Thursday, September 30, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, 10/9/2010

1. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars is the man this week, spending a second week at #1 with "Just the Way You Are," and getting a boost from Glee for one of his previous hits (more on that in a minute).

6. Like a G6 - Far*East Movement (feat. Cataracs and Dev)
8. Only Girl (in the World) - Rihanna

"Like a G6" climbs four spots to #6 and earns the Airplay Gainer. It is the fastest gaining single at top 40 radio this week, just a bit behind Rihanna's "Only Girl," which falls to #8 this week due to declining sales.

14. Misery - Maroon 5

Although it's cooling at radio, the release of Maroon 5's new album boosts its single "Misery" up 6 to a new peak at #14.

21. Empire State of Mind - Glee Cast
23. Telephone - Glee Cast

Glee returned for its second season last week, and thus returns the Glee Cast to the top 40 with several hits this week. Just missing the top 20 are these two singles, remakes of two of the year's hottest hits from Jay-Z and Alicia Keys and Lady GaGa and Beyonce. Further down are two more singles, adding 4 to their previous tally of 15 to total 19 top 40 hits--13 of which were in this calendar year.

26. Billionaire - Travie McCoy (feat. Bruno Mars)
28. Billionaire - Glee Cast

Ah, so here we get to combine two great Hot 100 stories--Bruno Mars and Glee! Buoyed by its appearance on the show, the original version of Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars' "Billionaire" climbs 7 notches to #26, while the Glee version debuts at #28. I believe this is the first time a Glee remake has charted within the top 40 at the same time as the original. They were close with Lady GaGa's "Bad Romance," which was #30 the week the Glee version missed the top 40 at #54.

36. 2012 (It Ain't the End) - Jay Sean (feat. Nicki Minaj)

Jay Sean scores his third top 40 this week with "2012," the first single from what will be his second US album, Freeze Time. What's up with 2012? Sounded like a terrible movie, and frankly, this song isn't that great. Hot property Nicki Minaj shows up here. This is her 5th top 40 hit as a featured performer, 6th overall. She should have a much better single in the top 40 next week when her collaboration with Will.I.Am should appear.

38. Listen - Glee Cast

Their fourth top 40 hit this week, a remake of the song from the film Dreamgirls.

43. Hey, Soul Sister - Train
46. Need You Now - Lady Antebellum

Just outside the top 40 are a couple of songs that are showing amazing Hot 100 longevity. Those familiar with the Hot 100 rules know that once a single has been on the chart at least 20 weeks and falls below the top 50, it is removed from the chart. But as long as they stay above #50, they can stay on indefinitely. Train marks 1 year this week with "Hey, Soul Sister," while "Need You Now" is up to 59 weeks, which is the 7th longest stay ever on the chart.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Glee "Britney/Brittany"

This week's episode of Glee was frothy fun as the show pays tribute to pop starlet Britney Spears. The episode was light on plot and heavy on musical numbers, particularly dance numbers, many of which were inspired by nitrous-induced hallucinations as characters visited the dentist, Emma's new boyfriend, played by a delectable John Stamos. We learned that Brittany's name is "Brittany S. Pears," and although she, as well as Will, were reluctant to perform Britney, eventually they let loose and unleash "Toxic" during the homecoming assembly, which, in Sue's words, leads to a "Britney Spears sex riot." Britney herself showed up a few times, although only in the fantasy sequences, and she didn't sing.

I'm a Slave 4 U (Brittany) - Brittany kicks off the Britney fest when she goes to the dentist. This gives Heather Morris the first of several chances to show off her dance credentials, as she moves through a smorgasbord of Britney's best looks, including the skin-tight red suit from "Oops!" and the yellow snake from MTV.

Me Against the Music (Brittany and Santana) - Brittany and Santana visit the dentist together for this fantastic remake of the original video, with Brittany in the Britney role (she really does look an awful lot like Britney Spears) and Santana doing Madonna.

...Baby One More Time (Rachel) - In a move to be sexier for Finn, Rachel flies her own Britney flag in this, another video remake. It's also quite fun, although if I had to choose, I think I enjoyed "Me Against the Music" better.

Stronger (Boys) - Staged on the football field in full gear, this was probably the least interesting of tonight's numbers. Britney's music is just not cut out for the dudes.

Toxic (Full Cast) - The kids and Will team up for this homecoming assembly performance, dressed in classy Broadway black and white with suspenders and little black hats. I liked the musical performance of this best, since they messed with the arrangement a bit, turning the guitar riff in a vocal trill.

The Only Exception, Paramore (Rachel) - The only non-Britney number is an excuse for some romantic montages between Rachel and Finn and unrequited romance between Will and Emma. I'm really enjoying the Rachel/Finn romance. I hope it lasts. It's a really sweet storyline.

Monday, September 27, 2010

UK Singles Chart, October 2, 2010

1. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars

Within days of hitting #1 in the US, Bruno Mars does the same in the UK, making "Just the Way You Are" the fifth UK #1 hit this year that was also a #1 hit in the US (following "Fireflies," "OMG," "Nothin' on You," and "California Gurls"). He's also the fifth artist to score a #1 hit this year, after Dizzee Rascal, B.o.B., David Guetta, and Roll Deep, and the 26th #1 hit this year.

7. Focus - Emma's Imagination

Another one from that reality show. Should I be caring about this? I really don't, although I will be interested in who wins The X Factor.

10. I'm in Love (I Wanna Do It) - Alex Gaudino

Italian DJ Alex Gaudino scores his third top 40 and second top 10 after "Destination Calabria" with Crystal Waters, which hit #4 in 2007.

13. Heartbeat - Enrique Iglesias feat. Nicole Scherzinger

Enrique and Nicole (can we call them "Ricky and Nikki?") jump 37 spots to #13 with "Heartbeat." It's due for a physical release next week, so I'm hoping we'll see this in the top 10, as it's a great single. This is Iglesias's 14th top 40 hit and the third for Scherzinger apart from her Pussycat Dolls hits.

17. Pyramid - Charice feat. Iyaz

Season 2 of Glee may not be airing in Britain, but that doesn't stop one of the new faces from this season from scoring a top 20 hit this week. Filipina singer Charice Pempengco, who just goes by "Charice," joined the Glee cast this year as Sunshine Corazon, a new rival for Rachel. "Pyramid" has already been a hit in Asia and a #1 on the US dance chart (although it only hit #56 on the Hot 100).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Album Review: Brandon Flowers - Flamingo (3.5/5)

The Killers already made a Las Vegas-themed album (Sam's Town), but that hasn't stopped its frontman Brandon Flowers from mining the concept again for his solo debut. Flamingo, named after the famed casino built by Busgy Malone (currently the oldest on the Las Vegas strip), even more blatantly seeks to posit Vegas as the capital of the wild west, a place where troubled souls bet not just their pocketbooks but their souls.

Chirping crickets begin "Welcome to Las Vegas," the heavy-handed opening track evokes more Vegas cliches than I thought possible, depicting a den of sin attracting people with grand dreams they can't achieve ("didn't nobody tell you, the house will always win"). The bombastic production lays on the guitar, piano and synths quite thickly, with a hint of western influence. It's fine, although overblown. I much prefer the warm second track, "Only the Young," one of my favorite songs on the album, drenched with atmospheric synths and a mild but propelling beat. Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis lends a guest vocal on "Hard Enough," whose rough-around-the-edges production contrasts nicely with the smoother previous track.

Vegas references flow freely on "Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts," which sounds quite like anything the Killers would do, a fiery guitar-driven rock song with a strong pop hook. "why don't you roll your dice, show your cards..." etc." Flamingo was co-produced by Stuart Price, who helmed the Killers last album, Day & Age, by Daniel Lanois, frequent U2 collaborator. The combination of Stuart's smooth electronic production and Lanois' landscape-evoking western sounds come together nicely on the moody "Playing with Fire," the most country-sounding song on the album.

The album drags a bit in the middle with "Was It Something I Said," which turns to the early '80s for its upbeat pop sound and "Magdalena," a cookie-cutter guitar anthem. The rolling melody of hit single "Crossfire" is a welcome diversion before "On the Floor" and "Swallow It" close the album on a weak note. All subtlety is lost on the former, which brings in a gospel choir to hit us over the head in letting us know the song is about redemption. The latter strives to be a bit quirky, but just doesn't interest me. I do like a few of the bonus tracks. "Jacksonville" has a really cooling bass keyboard growl effect, and "I Came Here to Get Over You" has a great guitar and bass-driven melody.

I enjoy this album, although I find it a bit disappointing that Flowers didn't attempt something different from what he's been doing the last 6 years with his band. The Killers does this kind of stuff just fine, so it feels like a missed opportunity that Flowers aims for such a similar sound and didn't experiment more. As much as I like Stuart Price, that he produced the band's last album further reinforces this, as does the presence of Lanois, since The Killers, like Coldplay, often chase a U2-like grandeur in their music. Still, it's packed with a few great pop songs that should make good singles in the months to come.

Best: Only the Young, Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts, Playing with Fire, Crossfire

Saturday, September 25, 2010

1990 Album Review: George Michael - Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (5/5)

Faith was a massive commercial success, particularly in the US, where it went 10 times platinum and scored six top 5 hits, including four #1s. Apparently daunted by its success, George Michael took a new path for the album's follow-up, Listen Without Prejudice, penning a collection of more serious songs with a more acoustic sound. Some people didn't like it--it wasn't nearly the hit that Faith was--but others, like myself, found it enthralling. "Praying for Time," a US #1, pushes for social consciousness amid layers of keyboard chords and acoustic guitars. "Freedom," also a top 10 hit, as well as "Waiting for That Day," sample James Brown's "Funky Drummer" beat to great effect. "Freedom," in particular, is as potent, funky and upbeat as anything from Faith. Although at the time it was viewed as a personal statement of George Michael wanting freedom from his iconic image--a story portrayed in the song's video by burning his iconic leather jacket--it later took on new meaning once Michael came out of the closet. "Waiting for That Day" is as tinged with hope as it is with retro sensibility, making it another fantastic track.

There's some great ballads here too. "They Won't Go Where I Go" can be a bit gloomy, but reaches a poignant emotional peak at its bridge. "Cowboys and Angels" is a particular highlight, employing the style of romantic jazz that Michael has used to such great effect both earlier ("Kissing a Fool") and later ("You Have Been Loved"). Sparsely instrumented "Mother's Pride," a tribute to fathers and sons lost to war, became an anthem for families with relatives serving in the Gulf War. Although it's just a reprise, "Waiting" is as emotionally involved as any of the songs that precede it. The album was a stunning work for its new direction, personal yet enigmatic sentiments and overall quality.

Best: Freedom, Cowboys and Angels, Praying for Time, Waiting for That Day, Mother's Pride

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, 10/2/2010

1. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars climbs three spots to #1, scoring his second #1 hit and first solo #1 with "Just the Way You Are." He's the fourth artist to score a second #1 this year, after Eminem, Rihanna, and Katy Perry.

3. Only Girl (in the World) - Rihanna

I was expecting to see this girl at #1, but #3 ain't bad, as Rihanna debuts with her new single "Only Girl (in the World)," the first single from her upcoming fifth album Loud. The single was #1 all week at iTunes, and it tops the sales chart this week, but I guess its airplay isn't enough yet to put her at the top, despite it's making some pretty impressive gains (it's currently #17 at top 40 radio). This is Rihanna's 16th top 10 hit, her 11th to reach the top 3. She's also got back to back top 10 hits this week, as her previous single, the former #1 "Love the Way You Lie" with Eminem, holds at #2.

4. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry

Last week's #1 takes a surprisingly big dive to #4 this week. While big drops are fairly common the UK singles chart, they're are pretty rare in the US. Sometimes it happens if a single shoots to #1 based on strong first week sales, but it's rare if it's airplay is strong, such as a single like this. Her downfall seems to be sales, where her single falls from #2 to #4 this week. Actually, it's worth noting that last week, "Teenage Dream" was neither #1 on the airplay chart (it was "Love the Way You Lie") or the sales chart (it was "Just the Way You Are").

5. DJ Got Us Falling in Love - Usher (feat. Pitbull)

Usher and Pitbull climb another notch to #5, giving Usher his 15th top 5 hit and Pitbull his third. Pitbull actually replaces himself at #5, as his "I Like It" with Enrique Iglesias, falls from #5 to #7.

10. Like a G6 - Far East Movement (feat. Cataracs and Dev)

Far East Movement scores their first top 10 hit as "Like a G6" climbs 6 spots to #10. I recently made fun of this song, but after John's defense, I bought it, and will admit it is rather fun (although it really is quite silly).

21. Dog Days Are Over - Florence + the Machine

Some say MTV no longer carries pull in the music industry. Don't tell Florence + the Machine, who, after having performed at the Video Music Awards, have built quite a bit of buzz and see their single "Dog Days Are Over" zoom up 72 notches on the Hot 100, landing at #21. This is actually two spots higher than the single peaked in the UK earlier this year.

27. The Catalyst - Linkin Park

Buoyed by the release of the band's great fourth album, which is #1 this week on the Billboard 200, Linkin Park's current single "The Catalyst" jumps 47 spots to #27, becoming their 9th top 40 hit.

37. Radioactive - Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon debut at #37 with their new single "Radioactive," from their forthcoming new album. It's the band's second top 40 hit after "Use Somebody," which hit #4 last year and won the Record of the Year Grammy Award earlier this year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Glee Returns

(Spoiler alert--if you haven't seen the season 2 premiere of Glee and don't want to know what happens, then look no further).

Season 2 of Glee kicked off in grand style last night with "Audition." With Matt Rutherford having departed the club (did Dijon Talton ever get a line?), the group searches for a replacement, finding two rather worthy possibilities: Rachel (Lea Michele) discovers Philippino foreign exchange student Sunshine Corazon (Charice Pempengco) singing in the bathroom and instantly can sense she has talent, as well as competition, and Finn discovers new football player Sam Evans's (Chord Overstreet) singing talent when he catches Sam singing in the locker room shower (what a wonderful way to discover new talent!).

Meanwhile, Will (Matthew Morrison) and Sue (Emmy-winner Jane Lynch) form a reluctant alliance against a common foe, the new football coach Shannon Bieste (Dot Jones), pronounced "beast," who draws the ire of both Will and Sue for hogging the school's extra-curricular budget.

