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Album, Rock Charts Celebrate Anniversaries

Two of the longest-running charts premiered this week in Billboard history: the Billboard 200 in 1956 and Mainstream Rock in 1981.

LONG PLAY: 54 years ago this week, the Billboard 200 began its storied history.

In the issue dated March 24, 1956, the 10-position Best Selling Pop Albums survey appeared, marking the chart’s launch on a weekly basis. Billboard had printed album rankings on an intermittent schedule as early as 1945.

The chart fluctuated between 10 and 50 positions throughout the ’50s and ’60s. It has housed 200 positions since May 13, 1967.

The survey adopted the Billboard 200 moniker in 1991. It had been named Top LP’s in 1961 and was updated to Top LP’s & Tapes in 1972. A brief run as Top 200 Albums in late 1984 quickly gave way to Top Pop Albums in 1985.

Since the first weekly list was introduced 54 years ago this week, 824 albums have crowned the Billboard 200. Pink Floyd‘s “Dark Side of the Moon” has logged the longest chart life (754 weeks and counting); the “West Side Story” movie soundtrack has spent the most time at No. 1 (54 weeks in 1962-63); and, the Beatles have notched the most chart-topping titles (19).

Below is a flashback to the first weekly Best Selling Pop Albums tally. How long ago was March 24, 1956? On that date, Billboard reported that the country’s top TV comedy was “I Love Lucy,” the top comedy among men was “The Honeymooners” and the most-watched syndicated children’s comedy was “Abbott and Costello.” (The issue cost 25 cents).

Position, Artist, Title
No. 1, Harry Belafonte, “Belafonte”
No. 2, Soundtrack, “Oklahoma!”
No. 3, Soundtrack, “Carousel”
No. 4, Soundtrack, “The Benny Goodman Story”
No. 5, Julie London, “Julie Is Her Name”
No. 6, the Four Freshmen, “Four Freshmen and Five Trombones”
No. 7, Mario Lanza, “The Student Prince”
No. 8, Jackie Gleason, “Music to Change Her Mind”
No. 9, Lawrence Welk, “Sparkling Strings”
No. 10, Soundtrack, “The Man With the Golden Arm”

ROCK OF AGES: Billboard’s chronicling of rock music likewise reaches a milestone this week.

In the March 21, 1981, issue, Billboard premiered the Rock Albums and Top Tracks charts. The 50- and 60-position charts ranked airplay on album rock radio stations.

Billboard’s Mike Harrison reported on the importance of charts separate from the Billboard Hot 100 geared specifically toward rock radio.

“Singles unto themselves do not present a complete or accurate picture of the relative potency of current popular (rock) songs.

“For example, when a major artist such as Bob Seger or Queen releases an album and it becomes a hit, more than one song on it becomes popular at the same time.

“Singles charts do not reflect this activity because the record companies generally release only one single at a time per album.”

Harrison also insightfully related the fragmenting of radio in 1981. “At this point, there are no longer a handful of monolithic formats within the world of rock radio. Rather, there is a veritable spectrum of formats.

“Programmers will have to pick and choose their elements from a diverse number of sources in an effort to customize their own sounds.”

Rock Albums and Top Tracks merged into Top Rock Tracks in 1984. It became Album Rock Tracks in 1986 and took its current name, Mainstream Rock, in 1996. Several specialized rock charts have since originated: Alternative (1988), Triple A (1996), and Active Rock and Heritage Rock (1997). Encompassing airplay from all rock radio formats, the audience-based Rock Songs chart launched last year.

The Nielsen SoundScan-fueled Rock Albums chart began in 2006, followed by Alternative Albums and Hard Rock Albums in 2007 and Folk Albums four months ago.

Following are the top 10 titles on Billboard’s first rock songs chart 29 years ago this week.

Position, Title, Artist
No. 1, “I Can’t Stand It,” Eric Clapton
No. 2, “While You See a Chance,” Steve Winwood
No. 3, “Party’s Over,” Journey
No. 4, “Hold On Loosely,” .38 Special
No. 5, “You Better Bet,” the Who
No. 6, “Turn Me Loose,” Loverboy
No. 7, “Limelight,” Rush
No. 8, “Rocking the Paradise,” Styx
No. 9, “Keep On Loving You,” REO Speedwagon
No. 10, “Tom Sawyer,” Rush