“Before He Cheats” Bashes Its Way To Chart History

Sep 20th, 2007 // 17 Comments

carrie.pngSince it’s Carrie Underwood Day today, here’s another factoid about the singer, courtesy of our resident chart guru Chris “dennisobell” Molanphy: This week’s Hot 100 is the 55th straight edition of the chart that contains her angry-jiltee track “Before He Cheats.” And as Fred Bronson notes in this week’s edition of Billboard‘s “Chart Beat” column, that puts “Cheats” in the top 10 (actually, it’s a top 12, since “Cheats” is tied with three other tracks) of the longest-charting singles in Billboard Hot 100 history. The list–which will probably make you want to dig your key into the side of a souped-up four-wheel drive near you–is after the jump.

69 weeks: “How Do I Live,” LeAnn Rimes (1997)
65 weeks: “You Were Meant for Me” / “Foolish Games,” Jewel (1997)
62 weeks: “You and Me,” Lifehouse (2005)
60 weeks: “Macarena” (Bayside Boys Mix), Los Del Rio (1996)
58 weeks: “Smooth,” Santana featuring Rob Thomas (1999)
58 weeks: “How to Save a Life,” The Fray (2006)
56 weeks: “I Don’t Want to Wait,” Paula Cole (1998)
56 weeks: “The Way You Love Me,” Faith Hill (2001)
55 weeks; “Missing,” Everything But the Girl (1996)
55 weeks: “Barely Breathing,” Duncan Sheik (1997)
55 weeks: “Amazed,” Lonestar (2000)
55 weeks: “Before He Cheats,” Carrie Underwood (2007)

Wow, right? It’s like a trip through a playlist of the worst hot-AC station ever. Actually, as Chris put it, “Basically the rule is: soccer-mom-friendly ballads w/heavy AC airplay live on and on and on” (though “Missing” gets a pass from both of us).

(Also, only 58 weeks in the Hot 100 for “Smooth”? It seemed like at least 108 to these ears, although that could have been because of the endless days I spent subjected to others’ car-radio tastes during that time.)

Chart Beat [Billboard]

  1. Audif Jackson Winters III

    I cannot believe that the Eric Clapton/Babyface collab “Change The World” isn’t on there. I felt like that track was played each day I worked in various campus offices during the entirety of my late 90s college career.

  2. Jerkwheat

    christ, was “You and Me” really that popular?

  3. tigerpop

    Aw, Duncan’s alright. I kinda liked that song when it was out. It’s always nice to hear prominent use of an E-bow.

  4. extracrispy

    That’s like the playlist in Hell.

    Agree with you about “Missing” though… that’s an amazing song. Never knew it was that popular.

  5. kgibbs

    How is that Celine Dion Titanic song NOT on that awful list?

  6. Rob Murphy

    @Audif Jackson Winters III: In “fairness” to the list, however, this is only the top 12. “Change The World” might be right there at #13 with 54 weeks.

    Two other songs that pop into my head immediately that easily coulda been in this company — “Breathe” [can't believe "The Way You Love Me" beat it out] and “I Hope You Dance”. You couldn’t go anywhere in 2000/2001 without hearing those songs.

    Also, oh yeah — where the hell is “Crazy”???

  7. ascot-revival

    Ah, the turn of the century…that music had real staying power.

  8. Chris Molanphy

    A few notes in response to these very savvy comments:

    • “You and Me” survived the way Volvo Rock ballads often do: never threatening to top the chart, but making so many program directors’ lives easier: rock-leaning Adult Contemporary stations could play it, alterna-schlock radio could play it (esp, stations with heavy female listenership), Top 40s could slot it in midday, etc. It just sat and sat on the chart thanks almost entirely to airplay (although, as a 2005 hit, iTunes sales probably helped). It isn’t even Lifehouse’s biggest hit – “Hanging by a Moment” peaked at #2 and was Billboard‘s number one single of 2001.

    • I dunno how long “Change the World” was on the Hot 100, but you’re right to mention it, because it was monstrous on Adult Contemporary radio. I think Top 40 stations must’ve dropped it a little faster than ACs did, which probably accounts for it not making this list. But on the AC chart, I think it held the longevity record until Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply” broke it; that schlock-fest was on the A/C chart for, no joke, two years.

    • The totally awesome “Missing” achieved its chart feat the same way “Before He Cheats” is right now: it broke super-slowly and peaked really, really late. I believe it reached its peak of #2 more than a year and a half after the EBTG album containing it came out, and after climbing the chart for months. Many of these other songs, by contrast, broke fairly quickly and then just hung around forever because radio wouldn’t let ‘em die.

