Entering a new millenium provided an opportunity to look back at an era. Musical tastes and fashions provide a way to travel backwards to get a sense of what the past sounded like.
Joel Whitburn Presents A Century of Pop Music: Year-by-Year Top 40 Rankings Of The Songs & Artists That Shaped A Century provides such a century long overview. Joel Whitburn and his Record Research company have been assembling books ranking record singles and albums since 1970. All of Whitburn's earliest work was based on the weekly top record charts published in Billboard magazine. These famed record charts on came into existence in 1940. For earlier years Whitburn and his staff have relied upon periodicals like Talking Machine World and other reference sources.
There is no absolutely objective way to rank the popularity--the Billboard charts are only a sampling of buying behavior. The results in A Century of Popular Music are biased toward the longevity of time that song spent on the highest ranks on the charts rather than a composite of sales or radio airplay. Nevertheless this book presents a fascinating glimpse of American popular taste.
While it seems natural that The Beatles' "Hey Jude" is ranked the number one song of the 1960s, who would have guessed that "Theme from a Summer Place" by Percy Faith was number two? Or that the Paul Whiteman Orchestra had more ranked songs (78 of them over fourteen years) than the Jimmy Dorsey and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras combined. However, legends of American music like Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan did not often reach the pinnacles of the singles charts and their work is under-represented here (there are listings for three songs by Armstrong and two by Dylan).
Joel Whitburn Presents A Century of Pop Music: Year-by-Year Top 40 Rankings Of The Songs & Artists That Shaped A Century: Compiled from America's Popular Music Charts, Surveys, And Record Listings 1900-1939, And Billboard's Pop Singles Charts, 1940-1999 (Record Research, 1999).
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