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Question for American pop music historians: What was so special about the #1 "record breakers" at their points in history?

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  • Question for American pop music historians: What was so special about the #1 "record breakers" at their points in history?

    Using the Best Sellers chart from 1940 to 1955, the Top 100 until 1958, and the Hot 100 from that point onward, these are the #1 singles that broke the record for total weeks at #1. In other words, it's the title progression for America's "biggest chart-topper of all time" (or at least one definition thereof).

    "I'll Never Smile Again" by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (feat. Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers) - 12 weeks [as of 12 October 1940]
    "Frenesi" by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra - 13 weeks [as of 22 March 1941]
    "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston - 14 weeks [as of 27 February 1993]
    "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men - 16 weeks [as of 16 March 1996]
    "Old Town Road (Remix)" by Lil Nas X (feat. Billy Ray Cyrus) - 18 weeks [as of 17 August 2019]

    The first entry is only a technicality, since it was the first #1 Best Seller and thus a record-breaker by default (although, as it turns out, it still had a fantastic run). But for the remaining four songs, what was it about the times in which they were released that allowed them to cling to the peak of their popularity for so long while other, possibly more beloved songs did not?

  • #2
    For most chart historians, the pre-rock era's data is almost viewed as a separate entity.

    It was common to see longer runs at #1 back in the day, and I think the way records were purchased and the overall impact of the radio at that time helped. Let's flash forward to the rock era and talk about "Hound Dog/Don't Be Cruel" by Elvis Presley. Having a double sided hit wasn't all that unsual; in fact, a hit artist like Perry Como could spawn a #1 from the A-side and maybe an additional top 10 for the flip. Elvis was a phenomenon and a bridge for rock 'n' roll music. Nobody else possessed the swag, the looks, the movements quite like the King. Back in that day, performing on Ed Sullivan and Milton Berle Show was the ticket to exposure as the TV was a main setting for most families. Given the fact that Elvis had built up his popularity by this point, the single "Hound Dog/Don't Be Cruel" was an instant success in terms of sales and interestingly, it was "Hound Dog" that took off first before "Don't Be Cruel" exceeded it in terms of airplay about a month later. The enduring radio exposure of both sides ultimately helped the single stay on Best Sellers for 11 weeks. Had it not been for his own "Love Me Tender", it might have held on even longer.

    Elvis Presley held onto the rock era record until 1992 when Boyz II Men claimed the crown with "End of the Road". The Boyz II Men single was featured in the movie 'Boomerang' and was dominant on Top 40 radio. The key behind their success was actually the ability to crossover into the pop market. In other words, they had airplay coming from Mainstream Top, Rhythmic, R&B and Adult Contemporary, all of which contributed to the Hot 100 Airplay panel by the end of 1993. "End Of The Road" spent only 4 weeks at #1 on R&B Singles, so it was a decent hit in terms of R&B radio airplay and sales from R&B oriented retail outlets. However, it had mass appeal everywhere simply because it was a great song...

    Must I really say much about Whitney? 'The Bodyguard' was one of the biggest films of 1992 and it starred Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. There's the movie and then there's the music. Whitney Houston was one of the biggest names in music at that time, and the soundtrack not only delivers the massive "I Will Always Love You" but also "I Have Nothing", "Run To You" and a cover of "I'm Every Woman". Honestly, this one of the most iconic songs of all-time and I believe it sold 500,000 copies in a week, something unheard of in any era of music. Airplay was good all over the board as well, but sales wise this is one the best selling singles of the 1990's.

    When you combine Mariah and Boyz II Men, you get incredible results. It's a great song in general and that helped it reach mass audiences... plus the sales were reasonably good as well. Unlike "Despacito" and "Old Town Road", this was hit from two major acts at the prime of their careers, and pretty much anything Mariah sang turned into gold at that time. "Despacito" relied a bit on digital sales and streaming, but it was a hit even before Justin Bieber attached his name onto it. Keep in mind that YouTube views had been factored into the equation and the song was extremely catchy to the point of ad nauseum. I'm going to say the same thing for "Old Town Road". Even with digital song sales being down, "Old Town Road" took streaming to another level and the number of additional remixes gave it a small bit of extra life that it needed. Again, in both cases, there's songs were both catchy and overexposed. They earned that coveted award but I wouldn't put all of these songs in the same league of quality.
    Last edited by WolfSpear; Wed January 22, 2020, 03:37.