A word cloud reflecting the percentage of songs in the Billboard Hot 100's first 1000 No. 1 songs -- click here for a larger version, and head here for a list of all labels with more than four No. 1 songs.
This week, Billboard published "1000 No. 1s," an amazing (if we say so ourselves) playlist of every No. 1 single in Hot 100 history -- from Aug. 4, 1958 to this past Wednesday, from Ricky Nelson to Lady Gaga. In addition to being a fascinating look at pop culture over the past 42 years and an endlessly fun trivia search (what song was No. 1 the week you were born?), it also provides a snapshot of the music business over those years. Since label information is unfortunately not included on the list, we've covered highlights and general label shares in this article, written by longtime Billboard charts guru Fred Bronson. You can read more about "1000 No. 1s" in this week's Billboard magazine, available today.
The top four imprints with the most No. 1s in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 have at least two things in common. They are four of America's longest-running companies, with histories dating back as far as the 19th century. And all four are still scoring No. 1s in the 21st century. This storied quartet is responsible for an astounding 25 per cent of the 1000 No. 1s that have ruled the definitive pop singles chart from its introduction on Aug. 4, 1958. The fab four, of course, are Columbia (with 97 No. 1s), Capitol and RCA (tied for second with 52) and Atlantic (49).
NO. 1: COLUMBIA (97 No. 1s)
Columbia has amassed the highest total of chart-topping titles, with a 97-song list that spans nearly 50 years, from Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans" in 1959 to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" 50 years later. The company can trace its origins to 1881, when British inventors Chichester A. Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter opened a laboratory in the U.S. They eventually produced recorded sounds on wax cylinders and introduced a machine called the Graphophone. A Pittsburgh millionaire bought the rights and formed a company with multiple franchises. They all failed, except for the Columbia Phonograph Company of Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia -- the earliest incarnation of today's Columbia Records.
The label's pre-rock era successes included hits like Ruth Etting's "Ten Cents a Dance," the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra's "I'll Never Smile Again" (which features vocals by Frank Sinatra and was the first No. 1 single on a Billboard chart, back in 1940) and Doris Day's "Secret Love."
In the '50s, Columbia avoided the rock and roll bandwagon, thanks to A&R chief Mitch Miller, who was one of the leading critics of this new music. After Horton's first Hot 100 No. 1, Columbia scored with "Big Bad John" by James Dean in November 1961. That same year, A&R executive John Hammond signed Bob Dylan. Hammond also pacted the Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel and Paul Revere & the Raiders, all of whom soared to the penthouse of the Hot 100 with No. 1 singles and helped to usher Columbia into the modern world. The company continued to score in the 1970s -- with hits like Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee," Johnnie Taylor's "Disco Lady" and Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now" -- and the '80s, with chart-toppers like Men at Work's "Down Under," Toto's "Africa," Billy Joel's "Tell Her About It" and Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
Among its incredible 97 No. 1 songs, Columbia can lay claim to the longest-running chart-topper: Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day," which reigned for 16 weeks. Columbia also has the solo artist with the most No. 1s in Carey, who has led the chart with 18 different songs.
TIED FOR NO. 2: CAPITOL / RCA (52 No. 1s each)
Tied for second place among labels with the most No. 1s are Capitol and RCA, with 52 each. Capitol was founded in 1942 and was the first major label to be located on the West Coast. The imprint with the famous tower building logo first topped the Hot 100 in November 1958 with "Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio and its most recent No. 1 is "Firework" by Katy Perry, which garnered top chart ink just last month. Giving Capitol its biggest boost to achieve its total of 52 No. 1s were the Beatles, with 13 chart-toppers. The Fab Four had five more No. 1s on their own label, Apple ("Hey Jude," "Get Back," "Come Together" / "Something," "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road") and one apiece on Swan ("She Loves You") and Tollie ("Love Me Do"). That adds up to 20 - the highest total of No. 1s for any artist in the history of the Hot 100.
While the Beach Boys and a post-Beatles Paul McCartney each gave Capitol three No. 1s ("I Get Around," "Help Me Rhonda" and "Good Vibrations" for the former and "Listen to What the Man Said," "Silly Love Songs" and "With a Little Luck" for the latter), the artist with the second-highest total of chart-topping songs is Perry, with four ("I Kissed A Girl," "California Gurls," "Teenage Dream" and "Firework").
The history of RCA began in 1887, when Emile Berliner built a Gramophone machine and invented the flat, laterally-recorded disc. Four years later, Eldridge Johnson designed the first spring-driven gramophone and in 1901, with Berliner's permission, incorporated the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey.
