Billboard Charts (NOW & THEN) – how are they compiled and what do they show exactly (Part II)
The part 1 of this article is here in case you haven’t read it and wish to read it first.
Billboard Rock Era – From July 1955 to Soundscan System (1991)
The rock era started on July 9, 1955 (by consensus of pop historians) when “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart. For the record we believe we still are in the Rock Era though this was only settled by music historians a few decades after it started so we also are in Digital Era and we don’t know exactly how if this Era will be treated different in the future. For now the Digital Years belong to the Rock Era too.
1955 the charts were compiled in a different way. The first chart to rank the top 10 songs was contained in Billboard’s 1940 magazine. The Billboard Hot 100 list began in 1955 but was only a TOP 20 at the very beginning and was still called Honor Roll of Hits. Every week, Billboard Magazine gathers diverse sets of data from around the country to put together a list of the most popular songs of the week. The list was based on music sales and Top 40 radio figures, and it charts what songs people want to hear.
Top 20 becomes Top 100
Although officially all three charts had equal “weight” (Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played by Jockeys, Most Played in Jukeboxes) in terms of their importance, many chart historians refer to the Best Sellers In Stores chart when referencing a song’s performance prior to the creation of the Hot 100. Billboard eventually created a fourth singles popularity chart that combined all aspects of a single’s performance (sales, airplay and jukebox activity), based on a point system that typically gave sales (purchases) more weight than radio airplay. On the week ending November 12, 1955, Billboard published The Top 100 for the first time. The Best Sellers In Stores, Most Played By Jockeys and Most Played In Jukeboxes charts continued to be published concurrently with the new Top 100 chart.
On June 17, 1957, Billboard discontinued the Most Played In Jukeboxes chart, as the popularity of jukeboxes waned and radio stations incorporated more and more rock-oriented music into their playlists. The week ending July 28, 1958 was the final publication of the Most Played By Jockeys and Top 100 charts, both of which had Perez Prado’s instrumental version of “Patricia” ascending to the top.
Billboard Hot 100 – The official US singles chart
The first Billboard Hot 100 (with that name) was only published for the first time in 1958. The first number one song of the Hot 100 was “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson on August 4, 1958.
The methods and policies by which this data is obtained and compiled have changed many times throughout the chart’s history. As the advent of a singles music chart spawned chart historians and chart-watchers and greatly affected pop culture and produced countless bits of trivia, the main purpose of the Hot 100 is to aid those within the music industry – to reflect the popularity of the “product” (the singles, the albums, etc.) and to track the trends of the buying public. Billboard has (many times) changed its methodology and policies to give the most precise and accurate reflection of what is popular. A very basic example of this would be the ratio given to sales and airplay. During the Hot 100’s early history, singles were the leading way by which people bought music. At times when singles sales were robust, more weight was given to a song’s retail points than to its radio airplay.
It’s all about the money…
As the decades passed, the recording industry concentrated more on album sales than singles sales. Musicians eventually expressed their creative output in the form of full-length albums rather than singles, and by the 1990s many record companies stopped releasing singles altogether (especially in US). Selling albums was much more profitable. Eventually a song’s airplay points were weighted more so than its sales. Billboard has adjusted the sales/airplay ratio many times to more accurately reflect the true popularity of songs. That goal wasn’t always achieved as rules changed a lot to face music the consumer new habits and labels new tricks but usually with more delay than would be expected by the industry.
Starting with the Hot 100 chart for the week ending November 29, 1969, this rule was altered; if both sides received significant airplay, they were listed together. This started to become a moot point by 1972, as most major record labels solidified a trend they had started in the 1960s by putting the same song on both sides of the singles it serviced to radio. More complex issues began to arise as the typical A and B side format of singles gave way to 12 inch singles and maxi-singles, many of which contained more than one B-side. Further problems arose when, in several cases, a B-side would eventually overtake the A-side in popularity, thus prompting record labels to release a new single, featuring the former B-side as the A-side, along with a “new” B-side.
In late 90’s the inclusion of album cuts on the Hot 100 put the double-sided hit issues to rest permanently.
Radio & Records – The Official Airplay Chart from 1974 – 1991
Music charts, for the most part, are a reflection of how musical products performed in a given week. The Billboard Hot 100 reflects a combination of airplay and sales while many other trades only report airplay. For many years since its inception in 1974, Radio & Records (belonging to a different company) commanded the attention of radio program directors and music directors around the country.
