As we approach the end of a summer in which some (including our esteemed editor) claim that there was no one Song of Summer thanks to Michael Jackson looming large in the afterlife, we are a few weeks away from a rare act of chart dominance: Total Hot 100 ownership by a single act for every week of a calendar season.
The Black Eyed Peas have held the top spot on Billboard’s flagship chart for 21 weeks, so long that they’ve already set a new record for consecutive dominance by a single act (beating Usher). Billboard has celebrated that feat with copious coverage.
But for cultural critics who care less about raw chart statistics and more about how said numbers reflect the Zeitgeist, owning an entire summer lock, stock and barrel is a more interesting accomplishment. Depending on whether you define “summer” as going from Memorial Day to Labor Day or from June 21 to Sept. 22, the Peas either have this feat locked up or are just a few weeks away from it.
If they actually make it all the way to mid-September, the Peas will be the first credited artist (not just writer or featured act) to dominate for a full American summer. But several other acts have come pretty close.
The Peas — whether Maura, I, or any of the rest of us want to admit it — are the Act of Summer 2009, even if they didn’t record a single Song of Summer. That’s because their five months of Hot 100 dominance have been spread across two songs: “Boom Boom Pow,” which reigned for 12 weeks, from early April to the beginning of July; and “I Gotta Feeling,” which has commanded for nine weeks so far, starting right around Independence Day.
In any case, one act owning a summer’s charts outright is quite rare. You probably think it’s been done numerous times before: the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” in the summer of 1983, for example; or Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” in 2005. And Usher certainly dominated 2004 with his own multi-song assault. But in all of these and other similar cases, the act in question didn’t actually rule long enough, didn’t cover the season entirely or had their penthouse stay interrupted for a week or two by another hit.
For a single song to dominate a full season, summer or otherwise, it’s got to top the Hot 100 for at least 12 weeks. As I explained here a few months ago, a No. 1 run of that length was literally unprecedented before the advent of Soundscan in 1991. But it’s idle fun to explore the list of acts that have come within a whisker.
First, let’s define our terms. As seasons go, only “summer” has multiple definitions for Americans: the actual calendar, and the workplace/cultural calendar bounded by the two big national holidays mentioned above. Fall, winter, and spring are pretty unequivocally defined. (The only other American “season” unbounded by climate or the Earth’s axis is the holiday season, which lasts roughly from Thanksgiving to Three Kings’ Day despite efforts by the nation’s retailers to extend it.)
Also, when talking about the Billboard charts, one’s sense of timing is askew. There’s a huge gap between when data is collected and the date stamped on the Hot 100. A song you hear on Top 40 radio on a Monday or Tuesday doesn’t get recorded by Soundscan until the middle of the next week; it doesn’t get charted by Billboard online until a couple of days after that; it doesn’t hit newsstands until early the following week; and it receives an “issue date” of the Saturday after that. So for example, any iTunes-buying or radio-listening you’re doing right now is going to get captured on a chart dated Sept. 12, 2009. I only mention this to reinforce that all this song-of-the-season discussion is slippery and mostly for fun. (Note: it’s also good to keep this in mind when you look up the “No. 1 song in America” the week you were born; the Billboard issue date reflects data from when Mom was still carrying you.)
There are several examples of acts dominating seasons other than summer, even before Soundscan. Elvis Presley owned the fall of 1956 with the two-sided hit “Hound Dog”/“Don’t Be Cruel” and the immediate followup “Love Me Tender”; if Guy Mitchell’s pop smash “Singin’ the Blues” hadn’t evicted the King in mid-December, he’d have owned the whole season. In 1977‒78, other than a three-week interruption by Player’s “Baby Come Back,” the Gibb brothers dominated the entire winter with the Bee Gees’ hits “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever,” as well as Andy Gibb’s “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water.” After Soundscan we have such near-dominators as Whitney Houston’s winter ’92‒’93 monster “I Will Always Love You”; Boyz II Men’s fall 1994‒crushing “I’ll Make Love to You” and “On Bended Knee” (just two weeks of Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes the Hotstepper” interrupted them); and the winter of Boyz and Mariah, when “One Sweet Day” sat at No. 1 for 16 weeks, from early December 1995 to mid-March 1996, succumbing one week before spring. As recently as 2003, 50 Cent commanded spring with “In Da Club” and “21 Questions,” save for a three-week interruption by Sean Paul’s “Get Busy.”
