The following podcast first posted on Billboard.com on Sept. 21, 2016. Billboard now revisits it upon the death of legendary chart historian Joel Whitburn on June 14, 2022.
“A kid from Menomonee Falls doing the Billboard charts. How’d that happen?”
Wisconsin-born Joel Whitburn visited Billboard‘s New York offices and joined host, and Billboard co-director of charts, Gary Trust, as well as Billboard associate chart production manager Alex Vitoulis, on the Billboard Chart Beat Podcast, to discuss his legendary career as surely the world’s foremost authority on charted music.
Decades after his curiosity was piqued as a 12-year-old, his self-started company, Record Research, boasts 159 books (many with multiple editions) and counting, mined from decades of Billboard charts, including the Billboard Hot 100, the Billboard 200 and many more.
Along the way, a funny thing happened to Whitburn: the stars whose careers he was chronicling, many of them his favorite artists, became fans of his work, thankful that he, and his dedicated team of researchers, were logging their chart achievements. Upon meeting Elton John, Whitburn offered him one of his books. John’s response? “Oh, I got all your stuff, Joel.” “He didn’t want the book,” Whitburn marvels with a laugh.
Essentially, Whitburn invented the language of the charts, even coining the term “peak position.”
During the podcast, Whitburn recalls how his first book, published without Billboard‘s involvement, caught the attention of then-Billboard publisher Hal Cook, leading to his licensing agreement that continues today, and discusses the famed music vault at his home which houses every song that has ever hit the Hot 100.
Whitburn’s daughter, Record Research vp Kim Bloxdorf, also expands upon the company’s latest books and online offerings, including the latest edition of the venerable Top Pop Singles, which covers the chart histories of every Hot 100 hit, along with songs that appeared on predecessor charts dating to 1955. (As for the long-elusive “Ready ‘N’ Steady,” a hit on the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under chart in 1979 but not found by collectors until recently, leading many to question its existence, click here for the story, and to hear the song, courtesy of Record Research’s Paul Haney.)
Meanwhile, Whitburn remains the music fan that was first enamored of the charts as a boy, from “the three Es” – Elvis Presley, Duane Eddy and the Everly Brothers – to hits from subsequent chart conquerors P!nk, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and more. And, listening to songs is still a key part of his schedule. “I like The Chainsmokers,” Whitburn says. “I think they’re really good. I like their sound.”
He says thankfully, “I’ve got so much new music to listen to.”