks and other hicks. With fifth-place runner-up Kellie Pickler debuting at #9 on the album chart (and #1 country) with her debut album – just two weeks after the return of 2003 winner Ruben Studdard – the American Idol silly season is clearly in full swing. Before Santa comes down the chimney, Simon Fuller’s TV-and-music juggernaut is going to spawn at least three more albums, including the debuts by 2006 winner Taylor Hicks and first runner-up Katharine McPhee (either Mario Vasquez or Chris Daughtry might also drop in that timeframe). You could almost spend every week between now and New Year’s listening to a new record by a former shop clerk–turned–melisma whore, if you wanted. Just in case this past week made you feel a little too upbeat about the power of voting.

Did somebody say something about “cleaning up”? Aussie/country heartthrob Keith Urban, who’s spending the first week of his new album’s release in rehab, is expected to move more than a third of a million albums before this week is out. It’ll be the biggest sales week ever for Mr. Nicole Kidman no matter what, but capturing the top slot will mean getting past the Now! That’s What I Call Music juggernaut, which is expected to move about the same amount, and not being able to promote the album while he’s kicking the sweet stuff will give Urban a tough time. At the very least, he should comfortably top the new one from Mom-friendly crooner Josh Groban. This chart matchup too boring for you? Well, this will be the last sleepy week before the big guns come out: the Game and Akon next week; and the Beatles, Jay-Z and U2 just before Turkey Day.

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Apologies, again, to those of you who regularly read my chart rundowns, for last week’s no-show – the result of a merciless day-job workload.

That said, we didn’t miss much last week: Diddy debuted at #1, with a solid but lackluster total (I sent a question to Billboard’s chart columnist about Diddy’s feat; they ran it online here). And Justin Timberlake moved back into the album chart’s Top Five with his two-month-old album – foreshadowing his triumph this week on the singles chart:

If he wrote us a symphony In a victory for both Cameron Diaz’s boyfriend and fans of great pop, Justin’s “My Love” – in my opinion, the second-best pop song of 2006 – storms to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. By leaping from #5 to #1 in one swoop, Trousersnake halts the ascent of such radio garbage as Akon’s cheese-fest with Eminem, “Smack That,” and – yes! – Hinder’s execrable “Lips of an Angel” (which falls to #4; please let this song be over). “My Love” gives Justin back-to-back #1 singles after “SexyBack,” which is still in the Top Five this week. While his two hits were interrupted in the top slot by Ludacris’s unobjectionable “Money Maker,” Timberlake nonetheless becomes the first act to score consecutive #1 singles since Usher did it back in ‘04 with a jaw-dropping four-single streak (”Yeah!,” “Burn,” “Confessions Pt. II,” “My Boo”). How’d Trousersnake do it? Heavy radio airplay fueled most of the run, but the final push came from iTunes, where a “single mix” of “My Love” – sold separately from the album mix – is now the Apple store’s top-selling download. Interestingly, the single mix’s key feature is its removal of the “Let Me Talk to You” prelude, which appears on both the album mix and in the “My Love” video; most fans of the song agree the prelude is pretty weak and expendable, so in this case the public’s vote exhibits good taste.

Don’t break her chart, her achy-breaky chart. Rock critics are lousy chart predictors, part MCCXVI: For the second time this year, a left-field pop act famed from a TV show steals the #1 spot on the album chart from a long-favored contender. The new #1 album in America is not My Chemical Romance’s much-hyped (and generally excellent) The Black Parade but, rather, the soundtrack to Hannah Montana, a Disney Channel show starring the daughter of Billy Ray “Achy Breaky” Cyrus. Squeaky-clean Miley Cyrus doesn’t have much in common with the steamy, Diddy-svengali’d girl group Danity Kane; but just as those pussycat dolls stunned jaded insiders back in August by thumping OutKast for #1, Hannah wins in a walk over Gerard Way’s band of restyled emo-warriors, 281,000 copies to 240,000. Like the Killers with their #2 debut earlier this month, MCR can take solace in scoring their best sales week ever; also, last week their awesome single “Welcome to the Black Parade” took the top of the Modern Rock chart, evicting the Killers’ “When You Were Young.” As for Miss Cyrus, her win cements the Disney media empire’s dominance over the 2006 charts: with 10 months of the year over, the triple-platinum High School Musical soundtrack is still in the Top 40 and all but unstoppable as the year’s #1 album.