But let’s be honest: nobody gives a crap about songs or acts dominating the winter or spring. Summer is summer, when hits become iconic, from “Summer in the City” to “When Doves Cry.” It’s also a time when the year’s most hyped hits are battling each other for supremacy, which might explain why it’s rare to see one song or act dominate. Nobody came close to owning the Hot 100 for a full summer until the late ’90s.
If we allow an act to claim it as both an artist and a writer-producer, then Diddy qualified in the summer of 1997. Then known as Puff Daddy, his trifecta of June-through-September smashes encompassed his own “I’ll Be Missing You,” the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and Mariah Carey’s “Honey.” He didn’t get artist credit on the Carey track or (oddly, given how much he raps on it) the Biggie track; so as impressive as this hat trick was, it doesn’t really count.
The very next summer, Brandy and Monica came closer with their catfighting duet “The Boy Is Mine.” Commanding the chart for 13 weeks, the fluttery Rodney Jerkins production was a near-perfect summer jam, reaching No. 1 the week after Memorial Day 1998 and succumbing to Aerosmith’s deathless “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” right before Labor Day.
Nelly took a route to summer dominance similar to the Peas’, with a monster 2002 twofer. “Hot in Herre” reached the top just one week after summer began, according to chart date (again, given Billboard’s data lag, this is a technicality; the song was already commanding the radio by mid-June). Then in August, his Kelly Rowland duet “Dilemma” took over directly from “Herre” and held sway through all of September.
Summer 2004 was mostly about Usher — but then, all of 2004 was basically about Usher, so it’s hard to limit him to that season. He completely dominated the spring, first from late February through May, with “Yeah!” and then from May through July with “Burn.” He would’ve owned the summer completely too, thanks to third chart-topper “Confessions Part II”; but season-three American Idol winner Fantasia interrupted him for a week at No. 1 with her coronation song “I Believe,” and he was booted from No. 1 by August by Terror Squad’s more booming-car-friendly anthem “Lean Back.”
Finally, we have Carey’s summer 2005‒crushing “We Belong Together,” whose 14 weeks completely spanned June through mid-September. She falls short of total dominance thanks to some pesky technicalities — another mid-summer American Idol winner’s interruption (Carrie Underwood’s still-icky “Inside Your Heaven”), and an end to her reign just two weeks before the start of fall, thanks to Kanye West and “Gold Digger.”
Whether we define summer by the calendar or by national holidays, the Black Eyed Peas are having a good one. They’ve had the top of the Hot 100 locked up since a month before Memorial Day, and by next week they’ll have Labor Day covered, too. (Extra props to them: summer 2009 was longer than usual this year, with an early Memorial Day and a late Labor Day.) If “I Gotta Feeling” holds the No. 1 spot two weeks beyond that, they’ll have the summer as defined by the calendar covered, too.
How likely is that? Pretty likely; all spring and summer a raft of seeming challengers, from Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me” to Drake’s “Best I Ever Had,” have fallen well short of the Peas’ sales and radio totals, and it doesn’t look like any of the latest contenders has the juice, either. Last week, Miley Cyrus’s giddy new smash “Party in the U.S.A.” made a fat debut all the way up at No. 2, and it’s now outselling “I Gotta Feeling” at iTunes. Trouble is, she’s tens of millions short in radio audience to “Gotta” and would need to either make that up or sell tens of thousands more downloads to take the crown.
Who knows? By the time we’re thinking up Halloween costumes, our nation might still be under the unyielding thumb of will.i.am and Fergie.
Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:
• There’s a bit of a logjam right now toward the bottom of the Top 10 and just outside, giving a couple of major fall priority singles a hard time breaking into the winners’ circle. These include the song most obsessively followed by industry insiders these days, Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed,” at No. 11; and Shakira’s comeback hit “She Wolf” at No. 12.