By the time the Hot 100 was first published, RCA was the dominant label on the pop charts, thanks to the 1955 signing of Elvis Presley. The King had 10 No. 1s on Best Sellers in Stores, the Billboard pop singles chart that preceded the Hot 100, and seven more once that sales and airplay chart was introduced, starting with "A Big Hunk O' Love" in August 1959 and continuing with "Stuck on You," "It's Now or Never," "Are You Lonesome Tonight," "Surrender," "Good Luck Charm" and "Suspicious Minds." Just counting those seven Hot 100 No. 1s, Presley gave RCA more chart-topping tunes than any other artist. In the '60s, the label had No. 1s with songs like "I Will Follow Him" by then-15-year-old Little Peggy March (48 years later, still the youngest female singer to ever have a No. 1 on the Hot 100), Lorne Greene's "Ringo" and Sgt. Barry Sadler's "The Ballad of the Green Berets." The '70s found RCA on top with Nilsson's "Without You," the Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat" and David Bowie's "Fame." The No. 1 stars of the '80s included Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl," Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," and the label scored in the '90s with hits like Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories' "Stay (I Missed You)," Los del Rio's "Macarena" (Bayside Boys Mix) and Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle."
The first decade of the 21st century found RCA reigning with songs by American Idols, including Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" and Clay Aiken's "This Is the Night." The most recent No. 1 on RCA is Ke$ha's "We R Who We Are" in November 2010.
NO. 4: ATLANTIC (49 No. 1s)
Atlantic Records, in fourth place with 49 No. 1s on the Hot 100, was launched in October 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun, who fell in love with American R&B music while living in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s as the son of Turkey's ambassador to the U.S. His dentist invested $10,000 in a record company Ertegun started with Herb Abramson of National Records. The company's artist roster soon boasted a bevy of jazz and R&B musicians, including Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker and the Drifters. That last group 1underwent a series of personnel changes, including firing all of the members and starting over with a new line-up. It was that new group of Drifters that carried Atlantic to the peak spot on the Hot 100 for the first time in October 1960, when the classic "Save the Last Dance for Me" jumped 4-1. Other artists recording No. 1 hits on Atlantic include Aretha Franklin ("Respect"), the Rascals ("Groovin' ''), Roberta Flack ("The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"), Abba ("Dancing Queen"), Chic "(Le Freak"), Foreigner ("I Want to Know What Love Is"), Debbie Gibson ("Foolish Beat") and Brandy and Monica ("The Boy Is Mine"). The label's most recent No. 1 is No. 999, Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow," via the Rostrum imprint. The artist who has contributed the most No. 1s to Atlantic's total is Phil Collins, with seven efforts under his own name and one more with Genesis.
NO. 5: EPIC (42 No. 1s)
In fifth place on our list is an imprint introduced in 1953 as a classical label. A news story in Billboard at the time mentioned the possibility of some pop artists from the OKeh label being transferred to Columbia's new subsidiary, Epic. Helene Dixon, Sandy Stewart and Roy Hamilton did cross over from OKeh to Epic but the label had second-class status in the company, an admission from its own executives. Epic didn't achieve major status until July of 1962, when new signing Bobby Vinton lifted the imprint to first place on the Hot 100 with "Roses Are Red (My Love)." Vinton gave the label its next three chart-toppers ("Blue Velvet," "There! I've Said It Again" and "Mr. Lonely"). As the rock era bloomed, Epic became a chart force with No. 1s from the Dave Clark Five "(Over and Over"), Donovan ("Sunshine Superman"), Lulu ("To Sir With Love") and Sly & the Family Stone ("Everyday People"). After more chart-toppers in the '70s from Johnny Nash ("I Can See Clearly Now"), Charlie Rich ("The Most Beautiful Girl"), Labelle ("Lady Marmalade") and Minnie Riperton ("Lovin' You"), among others, Epic ended the decade with its first No. 1 from a former Motown artist, Michael Jackson. Some 16 years later, Jackson had given Epic a total of 11 of its 42 No. 1s -- more than any other artist on the label.
Tied for sixth place on our list are Motown and Warner Bros., with 38 No. 1s each. Motown was one of several imprints operated by Detroit entrepreneur Berry Gordy, and the first No. 1 from one of his labels was the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" (on Tamla) in December 1961. The first No. 1 to sport the Motown logo was "My Guy" by Mary Wells in May 1964, followed just three months later by the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go." In short order, the Supremes sent their next four singles to the head of the class, as "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In The Name of Love" and "Back in My Arms Again" made the female trio the first act in the rock era to have five consecutive No. 1s on the Hot 100. By the time Diana Ross split from the Supremes in 1970, they had racked up 12 chart-toppers for Motown, more than any other artist on the label.