I really liked all the new characters. Both of the new kids can really sing, particularly Pempengo, whose better known as international pop star "Charice." She's even already had two Hot 100 hit singles. The guy is really cute too--will he be the rumored love interest for Kurt? Perhaps. The coach seems like a really great new character too. She's got a gruff exterior, but she's really quite sensitive. With Talton gone, Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) appears to be moving closer to second-tier character status. He had a lot more screen time this week than he's ever had before, showing his now much-buzzed about abs in one scene. And he's dating Artie's severe disappointment.

The Music

All five musical numbers from last week are in the iTunes top 10, including the top 3 spots, having dislodged Rihanna's "Only Girl." Here's my take:

1. Empire State of Mind (full cast). This was supposed to be the big season kick-off number. I guess my expectations were too high, as I was actually a bit disappointed by the performance. The song sounds great, although are the guys really that cut out for rap? It was nice to stage the song outdoors, but I found the choreography lacking and though the song deserved more creative filming. I thought their New York t-shirts were cool though.

2. Telephone, Lady GaGa & Beyonce (Rachel and Sunshine). This was my favorite number of the night. Although the choreography was a little odd at times, they both sounded awesome.

3. Billionaire, Travie McCoy feat. Bruno Mars (Sam and the guys). Sam was really, really great in his first Glee performance. It made me like this song actually.

4. Listen, from "Dreamgirls," film version (Sunshine). This was Sunshine's big moment, and it really showed off her singing ability. I don't care for this song that much, but she was fantastic.

5. What I Did for Love, from "A Chorus Line" (Rachel). Lea Michele sounded great as usual, although, not being familiar with this song, I thought it didn't have as much emotional resonance as was maybe intended.

Best: Telephone, followed closely by Billionaire and Empire State of Mind.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

UK Singles Chart, September 25, 2010

Better late than never, as I really wanted to write up this week, but my Hot 100 design history post took awhile to finish.

1. Start without You - Alexandra Burke (feat. Laza Morgan)

Alexandra Burke spends a second week at #1, ending a streak of 1-week #1 hits that goes back to mid July. Starting with JLS's "The Club is Alive" from July 16 and ending with Olly Murs' "Please Don't Go" from 2 weeks ago, nine consecutive singles spent only 1 week at #1. That's the longest streak since early 2005, when 11 singles in a row spent a solitary week at the top. All but JLS's single are still in the top 40.

4. For the First Time - The Script

Irish pop band The Script climbs a notch to #4 after debuting last week at #5.

6. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem (feat. Rihanna)

While all those singles were vying to spend a solitary week at #1, this single never got a chance, despite spending four weeks at #2. Nevertheless, this week, "Love the Way You Lie" became the year's biggest-selling single so far, surpassing Owl City's "Fireflies."

7. DJ Got Us Falling in Love - Usher (feat. Pitbull)

Usher proves this week that just because a single debuts at #20, spends 4 weeks there, and then begins to fall, doesn't mean that it can't eventually become a top 10 hit. "DJ Got Us Falling in Love" climbs 7 notches this week to #7, becoming Usher's 14th top 10 hit.

10. Impossible - Shontelle

Shontelle scores her second top 10 hit with "Impossible," her recent US hit.

28. (It's Not War) Just the End of Love - Manic Street Preachers

Remember when Manic Street Preachers were good for a top 2 hit? That day has passed, as "(It's Not War) Just the End of Love" debuts at #28 to become the lowest charting first single from an MSP album since their first album 19 years ago...back when they weren't famous yet.

30. Misery - Maroon 5

That day has come a lot quicker for Maroon 5, who see "Misery," the first single from their third album, debut at a measly #30. Their second album's first single, "Makes Me Wonder," hit #2. Ouch.

Monday, September 20, 2010

History of Billboard Hot 100 Design

In looking at my personal chart, I decided over the weekend that its design needs an update--something with a little more Billboard-esque authenticity. Thinking about what has worked best about previous Hot 100 designs led me down an interesting path examining the history of the visual design of the Hot 100.

The Hot 100 has long been the premiere Billboard chart, ranking America's biggest hit songs each week based on airplay and sales. Although it has many fans, including myself, Billboard has long insisted that the purpose of the Hot 100 is to serve the industry. To that end, the design of the Hot 100, as well as the policies behind it (which I don't examine here), strives for an easy read of the nation's pulse of musical taste. Here's a trip down the design of Hot 100 history.

Current Design (April 2005 to present)

Hot 100, December 12, 2009, Google Books

The current design was adopted for the April 30, 2005, issue, as part of a major initiative to revamp the entire magazine. The biggest change to the Hot 100 over the previous version is the color overhaul, abandoning the longstanding red and black design in use since the late '80s in favor of a more colorful maroon and yellow palette. These new colors distinguished the Hot 100—a multi-genre chart—from the pop charts, which remain red. Other charts and genres have their own colors too: teal for the Billboard 200, gray for heatseekers, green for country, purple for R&B, olive green for Christian/gospel, gold for dance, dark red for Latin and blue for international.

The data columns headers went back to two decks, with “Weeks On” changing to “Weeks on Cht,” a different abbreviation from what was used before. The previously abbreviated “2 Wks. Ago” is now spelled out as “2 Weeks Ago.” All the chart data columns are now highlighted, not just the “This Week” and “Wks on Cht” columns, and the rows of data cells are highlighted in alternating shades of maroon, with a slightly darker color for the odd numbered entries, a purely decorative element. The bullet symbol is now a circle instead of the oval, which had been used since sometime in 1983 or 1984.

Featured entries (i.e. #1, Greatest Gainer, Hot Shot Debut) are highlighted in yellow, with bit of shadow to make them appear raised. The featured banners now appear to the left of the track names instead of above them. “Number One” is now more simply “#1,” with the number of weeks at #1 appearing just below as “X wks,” and “Greatest Gainer/Sales” was renamed “Greatest Gainer/Digital,” which I suppose is more accurate, although redundant. The “Hot Shot Debut” tag now appears where the “New” tag had been. “New” tags are highlighted in dark maroon, like the bullet circles.

A column for gold and platinum certifications (abbreviated “Cert.”) was added to the left of the artist column, perhaps in recognition of the rebounding sales market thanks to digital singles. Finally, sidebars were added to highlight additional information about certain entries.

My take: The bullet design is improved and the numbers columns all line up now, which they didn’t in the previous design. However, I find the alternating row shading, which was a big criticism of the first 2001 redesign, to be distracting and purposeless. Although the colors do look nice, I miss the traditional red.

Modern Update (November 2001 to April 2005)

Hot 100, November 24, 2001, Google Books

After a long period of virtual stagnation, the Hot 100 was overhauled in 2001—twice actually. The initial design, discussed below, didn’t last very long. Part of these changes were related to the charts in general. Up until now, most of Billboard’s charts were in black in white, with the exception of the Hot 100, which had red spot color, and the Billboard 200 albums chart, which had green. Beginning in 2001, all the chart formats were given color schemes, although they changed again for the 2005 redesign. In 2001, the existing colors for the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 were retained, while R&B became purple; country was orange; dance was gold; rock, adult, and top 40 were teal; and assorted other charts became blue.

The design elements of the chart were virtually unchanged. The data columns are one-deck, with “Wks. on Chart” now put as “Weeks On" and highlighted in right red. The “This Week” column is now highlighted in red. Although previously, groups of ten had been offset with thicker borders, these borders were eliminated. The bulleted ovals became white and filled in against the red background.

