When the Billboard Hot 100 debuted in the Aug. 4, 1958, issue of Billboard, the magazine already had a series of weekly rankings that tracked singles sales, specific genres and songs that generated the most combined sales in versions by different artists. But in an editorial introducing its newest chart, Billboard explained that the Hot 100's combination of radio airplay, jukebox activity and retail sales would provide "the fastest, most complete and most sensitive index to the popularity of recorded music in America." Sure enough, the Hot 100 quickly established itself as our signature chart -- and the recording industry's leading barometer of pop success.
There's magic, though, in the mathematics. Only sorcery (or talent plus the will of an industry, and a culture that continues to love music) can account for millions of people digging the exact same song at the exact same time.
Why did we all care about a "little ditty" from John Cougar called "Jack & Diane"? How to account for the nationwide rally around the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman"? You can say what you like about the Bay City Rollers' sense of style, but their 1976 "Saturday Night" was adored by the USA. Bonnie Tyler's 1983 No. 1, "Total Eclipse of the Heart," still sounds good. Karyn White's "Superwoman" is the classic, but her "Romantic" is what went to No. 1 in '91. Fergie's "London Bridge." Herb Alpert's "Rise." The Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes." "Help Me, Rhonda." "Yesterday." "I'm Real." "You're Still the One." "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down." We all have and do move to the chords, the beats, the lyrics, the very sound of these songs.
Perhaps you're an artist-a singer/songwriter, musician, producer. Maybe you're an engineer. Maybe you were (or are, or aspire to be) on a team that built one of these songs-finding and signing the artist, A&R, styling, accounting, publishing, street promotion, radio promotion and programming, DJ'ing, retail, tour production and management, marketing. Perhaps you're a VP, president or chief executive. Press/media relations. A blogger with a burgeoning empire. Or the traditional press itself.
Whichever: We all live these records. Many of us had a hand in building them. We have carried the water, and we have waved the wand. And through the downs-and ups-of this business, to these songs, the whole world sings. Billboard is proud to be the brand that does the math, but this week, most especially, we celebrate the artistry and the industry-the magic-of pop music. And we tip our hats to the No. 1s.
HOT 100 ESSAYS: