Chart Watch is 17 Tracks’ weekly look at the happenings on the Billboard Hot 100 with chart expert Hunter Schwarz.
This week, Lady Gaga scores her third No. 1 single as “Born This Way” storms the Hot 100, debuting at No. 1 and earning the distinction of being the 1,000th No. 1 in Billboard history. What makes it all the more impressive was that she did it in less than three days.
Billboard was so excited about its 1,000th No. 1 that they leaked news of the occasion three days before the new charts are posted. And what better time is there to be excited and take a look back at the Hot 100 — the Dow Jones of music.
The Hot 100 began when Billboard, the nation’s premiere music tracking magazine, rolled out the first edition of its definitive list of the top songs in the country. Billboard had been tracking music for years, but it began before rock ‘n’ roll even existed.
The magazine started out in the late 1800s as a trade paper for — surprise — billboards and the bill posting industry. In the 1920s it began covering radio, and in the ’30s it added jukeboxes. By the time Bill Haley and his Comets were rocking around the clock and Elvis was swiveling his hips, Billboard tracked music on three different charts — best sellers in stores, most played by jockeys and most played in jukeboxes. That fateful August day in 1958 was the day all three components were combined to give the record industry a comprehensive list of the most popular songs in the country.
The first song to go No. 1 on the new Hot 100 was “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson, and it, like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” the 1,000 chart topper, was a testament to the power of the media and knowing how to harness it to land a smash hit single.
Nelson starred in the sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a popular show whose characters were played by the real-life Nelson family. He was a student at Hollywood High School (a mere stone’s cast from Grauman’s Chinese Theater) who began his recording career when an Elvis Presley song came on the radio and his girlfriend began gushing about the king of rock ‘n’ roll and those hips of his. Nelson, probably a little jealous and defensive, told her he was going to make a record himself. Luckily, he was a TV star, so he had an easier time arranging that than the average high school student.
With the help of his show’s orchestra, he recorded a cover of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walking” and performed it on the The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet with the help of a fictional band. In the late ’50s, television viewers didn’t have the selection they do today, so Nelson had all eyes on him as he began his recording career in earnest. Fifty-three years and 999 No. 1 hits later, getting the whole country to pay attention to you is a much more difficult task, but the Hot 100′s 1,000th chart topper is a demonstration of how to do it in the modern age.
Interscope did the impossible and prevented “Born This Way” from leaking before they serviced the track to radio early Friday morning. The song broke Britney Spears’ four week old record for most radio spins for a new song. The week of January 29th, “Hold It Against Me” received 4,071 plays in a week. After less than three full days of airplay, “Born This Way” chalked up 4,602 spins.
Further stoking the completely unnecessary Gaga versus Britney debate heating up the Internet, “Born This Way” is set to break another month-old Britney record. Although final sales figures have yet to be released, industry insiders are predicting “Born This Way” shifted 450,000 digital downloads in just over 42 hours. If those numbers stand, it will shatter the mark for highest first week sales for a female artist that Spears set when “Hold It Against Me” sold 411,000 downloads its first week out of the gates. Those numbers are also good enough to place the song fourth among the highest one-week download numbers — again, in just over two days.
Lady Gaga was able to pull this off by talking about this song before it even had a title. Way back in September she sang a line from it at the MTV Video Music Awards, and since then, everyone who has heard it, from Elton John to Perez Hilton, have been raving about it. Pair that unrivaled anticipation with Lady Gaga’s unique media presence and her performance during Sunday’s Grammy awards, and such a strong debut seemed inevitable.
The biggest challenge for “Born This Way” will be for it to hold onto the penthouse next week. Historically, that has been a problem for songs that start their chart life on top. The last six songs to debut at No. 1 have only stayed there for a week. You have to go back to Clay Aiken’s post-American Idol upset, “This Is The Night,” to find a song that could remain No. 1 for a second week. “Born This Way” just might have what it takes to defeat the odds though. Since being released Friday, Gaga’s new single has yet to let go of No. 1 spot on iTunes, and when Ryan Seacrest promises he’ll play your song every hour on the hour, you’ve got to believe other radio stations are doing the same.
Come back Thursday when Billboard releases the rest of its chart info to find out what else is happening on the Hot 100.
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