On page three of the March 28, 1981, issue, chart news was making news on a greater scale at last. “Billboard this week introduces a new column, Chartbeat” — restylized in 1984 as “Chart Beat” — “which will look behind the numbers and, hopefully, put it all in some perspective,” an announcement read. “It’s not a laundry list of the week’s prime movers; they can be gleaned easily from the charts themselves. Let us know what you think.”
Billboard‘s Paul Grein masterminded the idea; and today, just like Blondie and REO Speedwagon’s hits, Billboard‘s Chart Beat coverage endures, a reflection of the desire of music fans, artists, labels and more to still look behind the numbers. The spotlight has expanded from a weekly print column to its own hub on billboard.com, along with offshoots such as the @billboardcharts account.
Following Grein, Fred Bronson, author of The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, began writing the Chart Beat column in 1993 and, since the late 2000s, Billboard‘s charts department and others, including Grein and Bronson, have continued to chronicle the most notable chart achievements.
Forty years on and over 2,000 chart weeks later (and with rap and rock now a more common mix, although three rock bands can again boast the three best-selling albums in the U.S.), Grein, Billboard‘s awards editor since March 2019, looks back at the beginnings of Chart Beat and some of his favorite experiences writing for Billboard.
How did you originate the idea to start the weekly Chart Beat column, and its name? And how easily did it go from your mind to the magazine?
Grein: I had been writing for Billboard for six years, first as a freelancer and then on staff, when we started Chart Beat as a weekly column in March 1981. New editors joined in January 1981: Adam White as managing editor and Irv Lichtman as news editor. They liked what I was doing, and welcomed the idea of giving it a regular weekly home. Before that, I wrote stories and news items that popped up in various places throughout the magazine.
I remember making a list of possible names for the column on a legal pad. Chart Beat was the best one I came up with. I liked the play on the word “heartbeat,” and chart hits have a life force.