Chart Watch

Chart Watch Extra: “Glee” And The Fab Four

Chart Watch

The headline on today's Billboard Bulletin newsletter is guaranteed to catch your attention: "'Glee' Cast Breaks Beatles' Hot 100 Record." Six more songs performed by the cast of Glee crack Billboard's Hot 100 this week, bringing the Glee cast's total of Hot 100 entries to 75. This surpasses the Beatles' total of 71 Hot 100 hits. This makes the Glee cast the leader among "non solo acts" with the most charted hits since the Hot 100 was introduced in August 1958.

What's more, it seems to be just a matter of time before the Glee cast surpasses the two solo artists who have logged even more Hot 100 hits. Elvis Presley leads all artists with 108. James Brown is second with 91.

The item included a little more breathless hyperbole. The Beatles took 22 years to accumulate all those hits (they charted most recently in 1996, 26 years after they broke up). The Glee cast took just one year, four months and two weeks to amass an even larger stack of hits.

Help! The information is correct. But we are comparing Apples (the name of the Beatles' record label) to oranges. Glee is an entertaining television show, with a talented and versatile cast. But the cast isn't really a group, by any reasonable definition. So it can do things that a real group can't.

Six songs from Glee make the Hot 100 practically every week that a new episode airs. That's as many songs as the Beatles put on the Hot 100 in all of 1966, when they were the hottest group on the planet.

My argument that the Glee cast isn't comparable to the Beatles isn't an artistic judgment. If an actual group or duo challenged the Beatles' stats, that would be a different story. Last year, the Black Eyed Peas spent 26 consecutive weeks at #1 with two monster hits, "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling." The Beatles never had more than 14 consecutive weeks on top. No reasonable person (including the Peas) would say that this makes them bigger or better than the Beatles, but their achievement stands.

But you can't compare the cast of a TV show that puts a half-dozen songs on the chart every week with a group that earned its hits the old-fashioned way: one by one.

Billboard chart manager Gary Trust, who wrote the Beatles' item, added some information that served to put the Glee achievement in context. Of the 75 Glee recordings to make the Hot 100, only 14 have remained on the chart for more than one week. The Glee recordings have logged 105 cumulative weeks on the Hot 100, compared to 617 for the Beatles' recordings. The Beatles had 34 top 10 hits on the Hot 100, while the Glee cast has had just one (their rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'").

The context is helpful. But the headline leaves a misleading impression to the many people who won't read the full story. Let me add a little more context.

The Glee version of "Don't Stop Believin'" is the best-seller among Glee titles, with 992,000 downloads as of this week. But 21 of the Beatles hits have been certified for U.S. sales of 1 million or more copies by the Recording Industry Assn. of America. (The group's top-seller is "Hey Jude," which is certified at 4 million.)

And while a whopping 61 of the Glee songs have spent just one week on the Hot 100, only five Beatles songs spent just one week on the chart. (Three were B sides. Two were minor releases in 1964, when various record labels flooded the market with Beatles titles.)

Joel Whitburn, the Wisconsin-based researcher who publishes a series of reference books based on the Billboard charts, faced a similar issue when he was compiling the seventh edition of his Top Pop Albums book. He decided to exclude Bill & Gloria Gaither & Their Homecoming Friends, Kidz Bop Kids and the High School Musical Cast from his list of the top 500 artists.

The Gaither ensemble includes dozens of guest gospel artists.  Kidz Bop Kids is a studio group. High School Musical, like Glee, is the cast of a hit TV show.

Whitburn included a note explaining what he did and why. "Due to their special 'various artists' nature, there are three acts...that we have excluded from the artist rankings." He even indicated where they would have placed in the top 500 ranking if he had included them.

That's the kind of judgment and wisdom that's called for here. The Glee achievement should be noted, but it should be kept in context.

Incidentally, as if to salute the Beatles, Glee's Chris Colfer performed "I Want To Hold Your Hand" on Tuesday night's episode. It's the second time the Glee brigade has performed a Beatles song. The full New Directions ensemble tackled "Hello Goodbye" last spring.

The Beatles would have had far more Hot 100 hits, but the custom in their heyday was to release fewer songs from each album. Their list of non-charting songs is long and includes such famous works as "A Day In The Life," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," "Michelle," "In My Life," "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "With A Little Help From My Friends."

Come to think of it, that wouldn't be a bad set list for a future episode of Glee.

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