The featured entry banners all got little icons: crowns for Number One, headphones for Airplay Gainer, dollar signs for Sales Gainer, and guitars for Hot Shot Debut. The number one banner is written out “Number 1,” as opposed to the former “No. 1.” The weeks at number one appears to the right of the Number 1 banner, written as “X weeks at Number 1.”

My take: This design was a great improvement over the difficult to read initial design of 2001. However, the bulleted tracks don’t stand out as much, and I miss the 10-block borders, which helped to quickly identify subsets, like the top 40 or top 10.

Colorful Misstep (July 2001 to November 2001)

Hot 100, July 28, 2001, Google Books

The July 28, 2001, issue of Billboard was the first to introduce the new color scheme, as a part of a general overhaul of the magazine’s format in an effort to make it more reader-friendly. Some of the changes implemented didn’t last very long, however. For its first 2001 overhaul, the Hot 100 looked a little pale, with the vibrant red replaced by a paler red, almost like hot pink. Alternating rows were highlighted in light red (odds) or left white (evens). The banners were black with white lettering. The bullet ovals were filled in black with white lettering, replacing the red oval outlines.

Despite Billboard’s excitement for these changes, readers apparently weren’t impressed, and in the October 27 issue, Billboard announced further design revisions, which took effect November 21. The new chart color schemes were retained but design elements were tweaked, reverting back a bit to the pre-2001 design. For example, the featured entry banners went back to being just red text above the entries, instead of white text on black. And the black bullet ovals became white with red lettering. And thankfully the alternating row color scheme was dropped.

My take: I applaud the attempt to give the Hot 100 a fresh look, but ultimately this just didn't work. The chart was difficult to read due to the alternating highlighting, which was distracting and arbitrarily makes some songs stand out more than others. Black featured entry banners weren’t very attractive, and the pale color overall made the chart look washed out.

Longstanding Classic (1984 to 2001)

Hot 100, October 12, 1991, Google Books

This was the design of the Hot 100 when I first started paying attention to it, a fairly straightforward black lettering on white background with thin grid lines to separate all rows and columns and thicker lines between blocks of 10, making it easy to quickly spot the top 10, or see which singles are bubbling just under the top 40. It was introduced on October 20, 1984, along with a major overhaul of the magazine in general, including an actual redesign of the “Billboard” title logo.

Change in Billboard Logo, 1984, Google Books

The first awards banners for the singles with the greatest increases in sales and airplay were introduced November 30, 1985, at first called “Hot Mover,” then “Power Pick” and later “Greatest Gainer.” The banner for the #1 single first appeared sometime in 1986. Also starting with the November 30, 1985, issue, the column headers, which had appeared at about a 30-degree angle, were made vertical and double deck.

Starting sometime in the late ‘80s, bright fire engine red was used as spot color for the title (red highlights had been used in the past, although the Hot 100 was black and white for much of the '80s), the “this week” position of bulleted tracks, which is slightly larger than those not bulleted and circled with a red oval, the “new” tag for new entries, which spans across the “last week” and “2 wks ago” columns, but not “wks. on chart,” and for all featured entry banners and song titles.

Because this basic format lasted for so long, a few other minor tweaks were made at times. At some point in 1986 the “new” entry label switched from stretching across all three data columns to just “last week” and “2 wks ago.” Beginning with the July 1, 1995, chart, the Hot 100 included a “peak position” column to the right of the artist column. During the week of December 5, 1998, the chart was remained from “Hot 100 Singles” to “The Billboard Hot 100,” a change that reflected the chart’s major policy change implemented the same week, allowing airplay-only tracks to chart. Additionally, the three featured entry banner stars were replaced with long pointed triangles.

Hot 100, October 20, 1984, Google Books

My take: With the design change to correct the angle column headers and the re-introduction of red spot color, this became a classic, clean look for the Hot 100. It is perhaps the most serious looking design for the chart.

Historic Looks (Prior to 1984)

Hot 100, March 26, 1983, Google Books

Before the major revision in 1984, the Hot 100 didn’t change much for quite a long time, except for the title font. It’s harder to find examples, but I’ve seen charts from 1983 and 1962 and they are pretty similar. Back then, stars were used instead of circles to indicate bulleted singles. There was an interesting feature in the early ‘80s, which was two tiers of bullets: a black star for bulleted singles, and white “superstars” for those bulleted singles with the biggest increases in sales and/or airplay. Sometime after March 1983 but before the big switch in 1984, the stars system was replaced with the ovals and the two-tiered bullet system was eliminated. Here's a fun one from the early '70s, with a vertical title and borders only between the three columns:

Hot 100, June 12, 1971,

In the ‘60s, there was a “3 weeks ago” column, and the “wks. on chart” column appeared to the right of the title and artist. The name of the artist appeared much smaller and in title caps, while the name of the single was in all caps.

Hot 100, October 12, 1963,

My take: While the stars are fun, I prefer the ovals, although I am intrigued by the idea of having a two-tier system to indicate which singles are rising up the chart the fastest. The chart looks best with both vertical and horizontal borders. It's interesting to see it in three columns, but I think I prefer the two.

Check out the new look of my personal chart this Friday, inspired by one of the above Hot 100 designs.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Album Review: Interpol (2.5/5)

Late last year I discovered Interpol's 2002 debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, which I grew to really love and actually included in my 20 favorite albums of the 2000s. I praised the album for its sonic beauty and dual-guitar melodies. I've read that their subsequent albums were not as good, particularly their third, although I haven't listened to them enough to form my own opinion.

I can, however, say that their fourth album, Interpol, is a disappointment. Whereas that great first album was melodically interesting and moody, here the mood dial seems stuck on "bleak," as the songs offer up a muddled, depressing sound void of much variation or sharp melody. Case in point are the opening tracks, "Success" and "Memory Serves," whose murky and generally depressing sound open the album on a weak note.

There are a few highlights early on though. "Summer Well" is a little cleaner and a little brighter, making it one of the few standout tracks. Sadly, the mood doesn't last, as "Light" plunges the album back into bitter austerity. "Barricade," one of the album's more upbeat and more interesting tracks, features a prominent bass line, as well as sharper guitar playing, reminding me what I liked about their earlier work. Too bad the bassist left shortly after completing this album.

With regard to their use of piano, the band seems to have created a few simple note sequences which are repeated endlessly under other layers of repetitive instrumentation. "Safe Without," for example, consists of layers of repetitive elements (guitar, strings, drums) that change little throughout the song. The monotony may strike the appropriate mood, but it doesn't make for very enjoyable music. "Always Malaise" lays the depression on quite thick, from the title to the painfully drawn out vocal and repetitive classical piano refrain.

"Try It On" is pretty similar to those songs. I'd probably like this song better though if the piano refrain wasn't just repeated over and over. At least it has a decent beat, but then there's no drumbeat on heavy-sounding "All of the Ways," which layers shimmering, distorted guitar under synth effects and minimal beats, plus an occasional piano trill. By the time the album closes with snoozer "The Undoing," Interpol has, in fact, undone a lot of my admiration generated by their early work.

A shame this isn't better. For this album, the band returned to their original indie label, Matador, after having made their third album under the big-name Capitol Records (Parlophone in the UK), in hopes the switch would help spark the old magic of their early work. Apparently it wasn't just the label that was the problem though. It's not a complete disaster, but it should have been a lot better.

Best: Barricade, Summer Well

Album Review: Hurts - Happiness (4/5)

If you say "synth pop" what comes to mind is either a lot of the recent '80s-loving indie acts or actual '80s synth pop groups (like Pet Shop Boys or Erasure). So it's nice to hear from a group that charts a new course in electronic pop.

Hurts' debut, Happiness, excels at delivery dreamy, moody pop with richly layered melodies of strings, drums, percussion, and of course, synthesizers. The Mancunian duo, Adam Anderson and Theo Hutchcraft, were placed fourth in the BBC Sounds of 2010 list, but they might just be the most interesting act to get a boost from that poll this year.

"Silver Lining" opens the album with a punch, underscored with dramatic bass drums and even a vaguely Italian sound at the end. The duo's music has been described as having "Italian disco" influence. I'm not quite sure what that is, although, at times, I am reminded of the slower stuff from Robert Miles, the Italian purveyor of dreamy dance pop in the mid '90s. "Wonderful Life," their current single, is similar, with a downbeat melody that contrasts with the upbeat lyrics.

"Blood, Tears and Gold" is slower, taking pauses at times between gentle string and piano melodies. Things pick up again with "Sunday," a bracing dance pop tune with a particularly fiery chorus. Future single maybe? The blustery lovelorn ballad "Stay" has already been chosen as the next single. "Illuminated" is even more fraught with aural longing. Clearly they've studied Coldplay a bit.

"Evelyn" is a highlight of the later tracks. It opens with a sparse arrangement and synth bass lines that really pulse in its crystal-clean production. Of course its song grows with leaps and bounds as the song progresses to its epic climax. Up-tempo "Better than Love" bristles with rapid-fire synth lines. Although most of their music isn't particularly '80s-sounding, this one does recall old-school Depeche Mode or Erasure.

Australian pop goddess Kylie Minogue shows up as a guest on "Devotion," but frankly doesn't add much. By this point in the album, it's becoming a bit same-y sounding. They've got a great sound, but they could use a little more variety. Same goes for "Happiness," which climbs the same sonic mountains of the songs that have come before. "The Water" ends the album on a little more genteel, piano-based note with an assist from some quite lovely strings.

For rock fans, this album will be D.O.A., but for fans of synth pop, it's nice to hear something new that's delivered without all the ironic grandstanding or an overwhelming desire to re-hash 1983-1985.

Best: Sunday, Wonderful Life, Stay, Evelyn, Silver Lining, Better than Love

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, 9/25/2010

1. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry

Katy Perry spends a second week at #1 with "Teenage Dream," her 8th week at #1 this year. That puts her in a tie with Eminem for the 3rd most weeks at #1 this year after the 10 weeks for Ke$ha and the 12 weeks for Rihanna. I have a feeling she may extend her lead to 13 weeks next week, with her new single "Only Girl (in the World)" firmly planted at #1 on iTunes and quickly zooming up the airplay chart.

3. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars

Challenging Rihanna for #1 next week is Bruno Mars, who climbs a notch to #3 and is this week's airplay gainer. This feels like a #1 hit, but it will have to make its move soon.

9. Club Can't Handle Me - Flo Rida feat. David Guetta

Flo Rida scores his fifth top 10 hit this week, as "Club Can't Handle Me" climbs 4 notches to #9. It's the first single from his third album, The Only One. The first singles from his other albums, "Low" and "Right Round" were both #1 hits, and "Club Can't Handle Me" has already been #1 in the UK. This is the second top 10 hit for David Guetta, who hit #5 earlier this year with "Sexy Bitch."

Hmm...Not a particularly eventful week. There's nothing else I feel the need to highlight. Next week however should be quite interesting with Rihanna angling for her 8th #1 hit, and Florence and the Machine, hot off their MTV VMA appearance, converting from indie to mainstream with "Dog Days Are Over."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Listening to...

Here's a run down of some of my favorite current hits. Links lead to YouTube videos.

Shame - Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow. What a great idea--get two guys together who used to be in a boyband together but then had a publicity-drenched falling out as one and then the other left to pursue solo interests. It's a great song autobiographic song that covers that territory and then buries the hatchet. The Brokeback Mountain-themed video is the icing on the cake. Easy, easy, easy #1 hit when it's released in Britain in a few weeks (it's already out in the US).

Only Girl (in the World) - Rihanna. So no more singles from Rated R apparently, as Rihanna already has its follow-up, Loud!, ready to go for this November (I was really hoping "Fire Bomb" would be a single, oh well). "Only Girl" is quite awesome though; a real dance pop stomper of a hit. It's been at radio in the US for 8 days and it's already #25 at top 40.

Heartbeat - Enrique Iglesias feat. Nicole Scherzinger. Enrique follows up "I Like It," his biggest hit in years, with "Heartbeat," a more downbeat but still quite dance-y affair featuring Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger.

History - Groove Armada feat. Will Young. Groove Armada haven't had a hit for awhile. Their last top 10 single in Britain was their 2007 collaboration with former Sugababe Mutya Buena, "Song 4 Mutya." "History" teams them up with another pop star, one of my dearest faves, Mr. Will Young. "History" is a great track. It reminds me a great deal of Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy," a #3 hit in 1984.

Get Outta My Way - Kylie Minogue. Another luscious dance floor stomper from the lady from down under. The writhing on the floor thing in the video is pretty much what she already did for "Slow."

Any Which Way - Scissor Sisters. The Scissor Sisters' star power seems to have deemed considerably of late. Such a shame, for they continue to release amazing material, like this awesome disco track in which Ana Matronic coos about taking her panty hose out of an egg. Love it.

Radioactive - Kings of Leon. "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody" were both surprisingly massive hits over the last 2 years. Now the band has the daunting task of following up their commercial success. "Radioactive" is a decent song, but not as instantly likable as their recent hits.

(It's Not War) Just the End of Love - Manice Street Preachers. Manic Street Preachers new album promises to be their most commercial in years, and this single definite goes for the big hook. Great track, although it doesn't look like it will be top 10 this weekend.

Hang with Me - Robyn
. Body Talk Pt.2's hit single is just as good, if not better, than "Dancing on My Own." Great dance pop song that sees Robyn exude a bit of vulnerability through her usual armor.

Fuck You! - Cee Lo Green. Cee Lo's made the most vulgar phrase into a lovable pop hit. That takes talent.

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Albums This Week

I'm going to go broke. Last week there were three new albums I really wanted--Robyn's Body Talk Pt2, which I raved about over the weekend; Hurts' Happiness, which is also quite decent (listening to it right now, in fact); and Interpol, which I'm still not sure how I'm going to rate it.

This week doesn't get any better: there are five albums I'm interested in!

Leading the pack is Brandon Flowers' solo debut, which I haven't heard yet, but is getting ringing endorsements from J. Mensah, Paul, although the music press seems to be giving it middling reviews.

Then there's Chromeo's third album, Business Casual. I haven't heard any of their albums before, but their style of '80s-leaning synth pop is the kind of thing I often enjoy, so I'm planning on giving this a try. Spin gives it 7/10 and EW a B, which is pretty good.

