Countin’ Down The Drum Stems! Remixable Single Gives Radiohead A Hit

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

For all their popularity the world over, songs by Radiohead haven’t exactly set the charts alight. (Even in their homeland: they’ve never scored a U.K. No. 1.) In part that’s due to their status as a top-tier album act; fans would sooner buy the full-length than an individual track.

But it’s also a function of Radiohead’s erratic approach to singles. Sometimes they pack singles with invaluable B-sides for collectors; sometimes songs are only serviced to radio–and that includes some of the band’s catchiest tunes (“Let Down,” “Bodysnatchers”).

This week, we have evidence that Radiohead should release singles more often–or at least, release them in pieces. They score only the second U.S. Top 40 hit of their career, with one of the least catchy songs on the catchier-than-usual In Rainbows.

“Nude” debuts on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 37, instantly becoming their biggest hit since “Creep” made No. 34 in 1993. Honestly, though, the two hits aren’t remotely comparable in terms of popularity. “Nude” achieves this high chart placement thanks to Radiohead releasing the song as a remix project, and asking rabid fans to pay 99 cents for each piece of the mix. Which they dutifully did.

“Nude” was released to iTunes on April 1 in six parts: the full song, plus separate stem tracks for voice, guitars, bass, drums and “String FX Etc.” Each piece sells separately–something of a departure from the band’s “pay what you want” ethic. If you want to create your own remix of “Nude,” you probably have to spend six bucks to acquire all the pieces. (Although there is some evidence that a few fans skipped one or more parts–can’t wait to hear what a drumless mix sounds like!)

The results, in week one: the original song sold just under 13,000 copies, and each of the four stems sold between about 9,200 and 9,800 copies. (If you’re curious: the vocal stem sold best, then guitars, strings/effects, drums; as in life, bass pulls up the rear.) Total sales for all six pieces combined were just shy of 60,000.

Billboard had to make a policy decision for “Nude.” When the original iTunes sales were tallied by SoundScan, the original song plus each stem were logged and charted separately. But for Hot 100 purposes–in keeping with Billboard‘s tendency to treat it as a “songs” chart, not a “tracks” chart–”Nude” is charting in one cumulative position, which makes it look bigger than it is. If the original song, sans stems, were to chart by itself, it would have made No. 96 on the digital sales chart and likely would have missed the Hot 100 entirely.

As a chart fan, there’s one way to look at this that’s a bit cynical, and one that’s more optimistic. You could look at this as chart pollution–since when is a bass loop a legitimate proxy for a hit single? It’s as if Radiohead is propping up a minor hit by finding a loophole through U.S. chart policy, not unlike the 2004 Prince album that was allowed to include free copies handed out at concerts in its Billboard tally, and charted much higher than it should have.

On the other hand, it’s pretty obvious this chart event wasn’t the intention of Radiohead’s multi-mix release strategy. And it’s undeniable that, as usual, they’re coming up with innovative ways to get fans excited about actually paying something for music.

I’ll just say this: right now, I’ll bet Mariah Carey’s people are meeting to discuss how they can make this multiple-stems remix gimmick work to their chart advantage. Keep an eye out for “Bye Bye,” the drum loop, coming to iTunes this summer.

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

• More seriously, Mariah’s No. 1 for a second week with “Touch My Body,” but you might not guess from glancing at the Top 10 below just how vicious the competition in the Top Five has been. After surrendering the No. 1 spot last week, Leona Lewis isn’t retreating without a fight–”Bleeding Love” is back up two spaces to No. 2, thanks to a comeback in her digital sales (up 9% to 198,000) and a surge in airplay (top 10 most-played for the first time). More to the point, Carey’s digital sales have cratered surprisingly quickly: she’s down 42% from last week’s record-setting download sum (163,000 copies, from 282,000 in the prior frame) and now ranked fourth in digital sales. Only Carey’s massive airplay, second only to Usher’s, helps her retain the No. 1 position overall.

