Showing posts with label Billboard Hot 100. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Billboard Hot 100. Show all posts

Sunday, September 14, 2008

An Unexpected Twist

Drum roll please . . . According to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, what’s the most popular single of the past 50 years? Is it by Elvis? The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? They aren’t even in the top five. The most popular single during the past fifty years? Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.” According to Billboard,

“The Twist” is the only song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to enjoy two separate chart runs to No. 1: Sept. 19, 1960 (one week), and, following an October 1961 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Jan. 13, 1962 (two weeks). It also set a record for the most weeks (39) on the Hot 100 by a No. 1 song that held until UB40’s “Red Red Wine” lasted 40 weeks in 1988.

Billboard’s list, as many have remarked, seems counter-intuitive. As someone commented on Billboard’s website, many other songs in the history of pop have enjoyed multiple chart runs: The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” The Contours’ “Do You Love Me,” and The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.” The real puzzler for me, though, is the absence on the Hot 100 list of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” The song reached No. 1 on the UK singles chart in 1968 and was among the top-selling singles of the year in that country. Later the song was a Top 10 hit in 1971 in the United States as a result of being re-released after Armstrong’s death in July 1971. But the song wasn’t finished yet. It was later featured in the film Good Morning, Vietnam (1988) and again was re-released as a single in the United States and elsewhere and did very well, reaching No. 1 in Australia in June 1988.

According to an article about Billboard’s list on Yahoo! News,

Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard magazine, acknowledged that the list might not jibe with some fans’ personal thoughts of the most popular songs of the past 50 years.

“This is simply a chronicle of how each of these songs performed in their era on the Hot 100. We’re not saying these are the most memorable songs of your life. That would be something that's almost impossible to determine,” said Mayfield. “Everyone has a subjective frame of reference.”


The Billboard Hot 100 chart measures airplay and sales information (and more recently digital downloads) in determining the nation’s most popular songs. To determine the most popular song of the Hot 100 era, Billboard used a formula to determine the top song—not always relying on weeks at No. 1 since the data was reported differently in its early days.

Initially, Billboard relied on stations to report the most popular songs, and got sales surveys from record stores. But Mayfield said stations often stopped reporting on a song’s popularity if it was no longer a priority for record labels. And in 1991, Billboard began relying on sales data from Nielsen SoundScan and airplay data from Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems. So Billboard weighted certain songs from different eras to make sure all songs were on an even playing field.

“We went through each era, and we looked through the rate of turnover. The rate of turnover was very high in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and we had to put a weight on that to make the chart runs of that era equal to the chart runs that can be accomplished since 1991,” he said.

In other words, some sort of algorithm was employed to approximate the chart runs of the past based on the pattern of runs established since 1991. Clearly, though, the data analyzed was taken only from chart runs in the United States, ignoring the rest of the world.

Apparently Chubby Checker wasn’t surprised about the popularity of “The Twist.” According to the Yahoo! News article:

“My music is less played that any performer that has been a No. 1 chart man on the planet,” said Checker, who also had hits with “Pony Time,” “The Fly” and “Let’s Twist Again,” which earned him a Grammy. “I don’t get the respect that Rod Stewart gets, or the Rolling Stones, or Frankie Valli. ... But I have to deal with it.”

While the complete list can be found here, I reproduce below the rest of the top Top 10:

2. Santana featuring Rob Thomas – Smooth
3. Bobby Darin – Mack the Knife
4. LeAnn Rimes – How Do I Live
5. Los Del Rio – The Macarena
6. Olivia Newton-John – Physical
7. Debby Boone – You Light Up My Life
8. The Beatles – Hey Jude
9. Mariah Carey – We Belong Together
10. Toni Braxton – Un-Break My Heart