John, Paul, George, Ringo, And Cookie: “Idol” Winner Sets (And Sells) Records

Ed. note: Chris “dennisobell” Molanphy, our resident chart guru, looks at the upward, downward, and lack of movement on this week’s Billboard charts:

As I look at this week’s charts, I recall a 1994 interview in which Paul McCartney assured the world that the highly anticipated, ultimately anticlimactic 1995 Beatles single “Free as a Bird” would have a “grungy” guitar sound.

As with so many things, Sir Paul was just ahead of his time–14 years later, one of the Fab Four’s most cherished chart records would be nearly equaled by a dude who can make anything, even “Eleanor Rigby,” sound like grunge.

That record is for most songs on the Billboard Hot 100 by a single act. It was set on April 11, 1964, by the Beatles, who were credited on 14 of that week’s 100 songs. The Fabs still hold this record, for now.

But thanks to a confluence of chart-tabulation quirks, this week a former bartender from Missouri–who until now had never appeared on any Billboard chart–comes close to tying it, placing 11 songs on the Hot 100 all at once. In so doing, David Cook sets a new, blowout record for most debuts, comes within spitting distance of the Fabs’ record, and generally makes the chart grungier than it’s been since Paul gave that interview.

Just how big a deal is the arrival of American Idol‘s Season 7 winner on the charts? It’s unprecedented on a number of levels, but many of the records it sets have to do with the way the charts are tabulated and in the way the Idol producers have chosen to release recordings this season. (The full list of best-selling tracks by Cook, along with those of his fellow Idol competitors, was run down by Maura yesterday.)

The most obvious impact is near the top of the Hot 100, where Cook’s finale song, “The Time of My Life,” debuts at No. 3. He’s behind Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” and Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” both of which have the advantage of months of radio airplay. Cook’s hit is nearly airplay-free (a few stations likely played it on their morning shows, as a news item), and his chart position is entirely the result of his sales haul at iTunes, where “Time/Life” sold more than 236,000 downloads in the four days after the confetti came down.

A No. 3 debut is not that impressive in the annals of Idol finalists charting their schlock-and-rainbows finale songs. All of the Idol winners have debuted at No. 1 or No. 2 with their debut singles (with the exception of Jordin Sparks, who suffered a pitiful No. 15 peak for “This Is My Now” last year thanks to a botched digital release). Also, 236,000 copies puts “Time/Life” in the middle of the pack: slightly ahead of the first week for Taylor Hicks’s “Do I Make You Proud” (228,000 copies, 2006), virtually tied with Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” (236,000, 2002) and a bit behind Ruben Studdard’s “Flying Without Wings” (286,000, 2003).

Where Cook leaves all of his peers in the dust is the number of times his name appears on the chart. His 11 total debuts nearly doubles the all-time Hot 100 record of six debuts, set in November 2006 by Miley Cyrus in the first flush of Hannah Montana fame. Here’s the full list of Cook’s debuts–numbers below are the Hot 100 rank:

3. “Time Of My Life” 15. “Dream Big” 22. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” 28. “The World I Know” 42. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” 47. “Billie Jean” 67. “Always Be My Baby” 73. “Hello” 77. “The Music of the Night” 92. “Eleanor Rigby” 99. “I’m Alive”

Moreover, Cook’s raw sales total is staggering. No other Idol finalist has sold this many copies of anything in a single week: 942,000 downloads, adding up all 17 of his best-sellers. That total would even beat the best album sales weeks by the likes of Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. (Hell, it beats the entire cumulative sales of the Taylor Hicks album.)

Fourteen of Cook’s 17 tracks make Billboard‘s 75-position Hot Digital Songs chart–also a record on that four-year-old chart. (Full disclosure: SoundScan reports sales on up to 200 top downloads per week, so we have data on tracks that didn’t make the chart–hence, 17 songs tabulated.)

Just for perspective, the best sales week for any Idol finalist’s single came in 2003, when Clay Aiken’s debut hit, “This Is the Night,” sold 393,000 physical singles. Then again, Aiken, and every other finalist before 2008, had never had his or her entire Idol body of work released to the public before.