Rules on Billboard Charts were not giving with accuracy the most popular songs in the country. Billboard’s charts have changed dramatically over the years. In the fifties through the mid-seventies chart action displayed much more volatile behavior than from the mid-seventies through late eighties. It is interesting how records began to move in more predictable chart patterns after 1974 on the Billboard Hot 100. Instead of songs falling from #1 to #12 in one week, which was common in 1974, top records quit falling out of the top ten starting in 1975 for many years to come. That same year also saw the end of records making big jumps to peak positions. Usually the industry was warned before a drop with a slowing trend of just a couple upward positions or less before the actual decline.
Airplay Hits Not Allowed to Chart Hot 100: 1974 – 1991
Singles were pretty cheap back then, ranging from .99 cents to $1.99 depending on where you went to buy them. If you liked a song, it was much better for the consumer to spend a couple of bucks on a single instead of $9-10 or more on a full-length album. Music labels started releasing some singles as 12” only and not being released as commercially singles at all. They wanted to force people to buy the album instead of the singles. One of the best examples of this was the 1985 Hit Madonna’s “Into The Groove” that spent 6 weeks at the Radio & Record Airplay Chart #01 and didn’t even appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart because it was a B side from the “Angel” single (that reached #05 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart) and so was not allowed to chart separately. The single was only available has B side of the 12” single of “Angel” in US. It wasn’t considered a proper single release for Hot 100 by Billboard rules though it had a video on heavy rotation on MTV and so it wasn’t able to chart. It got to #01 on the Club Play Chart and later was considered the Best Dance Single of the Decade by Billboard. But in 1985 they didn’t think it was a proper single so the sales rules for singles chart only allowed sales for 7” singles ignoring the 12” releases for the Hot 100 Chart. Besides B sides couldn’t chart. There was a Maxi-Single Chart for those releases and sales didn’t count for main sales chart. On that chart both songs would be credited. Not counting for the main chart is bit weird when you think that 12” singles were double the price of 7” singles. “Into The Groove” was the only song that stayed more than 2 weeks at the Top of Radio & Records chart and didn’t made Billboard Hot 100 Airplay #01 because wasn’t allowed to chart. It also helped Radio & Records to gain more importance over Billboard when one wanted to check what was really popular on the radio. Several other songs that charted on Radio & Records Top 100 failed to chart on Billboard Hot 100 Airplay for the same reason.
But there are a lot other songs that appeared on the Hot 100 airplay but were not commercially released and didn’t appear on the main Hot 100 chart. During the 70’s there are a lot of examples like Led Zeppelin’s “All My Love” and Elton John’s “Pinball Wizard” that were both Top 10 airplay and weren’t allowed to enter the Hot 100 main chart as were not commercially released. During the 80’s this was common for a lot of Hits like Janet Jackson’s “State of Mind” that reached #05 on Hot 100 Airplay and wasn’t allowed to chart on Hot 100 main Billboard Chart.
In the late 1980′s though, the first signs of true corporate greed within the music industry began to take hold. Record companies were looking at ways to generate more revenue. Singles cut dramatically into album sales and as result, the physical single started to become harder to come by in 1989 as record labels began to limit their releases. Billboard wasn’t molding their charts to the market enough.
When Billboard introduced its electronic methodology in 1991, unpredictable volatility returned to the charts and Radio & Records stopped being so important. But during the 90’s the airplay hits not available commercially not being allowed to chart the main Hot 100 became a bigger problem for Billboard. This and the fact that airplay was counting almost 90% for the Hot 100 while sales only counted 10% because ratios weren’t being updated. We’ll check out this later on the part III of this article.
Singles Double A sides on Billboard
Billboard has also changed its Hot 100 policy regarding “two-sided singles” several times. The pre-Hot 100 chart “Best Sellers in Stores” listed popular A- and-B-sides together, with the side that was played most often (based on its other charts) listed first. One of the most notable of these, but far from the only one, was Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” / “Hound Dog.”
During the Presley single’s chart run, top billing was switched back and forth between the two sides several times. Later Billboard decided that only one side of the singles could be counted for Artist cumulative number one hits and Top 10 Hits as would be unfair to compare this hits to others with different rules. This happened because sales from these multiple hit singles (like these Elvis Presley songs) counted twice on the billboard chart as were both added to each song total points to calculate popularity of the songs rather than divided by both songs. Since 1974 only one hit could be counted. Today Bilboard look back as this single as only one number one hit rather than two as it was the same physicall single.
