Revisionist History, Part 3: Michael Jackson Gets Revenge on Prince! Year-End Hits of the Past, Re-Analyzed

If you've been following our ongoing look at what happens when Billboard's No. 1 song for each of the Hot 100's first 46 years is re-figured to reflect Nielsen SoundScan-measured digital song sales since 2004, weighted fairly equally with Nielsen BDS airplay since 2010, you know the results can be downright scary.

How else to explain why each original year-end champ prior to 2004 (when digital downloads became the main source of sales data) has been spooked by the ghosts of smaller hits past, witch -- which, that is -- have been goblin up more radio airtime and smartphone playlist space?

That's not to say those monster hits of old aren't selling boo these days, but they’re having a devil of a time keeping up with these revised No. 1s. As in parts 1 and 2, we again dare to dig up more hits that have been tricked out of -- or treated to -- the top spot for their respective years.

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In the year Jackson and his brothers stormed the Hot 100 with four chart-toppers, the then-kings of pop were a duo who ruled with the moving title song from the year’s biggest album, the final studio set Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel recorded together. But neither act takes the prize in the revised rankings.

That honor goes to a band whose only major hit has had a busy chart afterlife: as a pillar of the classic rock radio format, part of the Guitar Hero video game, and its use in TV dramas such as The Sopranos, Heroes and Entourage.

Clearly Free's signature song has done more than just alright now, for a long time without much help from lead vocalist Paul Rodgers. "I did not perform 'All Right Now' for some twenty years after Free split. When I was touring in support of a new album, playing all new material, my band behind me and the fans in front of me called out for it. So by fan and band demand we played it, and it has remained in my set since." 

To what does Rodgers, who later scored hits heading up Bad Company and The Firm, attribute "Now’s" long-lasting success? "When I wrote the song back in 1970, I did not realize that the love story of boy-meets-girl would never grow old. But then again, love is perennial."   

No word on how Simon or Garfunkel feel about the change at the top. Perhaps they’d say that’s water under the bridge. 

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Hard to believe, but the King of Pop was never king of the year-end Hot 100, not even in 1970 when he was the youngest member of the Jackson 5 and each of the group’s first four charting singles reached the summit.

Based on revised rankings, it’s clear Jackson’s music is as much a Thriller now as in his lifetime: two of that 29-million-selling album’s seven top 10 hits have knocked out a pair of original year-end No. 1s. "Billie Jean," which finished second to The Police’s "Every Breath You Take" in 1983, swaps positions with Sting and company; and the album’s title song takes the crown from Prince's "When Doves Cry" for 1984. Perhaps as proof of their continued strength, both "Billie" and "Thriller" have re-entered the Hot 100 since 2013, with total digital song sales at 2.9 and 3.6 million, respectively.

"Thriller’s" ascension to the throne may be surprising, as it was the last of those seven single releases, and has become closely tied to this time of the year, due in large part to its iconic music video that’s surely influenced the media’s  "zombie apocalypse" obsession. But as Kevin Robinson, program director at adult hits station WARH (The Arch) in St. Louis, where the song plays year-round, reminds us: "‘Thriller' is more than just a Halloween song or novelty cut. It’s a well-written and produced record. Most people don't remember that the single wasn’t originally released around Halloween."

How to explain the king’s dethroning of Prince, whose "Doves" still fly high at No. 3 (and who performs on Saturday Night Live Nov. 1)? "While Prince is an amazing artist, Michael's had a much longer career in terms of airplay," Robinson says. "Michael’s work as a whole has greater pop appeal for the masses."

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In the strange world of Revisionist History, one "Bridge" is lowered while another is raised, as the Chili Peppers’ biggest hit takes the top spot for 1992. 

How is it that an alternative smash about its singer’s sense of alienation after beating drug addiction is shared by nearly a dozen commercial radio formats in 2014? "Bridge" is a puzzler," says Ron Antill, program director in one of those formats, at Pittsburgh adult contemporary station WSHH (Wish 99.7). "Maybe it’s simply that its style feels familiar to the audience: acoustic, melodic and [having] a message. I doubt our listener knows or cares that Red Hot Chili Peppers was or is an alternative band."  

Is "Bridge" topping "Road" -- which camped out atop the Hot 100 for one quarter of the year 1992, and which still plays at adult contemporary and adult R&B stations - a case of separating the men from the Boyz, based on modern-day popularity? "While both [groups] enjoyed success in the 1990s, the overall sound of RHCP influenced bands like Maroon 5, OneRepublic, Train and The Script," Jay Kruz, program director of Cincinnati adult contemporary WREW, says. "As a result, they have a lot in common with many of today’s hit makers. They’ve also continued to stay relevant in pop culture; I loved Chad Smith and Will Ferrell’s 'drum-off' on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." 

BONUS: Ghoul power in 1962.  Last but certainly not least, pop's ultimate monster hit, Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers' "Monster Mash" - a No. 1 song on the Hot 100 just before Halloween 1962 -- is the new leader for that year based on the recent figures, taking into account close to 700,000 in digital song sales. The song it replaces? One-hit clarinetist Acker Bilk’s instrumental with a frightening title of its own: "Stranger on the Shore."