Linkin Park release their fourth album, A Thousand Suns, which I reviewed over the weekend, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, since I haven't been a fan of theirs before.

Of Montreal puts out their 10th album, False Priest. Here's another band I haven't listened to much (really at all), but this intrigues me. I downloaded the single "Coquet Coquette," which is good. NME gave this 7/10.

Finally, Weezer puts out their eighth album, Hurley, which I wasn't really interested in until I just listened to it at MySpace and thought it wasn't bad.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Linkin Park - Feist Haters?

Is it just me or does the cover of Linkin Park's new album kind of look like Feist's head exploding?

UK Singles Chart, September 18, 2010

1. Start without You - Alexandra Burke (feat. Laza Morgan)

Alexandra Burke scores her third #1 hit this week with "Start without You," her third top 10 hit this year (for five top 10 hits total). The track does not appear on last year's album Overcome, although it will apparently be added for a re-release, as well as next year's American edition. This is the first UK hit for American reggae artist Laza Morgan, who appears on the track. "Start without You" is the 10th #1 hit in 10 weeks, an amazing amount of turnover. That makes 26 #1 hits so far this year; by the time we had last year's 26th #1 hit, it was early November.

5. For the First Time (Times Are Hard) - The Script
6. Party Girl - McFly

Irish pop/rock band The Script scores their fourth top 40 single and second top 10 hit with "For the First Time," the first single from the group's new second album, Science & Faith. Rather incredibly, it outsells another pop/rock boyband, McFly, whose new single "Party Girl" manages a #6 debut. The single is the first release from the group's fifth album, Above the Noise; all their previous first album singles debuted at #1 except for "One for the Radio" from their last album, which hit #2. At the beginning of the week this was #2, and it was considered a strong contender for #1, but as the week wore on, it's sales slacked off. Poor lads. Still, this is their 16th top 10 hit.

10. This Day - Emma's Imagination

Another track from the Must Be the Music reality show. How long is this going to go on?

15. Drummer Boy - Alesha Dixon

This promises to be a rather divisive single. My take? I don't really care for it, which is a shame, as I rather liked the singles from her last album. I think I'm in line with the music buying public though, who failed to send this, the first single from Dixon's upcoming album, into the top 10. I think the intro is particularly annoying.

28. Wonderful Life - Hurts

Nice to see the release of the album, which is #4 this week, propel the single up a bit further. It initially debuted at #21, but fell last week to #33.

39. Islands - The XX

Speaking of album boosts, The XX's win of the Mercury Prize propels their single "Islands" into the top 40 for the first time, while the album, which previously peaked at #10, is now #3 (behind Brandon Flowers and Katy Perry).

40. The Catalyst - Linkin Park

"The Catalyst" becomes the 14th top 40 hit for Linkin Park.

Album Review: Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns (4/5)

I've never considered myself a Linkin Park fan. I enjoyed "In the End," but never gave them much thought after that. But yesterday I saw that their new album A Thousand Suns was available to preview on MySpace, so I decided to give it a go. And I actually quite liked it. So this morning I downloaded and listened to all the band's major hits, and then I wondered why I'd never paid them much attention before. I suppose I was turned off by the rap/metal label, as I'm not really into either. But their music isn't really that, or at least it isn't anymore, having turned into dark, melodic, layered rock.

The album has 15 tracks, but 6 of those are interludes, so there's really only 9 songs over a fairly compact 48-minute running time. Sings a distorted female voice over the introduction, "The Requiem": "God save us everyone while we burn inside the fires of a thousand suns for the sins of our end, sins of our tongue, the sins of our father, the sins of our young." "The Radiance" follows with a snippet of a speech by Robert Oppenheimer, director of the World War II project to develop the atomic bomb, in which Oppenheimer quoted Hindu scripture in reference to his and others reactions to their achievement ("'now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds' I supposed we all thought that, one way or another"). These brief tracks set up the first song, "Burning in the Skies," a bracing piano and guitar driven song that isn't quite as epic as this setup would lead you to believe, but it's decent.

"Empty Spaces" contributes briefly the sounds of a battlefield before the second song, "When They Come for Me," an ominous, beat heavy rocker with rapped verses. I assume this is Mike Shinoda, the band's rapper, who appears less frequently than the band's other vocalist, singer Chester Bennington, who also gets his moment on this song, as the song's melody climbs and layers with Muse-like keyboard lines. "Robot Boy" is slower, but still has a heavy sound, led by piano over layers of electronic effects, beats, claps, etc. Bennington has a such a sweet voice for the leader of a metal/rap band, which is processed out to be smooth as peanut butter here. From older songs I know he can really belt it out when he wants, but he's pretty restrained on most of this album.

"Jornada del Muerto" (route of the dead man) is another interlude before "Waiting for the End," which vascillates between quiet moments with Bennington and louder ones with multiple vocalists and a funky beat. It's relative quiet contrasts with the raspy, angry vocal of "Blackout," which sounds like a throwback to the band's old days. Later the vocal becomes more normal and a synth and piano based melody comes to the fore. "Wretches and Kings" is also old school Linkin Park, a beat-driven rap with fuzzy guitars and record scratches, albeit peppered with excerpts from Mario Savio's Marxist speech about stopping the levers and gears of the "odious" machine.

A twisted quote from Martin Luther King (not that what he said was twisted, but that his voice is distorted until it sounds like an angry robot) leads into "Iridescent," a stadium-ready big ballad imploring those with sadness and frustration to just "let it go." More robot voices on "Fallout" transition to current hit single "The Catalyst," which has a great build up before the first chorus, where it really lets loose with a great blend of layered beats, keyboards, guitars, and other sounds. "The Messenger" is a surprising closer. After all the densely layered studiocraft, this song is just Bennington singing with acoustic guitar and a little piano. He really gives it his all here, and I feel like I should be singing along to his "oh-ahh-oh" ending.

A Thousand Suns is an interesting album, with some really epic moments of rock grandeur. And I don't mind the few songs that include a little rap, despite what I said earlier.

Best: When They Come for Me, Robot Boy, The Catalyst, Waiting for the End

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Album Review: Robyn - Body Talk Pt2 (4.5/5)

Listening to Robyn's Body Talk Part 2 should dispel any doubt about her wisdom of releasing three EPs rather than an album this year. Part 2 is just as good as part 1--actually it's better. On Part 1, under the glossy electro-pop arrangements was a thread of bitterness, from the litany of complaints on "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do" to the jealousy of "Dancing on My Own."

Part 2 is brighter and faster, with more club-oriented arrangements. The charged "In My Eyes" takes a let's-take-the-plunge approach to love, "Include Me Out" amps up the synthesizers and beats. "Hang with Me," a piano ballad on Part 1 that served as a warning not to get too close, sounds more like an invitation on its dance pop incarnation on Part 2.

Love may have hurt on Part 1's "Cry When You Get Older," but on Part 2, "Love Kills," although it does so thrillingly over a bracing clubby beat. That old Robyn cynicism shines through here again: "protect yourself, 'cause you'll wreck yourself in this cold, hard world don't you know that love kills." The song references Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological phenomenon where captives become attached to their captors. But it may as well reflect the growing global attachment to all things Swedish: Ikea, Stieg Larrson, Max Martin productions, and of course, dear Robyn.

