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How the Charts Have Evolved Across Billboard’s History: The Hot 100, Billboard 200 & More

Take a trip through the history of Billboard charts, which have welcomed everyone from Frank Sinatra to Frank Ocean, and all the other artists who keep the charts, as much as ever, bright and…

“A monthly résumé of all that is new, bright and interesting on the boards.”

That’s how Billboard began, per its mission statement in the first issue, dated Nov. 1, 1894. Upon its launch, the eight-page magazine was “devoted to the interests of advertisers, poster printers, bill posters, advertising agents & secretaries of fairs.”

As the decades went on, and the entertainment business evolved from carnivals and circuses to greater consumption of recorded music, so did Billboard, which, by the 1940s, was on its way to becoming more known for what has been a hallmark since: our music charts.

From the first regularly published R&B and country surveys in the 1940s to newer charts and changes in methodologies through today, as jukeboxes gave way to 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, mp3s and more, Billboard‘s charts (now shared online worldwide, in addition to printed pages) have progressed as well, always with the aim of reflecting the most popular music in the United States.   

Below, take a trip through the history of Billboard charts, which have welcomed everyone from Frank Sinatra to Frank Ocean, and all the other artists who keep the charts, as much as ever, bright and interesting.

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra Gilles Petard/Redferns

July 27, 1940: Billboard publishes its first top 10 singles chart, Best Selling Retail Records, with Tommy Dorsey’s “I’ll Never Smile Again” (featuring vocals by Sinatra) at No. 1.

Oct. 24, 1942: The first R&B chart, Harlem Hit Parade, is published. Like many Billboard charts, its name would change several times over the years.

Jan. 8, 1944: The first country chart, Most Played Juke Box Folk Records, is published.

March 24, 1945: Billboard’s first album chart, Best Selling Popular Record Albums, debuts. But an albums chart would not be published on a consistent, weekly basis until 1956. 

Nov. 12, 1955: The Top 100 singles chart launches. It’s the publication’s first all-encompassing, 100-position chart. The first No. 1: Four Aces’ “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.”

March 24, 1956: The first regularly published weekly albums chart, Best Selling Popular Albums, debuts; this chart would eventually become known as the Billboard 200.

Aug. 4, 1958: The Billboard Hot 100 launches, replacing the Top 100. The first No. 1: “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson.

Ricky Nelson
Ricky Nelson LGI Stock/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

May 25, 1959: The album chart splits in two: Best Selling Monophonic LPs and Best Selling Stereophonic LPs. The names and depths of the charts would change slightly over time, but Billboard would publish two charts for mono and stereo albums until Aug. 10, 1963.

July 17, 1961: The Easy Listening chart debuts; it will later become the Adult Contemporary chart.

Aug. 17, 1963: The mono and stereo LP charts fold back into one overall chart known as Top LP’s. The 150-position chart would grow to 175 positions on April 1, 1967.

Jan. 11, 1964: The Top Country Albums chart debuts.

Jan. 30, 1965: What is now known as the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart debuts.

May 13, 1967: The Top LP’s chart expands to 200 positions, where it has remained ever since. 

Feb. 19, 1972: The name of the Top LP’s changes to Top LP’s & Tapes.

Oct. 26, 1974: Billboard’s first dance chart, Disco Action, is published. Becoming a national survey on Aug. 28, 1976, it will eventually be renamed Dance Club Songs.

June 7, 1975: Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy becomes the first LP to debut at No. 1 on Top LP’s & Tapes, one of only six albums to do so on the albums chart until the SoundScan era begins in 1991.

March 21, 1981: The first rock-specific charts, Top Rock Tracks (now Mainstream Rock Songs) and an early version of Rock Albums, debut.

Oct. 20, 1984: The Top LP’s & Tapes chart becomes the Top 200 Albums. It later is renamed Top Pop Albums (Jan. 5, 1985) and then The Billboard 200 Top Albums (Sept. 7, 1991). Its current name, Billboard 200, is adopted on March 14, 1992.

June 29, 1985: The first weekly Latin chart, Top Latin Albums, is published.

Oct. 4, 1986: The Hot Latin Songs chart launches.

Sept. 10, 1988: The Alternative Songs airplay chart debuts, reflecting the growing influence of R.E.M., U2 and others.

U2 Andrew Stawicki/Toronto Star via Getty Images

March 11, 1989: The first rap chart, Hot Rap Singles, is published.

Jan. 20, 1990: Billboard begins using Broadcast Data Systems’ (BDS) electronically-tracked airplay monitoring system for the Hot Country Songs chart. It was the first Billboard chart to employ BDS data. BDS’ information would later filter across all of our airplay charts.

May 25, 1991: The Top Pop Albums chart begins using SoundScan Inc.’s electronically monitored point-of-sale information to power its rankings. Billboard’s then-publisher, Howard Lander, wrote in that week’s magazine, “For more than 30 years, our sales charts have relied on rankings of best-selling records obtained from stores, over the telephone or by messenger service. Until now, the only technological changes have been the introduction of computer to tally the data more quickly and the recent usage of fax machines, but the basic methodology has remained the same. With [this week’s charts], we are proud to begin using actual piece counts on our two leading [album] charts: Top Pop Albums and Top Country Albums.”