The five songs from Nos. 8 to 12 all hold their positions this week, four of them with bullets. If Keri Hilson’s months-old “Knock You Down” at No. 8, the only unbulleted of the five, steps aside to make some room, the next four tracks could all edge up; but they’re jockeying against each other for position right now. (Also stuck in neutral are Cobra Starship and Leighton Meester’s “Good Girls Go Bad,” at No. 9; and Pitbull’s surprising second Top 10 hit of the year, “Hotel Room Service,” at No. 10.)
Carey’s “Obsessed,” whose chart movements have been followed so closely that even the mainstream media is getting into the act (check out the new Entertainment Weekly), made a modest comeback in August. Since debuting at No. 11 a month and a half ago, the song swooned to the bottom of the Top 20 before rallying back up to its debut position. Trouble is, it can’t get past this 11th-place ceiling. If it never breaks into the Top 10, it’ll be one of three leadoff singles to a Carey album to fall short. Amazingly, none came from Glitter, but all postdated that disastrous project: “Through the Rain,” from 2002’s Charmbracelet (which peaked at a mortifying No. 81); and
“Shake It Off” “It’s Like That,” from 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi (which stopped at a decent No. 16). In retrospect, that last song was an appetizer for the main course that was “We Belong Together”; surely Island Def Jam hopes for a similar one-two punch again this time, even if Carey’s new Foreigner cover is no “We Belong Together.”
• Raise your hand if you thought Katy Perry’s jittery “Hot N’ Cold” would ever be an adult-contemporary hit. Anyone? Now raise ’em if you thought we’d be talking about that ancient song at the end of summer 2009.
If you think we Idolator denizens have been pretty slow to come around on Perry’s post‒“I Kissed a Girl” output, we’ve got nothing on A/C radio programmers. In its 34th week on that slow-ass, stuff-your-mom-listens-to-at-work chart, “HN’C” finally rises into the Top 10. According to Billboard’s own chart columnist, that makes it the second-slowest song to reach the A/C winners’ circle in history (after Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” in 2002). The funny part: the blippy “HN’C” wasn’t supposed to be Perry’s midtempo-radio crossover record — that slot was supposed to be filled by her dreary ballad “Thinking of You.” But that track peaked outside the Top 20 on the Hot 100, and made nary a dent at A/C. It came and went while “HN’C” kept creeping up A/C playlists. So much for Capitol’s well-laid plans…
• When Alice in Chains broke at the start of the ’90s, were they even considered “alternative”? I had to rethink my assumptions about the band when I realized that its post–Layne Staley comeback single “Check My Brain” is only its third Alternative/Modern Rock hit.
Back in 1991, Alice was embraced pretty quickly by traditional rock stations, beginning with the MTV-hyped “Man in the Box” (No. 18 Mainstream Rock, April 1991), but largely ignored by modern rock radio, which was still playing limey goth types and hadn’t had its Nirvana moment yet. Even after the Seattle scene broke wide late that year, AIC was consistently played far more by mainstream stations, scoring eight charting singles at that format from 1991–93 before scoring its first Modern Rock Top 10 in the winter of 1994, the No. 3–peaking “No Excuses” (at Mainstream, that song went all the way to No. 1). By the time Staley passed away in 2002, AIC had scored only nine Modern Rock hits of any kind (including the No. 6 “Heaven Beside You” in 1996) versus a career total of 20 Mainstream Rock hits, eight of which went Top 10.
Seven years later, the band finally has a hit explode on both flavors of rock radio at about the same pace, and it finally scores that third Alternative Top 10. “Check My Brain” leapfrogs 23 spots to No. 10 at Alternative and 26 spaces to No. 9 at Mainstream (notably, last week the song actually debuted a bit higher on the Alt chart than it did at Mainstream). Add another data point to the cynical “rock formats are all becoming the same” meme we’ve had going here for months, but hey, it’s a fine tribute to Staley.