"We Dance to the Beat" processes Robyn's voice until she sounds like a old school Cylon over another clubby mix of synth effects and beats. "Somebody alert the authorities, I've got criminal intent" declares Robyn on "Criminal Intent," apparently declaring her desire to engage in lewd and indecent acts. The kooky courtroom-inspired romp finds Robyn dosing her dance pop with a bit of hip-hop, a flavor she carries on to "U Should Know Better," which features guest rapper Snoop Dogg and a lot of attitude ("even the Vatican knows better than to fuck with me").

Another acoustic track closes Part 2, "Indestructible," a strings-drenched love song that refuses to give up on love. She may play the cynic, but Robyn is a romantic at heart. If she follows the same pattern, we should expect in electronic form for Part 3. Speaking of which, I wonder it will be like. Perhaps the darkest of the trilogy? We'll find out come November.

Best: Hang with Me, In My Eyes, Include Me Out, U Should Know Better, Love Kills

Ten More Fall Albums

They continue to fall into place. Here are 10 more discs to look forward to this fall:

Chromeo - Business Casual (Sept. 14). The Canadian electrofunk duo releases their third album. I've listened to its two advance tracks--"Night by Night" and "Don't Turn the Lights On"--and judging by them, this should be a great '80s electro throwback.

Bruno Mars - Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Oct. 5). After getting his start as a guest vocalist on B.o.B.'s #1 hit "Nothin' on You" and Travie McCoy's top 5 single "Billionaire," Bruno Mars stakes out his solo career with this disc, featuring current hit "Just the Way You Are."

George Michael - Faith (Remastered Special Edition, Oct. 12). Lately, George Michael gets press for all the wrong reasons, so here's hoping he can get some for the right reasons, as his landmark 1987 solo debut gets a much-needed remaster with a second disc of remixes and rarities.

Rumer - Seasons of My Soul (Nov. 1). I'm still in love with "Slow," so I can't wait to hear what the British-Pakistani singer does with a whole album of songs.

Charlotte Church - Back to Scratch (Nov. 1). The former classical child-singer releases her second adult pop album, following 2005's Tissues and Issues.

Rihanna - Loud (Nov. 16). Less than an a year after her Rated R, the dark album that delivered some major hits with "Rude Boy" and "Russian Roulette," Rihanna returns with her fifth album, which promises to lighten the mood with a dance pop, party vibe. First single "Only Girl (in the World)" is an instant hit at radio, where it is already #36 at top 40.

Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday (Nov. 22). Here's a newcomer to watch. Nicki Minaj had a fairly big hit this summer with "Your Love," which samples Annie Lennox's "No More 'I Love You's'." This is her debut album.

Annie Lennox - A Christmas Cornucopia (Nov. 22). Speaking of Annie Lennox, dearest Annie releases a Christmas album, to include "Universal Child," which Lennox performed on American Idol. But what about "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" and "Winter Wonderland?"

Pink - Greatest Hits (Nov. 22). About time. The singer has amassed a decade of international pop hits--"Most Girls," "Get the Party Started," "U+Ur Hand," "So What," etc, etc, etc.

Mariah Carey - Merry Christmas II You (December). And speaking of Christmas albums, Mariah Carey is putting out a second one. Anyone doubt that it will include a new version of "All I Want for Christmas Is You?"

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thursday, September 09, 2010

LFO's Rich Cronin Dies

Rich Cronin of LFO passed away yesterday, a victim of Leukemia. LFO rode the late '90s boyband bandwagon to big success in 1999, scoring top 10 hits with "Summer Girls" (#3) and "Girl on TV" (#10). The former was a minor cultural phenomenon, thanks to Rich's lyrics, which were quite goofy, but also (importantly) quite catchy:

"New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits. Chinese food makes me sick. I think it's fly when girls stop by for the summer (for the summer). I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch. I'd take her if I had one wish. She's been gone since that summer, that summer"

And that's just the chorus. The verses have lots of goodies, including more references to Abercrombie & Fitch (a brand I happily wore back then, but am apparently way too old for now).

Billboard Hot 100, 9/18/2010

1. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry

Katy Perry climbs a notch, scoring her third #1 hit. "Teenage Dream" is on its way to becoming as hot as its predecessor, the #1 summer jam "California Gurls." It's a huge hit at pop radio, where it has over 11,000 spins this week and is gaining nearly 2000 over last week. It's this week's airplay gainer and has been #1 at digital songs. Perry is the third artist to score a second #1 hit this calendar year, after Eminem and Rihanna.

2. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

Speaking of which, Rihanna and her buddy Eminem fall from #1 to #2 this week after 7 weeks at the top, making "Love the Way You Lie" the second longest-running #1 hit of the year after Ke$ha's 10-week run with "Tik Tok." It's also the second longest-running #1 hit for Eminem, behind his 12 weeks for "Lose Yourself" and ties Rihanna's "Umbrella" for her longest stay at the top.

4. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars climbs two spots to #4 with "Just the Way You Are," the most likely challenger to Perry's new #1 hit. Mars is #1 at iTunes now and this single is also quite hot at radio.

9. Just a Dream - Nelly

It's been awhile since Nelly's had a hit. His last top 10 single was "Grilz," a #1 hit in early 2006. The singles from his last album were a real flop. Only one--"Party People"--managed to reach the top 40 and that one was just barely, actually hitting #40. "Just a Dream" is a pretty decent single, and radio friendly too--it's in the top 20 at top 40 radio.

10. California Gurls - Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg

Perry bookends the top 10 this week, spending what is likely her last week in the top 10 with "California Gurls."

19. Deuces - Chris Brown feat. Tyga & Kevin McCall

Are fans ready to forgive Chris Brown? He climbs 5 spots to #19 with "Deuces," the first single from his fourth album, Fan of a Fan. His last album, Graffiti, sold a fraction of what either of his other two did, and its biggest single, "I Can Transform Ya," peaked at #20, and that felt really generous.

21. Like a G6 - Far*East Movement feat. Cataracs and Dev

Does this actually qualify as a song? I just listened to the 30 second clip on iTunes and heard a bunch of hollow synth chords, some beats, a rapper and a girl, but none of it sounded very musical. This is apparently a big hit though, climbing 20 notches this week. "G6" is apparently short for "Gulfstream G650," a type of jet plane (I was hoping it would be one of those UN groups).

33. Fuck You! - Cee Lo Green

Well isn't this a pleasant way to end the summer. Messages don't get any plainer than this. Actually, it's a pretty decent song--really. If the kiddies are around, put on the radio version, "Forget You." Cee Lo is best known as part of Gnarls Barkley. This Cee Lo's first solo top 40 hit. With Gnarls Barkley, he had a #2 hit in 2006, "Crazy."

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The XX Wins Mercury Prize

The XX just won the Barclaycard Mercury Prize for their gorgeous debut album, XX. Awesome pick! That's my favorite album nominated this year--first time that's happened.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Songs of Summer 2010

Today is Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer. Children are back at school. The fall albums roster is chock full of potential hits. But one question remains...what was the quintessential song of summer 2010?

I think the honor goes handily to Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg's "California Gurls." Eminem and Rihanna's "Love the Way You Die" may, in the end, be a bigger hit, but domestic abuse tales aren't really the stuff of summer like a breezy, sunny California-themed pop hit. Other contenders include Taio Cruz's "Dynamite," Usher and Will.I.Am's "OMG," and B.o.B. and Hayley Williams' 'Airplanes. For Britain, also include Yolanda Be Cool's "We No Speak Americano."