Basically, the chart records set this week are the fruit of a series of Idol firsts. It’s the first year of Fox’s and 19 Entertainment’s promotional partnership with Apple, which made every song performed by the finalists available for sale. (We can only imagine what Fantasia’s cover of “Summertime” would have sold the week after she performed it in 2004.) It’s the first time Idol has made the winner’s victory song available the same week it was performed; in the past there’s been a gap of at least three or four weeks.

And finally, this is the first week all year that Fox and 19 have allowed Apple to report the sales of Idol songs to SoundScan and Billboard. With the competition over, and the producers’ fears of tipping off the viewing public not an issue anymore, songs that have been selling in the tens of thousands for the last three months are suddenly allowed to chart. It’s as if a boiling kettle that was held down is suddenly released and spews everywhere: the 14 Idol-related songs on this week’s Hot 100–11 by Cook and three by runner-up David Archuleta–are a revue of the entire season.

Remember when Cook covered “Eleanor Rigby” during Beatles week or “I’m Alive” during Neil Diamond week? Well, someone did–each sold more than 25,000 downloads last week. (Cook’s “Day Tripper” sold pretty well, too: take that, McCartney!) We’ll never know how well these older recordings sold the first week they were performed on the show, but if this week is any indication, the totals have been staggering all season long. Also: this week’s results, while clearly affected by the final vote, refute anyone (like me) who suspected all season that girlyman Archuleta was the big seller; for all we know, Cook’s been thumping his fellow competitors all along. And finally, we have clear evidence that 2008 will not be a repeat of 2003, when the Idol winner (Studdard) was instantly and permanently outsold by his runner-up (Aiken).

Notwithstanding my Beatles quip at the top of this column, I doubt Cook will approach the Fabs’ record or look anywhere near this mighty next week, when probably half or more of his “hits” will drop off the chart.

Longer-term, what this week does augur is that future Idol winners will have one week a year to set ever-crazier chart records. In its first five seasons, the show produced one chart-topping single each year, most of them No. 1 debuts–a rarity in an age when Billboard policy makes chart-topping debuts exceedingly difficult. But by 2009 or 2010, when an Idol winner debuts with, say, 15 or 20 songs in a single week, all those previous successes will look like child’s play.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:

• In addition to its Hot 100 reign, Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” is sitting pretty on top of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In last week’s Billboard, a R&B/Hip-Hop chart sidebar noted that the gap in chart points between Nos. 1 and 2 on that list is the largest it’s been in a couple of years. That’s bad news for the runner-up single, Plies’ “Bust It Baby” with Ne-Yo, which holds at No. 2 after a big move into the runner-up slot last week. Plies’ song has a bullet this week, while Weezy loses his, but “Lollipop” has such a massive lead that Plies still has a long distance to travel to overtake it.

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs is essentially an airplay chart–digital sales are not a factor, and physical sales are negligible–and “Lollipop” seems to have overtaken black-radio playlists nationwide. Frankly, for a rap hit, “Lollipop” is so mellow and smooth (if lewd) that it’s probably palatable for some of the older-leaning, R&B-centric stations (your KISS-FM’s as opposed to your Hot 97’s) that make up a large chunk of the airplay base. Bottom line, even if “Lollipop” succumbs on the Hot 100 in the next couple of weeks, Weezy should be able to hold the penthouse on this chart well into June.

• Like my man Anthony, I’m almost ashamed to admit how seduced I am by Apple’s latest iPod/iTunes commercial starring EMI saviors Coldplay. (The editing and art direction are just unreal; man, this is why I bought an HDTV.) Apparently the rest of America’s been wooed, too: one week after it debuted on the tube, “Viva la Vida,” the track featured in the ad, does a total 180° on the Hot 100, swerving from No. 15 two weeks ago to No. 41 last week and back up to a new peak of No. 10. On iTunes, sales more than double to almost 140,000 copies, making it the third-best-seller of the week after Cook’s Idol track and Rihanna’s “Take a Bow.”

As tipped here two weeks ago, EMI and Coldplay continue to pursue a dual-track promotional strategy, hyping “Viva” via TV and pop radio and the (ahem) edgier “Violet Hill” to rock radio. The latter moved into the Modern Rock Top 10 last week and holds at No. 10 this week; “Violet”‘s digital sales are about one-fourth those for “Vida.”

