Themeweek: The Billboard Hot 100

This week on MVD we launched our first Themeweek and to kick things off we wanted to celebrate the Billboard charts which 75 years ago took initial shape, although as we shall see it’s not as simple as that.

The very first Billboard chart actually started in 1936 and for the next 20 or so years various charts developed tracking different methods of getting records heard. There was a chart for sales, a chart for jukebox play, and another for radio play. There was a ‘race’ chart which later became the R&B chart, the country & western chart, and others for Christian music, classical, adult contemporary etc…

It wasn’t until 1958 that Billboard decided to pool all of these seperate charts to produce the Hot 100, and whilst all of these charts and more continued to exist (today there are well over 50 seperate music charts in America) this ‘chart of charts’ established itself as the most important. To have a number 1 record in the Hot 100 quickly became a matter of enormous prestige for artists and record companies alike, not to mention the fans themselves who all want to see their favourite record achieve this mighty honour!

As sales of singles grew in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s this became ovewhelmingly the most important factor in compiling the charts although radio airplay was also a factor, albeit one that had been diminished by payola scandals (where radio DJ’s accept payment to play a particular record thus distorting its popularity) and it was during this period that many milestones were set that still stand today.

the beatles muhammed ali in the usa topping the billboard hot 100 charts
FILE – In this Feb. 18, 1964, file photo, The Beatles, from left, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison, take a fake blow from Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, while visiting the heavyweight contender at his training camp in Miami Beach, Fla. Ali turns 70 on Jan. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/File)

For instance, The Beatles still hold the record for the most number 1 singles (20) closely followed by Elvis Presley (18), and they also set the record in 1965 for the most number ones in a year (6) and also hold records for the most top 10 hits by a group (34) and most famously are the only act ever to occupy the top 5 positions in one week, something they achieved in April 1964, the same year they became the only act ever to have 3 consecutive number 1’s (as in one directly after the other). As an individual paul McCartney holds the record for writing or co-writing the most number 1’s with 34.

Many other records were set in the 80’s and 90’s up until the modern day including most consecutive releases to reach number 1 (Whitney Houston with 7), most top 10 singles (Madonna with 38), most consecutive years charting at number 1 (Mariah Carey with 11) and most consecutive weeks on the charts (Katy Perry with 68). If male singers ruled the roost in the charts earlier days the female singers certainly have in the last 30 years!

cher who holds the record for the longest time between Billboard number one records

Another female singer to hold different records is Cher. Not only is she the oldest woman to have had a number 1 (52 years, 297 days old when she topped the charts with ‘Believe’ in 1999) she also holds both the records for the longest gaps between number 1’s (24 years, 355 days) and the longest gap between first and most recent number 1’s (33 years, 232 days) none of which in any way makes a comment on her age (lets face it, most of her body parts are half her age anyway). The oldest artist ever to have a number 1 is Louis Armstrong who was 62 years, 279 days old when he topped the charts in 1964 with ‘Hello Dolly’, whilst the youngest ever was Michael Jackson who was just 11 when the Jackson 5 released their classic hit ‘I Want You Back’ in 1970.

In recent times the way the chart is compiled has changed radically reflecting the profound impact the internet has had on the music business. In 2005 digital downloads were included for the first time and since then streaming from sites like Spotify as well as plays on Youtube have all counted. The impact has been to make the chart much more unpredictable with some songs leaping up the charts. Kelly Clarkson’s 2009 single ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ holds the record for the biggest leap in one week moving from no.97 to no.1 and the ten biggest leaps have all happened since 2005. All the biggest chart drops have also happened in this era reflecting the instability of the modern music chart not just in the USA but worldwide.

Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson

The real importance of the Billboard Hot 100 doesn’t reside in statistics and achievements though, but rather in the way it has acted as a barometer of public taste and as a reflection of the times. Pop music may seem silly and facile in some ways but actually it plays a central and important role in our cultural lives. Since the 1950s the USA has undoubtedly been the place to have a chart hit and to this day having a big hit on the Billboard charts can often lead to wider global success. For non-US artists it is still very much the ultimate market to break just as it was for The Beatles all those years ago when American success turned them from a British phenomenon in to the biggest band of all time. We at MVD think this is very much worth celebrating, and below you’ll find our own ‘Top 40’, a compilation of number 1’s that were significant in some way, plus a good handful of our personal favorites. We hope you enjoy!

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