This summer, Billboard kept a running tally of the songs of summer, on which Katy Perry was also declared the winner. On the year-to-date UK singles chart tally, Eminem and Rihanna have the year's 4th biggest hit, with Perry close behind at #5.

So what makes a quintessential song of summer? The most memorable ones are either upbeat, carefree ditties, like Rihanna's "Umbrella" (2007), or laid back, romantic ballads like Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" (2005). Billboard also charts the songs of summer from 2009 back to 1985. Some highlights:

2009 - Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling"
2008 - Katy Perry "I Kissed a Girl"
2007 - Rihanna ft. Jay-Z "Umbrella"
2006 - Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland "Promiscuous"
2005 - Mariah Carey "We Belong Together"
2004 - Usher "Confessions Part II"
2003 - Beyonce ft. Jay-Z "Crazy in Love"
2002 - Nelly "Hot in Herre"
1998 - Brandy and Monica "The Boy Is Mine"
1997 - Puff Daddy "I'll Be Missing You"
1996 - Los Del Rio "Macarena"
1992 - Sir Mix-a-Lot "Baby Got Back"
1990 - Mariah Carey "Vision of Love"
1987 - Heart "Alone"
1986 - Madonna "Papa Don't Preach"
1985 - Tears for Fears "Shout"

Songs of Summer Bonus

Finally, something silly: here are alternate ideas for what this summer's summer hit songs could have been about:

Love the Way You Lie - A fetish for watching people sleep.

California Gurls - Californian females so stupid they can't spell a simple word most kindergartners know.

Beautiful Monster - Edward Cullen (or Jacob, or any of those True Blood guys).

All Time Low - Linsday Lohan.

Ridin' Solo - Sexual intercourse with Han Solo.

OMG - Olly Murs Graduates!

UK Singles Chart, September 11, 2010

1. Please Don't Let Me Go - Olly Murs

Another week, another #1 hit on the UK singles chart, as "Please Don't Let Me Go" becomes the ninth consecutive new #1 hit in 9 weeks. Olly Murs was runner-up to Joe McElderry in last year's X Factor. Following JLS's "Beat Again" last year, this is the second year the X Factor runner-up has put out a #1 hit before the winner (not considering the obligatory "victory" single). The single is pretty decent--an upbeat, reggae-kissed pop ditty.

2. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry

Murs keeps Katy Perry from scoring another #1 hit with "Teenage Dream," The title track from her new album, which debuts at #1 on the albums chart this week. Perry's last single, "California Gurls" was the last #1 hit to spend more than 1 week at #1. Her new single is also #2 in the US this week, where I believe it will likely be #1 next week.

7. You Took My Heart - Pepper & Piano

Ah, reality shows. Always a good source of short-lived pop singles. Here's the latest, Pepper & Piano, a duo created for the British reality competition show, Must Be the Music. This must have really made an impression to become a top 10 hit.

17. DJ Got Us Falling in Love - Usher feat. Pitbull

Usher's "DJ Got Us Falling in Love" has been on the chart for 7 weeks, but this is its highest peak yet. The song spent 4 consecutive weeks at #20--a rather impressive feat--before falling the last couple weeks. Now it rebounds up 7 to #17.

24. Make You Feel My Love - Adele

Two years after it was first a top 40 hit, Adele's "Make You Feel My Love" manages a return, fueled by her recent performance on X Factor. It actually manages to eclipse the single's original #26 peak to land a bit higher at #24.

71. Why Don't You Love Me? - Beyonce

Almost 2 years on and Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce is still generating singles. This one was a pre-order bonus and then later added to the album's re-release. It's a pretty fun song actually, which managed to hit #1 on the US dance chart (a feat achieved by six of the album's singles). In total, this is the 9th track from the album to appear on the UK singles chart:

#1 If I Were a Boy
#7 Single Ladies
#72 Diva (not an official release)
#4 Halo
#5 Sweet Dreams
#27 Broken-Hearted Girl
#58 Video Phone
#60 Ego (feat. Kanye West) (not an official release)
#71 Why Don't You Love Me

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Katy Perry - Teenage Dream (2.5/5)

Cultural observers have written about the concept of prolonged adolescence--young adults who, for various reasons (extended education, living with parents, single carefree lifestyles), haven't yet "grown up." With Teenage Dream, her second major album, Katy Perry establishes herself as the poster child for prolonged adolescence, taking us through a carefree romp of drinking, flirting, and partying with hardly an adult consequence in sight.

We've already heard the album's two best tracks: the explosive title track that iTunes tells me I've managed to listen to 33 times in just over a month, and the massive summer smash "California Gurls," which let the world know that young Californian females prefer to dress in "daisy dukes; bikinis on top." Perry's not been a teenager herself for 7 years, but you'd never know it from these hits. Sandwiched between them is the rather banal "Last Fright Night (TGIF)," an ode to partying so serious that it leads to blackouts, embarrassing Facebook pictures and even an arrest warrant. Despite that, it ends with the promise that this Friday night, Katy and her pals will "do it all again." Alrighty girls. I do admire the song's effort to bring back the middle 8 saxophone solo.

After this strong opening, the album goes downhill pretty fast, from a few more songs of mild interest, to quite a few that are just...well, dull. Dance pop track "Firework" has a cool strings arrangement, but an unfortunately annoying chorus that Perry manages to really over-sing. "Peacock" manages to be even more absurd than "TGIF," consisting of Perry begging for some guy to show her his [title track minus "pea"]. Right. Rocking "Circle in the Drain" is the album's attempt at some seriousness, with Perry confronting some guy who's thrown his life down the drain. It's actually quite dark and doesn't really fit.

Lyrically, Perry's got some pretty odd metaphors going here. "E.T." has a pretty solid beat, but comparing sexual chemistry to alien abduction that is downright "extra-terrestrial" is a bit much. "Hummingbird Heartbeat" is even nuttier--saying some guy's so hot he makes Perry's heart flutter like a hummingbird, which an ornithologist could tell you is 23 times per second. Poor Perry's headed for a heart attack. The album reaches its lowest point with "Who Am I Living For?" and "Pearl," which I just don't find very interesting.

"The One that Got Away" is a pretty decent, upbeat song that looks back on Perry's real teenage years with nostalgia, reminiscing about listening to Radiohead and getting "matching tattoos." This could make a good single if they want to go for something a little sweeter. Like the album's first two hits, this one is produced by Swedish mastermind producer Max Martin and his American buddy Dr. Luke. The album is chockablock full of big-name producers, including Stargate and Tricky Stewart. Greg Wells helms the album's closing number, "Not Like the Movies," which is a lovely piano number and the album's only slow song. Despite its cliched lyrics, it's a nice ballad to end the set.

I'm disappointed by this album, which I found to be quite mediocre. While it has some great pop songs, as a whole, it falls short. Perry's songs may sound great in a iPod mix, but all strung together they highlight her shortcomings, namely her perchance for tasteless, cliched lyrics. I fully expect Teenage Dream to keep delivering some hits, but I bet they'll be more enjoyable on their own.

Best: Teenage Dream, California Gurls, The One that Got Away

Friday, September 03, 2010