This is the oldest flashback we’ve done yet. Hell, even I wasn’t born!
Billboard magazine’s music charts have long been the standard by which a song’s popularity is judged in the United States. When we say that a song has reached #1, this is where it happened. The Top 10’s found here mostly use radio station surveys to give them some musical diversity and local flavor, but the Hot 100 is truly America’s chart, and has been for 56 years. It’s what the late Casey Kasem used for “American Top 40,” and what many small-market stations used when local data was hard to come by.
Prior to 1958, Billboard published three general popularity charts – best sellers, most played on the radio, and most played in jukeboxes. The jukebox chart was important in the early years of rock and roll since many stations would not play that genre and the Top 40 format was in its infancy. The predecessor to the Hot 100, the Billboard Top 100, was introduced in 1955 and combined all three charts, giving the most weight to the best sellers. The other charts were still published. The jukebox chart was discontinued in 1957 as rock and roll could no longer be ignored, and finally, beginning August 9, 1958, Billboard began publishing one chart of the 100 most popular songs of any genre, christening it the Hot 100.
In recent years, there have been some changes to the criteria for the Hot 100. Billboard began allowing album cuts in the late 90’s as traditional singles were being phased out, and paid downloads from services such as iTunes were added in 2005. Today streaming services, including YouTube, are part of the formula, leading to things like “Harlem Shake” debuting at #1 in 2013 with very little airplay and relatively few sales. The chart is not as stable as it once was, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
So let’s go back to the beginning and hear some great music from 56 years ago this week. Just a moment, gotta let the tubes warm up, unless you’ve got one of those newfangled transistor sets. Survey dated August 9, 1958.
Peggy Lee – Fever
Peggy Lee was already a music biz veteran, having begun as a vocalist for Benny Goodman in 1941. This was toward the end of the “covers” era, when white artists made their own versions of black songs to get them on segregated playlists. The original was done by Little Willie John two years earlier, but Miss Lee rewrote the middle two verses and made the song her own. Quite a sexy rendition, especially for the time.
Johnny Otis Show – Willie And The Hand Jive
I can just hear dads of the time telling their kids to turn off that goddamn jungle music. What the hell is this world coming to? It’s all nothing but sex, you know, plus it’s a goddamned Communist plot. It’s never gonna last.
Jack Scott – My True Love
Jack Scott was from Windsor, Ontario, right across the river from Detroit, so we claim him as one of ours. My mother had this 45, which was a double-sided hit. I vastly preferred the flip side, “Leroy.”
Now that’s rock & roll! Note that he wrote both these songs – a rarity then.
Coasters – Yakety Yak
This is probably the most familiar track from this list to modern-day ears. The Coasters made a career doing semi-novelty songs from the pens of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. Two original members of the group are still with us, and if you want to, you can book the Coasters for your event. That’d be kinda cool!
Duane Eddy – Rebel-‘Rouser
Duane Eddy’s trademark twangy sound came from the Danelectro baritone guitar he used and the echo chamber his producer, Lee Hazlewood, fashioned from a water storage tank. This awesome clip is from the “Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show,” hosted by Dick Clark concurrently with “American Bandstand.” If you’re looking for better audio quality, may I direct you here:
Definitely watch that first clip, though. I’d KILL to have been in that crowd!
Kalin Twins – When
It’s fitting that the first Hot 100 chart would contain its first one-hit wonder. Unlike the Thompson Twins a quarter century later, they really were twins and their last name was indeed Kalin. The song peaked here at #5 and went to #1 in the UK. Both Harold and Herbert Kalin died less than a year apart in 2005-06.
Elvis Presley – Hard Headed Woman
Elvis had reported for military service the previous March, but RCA had him record a reserve of songs before he left, and he cut five more when he went on leave in June. RCA spread out the releases over his two-year hitch, giving Elvis ten Top 40 hits and four albums while he was away.
Bobby Darin – Splish Splash
Maybe this is the most familiar of these songs to today’s audience. Bobby Darin’s flirtation with rock and roll was brief – the following year he recorded the immortal “Mack The Knife” and transformed himself into a traditional pop singer. He was only 37 when he died in 1973 following open heart surgery.
Perez Prado and his Orchestra – Patricia
This was a huge hit that summer for the Cuban bandleader, whose best-known song was “Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White” in 1955. It had been the last #1 song on the old Billboard charts the week before. Younger readers should certainly know Prado’s “Mambo No. 5,” which was reworked into a giant hit for Lou Bega in 1999.
What was the first song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100? I know you can’t wait to find out, so for the very first time:
Rick(y) Nelson was introduced on his family’s television show, “The Adventures of Ozzie And Harriet,” but it was his own talent that gave him a career that lasted until he died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1985.
So there you are, the very first modern Billboard chart. It’s a cliche to say that it was a completely different time, but, well, it was. Go ahead and place your thoughts below – I’d especially like to hear from younger readers who may not have known most of these songs.
The regular T10FB goes up tomorrow morning. Be there or be square!