The Warner Bros. film studio tried to start a record label in 1930, but the Great Depression slowed record sales and Warner's Brunswick imprint was sold in 1931. Another 27 years passed before the studio made another attempt at the music business, this time because Jack Warner was tired of seeing the studio's soundtracks selling well for other companies. Designed as a middle-of-the-road imprint, an office on the lot opened on March 19, 1958, and 12 albums were released. But pop success wasn't assured until February 1960, when the label, heavily in debt, signed the Everly Brothers away from Cadence Records with a deal worth $1 million over a 10-year period. Three months later, Don and Phil Everly had a five-week reign with "Cathy's Clown," the first No. 1 for Warner Bros. The company wouldn't return to the top until January 1965, when a British import called "Downtown" by Petula Clark claimed the lead position. The Association ("Windy") and Peter, Paul & Mary ("Leaving on a Jet Plane") gave the imprint its other two No. 1s of the '60s.
The following decades saw Warner Bros. hit its stride, leading the Hot 100 with hits in the '70s like James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend," Leo Sayer's "When I Need You" and Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" In the '80s, the Warner Bros. logo was on top with hits like Van Halen's "Jump," Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" and a-ha's "Take On Me." There were more No. 1s in the '90s: James Ingram's "I Don't Have the Heart," Karyn White's "Romantic" and Cher's "Believe." (Incidentally, the latter song caps the longest time span between No. 1s on the Hot 100 for an artist: 33 years and 7 months elapsed between Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" in 1965 and Cher's "Believe" in 1999). The artist with the most No. 1s on Warner Bros. is Prince, with three: "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy" and "Batdance" ("Kiss" and "Cream" were released on Prince's vanity imprint, Paisley Park).
Rounding out the top 10 are Arista, guided to stellar success by Clive Davis after he helped usher Columbia into the rock era, with 37 No. 1s, including the Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night," Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs" and Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." A&M, founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss as Carnival Records, with 30 No. 1s, like the Carpenters' "(They Long to Be) Close to You," the Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" and Janet Jackson's "Escapade." MCA was born in 1972 when MCA, Inc. decided to consolidate all of its labels -- including Decca, Brunswick, Coral, Kapp and Uni -- under one banner and gave the new label the same name as the corporation, with 29 No. 1s, including "Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom," Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" and Mary J. Blige's "Family Affair."
Looking at the list of imprints with the most No. 1s, there may be some names you expected to see that aren't there. The Philadelphia-based Cameo Records had an all-star roster with Bobby Rydell, Dee Sharp and the Dovells, but only held the top spot once, with ? & the Mysterians' "96 Tears" (Cameo's sister company, Parkway, had No. 1s by Chubby Checker and the Tymes). Buddah was big with bubblegum pop, but just sent two songs to the top rung: the Lemon Pipers' "Green Tambourine" and Gladys Knight & the Pips' "Midnight Train to Georgia." Colgems had three No. 1s, all by the Monkees. Stax, one of the most legendary labels of the '60s, had a solitary chart-topper with the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There," while sister imprints Volt and Enterprise also had one No. 1 each: Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" (the first posthumous No. 1) and Isaac Hayes' "Theme from 'Shaft'," respectively. Fantasy, another famed name in the music business, never had a No. 1. (It didn't help that the imprint's biggest act, Creedence Clearwater Revival, had five No. 2 singles without ever reaching the top.) The Rolling Stones had five No. 1s on London but only three on their self-titled label, leaving that imprint to bubble under the list of labels with the most No. 1s.
From a business perspective, hit singles have always been about figuring out what the public wants -- and no matter the time or the place or the circumstances, a No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 means an awfully large percentage of the population wants that song. Minds greater than ours can examine the changes in the American public since Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" launched this chart in 1958 and since Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" rung in its 1000th No. 1 this week -- but it's fun to imagine the looks on the faces of Nelson and the execs at his label nearly 53 years ago if they could have heard and seen the songs and the artists on this list. What would they have thought of the Four Seasons' "Big Girls Don't Cry," the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)," Blondie's "Heart of Glass," Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back," Eminem's "Lose Yourself," Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me" - and especially "Born This Way"?
We probably can't print the first words they would have said. But there's no doubt that they would have marveled at the soundtrack of American culture yet to unfold. Here's to the next 1000 No. 1s ...