If Billboard is “the bible of the music industry,” Joel Whitburn is the bible’s biggest quoter.
The Wauwatosa, Wis., native, is renowned among Billboard bibliophiles for a series of books based on Billboard‘s various sales charts, most notably, Top Pop Singles–the just-published 13th edition of which is a humongous 1,216 pages.
The new edition is chock full of chart information on every single that made Billboard‘s Top 100 pop singles charts between the year 1955–when rock ‘n’ roll scored its first mainstream success with Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock” and Billboard introduced its first 100-position pop chart–and 2010.
As ever, each listing documents a record’s peak chart position, chart debut date, total weeks charted, total weeks at the top three spots, and original label, along with other important related information and interesting trivia on both recording and recording artist.
New with this edition, besides the 1,400 songs and artists who have hit the “Hot 100” and “Bubbling Under” charts since the preceding one, is the inclusion of every single that made Billboard‘s “Territorial Best Seller” chart from 1955-1958, when the trade magazine published Top 10 charts from 23 different major markets. Included are 138 songs on these charts that did not also enter Billboard‘s main pop charts that are now shown under the special “Territorial Hits” heading in an artist’s discography, along with corresponding data and biographies for every “territorial-only” artist.
The markets surveyed were Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto. Some songs topped the local charts in these markets–but not the national Billboard charts.
“The Four Lads ‘Moments To Remember,’ which reached No. 2 in 1955, made it to No. 1 in some cities, and we show those markets,” says Whitburn.
Additionally, Billboard published a weekly “Breakout Singles” feature from 1961 to early 1973. These are the 631 records that did not make the “Hot 100” or “Bubbling Under” charts; 10 to 20 of these “breakout” singles were listed each week, and are grouped together in the new book.
The “Territorial Hits” chart and “Breakout Singles” feature involved the garage bands and doo-wop groups that caught fire locally but not nationally from 1955 to 1972 –“the golden age of Top 40–the rock era,” notes Whitburn.
The new edition also offers updated artists’ bios, photos, Decade and All-Time rankings, and Grammy, Billboard, Rolling Stone and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards. With all the additions (Ke$ha and the Glee Cast weren’t even in the 2008 previous edition–and now have 14 and 139 “Hot 100” and “Bubbling Under” hits, respectively), Top Pop Singles has a larger 8.5 x 11-inch page size (instead of the former 6 x 9-inch) to allow for an easier-to-read layout and enable the book to lay flat. It’s also available in the first softcover edition since 1999.
Top Pop Singles is Whitburn’s major reference book publication. After publishing its first edition in 1970, his company, Record Research, has published nearly 200 books, over 50 of which are currently in the catalog. Many are what Whitburn calls “spin-offs” focusing on albums as well as singles, broken down by music genre; more comprehensive volumes compile the “Hot 100” charts by decade, including the recently republished Billboard Hot 100 Charts: The Sixties, which includes every weekly “Hot 100” music chart from January, 1960 through December, 1969.
Record Research also recently introduced the first in its new Across The Charts series with Across The Charts: The 1960s. The book completely covers the 1960s on Billboard‘s five biggest singles charts: “Hot 100 Singles,” “Country Singles,” “R&B Singles,” “Easy Listening (Adult Contemporary) Singles” and “Bubbling Under the Hot 100 Singles.”
“It’s unlike any book we’ve ever published,” notes Whitburn. “It shows everything that made the charts from all those genres. The ’60s has always been our best-selling chart book, probably because of The Beatles and it being such a great era for singles. We want to do a ’70s edition next.”
Whitburn’s love affair with records and Billboard goes back to his youth.
“I’ve been a subscriber since 1954–when I was 14–but I first saw the magazine when I was 11 or 12,” he says. “I saw full-page ads for artists like Johnnie Ray and Doris Day and Les Paul & Mary Ford and went, ‘Wow!’ Songs like [Ray’s big it] ‘Cry’ were No. 1, and these were the songs we listened to–and I didn’t’ know about any rankings.”
Whitburn would buy used 78 r.p.m. singles of “all the songs I heard on the radio, 10 for a dollar, at the dime store,” he says, as he began building a vast record collection now containing every charted “Hot 100” and pop single (going back to 1936), every charted pop album (back to 1945), and collections of nearly every charted country, R&B, “Bubbling Under The Hot 100” and Adult Contemporary chart record.
But he also collected copies of Billboard.
“When I was in college, my mother wanted to throw them away!” he says. “Then in 1965 I decided to run downstairs and grab an issue from 1958–when they started “The Hot 100″–and started with that first chart. It had Ricky Nelson’s ‘Poor Little Fool,’ and I went through and followed its chart succcess and kept track and counted the number of weeks it stayed on, and notated on the record sleeve its highest position. I figured it would be really neat to know if ‘Chantilly Lace’ made the Top 10 or went to No. 1 [it peaked at No. 6 in 1958], and I had a huge card pile of chart data and by 1969 I realized I had something really important.”
Indeed, disc jockeys in Milwaukee told Whitburn that a compilation of his listings could be a “godsend.”
“James Darren came to the state fair and boasted that he had three No. 1’s, and I went to my cards and saw that he only had a No. 3 hit [‘Goodbye Cruel World,’ in 1961],” says Whitburn. “Artists don’t [relate inaccurate chart information] now because everyone has my books and can look them up!”
He decided to make a little listings booklet, and secured a bank loan and “a huge book of radio stations” from an ad agency, “and sent a sample to all those stations that reported to Billboard,” he continues. And so Top Pop Singles was born.
“It’s always been the flagship book–our best-seller,” he says. “DJs have always been our best customers and buy it from all over the world–Great Britain, France, Japan, even Brazil! People that write about muisic also order it.”
But Whitburn wasn’t sure that “anybody but myself” would be interested in chart positions when he started.
“I thought it was interesting and fascinating to see Fats Domino hit a hot streak and cool off, or watch Jackie Wilson ride to fame and fade,” he says, “but I didn’t know if anybody else would! But radio jumped on board, and then record collectors and music fans all over the world wanted to see it, too. It’s interesting to see artists like Elvis and scan through their tremendous charting history, and see when they faded out and came back, and The Beatles in their awesome string of hits, and all the one-hit wonders–the thousands of them that people still remember. And all these songs mean so much to people.”
[The Examiner was a contributor/editor at Billboard for over 20 years.]
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