Back to the Bottom

(Before we begin: I am mightily fighting the urge to blog at length about what happened here in Wisconsin last night. I went to the Capitol for a couple of hours after the vote; people were energetic and angry, but also peaceful—anybody who tells you there were broken windows or “rioting” doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And with all those people inside, our beautiful Capitol was as inspiring a place as I have ever been in. It is clear that despite the vote, nothing is decided up here, nothing is won—and nothing is over. We now rejoin today’s regularly scheduled program, already in progress.)

Ever since I found my first copy of the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, somewhere back in the 80s, I have been a worshipper of chart guru Joel Whitburn. His books are strewn around my office within easy reach, and to call them well-thumbed is to understate the case. They say that when the poet W. H. Auden died, they found his Oxford English Dictionary “clawed to pieces,” and you could say the same of my Whitburn books. Top Pop Annual 1955-1986 fell apart a couple of years ago—split in two, right in the middle of 1976. The ones I have replaced with newer editions stay on the shelves, because you don’t easily part with old friends.

For a long while, I have been coveting Whitburn’s Bubbling Under book, which does for the positions below the Hot 100 what the various editions of Top Pop Singles do for the big chart, as well as Christmas in the Charts, which pulls together the figures from Billboard‘s maddeningly inconsistent Christmas listings. Both are out of print, and the copies available from used-book dealers have usually been ridiculously expensive. But last week I found copies of both at a price I could abide, so I snagged ’em.

I also got a newer edition of the Annual, complete through 1999. It was the source I used for the Down in the Bottom series, in which we discussed every one-hit wonder to peak between Number 90 and Number 100. Any reference book like those in the Whitburn series, loaded with numbers and dates and other minutiae, is going to have errors in it, and inconsistencies from edition to edition. But I was shocked to find a large number of records that would have qualified for the Down in the Bottom series were omitted from the 1955-1986 edition of the book. I am trying to track down precisely how this could have happened, but what it means right away is that we get to go back to the bottom and listen to some more obscure records. I hope we’ll have time to start doing that next week.

And now, music: A Down in the Bottom record we discussed in the earlier series, which came up on shuffle while I was writing this post. Play it loud.

4 responses

  1. Those Whitburn books are great. I’m still looking for a copy of the R&B volume that doesn’t require more money than I want to pay, and the Bubbling Under book is on the list as well.

  2. I posted about my Whitburn books at Echoes in the Wind but forgot to mention my first exposure. In my embryonic days as a record collector I met a great guy, John Smith, who had a Hot 100 book, ending with charts from 1969 (John was also president of the Brenda Lee fan).

    I HAD to have this info so I borrowed the book and xeroxed the entire thing at the radio station I worked for, using both sides of a sheet of paper to reduce suspicion (kind of hard to do back in the early 80’s). This was done on company time, using company paper and their machine. I think the statute of limitations has expired…….

    1. Porky,

      That is exactly how my 1970s music website was started. In the mid-90s I worked as the evening jock at a station that had a 1970s format. The studio had Whitburn’s book with every Hot 100 from ’70-’79. Over the course of an entire week between songs and mic breaks, I would go over to the copy room and take advantage of the fact that I was the only person in the building. By spreading it out over several days, nobody noticed how quickly an entire stack of 10-by-14 paper disappeared. (Like you, the statute has run — and the station ownership and format has changed a few times over — so I can admit it now)

      I began making notes about the singles and artists on a computer file for my own personal use, and when I first learned HTML I formatted those files to make a website with them.

      FWIW, I have the book now. Those pages got lost during a move I made at some point.

  3. Cosmic alignment: the revisited Down in the Bottom is announced the day my 45 reissue of the Texans’ “Green Grass of Texas” (which I first learned of through the original DitB) arrives in the mail (via eBay, natch). I look forward to the series resurrection and to scoring my own updated copy of the Annual (I’m toting the ’86-cutoff edition as well).

    Christmas in the Charts is a fun one, as I’m sure you’ve learned by now. It inspired my obsession with Becky Lamb’s “Little Becky’s Christmas Wish” a few seasons back. I know it’s a long shot, but should you ever stumble upon a non-bank-breaking copy of Pop Memories 1890-1954, let a fellow radio geek in on it. please ‘n thanks.

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