I’ve followed the Billboard charts since I was in school, back in the late 70s (and that, kids, is what they mean by “old school”). But it wasn’t the Hot 100 that I was interested in; that was just pop pablum, nothing interesting there. I read the Top 200, the album chart, where you could reliably find Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” somewhere around #189 every single week and where you might occasionally find other albums that had been released a year or more before but which were already proving their staying power.
Well, the Hot 100 turned 50 last week and for a middle-aged coot, it’s looking pretty good. (I should be so lucky when my turn comes.) Don’t get me wrong, it’s still loaded with crap, but somehow it has managed to weather a half-century of often wrenching changes in the industry and our wider culture, and maintained a position of some relevance. One of today’s guest, Chris Mulanphy of Idolator.com, says the Hot 100 is the Dow Jones of pop music. And I think he might be right.
The Hot 100 may not be a barometer of musical greatness, but it does seem to be an accurate reflection of the changing culture of America. Look no further than the top of the first chart – Ricky Nelson leading a parade of white male singers back in 1958 – and compare that to the top of the chart today, 50 years later. Rihanna is at #1 and #4, four of the top are female (white, black, and South Asian), and the other is an African-American male. In a country where spending power is real power, that’s a pretty… uh, powerful statement.
Do you care about where songs are on the charts? Do they suggest artists you might like to follow up on? Or artists to avoid at all costs?