Too Many Needles

My Internet friend Gary pointed me to something fabulous recently: American Radio History, which has been collecting and digitizing various radio-related magazines for several years, has recently put up its Billboard collection. Approximately 90 percent of the entire run of the magazine from 1942 through 2009 is available. This is a vast improvement over what’s been available at Google Books for a few years, and I expect we’ll dip into it quite often around here.

I do not mean for this blog to be all-50-years-ago all-the-time, but I decided that a good place to start with the Billboard archive was with the edition dated May 9, 1965. What follows are some observations as I page through.

Page 3: The brief review of the recent TV special My Name is Barbra, starring Barbra Streisand, is headlined “A New TV Star Is Born.” Yes indeed.

Page 8: Record dealers complain that a lack of standardization is hurting their business. A Washington, D.C., store owner complains, “I have to stock 150 types of needles just for the record players I sell. Can you imagine how a housewife would fuss if she had to buy that many different types of lightbulbs?”

Page 10: KHJ in Los Angeles has previewed its new format, to be known as “Boss Radio,” which will launch officially on May 3. (The issue date of Billboard was a bit ahead of the calendar. This means, of course, that if I say such-and-such a song was #1 in Billboard on such-and-such a date, it’s the date on the magazine’s cover and not the date the magazine came out or the date on which the Hot 100 was compiled, a fact that could lead me into a full-blown existential crisis if I let it, so la la la la na na na na not listening.)

Page 14: Brian Epstein estimates the Beatles will make a million dollars on their upcoming American tour, their second. The article says Epstein booked the band for two nights at the Hollywood Bowl instead of a single night at the Rose Bowl, which could have attracted 100,000 fans.

Page 22: “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits tops the Hot 100 for a second week. The highest-debuting new song on the Hot 100 is “Last Chance to Turn Around” by Gene Pitney at #73. (The song is known by many as “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” but that’s not its official title.) An additional 35 songs are shown on the Bubbling Under chart. They include “Gloria” by Them (#113), “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds (#114), and “For Your Love” by the Yardbirds (#116).

Page 24: The Mary Poppins soundtrack tops the album chart again. Soundtracks from The Sound of Music, Goldfinger, and My Fair Lady are also in the Top 10. The original Broadway cast album from My Fair Lady is at #36 in its 444th week on the album chart. (Not a typo.) Also ranking high are the original cast album from Fiddler on the Roof (#15) and the Elvis album Girl Happy, from his current movie (#25). The chart lists 150 albums in all. At #150, in its first week on, is Come Share My Life by Glenn Yarbrough.

Page 32: The Hot Country Singles chart contains a couple of future classics: “King of the Road” by Roger Miller at #3 and “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” by Buck Owens at #11.

Page 34: An article about radio in Denver notes that station KIMN has an “ultramodern, all-electronic newsroom which enables one man on duty to handle the work of several.” That said, however, the station also has five news vehicles equipped with two-way radios.

Page 37: The singles reviews section notes a new record by the Four Tops, “a spirited, fast-paced wailer performed in their unique style.” It’s called “I Can’t Help Myself.”

Tune in for future installments of this. It could happen.

2 responses

  1. JACKPOT! That Billboard archive will save me all sorts of time dealing with microfilm at the library.

  2. JB, I’ve been using ARH to look up Radio & Records info for a couple of years now. (By the way, their R&R selection is weak by comparison.) I, too, just discovered the Billboard collection. When you get around to the ’80s, you’ll notice that the Hot 100 is missing from each issue. Well, it’s not really missing. They have compiled all the Hot 100’s for each year into separate PDF’s for easier access. Other chart web sites are useful for additional info, but nothing beats being able to see an actual, original chart.

    Also, this collection is coming in handy when it comes to putting together my Bill Wardlow timeline. For those unfamiliar, he held several key positions with Billboard over a ten-year period, from Director of Marketing Services to Director of Charts. I’m finding that Wardlow’s movement up the company totem pole seems to correlate in some ways with changes in the patterns of songs’ movement up, and down, the charts.

    For instance, his name first appeared on the masthead as Willis Wardlow, Associate Publisher, in the August 18, 1973, issue. This promotion coincided roughly with the start of a three-year period in which the #1 spot on the Hot 100 was a revolving door. We have discussed this craziness at length in previous posts, particularly “Going Down Fast” and “Bullets Fly.”

    Or how about November 26, 1977? That was the week that Wardlow became Chart Manager, and Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” was in week seven of a ten-week run at #1. Reportedly, the really shady stuff ensued, the apparent manipulation of the chart positions of RSO’s product (Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, etc.) being the focal point of most of our discussion.

    Then there was April 30, 1983. Poof! Ol’ Bill’s name was gone from that masthead for good. After a three-year period of stagnation, the effect on the charts was immediate and conspicuous — no doubt a major adjustment was made. Casey pointed it out, sort of, on that week’s countdown. The top 40 featured seven songs that jumped ten notches or more, if you include debut releases by Culture Club and Journey, and only one song that held the same spot as the week before. The artist overlap was nothing short of astounding: Those two groups had two songs among the top 40, along with Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, Styx, Michael Jackson, and Lionel Richie!

    We look forward to more of your insights.

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