Few would argue that on Valentine’s Day, love conquers all. In the world of Billboard Hot 100 Revisionist History, however, that might just be the other way around.
When each year’s No. 1 song from 1958 through 2003 is re-calculated to reflect more current barometers of popularity — as in Nielsen SoundScan-measured digital song downloads since 2004 (when digital sales were first used in computing the Billboard Hot 100), and Nielsen BDS-monitored airplay across all radio formats since 2010, weighted fairly equally — there’s less love on top, as Beyonce might say.
As a result of that formula, there are no matches between the original and newly-computed top song for any year, meaning all four original year-end winners with “Love” in the title were knocked out, while among the newly-crowned champs, there’s but one “Love” song.
Not that this should convince you to put back those roses and candy hearts before you hit the register. Love is still doing just fine on the Hot 100, and there’s a glimmer of it in the songs that replaced three of those four “Love”-driven titles at No. 1 for their respective years.
Original Hot 100 No. 1: “To Sir With Love,” Lulu (Peak: No. 1, 5 weeks)
Revised Hot 100 No. 1: “Brown Eyed Girl,” Van Morrison (Peak: No. 10 Year End Rank: No. 35)
On the Hot 100 dated October 7, 1967, these two stood at Nos. 11 and 13, respectively: the former on its way to the top, the latter having managed one week in the top 10. Who’d have guessed the singer-songwriter from Belfast, Northern Ireland, would replace the singer-actress (in the movie To Sir With Love) from nearby Glasgow, Scotland, based on modern metrics?
Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” is the most downloaded and most played song not only of 1967 but the entire decade of the 1960s. Some might contend that on classic hits radio, the nostalgic tale of transistor radios (anyone remember those?) and making love in the green grass is just about the last ’60s song standing.
“[Not only does] everyone from that era have a personal connection to ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’ but for later generations, it’s like [Neil Diamond‘s] ‘Sweet Caroline’,” says Brian Bannon, operations manager of WLNG in Sag Harbor, N.Y., one of the last surviving commercial FM stations to feature a steady diet of 1960s hits. “It’s recognized and sung along to every time it gets played.”
Original Hot 100 No. 1: “Love Will Keep Us Together,” Captain & Tennille (Peak: No. 1, 4 weeks)
Revised Hot 100 No. 1: “Sweet Emotion,” Aerosmith (Peak: No. 36 Year End Rank: Did Not Chart)
How did these two songs, camped out at either end of the top 40 during the summer of 1975, essentially switch places? While the Neil Sedaka-penned pop duet that dominated radio that summer played on just 16 U.S. stations in the past week, the breakout hit for Boston’s boys continues to dominate at rock radio week after week. Aerosmith’s track has been downloaded more than three million times, and it’s appeared on albums which have sold over 20 million copies.
Outside of sales and airplay, the song that ranks among Rolling Stone’s greatest of all time has turned up in one motion picture after another over the past 20 years, from the ’70s lovefest Dazed and Confused to the 2013 hit comedy We’re the Millers, where it served as the soundtrack to Jennifer Aniston’s sexy striptease.
“We tried tons of options, even other Aerosmith songs, but none had the show-stopping appeal of ‘Sweet Emotion’,” Warner Bros. Pictures senior VP of music Erin Scully says. “Both lyrically and musically, it was perfect.”
Original Hot 100 No. 1: “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston (Peak: No. 1, 14 weeks)
Revised Hot 100 No 1: “Plush,” Stone Temple Pilots (Peak: Did not chart)
Although Whitney’s all-time classic returned to the Hot 100’s top three following her tragic death in 2012, it’s the Pilots’ alternative staple that made it only to No. 39 on Radio Songs (at the time not eligible to chart on the Hot 100, given commercial single requirement rules) which flies into the top spot for 1993.
“You know as a songwriter, when you get that tingling up the back of your neck, that you’re on to something special,” Stone Temple Pilots’ then-lead vocalist Scott Weiland says about the Grammy- and MTV VMA-winning “Plush,” which in addition to years of consistent airplay on rock radio has been featured in the video games Grand Theft Auto and Rock Band and covered by dozens of artists and aspiring YouTubers.
“That it’s attracted a newer audience is what I hope is testimony to the fact that it’s a well-written song.”
But is “Plush,” like the song it replaces at the top, a love song?
“It really is about unrequited love,” Weiland says. “The line, ‘When the dogs begin to smell her, will she smell alone?’ means ‘will she smell alone or will she smell like she’s been with someone else?’ So there’s that jealousy aspect as well.”
As it turns out, the only song with “love” in its title among the revised year-end No. 1s is also from Stone Temple Pilots. “Interstate Love Song” takes the prize for 1994, replacing Ace of Base‘s “The Sign.”
“It’s about a long distance love affair [I was having] while recording that album,” Weiland says. “It’s just the thoughts that go through your head when you’re not able to be with someone you care about a lot.”