Magazine article Insight on the News

Instant Hits Hang Around

Magazine article Insight on the News

Instant Hits Hang Around

Article excerpt

A new rating system has singles skyrocketing to the top of the charts -- and staying there.

Billboard, the music industry's authoritative trade publication, has been tracking and charting the hits since 1955. Over decades, the magazine has documented the rise and fall of many a trendsetter: from the fifties teen idols to the sixties British invaders to seventies disco through the eighties rappers.

By the dawn of the nineties, a new trend began emerging on the Hot 100 chart and now is in full bloom. Songs are reaching the top of the chart at warp speed and staying there for unheard-of lengths of time -- months, in fact. As a result, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey are toppling decades-old records once held by Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

"One Sweet Day," a duet by Carey and Boyz II Men, set a new record in March by holding its No. 1 spot for the 16th and final week. "Her song [was] No. 1 for 16 weeks because people love her," gushes Shawn McCormack, Carey's spokeswoman. "I mean, this album has sold more than 14 million units worldwide at this point, which is a pretty astonishing sum."

More than mere fan adulation is behind this era of megahits, many music-industry insiders say. They believe it has to do with the way Billboard began compiling chart positions in 1991, when the magazine started using a point-of-sale computer system. Soundscan of Hartsdale, N.Y., tallies sales of each record or compact disc at approximately 86 percent of the country's record stores. These numbers are combined with information from Broadcast Data Systems, a Billboard sister company that monitors some 800 radio stations to track a song's weekly airplay.

"Soundscan is one of the best things that ever happened to the industry in terms of truly showing what's going on with sales," says Steve Gregory, manager of the HMV Record Store in Washington. "Things we see moving out of our store we see on Billboard."

The CDs moving out of the stores are leaving a string of broken records in their wake and setting new milestones. Twenty-six years ago, the Beatles' song "Let It Be" entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 6, making the chart's highest-ever debut. Through the seventies and into the nineties that milestone remained safe.

Then came the spring of 1995. Michael Jackson's "Scream"/"Childhood" debuted at No. 5. But before the scandal-plagued superstar could let out a celebratory scream, his record was tied the very next week with Notorious B.I.G., a rotund rapper whose hit "One More Chance" was his first Top-40 entry.

As the year progressed, songs by Madonna, Janet Jackson and the second coming of the Beatles also debuted in the Top 10. …

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