Following this change, the behavior of albums’ movement on the albums chart noticeably changed. Quickly, rap, hard rock and country albums occupied higher rankings on the list, and albums began frequently debuting at No. 1. The first album to bow at No. 1 after the introduction of SoundScan’s data was Skid Row‘s Slave to the Grind on the list dated June 29, 1991. Six more No. 1 debuts followed in 1991: four rock albums, one country set (Garth BrooksRopin the Wind) and Michael Jackson‘s Dangerous. Since SoundScan data began powering the chart in 1991, more than 700 albums have debuted at No. 1. (SoundScan and BDS are now Nielsen Music.)

Nov. 30, 1991: The Billboard Hot 100 transforms from a tally combining ranked airplay and sales reports submitted by radio stations and retailers, respectively, to one based on electronically-monitored airplay by Broadcast Data Systems (BDS) and singles sales data from SoundScan.

Oct. 3, 1992: The Nielsen-based Mainstream Top 40 (also known as Pop Songs) and Rhythmic airplay charts debut, reflecting a splinter at the format following the pop-dominated ’80s, as hip-hop and grunge took hold in the early ’90s. The first No. 1 on each list? Ironically, given its title: Boyz II Men‘s “End of the Road.”

Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Sept. 18, 1993: The Adult R&B Songs airplay chart launches.

Jan. 20, 1996: The Triple A (Adult Alternative Songs) airplay chart debuts.

March 16, 1996: The Adult Top 40 (Adult Pop Songs) chart, a spinoff of Adult Contemporary featuring more uptempo fare, begins appearing in Billboard‘s pages.

Dec. 5, 1998: For the first time in the Hot 100’s then-40-year history, songs do not need to be commercially-available singles (at the time on CD, cassette or vinyl). By the mid-’90s, record labels were promoting many songs to radio but withholding their physical single releases, hoping that listeners would then buy the songs’ (more expensive) parent albums.

June 21, 2003: The Hot Christian Songs chart begins.

Feb. 12, 2005: The Hot 100 begins incorporating digital sales data, reflecting the rise of iTunes, among other online retailers; the Digital Song Sales chart begins ranking the top-selling downloads of the week.

March 19, 2005: The Hot Gospel Songs chart starts.

Dec. 11, 2010: As fan armies become a force online, the Social 50 chart debuts, reflecting the top acts based on social-media fan reaction. The first act at No. 1? Thanks to the Navy, Rihanna.

Rihanna performs during the MTV Europe Music Awards 2010 live show at La Caja Magica on Nov. 7, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage) Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Dec. 10, 2011: The Holiday 100 chart begins ranking the top holiday hits of all eras using the same methodology as the Hot 100.

March 24, 2012: The On-Demand Streaming Songs chart debuts, reflecting streaming behavior on on-demand audio platforms.

Oct. 20, 2012: In a large-scale revamp, genre charts like Hot Country Songs and Hot Rock Songs all adopt the Hot 100’s streaming, airplay and sales data formula to better reflect listener behavior.

March 2, 2013: The Hot 100 begins incorporating YouTube data. Sparked by the addition, Baauer‘s viral hit “Harlem Shake” debuts at No. 1.

July 19, 2014: Billboard‘s first weekly artist ranking, the Artist 100, debuts, measuring popularity in a range of metrics.

Dec. 13, 2014: The Billboard 200 becomes a multi-metric popularity chart ranking overall consumption, measuring traditional album sales, track equivalent albums and streaming equivalent albums. The new methodology was devised to provide a better sense of an album’s popularity by reflecting not just sales, but overall activity. (A pure sales chart was simultaneously launched as well: Top Album Sales. It maintains the previously methodology employed by the Billboard 200, comprising Nielsen’s sales data exclusively.) The first No. 1 on the consumption-based chart was Taylor Swift‘s 1989.

Aug. 4, 2018: The Hot 100 celebrates its milestone 60th anniversary. Chubby Checker‘s “The Twist” is crowned top song and The Beatles, top artist.

March 21, 2019: In addition to long-running weekly Billboard Boxscore reporting, covering the top events submitted each week, Billboard introduces a monthly boxscore series, where “we’ll chart the top events of each calendar month, providing a more accurate and comparative look at performances over a standardized period.”

June 15, 2019: While Billboard has long ranked top songwriters and producers at years’ end, the weekly Hot 100 Songwriters and Hot 100 Producers charts, along with genre-based versions, begin publishing. “We’re extremely excited to acknowledge the top creative forces behind music’s biggest hits on a weekly basis,” notes Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard svp of charts and data development. “A songwriter or producer’s influence and importance within the industry and beyond certainly merits recognition beyond our yearly rankings.”

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift Graham Denholm/Getty Images

This article originally appeared the Nov. 16 issue of Billboard.