As many Hot 100 chart policies have been modified over the years, one rule always remained constant: songs were not eligible to enter the Hot 100 unless they were available to purchase as a single. However, on December 5, 1998 the Hot 100 changed from being a “singles” chart to a “songs” chart. During the 1990s, a growing trend in the music industry was to promote songs to radio without ever releasing them as singles. It was claimed by major record labels that singles were cannibalizing album sales, so they were slowly phased out. During this period, accusations began to fly of chart manipulation as labels would hold off on releasing a single until airplay was at its absolute peak, thus prompting a top ten or, in some cases, a number one debut. In many cases, a label would delete a single from its catalog after only one week, thus allowing the song to enter the Hot 100, make a high debut and then slowly decline in position as the one-time production of the retail single sold out.
It was during this period that several popular mainstream hits never charted on the Hot 100, or charted well after their airplay had declined. During the period that they were not released as singles the songs were not eligible to chart. Many of these songs dominated the Hot 100 Airplay chart for extended periods of time:
- 1995 The Rembrandts – “I’ll Be There For You” (number one for eight weeks)
- 1996 No Doubt – “Don’t Speak” (number one for sixteen weeks)
- 1997 Sugar Ray featuring Super Cat – “Fly” (number one for six weeks)
- 1997 Will Smith – “Men in Black” (number one for four weeks)
- 1997 The Cardigans – “Lovefool” (number two for eight weeks)
- 1998 Natalie Imbruglia – “Torn” (number one for eleven weeks)
- 1998 Goo Goo Dolls – “Iris” (number one for eighteen weeks)
As debate and conflicts occurred more and more often, Billboard finally answered the requests of music industry artists and insiders by including airplay-only singles (or “album cuts”) in the Hot 100.