Chris Willman
December 18, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s official: Recording artists no longer have to release a single to make the ”singles chart.” That, in popular parlance, is Billboard‘s Hot 100, for decades the industry standard for ranking hit songs. The magazine’s Dec. 5 issue was the first to carry a revamped chart in which album cuts compete side by side with the configuration formerly known as the 45.

Labels have been increasingly loath to release commercial singles in recent years, for fear their success ”cannibalizes” lucrative album sales. In the past, Billboard insisted on a retail single release for Hot 100 qualification, rendering massive radio hits like Alanis Morissette’s ”You Oughta Know” and Natalie Imbruglia’s ”Torn” ineligible — until now. Under the new system, big airplay alone is enough to make the chart, though points from a retail release will still usually be necessary to scale the summit. The immediate effect was massive: While only one noncommercial single, the Goo Goo Dolls’ ”Iris,” had enough radio spins to crack the top 10 without sales points, 51 tunes out of Dec. 5’s Hot 100 were album cuts that hadn’t appeared on the chart the week before.

Time to wave buh-bye to retail singles? Not necessarily. Billboard chart columnist Theda Sandiford-Waller believes labels might feel pressure to release more by prideful pop stars whose suddenly Hot 100-eligible album tracks stall at mid-chart. ”I’ve gotten wind of songwriters who’ve already called label heads this week wondering why their record isn’t top 10 when it could be if they had a commercial single,” she says. Others, though, see the configuration continuing to shrink except in the case of R&B and teen acts, which are always singles mainstays.

Country and rock should benefit most under the new system, since those radio formats now report data alongside Top 40; country accounted for 25 songs Dec. 5, versus 5 the previous week. But rappers who do gangbuster singles business but get little crossover airplay may now find themselves looking less Hot.

And Free Gift Rap
The relationship between pop-music stars and fashion trends has always been close, but Timbaland’s semi-adoption of the Timberland brand name is the kind of innovation that could inspire imitators galore. How long will it be before we see CDs from these artists at the record store?

LL COOL BEAN
CEEKAY ONE
PRAS DA
TOME HILLFIGGA’
DA GAPP
ROLL X
2 LIVE J. CREW
PO’ LOW
R. MANNE
WILL PAUL SMITH
D.K.N.WYCLEF

Joe Kimberling and Michele Romero

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