• Note to my editor: you’re not gonna like this. Katy Perry’s kinda-evil “I Kissed a Girl” (why, Dr. Luke, why?!) is an emerging smash. In just three weeks on the Hot 100, it’s shot from No. 76 to No. 40 to No. 21. And unlike almost every other emerging hit we’ve discussed in this week’s column, Perry has radio on her side: “Kissed” debuts on Hot 100 airplay at, swear to God, No. 69. Besides being a groan-worthy double-entendre, that ranking means Perry is clearly on an upward trajectory, as she’s got both iTunes (82,000 downloads this week, the 13th biggest seller) and your local Top 40 crapmerchant working for her.

Ah, well–look on the bright side: maybe this means Perry is going to fill this summer’s tween slot, instead of Fergie.

Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):

Hot 100 1. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks) 2. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks) 3. David Cook, “The Time of My Life” (CHART DEBUT, 1 week) 4. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 3, 7 weeks) 5. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 5, 21 weeks) 6. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks) 7. Ray J & Yung Berg, “Sexy Can I” (LW No. 6, 17 weeks) 8. Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake, “4 Minutes” (LW No. 7, 10 weeks) 9. Natasha Bedingfield, “Pocketful of Sunshine” (LW No. 8, 15 weeks) 10. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 41, 3 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. David Cook, “The Time of My Life” (CHART DEBUT, 236,000 downloads) 2. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 3, 163,000 downloads, +16%) 3. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 1, 144,000 downloads, -27%) 4. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 14, 139,000 downloads, +149%) 5. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (LW No. 2, 122,000 downloads, -13%) 6. Natasha Bedingfield, “Pocketful of Sunshine” (LW No. 4, 115,000 downloads, -12%) 7. David Cook, “Dream Big” (CHART DEBUT, 111,000 downloads) 8. Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake, “4 Minutes” (LW No. 5, 98,000 downloads, -13%) 9. David Cook, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (CHART DEBUT, 98,000 downloads) 10. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 7, 82,000 downloads, -5%)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks) 2. Plies feat. Ne-Yo, “Bust It Baby (Part 2)” (LW No. 2, 13 weeks) 3. Keyshia Cole, “Heaven Sent” (LW No. 3, 9 weeks) 4. Chris Brown, “Take You Down” (LW No. 7, 9 weeks) 5. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LW No. 8, 16 weeks) 6. Ashanti, “The Way That I Love You” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks) 7. The-Dream, “I Luv Your Girl” (LW No. 12, 13 weeks) 8. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 4, 12 weeks) 9. Mariah Carey, “Touch My Body” (LW No. 5, 16 weeks) 10. Usher feat. Beyonce and Lil Wayne, “Love in This Club, Part II” (LW No. 10, 5 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Brad Paisley, “I’m Still a Guy” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks) 2. Phil Vassar, “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” (LW No. 2, 30 weeks) 3. James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” (LW No. 3, 32 weeks) 4. Rascal Flatts, “Every Day” (LW No. 4, 14 weeks) 5. Lady Antebellum, “Love Don’t Live Here” (LW No. 5, 34 weeks) 6. Kenny Chesney, “Better as a Memory” (LW No. 8, 10 weeks) 7. Carrie Underwood, “Last Name” (LW No. 7, 11 weeks) 8. Blake Shelton, “Home” (LW No. 11, 18 weeks) 9. Montgomery Gentry, “Back When I Knew It All” (LW No. 10, 14 weeks) 10. George Strait, “I Saw God Today” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Weezer, “Pork & Beans” (LW No. 1, 6 weeks) 2. Seether, “Rise Above This” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks) 3. The Offspring, “Hammerhead” (LW No. 4, 3 weeks) 4. Flobots, “Handlebars” (LW No. 3, 8 weeks) 5. Linkin Park, “Given Up” (LW No. 5, 12 weeks) 6. Foo Fighters, “Let It Die” (LW No. 7, 8 weeks) 7. Nine Inch Nails, “Discipline” (LW No. 6, 5 weeks) 8. The Raconteurs, “Salute Your Solution” (LW No. 8, 9 weeks) 9. Death Cab for Cutie, “I Will Possess Your Heart” (LW No. 9, 10 weeks) 10. Coldplay, “Violet Hill” (LW No. 10, 4 weeks)

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