Bucking the trend. The news out of retailers is actually pretty good this week, as CD sales are up just over 5% compared with the same week a year ago – only the second week this fall to achieve that feat. It’s also heartening to see some acts defying gravity with “good holds,” as they say in Hollywood – i.e., modest weekly sales drops. Having suffered the slings and arrows of fickle hipsters, the Killers are still in the Top 10 in their fourth week, and Justin’s album is still in the Top Five, both with low-double-digit drops. The other Top 10–dweller with legs is octogenarian Tony Bennett, who debuted two weeks ago with his Duets album (there’s another idea he stole from Sinatra) and, after a second-week drop, is actually moving back up this week, with sales at Starbucks likely giving him a boost. Hmm…Hannah Montana, Tony Bennett…kids, elders – these are the year’s big winners. Have I hit that point home enough this year?

Making Bennett look hip. Was I just saying something about elders? Next week, a veteran artist is going to score his second #1 album of 2006. Yep, two chart-toppers in one year, and he’s nearing Social Security age. No, not that guy. No, I wish it were that guy. No, this guy will come and he’ll give without taking, but we’ll send him away.

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The recent blockbuster numbers posted by the likes of Beyoncé and Timberlake have receded, clearing the way for another lackluster disc atop the charts…

Rod and His Package. With an solid, unspectacular 184,000 copies sold, Rod “Check Out My Crotch” Stewart lands at #1 with his latest wheezy collection of standards – this time of the “Rock Classics” variety. Evanescence makes this possible by plummeting 63% from its rollicking #1 debut last week. This is Rod’s fourth career #1 album, joining the unimpeachable 1971 classic Every Picture Tells a Story; the dopey, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”–fueled 1979 smash Blondes Have More Fun; and the third volume of his four-record Great American Songbook series – all four of which, from 2002 to 2005, debuted in Billboard’s top five. Indeed, ever since Clive Davis dreamed up the Rod-sings-the-oldies format a half-decade ago, it’s perenially propped up BMG Records’ fourth-quarter coffers, as each record has appeared like clockwork in mid-October and sold like an Oprah book-club selection. So, with this unofficial fifth volume, Rod benefits from the autumnal habits of aural-wallpaper-demanding soccer moms. But he also takes advantage of 2006, The Year Of The Fart, with its low sales hurdles and the fleeing of young record-buyers in droves. Okay, okay, enough – I’ll leave Rod alone. After all, given his lecherous, Pickler-ogling appearance this year on American Idol and his more accurate portrayal a few years back on South Park, I suppose it’s a wonder the old boy can get it up these days.

Look out! Falling album. Evanescence is but one example this week of steep, 60-percent-plus drops by last week’s big-debuting discs: the Killers stumble by 68%, George Strait by 62% and Monica by a whopping 70% (she plummets out of the Top 25 entirely, down from #8 to #26). As I noted earlier this week on an Idolator post, big CD debuts have become like big movie debuts: if the product falls 50% or less the second week, the company’s thrilled. (In Hollywood, studios call a 40ish-percent drop a “good hold.”) Movies are fighting the tendency of multiplexes to overplay a flick on multiple screens the first weekend and then shunt it to the side to make way for more product. In music, it’s a different problem, as diehard fans must have their favorite act’s new disc in week one, but casual fans never show up in week two – many of them probably taking avantage of the diehards who upload or burn the disc for them. The result: week-two drops of sixty-something percent are the New Normal. As further evidence that only folks with gray hair still buy CDs that are more than seven days old, behold Bob Dylan. As we recall, Modern Times debuted at #1 six weeks ago; it’s down to #29, which sounds sorta meh – until you consider that Dylan’s never lost more than 30ish-percent in any week (this week’s drop: a mere 26%). In short, it’s taken ol’ Bob seven weeks to get to the bottom rungs of the Top 30, while Monica is just three spaces above him in her week two.

It’s All About the Lincolns. Rod’s underwhelming high-100s chart-topper will be succeeded next week by a similarly respectable-but-underwhelming debut: Sean Daddy Puff Doody, or whatever he is, will ring the bell, with a number likely boosted by deep discounting that will price him well below $10, maybe even a few bucks above $5. We’re several weeks into the final, make-or-break quarter of this horrible music year, and the record industry’s gonna have to do better than it’s doing right now if it hopes to erase its year-to-date 5–6% sales slump. Look for My Chemical Romance, hitting stores next Tuesday (just in time for Halloween), to kick things up a notch before this lackluster October is out.


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