• Here at Idolator, we may have decided that Madonna’s single with the two Tims is gimmicky and barely worthy as background noise. But to the public, it’s a hit: “4 Minutes” achieves the rare feat of maintaining its sales total one week after a massive debut, holding at a stunning 217,000 copies. As a result, “4 Minutes” by Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake is now the top-selling song in the country and bullets at No. 3 on the Hot 100. Its radio airplay, while growing, is still well out of range, but watch out–if Mariah’s sales continue to collapse and Leona can’t claw her way back to No. 1, Madge could slip into the No. 1 slot in another week or two. Unless Weezy gets there first…

• Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” is the final scrapper in the Top Five, up three more notches to No. 4. Billboard rewards it with the week’s “Sales Gainer” prize, thanks to its surge to 173,000 copies. And Weezy has a much smaller radio handicap than Madge, as “Lollipop” swells in airplay to become the 11th most-played song in the country (he’s helped by R&B/Hip-Hop airplay, as evidenced by his leap into the Top 10 on that mostly-airplay chart). Bottom line, the battle for No. 1 is about to get interesting.

• On the sleepy-ass Modern Rock chart, there’s a new No. 1, the strange appeal of which our man Al discussed weeks ago. But the real action is below the Top 10, where two songs from returning bands make big leaps just outside the winners’ circle. The Raconteurs surge 15 places to No. 11 with “Salute Your Solution,” likely thanks to the band’s erratically released album finally getting into most radio programmers’ hands. Right behind them: “I Will Possess Your Heart,” the preview single from Death Cab for Cutie’s forthcoming album Narrow Stairs, which speeds 10 places to No. 12.

• I’m not supposed to discuss album charts here, but we didn’t get to run a “Who Charted?” this week, and I can’t resist: Van Morrison has his first Top 10 album. No, not in the SoundScan era–ever. His highest charter prior to this week’s No. 10 debut by Keep It Simple was the No. 15 peak of 1972′s St. Dominic’s Preview. Boy, you know the sales bar is low when elderly rock gods begin to chart like pop stars…

Top 10s
Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses:

Hot 100
1. Mariah Carey, “Touch My Body” (LW No. 1, 8 weeks)
2. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (LW No. 4, 8 weeks)
3. Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake, “4 Minutes” (LW No. 3, 3 weeks)
4. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 7, 4 weeks)
5. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LW No. 2, 8 weeks)
6. Ray J & Yung Berg, “Sexy Can I” (LW No. 6, 10 weeks)
7. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 5, 14 weeks)
8. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 8, 19 weeks)
9. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (LW No. 9, 23 weeks)
10. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 10, 24 weeks)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
1. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LW No. 1, 9 weeks)
2. Mariah Carey, “Touch My Body” (LW No. 3, 9 weeks)
3. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember” (LW No. 2, 23 weeks)
4. Ray J & Yung Berg, “Sexy Can I” (LW No. 4, 13 weeks)
5. The-Dream, “Falsetto” (LW No. 5, 18 weeks)
6. J. Holiday, “Suffocate” (LW No. 8, 27 weeks)
7. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 15, 4 weeks)
8. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (LW No. 6, 24 weeks)
9. Mario, “Crying Out for Me” (LW No. 7, 33 weeks)
10. Rick Ross feat. T-Pain, “The Boss” (LW No. 11, 13 weeks)

Hot Country Songs
1. Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This” (LW No. 1, 18 weeks)
2. George Strait, “I Saw God Today” (LW No. 2, 9 weeks)
3. Chris Cagle, “What Kinda Gone” (LW No. 3, 38 weeks)
4. James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” (LW No. 5, 25 weeks)
5. Taylor Swift, “Picture to Burn” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks)
6. Jason Aldean, “Laughed Until We Cried” (LW No. 6, 35 weeks)
7. Alan Jackson, “Small Town Southern Man” (LW No. 4, 22 weeks)
8. Phil Vassar, “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” (LW No. 10, 23 weeks)
9. Rascal Flatts, “Every Day” (LW No. 11, 7 weeks)
10. Brad Paisley, “I’m Still a Guy” (LW No. 12, 7 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks
1. Puddle of Mudd, “Psycho” (LW No. 2, 23 weeks)
2. Foo Fighters, “Long Road to Ruin” (LW No. 1, 24 weeks)
3. Seether, “Rise Above This” (LW No. 4, 7 weeks)
4. Atreyu, “Falling Down” (LW No. 3, 11 weeks)
5. The Bravery, “Believe” (LW No. 5, 27 weeks)
6. 3 Doors Down, “It’s Not My Time” (LW No. 7, 7 weeks)
7. Foo Fighters, “The Pretender” (LW No. 8, 36 weeks)
8. Panic at the Disco, “Nine in the Afternoon” (LW No. 10, 10 weeks)
9. Linkin Park, “Shadow of the Day” (LW No. 6, 27 weeks)
10. Ashes Divide, “The Stone” (LW No. 13, 11 weeks)

idolator
  • Rob Murphy

    At the risk of provoking an “all Timbaland songs sound the same LOLZ!” reply, I liked “4 Minutes” a lot better when Nelly Furtado was singing it and it was called “Promiscuous”.