    • “Crazy” and “Breathe,” both huge #2 hits, had more normal chart patterns. Yes, “Crazy” took a long time to break and peak, but once it did, it tumbled down the chart at a fairly normal rate. Faith Hill’s “Breathe” was the #1 single of 2000 and spent 53 weeks on the chart, just missing this list. But that’s normal compared with “The Way You Love Me,” which was kind of the “Before He Cheats” of its day — an uptempo contry record with pop elements that was a harder sell to Top 40 radio than “Breathe” was and therefore broke slowly.

    • In general, what’s amazing about this list is how few #1 hits are here. To be exact, only “Macarena,” “Smooth” and “Amazed” were chart-toppers, and “I Don’t Want to Wait” and “Barely Breathing” didn’t even make the top 10. Often, the formula for a longevity champ is: break slowly, dawdle on your way up, never really outdraw any of the quick-burn #1 hits in any single week, then embed yourself on radio playlists and stay there forever.

  9. Chris Molanphy

    Oh, one more — sorry:

    • “My Heart Will Go On” started with a notable chart feat - it debuted at #1 on the Hot 100 – and then it died relatively quickly at Top 40 radio. Generally, any song that bursts quickly like that is not going to be a longevity champ.

    Really, as ubiquitous and inescapable as That Damned Song seemed at the time, once Titanic finally fell off at the box office in the spring of ’98 (after setting every Hollywood record in the book), the soundtrack and its accompanying hit disappeared straightaway. Maybe not at AC radio/your local drugstore check-out line, but at Top 40 radio, fuhgedaboutit.

  10. FionaScrapple

    Duncan and EBTG aren’t half-bad…the rest, ugh.

  11. MrStarhead

    So what has happened to the charts since 1996 that all 12 of these are from after that date? The death of single sales?

  12. spinachdip

    @MrStarhead: My uneducated guess: shrinking of the rotation combined with more midday timeslots?

    As dennisobell notes, none of the aforementioned are true chart toppers. I can’t substantiate this in any way, but it feels like radio stations shrunk their playlists considerably in the past decade. And if that’s the case, then that benefits the middling singles, the kind that people may not love but don’t mind either, and not memorable enough that you’d remember if you heard it a couple of times during a workday.

    Plus, more Clear Channel stations have gone to the “x minutes of music and no commercials!!!” gimmick (which always seemed silly, considering they’re competing against themselves for the most part), which means they have to play more songs during the midday slots. And it’s not like DJs have the authority to dig up some undiscovered artist outside the regular rotation.

  13. Chris Molanphy

    @MrStarhead and @spinachdip: Right you are about shrinking rotations. And Billboard chart policy is also a factor here, too — at some point in the mid-’90s, they stopped trying to define what radio stations were specifically pure “Top 40″ stations and started including in the Hot 100 data pool radio airplay from all currents-based formats, including R&B, A/C, country, modern rock, etc. What this means is, it’s certainly easier to score a big hit if large-market Top 40 is playing it, but tons of airplay at country or A/C or whatever can both spur a song’s Hot 100 debut and keep it alive.

    One other thing I should mention — take another look at those songs. What’s missing? I’ll give you a minute…

    Give up? Answer: black people.

    And if it weren’t for the mega-flukes that are “Macarena” and the half-Carlos “Smooth,” people of color would be completely unrepresented on that longevity list.

    There are a number of explanations for this, not least the fact that R&B and hip-hop radio turn over much, much faster than “white” formats do. But in one sense, the absence of R&B/rap crossover records could seem counterintuitive; the addition of all-format airplay to the Hot 100 has actually helped R&B/hip-hop songs tremendously, as such hits get a blast of airplay data from both Top 40 and urban radio simultaneously. (The ’90s and especially the ’00s have seen rock and other honkie formats totally dominated by hip-hop on the charts.)

    But this double-blast of airplay is what explains the quick burn on most “black” hits — it’s an airplay blast that comes all at once. The average A/C radio station is so slow and nervous about adding any hit to the rotation that isn’t a natural fit — their listener base has a low tolerance for novelty — that they basically prop up hits that have long since peaked at Top 40. And the opposite goes for country: the Underwood, Hill and Lonestar tracks all broke at country and rode low on the charts for months until Top 40 belatedly caught on.

    When you have an urban hit, in general, you have it quickly or not at all (which explains in part why 50 Cent’s people have been panicking all year).

