The Beatles, Until the End of Time

The question of which record label released which Beatles single, the note upon which we ended last week’s Beatle post, is something geeks enjoy sorting out 50 years after the fact, but the average fan, going breathlessly to his or her local record store during those fevered days of 1964, could not have cared less.

Just as they dominated Billboard in April, the Beatles ruled Cash Box, too: on the chart of April 4, the Beatles held the top five spots and 12 out of 100, albeit in a different order than in Billboard. At KQV in Pittsburgh, the Beatles held the top 10 spots, and all were listed as co-Number Ones. At CHUM in Toronto, they had eight of the top 12; at “WA-Beatle-C” in New York, as the station billed itself during the Beatles’ February visit, five of the top 10; at WLS in Chicago, the Beatles had held the top four spots a couple of weeks before. The week of April 4, the Beatles also had the top two albums on the Billboard chart, and topped several charts in Britain and around the world. It’s frequently mentioned on the web that they had nine of the top 10 in Australia, but I can’t find a chart that shows it.

Although scoring the whole top five remains the greatest feat of dominance in American chart history, it was neither the first nor the last time an artist would hold more than one place at the top. Elvis had done it in 1956 with “Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.” The Bee Gees would do it in 1978, when “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive” sat at #1 and #2. That same week, “Emotion” by Samantha Sang, written, produced, and featuring background vocals by the Bee Gees, sat at #3, while Andy Gibb’s “Love Is Thicker Than Water” held the #5 position. (In my view, that makes the Bee Gees second to the Beatles in this particular category.) Since 2002, and a change in chart methodology that counts paid digital downloads as well as purchased pieces of plastic, taking the top two spots has been done fairly often. Wikipedia sums it up nicely here. But take note: nobody’s ever managed the top three, let alone five.

Those changes in methodology have rendered the leap taken by “Can’t Buy Me Love” to the top spot on April 4, 1964, from #27 to #1, far less impressive. In 1998, “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica went from #28 to #1; since the methodology change of 2002, bigger leaps are relatively commonplace. Just since 2007, 11 records have taken leaps of at least 52 places to the #1 position, including a 97-to-1 leap for Kelly Clarkson’s “My World Would Suck Without You” back in 2009. Since 1995, 21 records have actually debuted on the Hot 100 at #1.

I can gas on about this for a lot longer than you’d care to read about it, so I’ll wrap up here with one last observation: Given that nobody, even in a marketplace where the record-charting methodology is much more precise and up-to-the-minute, has come especially close to equaling what the Beatles did in 1964, their mark for chart dominance, set 50 years ago, is going to last until the end of time.

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One response

  1. I’ve tried to come up with some group that compares to the Beatles’ initial success and can’t come up with anything. The Bee Gees did come close with the chart success, but they had been around for a while, and the perfect storm hit with disco, John Travolta and the Saturday Night Fever movie.

    Other groups have threatened to approach the Beatles’ popularity, especially with the females (‘N Sync, Duran Duran, NKOTB, One Direction), but haven’t come close to their chart success. Oasis did well in the UK but didn’t have the crossover appeal that the Fab Four did.

    Which is all to say, we will never see anything remotely close to the Beatles again.

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