    Also, I liked “Apologize” a lot better when Nelly Furtado was singing it and it was called “Say It Right”.

  • Al Shipley

    @Rob Murphy: Wow, you actually managed to pick 2 pairs of Timbaland/Danja productions that don’t really sound that similiar to each other at all.

  • Rob Murphy

    @Al Shipley: Ouch!

    I didn’t mean, “sound alike in the way every Stargate ‘strummy’ song sounds alike”, and I should’ve been clearer. I was thinking more along the lines of, “Gee, when I hear this song on the car radio, the first thing I hear are those elements that do sound the same.” Example: that “eh…eh…eh” interlude in the New Republic / Nelly songs. There was something I heard in “4 Minutes” this morning that made me say “THAT’S why I thought this sounded familiar — it makes me immediately recall Nelly”. But it’s been a long day, and I’ve already forgotten what it was, so I’m gonna wimp out and not embarrass myself further…on this post.

  • Al Shipley

    Yeah, I guess it’s a more abstract link, I can kinda see what you mean now. Didn’t mean to beat up on you too hard about it!

  • Rob Murphy

    @Al Shipley: No worries at all.

    I guess I’m talking about the thought that crosses my mind seemingly every time I hear a Timbaland song — at least from the last couple of years — “wow, Tim seems to plagiarize himself, or recycle, a lot, eh…eh…eh?”

    Here’s another example — at the risk of embarrassing myself again: JT’s “What Goes Around Comes Around” v. Rihanna’s “Rehab” — which even “featured” JT!

  • Rob Murphy

    Oh, if anyone’s still reading, I also think Tim’s a genius, and there’s not much he’s done in the last few years I didn’t like.

    Apropos of nothing, here’s a clip Tim himself posted to YouTube of him creating the awesome drum beat on “Stronger”:

  • BakerStreetSaxSolo

    So do people think this remixable singles thing might catch on? If you say, on the one hand, that artists & labels are having to be ever more inventive to come up with ideas for new revenue streams, and on the other that music-making technology is cheaper, easier to use and more widely available than ever before (and the results can easily be shared with friends on MySpace)… doesn’t this all add up to a new kind of fan interactivity which artists and labels might actively encourage?

  • Anonymous

    Interestingly, “Nude” was used in the promos for the second season of the popular British television series “Skins” (kind of like a smarter “OC” or “Gossip Girl”, with a soundtrack that features Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend, etc). I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this promo was what got me listening to the new Radiohead album, which previously had just been sitting on my iPod for several weeks.

  • Chris Molanphy

    @BakerStreetSaxSolo: Notwithstanding my Mariah Carey quip above, that’s exactly what I’m saying-I totally expect at least one or two more major acts to follow Radiohead’s lead sometime this year. The problem is, the gimmick is going to seem less fresh now, and few bands have a fanbase that’s both as rabid and as geeky-creative as RH’s.

    But…maybe a hip-hop act next? Kanye? Gnarls Barkley? (They’re not hip-hop, strictly speaking, but Danger Mouse’s mixes would be fun to pull apart.)

  • Anonymous

    Finally, Radiohead gets some recognition state-side!

    By the way, I’m doing a survey on digital music for a class at MIT. I’m giving $5 free credit on Amie Street to anyone who fills it. Check it out at: [www.surveymonkey.com]

  • Anonymous

    I broke this story… thanks for the link, guys.

    [blog.wired.com]

    Don’t expect me to link to your stories in the future.

  • Captain Wrong

    ^ Wow. Pissy much?

    Could it be that two people somewhere in the world came to the same conclusion at the same time and both posted about it on the interpages? Naaah, that’d never happen.

  • Captain Wrong

    @eliotvb: Well, aren’t you special?

    Gee, it is possible, especially for someone who does a weekly analysis of the singles chart, to discover this same information without reading your oh so deep insight? Yeah, I think so.

  • Captain Wrong

    Double post! YEEEEEEEHHHHHAAAAWWWW>