  14. Rob Murphy

    @dennisobell: @dennisobell: Thought experiment — what do you think are the chances that either “Umbrella” or “Rehab” could get close to breathing this rare air? IIRC, “Umbrella” also was not fast out of the gate, and, as Pop/R&B hits go, it’s very soccer-mom friendly.

    P.S. Or how about Maura Johnston’s worst nightmare — Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”?

    P.P.S. I LOVED “Hanging By A Moment”. I always thought Lifehouse were trying to ape Nirvana on this track, and with the cello and whisper-to-a-scream structure — not to mention lead-singer-what’s-his-name’s vocal — they came within spitting distance. Where they fell short is in the lyrics — Kurt’s achingly poetic love-song lyrics would never be quite so “mainstream”.

  15. Chris Molanphy

    @DHMBIB: No chance on either one, love them both though I do. Basically, there’d have to be a radio format that belatedly caught on to one of these songs and kept it floating mid-chart for months. On “Rehab,” I suppose that’s possible with A/C, but I think that song’s just a little too raw for their John Mayer-and-Natasha Bedingfield profile. And “Umbrella,” fuhgedaboutit.

    Sadly, Maura’s (and my) much-loathed Fergie song stands a much better chance, if only because its a midtempo ballad…though I have a feeling it’ll burn out before reaching week 50; Fergie is too associated with teenyboppers at this point to connect as an A/C act. That said, you can entirely blame soccer moms and other MOR listeners for belatedly giving that effing Fergie album its highest-ever chart position last week.

  16. Maura Johnston

    “Umbrella” is currently at 23 weeks (No. 17).
    “Rehab” isn’t on the chart anymore.
    “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is at 22 weeks (No. 4).

    Other long-life songs on the chart right now:
    “Rockstar” by Nickelback, despite just getting a video, has been on 32 weeks (No. 8).
    “Buy You A Drank” has been on 30 weeks (No. 35 and sliding).
    “Home” has been on 29 weeks (No. 36), although it seems like much longer (thanks American Idol!)
    “The Sweet Escape” has been on 40 weeks (No. 47).

    I bet you “Rockstar” will hang around for another 23 weeks — for Nickelback, hell, that’s nothing.

  17. Rob Murphy

    @dennisobell: @maura: Okay, I have to admit — I was goofing a little bit there. You’re both right, of course.

    But my own “thought experiment” question got me thinking about a point that is in the subtext of this whole discussion that I would like to make more explicit — how rare it really is to sustain such chart position for so long, and how “difficult” it is to “accomplish”, and is this really something any artist wants to achieve?

    Let’s all step back for a minute and recognize what “Before He Cheats” has “accomplished” — it has hung around in the Hot 100 for over one year. Approaching 13 months now.

    Now, I scare-quoted “difficult” and “accomplish[ed]” and wrote ‘hung around’ for a reason. As DENNISOBELL hints at so incitefully, achieving this kind of longevity on the Hot 100 is mostly accomplished by accident. It’s almost impossible to achieve this feat by design, as the track must be simultaneously too mediocre to be a fast-rising hit, yet too catchy to immediately disappear. None of the big-ego stars in the music biz would ever intentionally aim for that fine line [altho the newcomers dream of doing at least that]. And as DENNISOBELL notes above, few of these “slow burn” hits ever make it to #1. I’m sure every artist in the list above feels some degree of melancholia from belonging to this “prestigious” club [tho they would never admit it, of course].

    To further appreciate how difficult — and perhaps undesired — it is to accomplish this feat now, in the age of the single digital download, consider the album chart. Everyone on this list — and everyone not on this list — would love to have an album hang around in the top 100 [let's level the playing field a bit] of the album chart for a year. Many do, but the feat usually requires 3 or 4 at-least-moderately-successful singles. I’d be curious to know how many of the artists above had other contemporaneous singles providing any competition to these slow-burn hits [and yes, I recognize a few who did]. Are “slow-burn” artists in the iTunes era helped or hurt by this year-long focus on one track? But an artist can still sell albums in the iTunes era with the right accidental “strategy”, as Nickleback and Fergie seem to both be proving that a mixture of a smash and a slow-burn and maybe a moderate hit or two can all combine to move anywhere from 30K to 45K albums a week [on average] over the course of a year. If you can do that, you’ll probably get to around 2 million in album sales [welcome, Fergie!], which in this phase of the biz, may be about the best anyone can hope for.

Leave A Comment