Every Other Song to the Left, to the Left: Beyonce Takes 2007’s Hot 100 Title

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Ed. note: Chris “dennisobell” Molanphy, our resident chart guru, looks at the upward, downward, and lack of movement on the Billboard Hot 100 in the latest installment of “100 And Single.” This week, he takes a break from the regular charts, which are sleepy just before the holiday, to focus on the hits of the year:

A couple of weeks ago in this space, we tried to handicap the likely winners on Billboard‘s year-end charts. Well, we’d like to tell you there was a last-minute, super-exciting, left-field surprise, but things went pretty much as expected. Thanks to the strange December-to-November “chart year” Billboard uses to calculate its year-end tallies, two releases that got their start back when 2006’s turkeys were in the oven are the big winners for 2007: Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” and Chris Daughtry’s self-monikered debut album. Maura has already covered the latter, so let’s focus on Billboard‘s No. 1 Hot 100 song of the year.

The Ferg Got Robbed? Sometimes–and it’s rare–the charts confer a kind of justice. Speaking as pop fans rather than chart-watchers, we are happy to see “Irreplaceable” on top, even if it the song is by now ancient history. Beyonce’s Stargate-and-Ne-Yo-powered smash is one of the most respectable Billboard year-end winners of recent years, at least since Next’s “Too Close” (1998). And Beyonce did it by knocking off a song we hate–Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

“Cry” comes in at No. 4 among the top Hot 100 songs for the year (after Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape”), but Billboard placed it atop several other high-profile charts, including Digital Songs and the Pop 100. The latter chart, only launched three years ago, contains the kind of straight-up Top 40 fare that once dominated the Hot 100. And as for the insta-Zeitgeist-meter that is iTunes, “Big Girls” did real well there, too.

So how did Fergie not end up on top of the big chart, after “Big Girls” sold more 99-cent downloads than any other track in ’07? By and large, the Ferg can blame the Billboard chart year. Any act that performs well late in the year is basically screwed. The Nov. 30 cutoff (really more like a Nov. 15-20 cutoff, because sales and airplay are tallied in charts dated almost two weeks after they’re collected) cuts off the data spigot for any song with late-fall momentum–like Fergie’s latest, still charting as I type. Plus, the chart’s Dec. 1 start date gives a huge advantage to any song that peaked just before the previous Christmas (like, say, “Irreplaceable”), when sales are massive. So: timing, timing, timing.

“Big Girls” was the fourth single from Fergie’s The Dutchess and the first to cross over to slower-moving formats like adult contemporary. But it did this largely over the summer and fall. By then, Beyonce had this race all sewn up, thanks to airplay records she set last winter. Like a presidential campaign working toward the Iowa caucuses, Mathew Knowles & co. dropped their girl’s best single at the right time. So you can think of “Irreplaceable” as the Barack Obama or Mike Huckabee of last year’s pop hits–finding momentum when it really counted.

Let’s run down some other victors and vanquished on the year-end song charts.

WINNERS I expected everybody’s (well, almost everybody’s) favorite pure-2007 hit, Rihanna‘s “Umbrella,” to underperform in the final tally, given its fast break up the charts last spring (which usually means a short window to amass chart points). But “Umbrella” garnered so much eh-eh-eh-airplay and sales in its five-month chart run that it lands just a whisker behind Beyonce on the year-end chart. Meme for gossip rags: Will Ri stop at nothing to take what belongs to B?!

As for Fergie, she really has nothing to complain about: she appears twice in the Top 10 (“Glamorous” is at No. 10) and thrice in the Top 20 (“Fergalicious” clocks in at No. 19). That kind of year-end dominance is rare.

The sleeper in the Top 10 is Nelly Furtado‘s “Say It Right,” coming at No. 9 for the year despite its single week at No. 1 last February and a relatively modest chart run. Underrated by critics among the tracks on Furtado’s album when it dropped in the summer of ’06, “Say” will likely go down as the radio-gold hit from that album, long after the cool-but-blippy “Promiscuous” fades away.