(Billboard issue date September 5, 2009; based on data collected Aug. 17-23)
Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):
1. The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks)
2. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the U.S.A.” (LW No. 2, 2 weeks)
3. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne, “Down” (LW No. 7, 8 weeks)
4. Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me” (LW No. 4, 18 weeks)
5. Jay-Z feat. Rihanna & Kanye West, “Run This Town” (LW No. 3, 4 weeks)
6. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” (LW No. 5, 30 weeks)
7. Drake, “Best I Ever Had” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks)
8. Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West and Ne-Yo, “Knock You Down” (LW No. 8, 22 weeks)
9. Cobra Starship feat. Leighton Meester, “Good Girls Go Bad” (LW No. 9, 13 weeks)
10. Pitbull, “Hotel Room Service” (LW No. 10, 10 weeks)
Hot Digital Songs
1. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the U.S.A.” (LW No. 1, 211,000 downloads)
2. The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling” (LW No. 2, 179,000 downloads)
3. Jay-Z feat. Rihanna & Kanye West, “Run This Town” (LW No. 3, 139,000 downloads)
4. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne, “Down” (LW No. 4, 138,000 downloads)
5. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” (LW No. 5, 109,000 downloads)
6. Cobra Starship feat. Leighton Meester, “Good Girls Go Bad” (LW No. 6, 103,000 downloads)
7. Shakira, “She Wolf/Loba” (LW No. 8, 90,000 downloads)
8. Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me” (LW No. 7, 86,000 downloads)
9. Pitbull, “Hotel Room Service” (LW No. 10, 86,000 downloads)
10. Disney’s Friends for Change, “Send It On” (LW No. 9, 85,000 downloads)
Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
1. Maxwell, “Pretty Wings” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks)
2. Mario feat. Gucci Mane & Sean Garrett, “Break Up” (LW No. 2, 16 weeks)
3. Ginuwine, “Last Chance” (LW No. 5, 26 weeks)
4. Drake feat. Trey Songz, “Successful” (LW No. 3, 11 weeks)
5. Keyshia Cole with Monica, “Trust” (LW No. 7, 18 weeks)
6. Drake, “Best I Ever Had” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks)
7. Beyoncé, “Ego” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks)
8. Fabolous feat. The-Dream, “Throw It in the Bag” (LW No. 8, 15 weeks)
9. Jay-Z feat. Rihanna & Kanye West, “Run This Town” (LW No. 12, 5 weeks)
10. Dorrough, “Ice Cream Paint Job” (LW No. 13, 22 weeks)
Hot Country Songs
1. Jason Aldean, “Big Green Tractor” (LW No. 3, 15 weeks)
2. Rascal Flatts, “Summer Nights” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks)
3. Darius Rucker, “Alright” (LW No. 2, 20 weeks)
4. Randy Houser, “Boots On” (LW No. 6, 27 weeks)
5. George Strait, “Living for the Night” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks)
6. Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me” (LW No. 1, 19 weeks)
7. Justin Moore, “Small Town U.S.A.” (LW No. 8, 29 weeks)
8. Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy” (LW No. 5, 25 weeks)
9. Toby Keith, “American Ride” (LW No. 9, 8 weeks)
10. Blake Shelton, “I’ll Just Hold On” (LW No. 10, 27 weeks)
Hot Alternative Tracks
1. Linkin Park, “New Divide” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks)
2. Silversun Pickups, “Panic Switch” (LW No. 2, 24 weeks)
3. Pearl Jam, “The Fixer” (LW No. 3, 5 weeks)
4. Kings of Leon, “Notion” (LW No. 6, 13 weeks)
5. Muse, “Uprising” (LW No. 9, 3 weeks)
6. Rise Against, “Savior” (LW No. 7, 10 weeks)
7. Green Day, “21 Guns” (LW No. 4, 14 weeks)
8. Cage the Elephant, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” (LW No. 5, 23 weeks)
9. Paramore, “Ignorance” (LW No. 10, 7 weeks)
10. Alice in Chains, “Check My Brain” (LW No. 33, 2 weeks)