100 & Single: The Increase In Hot 100 Rebounders, And The iTunes-Radio Tug Of War

The first week I remember ever hearing American Top 40 with Casey Kasem on the radio, back in the summer of 1981, the No. 1 spot was a real cliffhanger.

As Kasem explained, the week before, Kim Carnes's synth-pop smash "Bette Davis Eyes" had ceded the top spot after about a month, to a song by a Dutch novelty act calling itself the Stars on 45. Their goofy hit was a lite-disco clap track riding over a medley of rerecorded pop tunes (70% by the Beatles, an easy way to score a smash if ever there was one). In the year of Jane Fonda and aerobics-mania, the Stars on 45 were a momentary worldwide obsession.

Emphasis on "momentary": After a one-week pause, Carnes rebounded to the No. 1 spot, a happy ending to my first exposure to Billboard's iconic Hot 100. (The charts are fun when you've got a rooting interest.)

What I couldn't have known in 1981 was how rare, relatively, a song returning to the top spot was. Prior to Carnes's hit, only 28 songs out of the more than 500 Hot 100 chart-toppers since 1958 had rebounded to the top.

It's not all that rare anymore. In fact, the song sitting atop the Hot 100 right now, in its third week there, is a rebounder: Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," featuring Christina Aguilera. In 2011 alone, it's the fourth song to move back to No. 1 after falling out.

Four weeks ago, after a summer of steady sales increases and radio growth, Aguilera and Maroon 5's Adam Levine—two of the artists-cum-judges for NBC-TV's The Voice—assumed the penthouse with their comeback hit. After just one week on top, the ultra-perky, whistling "Jagger" gave way to one of the most downbeat songs of the year, Adele's "Someone Like You." Like the Levine-Aguilera axis, Adele was benefiting from TV exposure, having performed the stately ballad on the MTV Video Music Awards in late August. Except Adele's TV-fueled bounce was more instantaneous and dramatic—right after the VMAs, a massive influx of digital song sales put her on top. One week after that, with sales for "Someone" fading a bit, "Jagger" reclaimed the Hot 100's top spot. It's still sitting there a week later, with Adele parked at No. 2.

In the weeks to come there's a decent chance Adele will do to Levine-Aguilera what they did to her and rebound into the top spot. That's because radio airplay for "Someone" is only now catching up with its huge digital sales. This week, a month after the song's big move up the charts, "Someone" finally enters the top 10 of Billboard's Radio Songs chart, a component of the Hot 100. Assuming Adele's sales stay strong—she moved nearly another 200,000 downloads last week—and her airplay keeps growing, "Someone" could be back atop the Hot 100 by October.

That would certainly be in keeping with the patterns atop the chart in the last few years. Since 2007, the Hot 100 has seen 15 rebounders—at least two per year and as many as five (in 2008). In fact, since 2008, we've had an even rarer phenomenon: four songs have come back to the penthouse twice, meaning each had three separate runs at No. 1: songs by Leona Lewis (2008's "Bleeding Love"), T.I. (both 2008's "Whatever You Like" and "Live Your Life") and Bruno Mars (2011's "Grenade"). In the prior 50 years of the Hot 100, this triple-run had only been achieved once (in 1978, by Chic's "Le Freak").

The last five years seem especially strange when you look at prior chart history. In the 25 years after Kim Carnes's "Bette Davis Eyes," only 14 more songs returned to the top of the Hot 100 after vacating. That's 43 rebounders, total, from 1958 to 2006 (from "Volare" to "We Belong Together"), fewer than 5% of the more than 900 songs topping the list. (A complete list of Hot 100 rebounders can be found in this very informative blog post.) There were long periods pre-2006 without any rebounders at all, including a five-year stretch between the Rascals' "Groovin'" (1967) and Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" (1972), and an epic 11-year period of reboundlessness from Men at Work's "Down Under" (1983) to Ace of Base's "The Sign" (1994).

Just since 2006, then, we've had as many rebounders as in the entire prior quarter-century. Maroon 5, our current chart-topper, has done it twice in that period; both of their No. 1 hits have been rebounders, including "Moves Like Jagger" and 2007's "Makes Me Wonder." Do-si-dos between warring hits are becoming more commonplace—2011 kicked off with a four-week stretch in January where Katy Perry's "Firework" and Bruno Mars's "Grenade" passed the No. 1 spot back and forth to each other, one week at a time, like a game of hot potato.

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Al Shipley
Al Shipley

Great column, one of your best yet. I'd been looking at "Grenade"'s triple run at #1 for most of the year and wondering what the history of that phenomenon was, so I loved seeing you get granular about that.


Those weeks where the chart gets flooded with cuts from the same artist/show are my least favorite thing about the digital-era chart. I just spent a few months listening to the Hot 100 debuts from 1995 on, and the lumps of album tracks became unbearable, whether they were from "The Voice" or the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" soundtrack. It's also the kind of project that's most compromised by the pear-shaped chart patterns. To cite a recent example, "E.T." debuted five months ahead of its main chart run. At least with the late-90s songs that had delayed singles releases, you could always go off when they cracked Top 75 in airplay. 


I'm not sure I agree with a minimum airplay criteria. Airplay as you mention can be manipulated. Maybe the criteria should be to only include songs that are officially promoted to radio, so you remove all those album cuts and every other Glee track (it's not like radio stations will play the Glee tracks but that shouldn't stop the producers from trying).

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