The name T-Pain appears seven times on the year-end Hot 100. But what’s most gratifying for him is that his performances as a lead artist–“Buy U A Drank” (a huge No. 5) and “Bartender” (No. 33)–handily outrank his supporting credits for R. Kelly, Plies, Baby Bash, Bow Wow and Chris Brown.

Robin Thicke dominates the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs list with “Lost Without You,” a song that topped that chart for months. I’d need to do some research to figure out when was the last time a white boy topped this chart for the whole year (other honky crossover acts include Hall and Oates, George Michael and Lisa Stansfield, none of whom led the year-end list), but it’s exceedingly rare.

Though he misses the R&B list, Elliot Yamin can take pride in the Hot 100 finish by his “Wait for You”: No. 41 for the year, higher than numerous songs that charted better than him week-to-week. “Wait” never made the Top 10 in any week but hung around the Top 20 forever.

The Modern Rock list is led, unsurprisingly, by Linkin Park, with little-Canuck-disco/rock-band-that-could Finger Eleven right behind them.

Rodney Atkins has two songs in the year’s Country Top Five, “Watching You” at No. 1 and “These Are My People” at No. 4. In general, the year-end Country list is as free of pop crossover as ever — Rascal Flatts settle for No. 5 with “Take Me There.”

Really, really adored by soccer moms, John Mayer walks away with the No. 1 Adult Contemporary track of the year with the not-getting-any-better “Waiting on the World to Change.” The weirdest hits on the A/C list? A Rob Thomas smash (“Streetcorner Symphony,” No. 7) we couldn’t identify at 10 paces, and two, count ’em, two Rod Stewart covers of ’70s hits: “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Ick.

LOSERS It’s hard to really assess Justin Timberlake‘s performance–including featured appearances, his name appears seven times on the year-end Hot 100, and he’s probably the biggest pop act in the known world right now. But none of his many hits reach terribly impressive rankings. In fact, his nearly-forgotten supporting performance with Furtado on Timbaland’s “Give It to Me” (No. 21) outranks his own far better hits (“What Goes Around… Comes Around” at No. 22; “My Love” at No. 26; “Summer Love” at No. 39; “SexyBack”–yes, still!–at No. 63; and “LoveStoned” at No. 96). Call it a draw between placement and sheer volume.

Speaking of Timbaland, we would have guessed that the cool, deathless “The Way I Are” might’ve placed higher than No. 18. But his biggest production credit for the year is “Say It Right.”

And speaking of Timberlake’s and Timbaland’s supporting performances…how many times do you think the name 50 Cent appears on the big list? Once: “Ayo Technology,” saved by the two Tims, squeaks in at No. 87. The story’s not much better on the R&B/Hip-Hop list, where the much better solo Fitty track “I Get Money” takes No. 71. This from the man who topped the Hot 100 and R&B/Hip-Hop lists (and both album charts) for all of 2003.

To be fair, Kanye West didn’t blow anyone away, either — “Stronger” lands at a just-decent No. 27, while “The Good Life” didn’t make the year-end Hot 100 at all.

On the rock side, the so-called Indie Rock Crossover Stars of ’07 really didn’t make the grade. On Modern Rock, Arcade Fire and the Shins don’t appear at all. Just about the best performers one could attribute to indie-crossover (not counting the long-ago-mainstreamed White Stripes at No. 5) are Modest Mouse at No. 21 and Interpol, squeaking in at No. 39 on a 40-position chart. Ironically, they are all beaten by an actual indie-label band that sounds more like mainstream rock: the Silversun Pickups (Dangerbird), coming in at No. 17 with “Lazy Eye.”

Finally, for all her headline-generating, Amy Winehouse has a low profile on these lists–nowhere to be found on R&B or AC, and No. 74 on the Hot 100 with “Rehab.” Maybe she needs the Grammy love after all.

Top Hot 100 Hits of 2007 [Billboard]