The first-ever Billboard Hot 100 chart made a relatively modest debut on page 36 of the Aug. 4, 1958, issue, where the magazine’s editors touted “the fastest, most complete and most sensitive index to the popularity of recorded music in America.”
The new tally, the story continued, would “list the 100 most popular recorded sides” each week and serve as “a guide to potential as well as the current hits.”
The chart’s architects were editors Paul Ackerman and Tom Noonan, with an assist from Seymour Stein, then a high school student and an obsessive music fan who worked at Billboard‘s offices after (and sometimes instead of) class. He would go on to co-found Sire Records and rise to chairman of Warner Bros. Records.
The Hot 100 supplanted Billboard‘s Top 100, which, by the time it was phased out, was a pure sales chart. The new list used a formula to weight radio and jukebox plays, as well as sales, to determine a single’s popularity. “Record stores reacted favorably; radio stations, too,” Stein told Billboard in 2015.
At the top of that first ranking: “Poor Little Fool,” by then-17-year-old Ricky Nelson, who had begun his show-business career in 1949 in radio and, later, on TV, playing himself in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a sitcom that starred his family.
During his career, Nelson landed 43 more songs on the Hot 100, which quickly became the most-cited pop chart in the U.S. music industry and gave Billboard added cachet. “Through the success of the chart,” recalled Stein, “more executives were drawn to the offices, often with their artists in tow.”
Nelson died at age 45 in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1985. In 1990, 32 years after he had topped the inaugural Hot 100, his twin sons Matthew and Gunnar, billed as Nelson, reached No. 1 with their debut single, “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection.”
Stein departed Sire and Warner Bros. in July at age 76 but has hinted that he’ll be “back in action soon.”