But on the concurrent “Most Played in Juke Boxes”, “Most Played by Jockeys” and the “Top 100″, the two songs were listed separately, as was true of all songs. When Hot 100 got this name in 1958 A and B side from a single charted separately, as they had on the former Top 100.
Starting with the Hot 100 chart for the week ending November 29, 1969, this rule was altered; if both sides received significant airplay, they were listed together. This started to become a moot point by 1972, as most major record labels solidified a trend they had started in the 1960s by putting the same song on both sides of the singles it serviced to radio. So after 1972 Billboard decided just to ignore the B side of a single no matter what. This caused some big hits to become invisible on Billboard charts during the 70’s and the 80’s.
The double A sides issue was a problem that Billboard never solved until the Digital Era where songs are sold individually. So was it a song popularity chart or a Singles Chart? The fact is that this question doesn’t exist on the Digital Era where one song is downloaded individually counting as a single sale separately from a B side (the 45 inch is long over).
Where do EP Chart?
Extended play (EP) releases were listed by Billboard on the Hot 100 and in pre-Hot 100 charts (Top 100) until the mid-to-late 1960s. With the growing popularity of albums, it was decided to move EPs (which typically contain four to six tracks) from the Hot 100 to the Billboard 200, where they are included to this day.
Billboard Album Charts
Initially albums were collections of successful singles. The industry was single oriented. Later that changed as singles became a tool to promote albums. Billboard album charts (Hot 200) was introduced in 1956. On the first chart this is how the chart TOP 5 looked like:
May 5, 1956
If you examine the charts closely, you’ll notice some discrepancies in the chronology and number of weeks at number one. This is due to Billboard’s policy of tracking stereo and mono recordings separately from May 25, 1959 through August 17, 1963.
Top Pop Catalog Albums
On March 25 1991 Billboard created the Top Pop Catalog Albums is a fifty-position weekly albums chart produced by Billboard magazine which ranks the best selling catalog titles, regardless of genre. Billboard defines a catalog title as one that is more than eighteen months old and that has fallen below position 100 on the Billboard Hot 200 – since 2008 as from 1991 to 2008 were tittles 24 months old. Albums meeting these criteria are removed from the Billboard Current Albums ranking and begin a new chart run on Top Pop Catalog Albums. Effectively, the Billboard Current Albums is equivalent to the Billboard Hot 200, with the catalog titles removed.
Top Pop Catalog Albums also contains reissues of older albums. An album need not have spent any weeks on the Billboard 200 to be eligible for Top Pop Catalog Albums (this occasionally occurs if an act has a breakthrough release which prompts a significant increase in sales of prior albums that were not big sellers upon their initial release).
Music Labels didn’t want old albums to get media attention for still being at the charts as they want the charts to help them to promote new albums.
The only exception to the “eighteen months old” rule pertains to holiday releases (for example, Christmas albums). A “holiday” release is eligible for the Billboard 200 only during its initial year of release. After its first year, a holiday-related album appears on Top Pop Catalog Albums. Many consistent-sellers make return trips to Top Pop Catalog Albums each November through January (it is not rare to see the top 20 or 30 positions occupied by holiday albums during December).
A unique feature of the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart is the replacement of the “weeks on chart” column (a standard in Billboard’s other charts) with a “total weeks” column, which is a cumulative total of weeks an album spent on both the Billboard 200 and the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. The “total weeks” longevity record (by a large margin) is held by Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, which has a cumulative total of over 1,600 chart weeks (more than 31 years). The Top Pop Catalog Albums week are added to the previous Hot 200 Album weeks spent by the album.
Catalog and Hot 200 had to change
The issue dated July 11, 2009 was the first time any catalog album outsold the number-one album on the Billboard 200. Following Michael Jackson death there a phenomenon happened. Three of Michael Jackson’s albums (Number Ones, The Essential Michael Jackson and Thriller) claimed positions 1-3 respectively on Top Pop Catalog Albums and Top Comprehensive Albums in the week following Jackson’s death. Additionally, the entire top nine positions on Top Pop Catalog Albums were owned by Jackson, including Hits set by The Jackson 5.
This was when Billboard decided to make some changes on the Billboard Hot 200. There were albums on the Top Catalog selling enough to be Top 10 and even #01 so the Billboard 200 wasn’t truly reflecting the popularity of the albums sold in US. On December 2009 the Billboard 200 started reflecting comprehensive sales of all albums, old and new.
Editions of Billboard from 1955 to 1991: