What Can We Learn from #1 Songs?
Posted on April 27, 2011 at 8:00 am
Jessie Rifkin listened to every number one song in the history of the pop charts, from Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” up through this week’s “ET” by Katy Perry and wrote about it for the Washington Post. He notes that “The first 100 non-instrumental No. 1’s were performed by 38 solo acts and 62 groups, but the most recent 100 were performed by 91 solo acts and nine groups” and that George Harrison and Elvis Presley had number one hits after they were not at the top of their careers. “And only 19 instrumentals have reached the top spot, none after 1985’s synth-percussion-fest “Miami Vice Theme” by Jan Hammer.” Perhaps most significantly,
What is remembered as the defining music of an era and what actually sold the most at the time are very different. Imagine the 1960s without Bob Dylan, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix; the 1970s without KISS, the Who and Led Zeppelin; the 1980s without Bruce Springsteen, Journey and Run-DMC; the 1990s without Nirvana, Green Day and Public Enemy; the aughts without John Mayer, Linkin Park and Taylor Swift. None of these giants have had a No. 1 song — at least not yet.
Get your own sense of what Jessie Rifkin listened to with these wonderful compilations of five seconds from every number one song on the top 40. If you are as old as I am, it is the aural equivalent of seeing your life pass before your eyes. What is the first pop song you remember? What is the first one you ever bought? What’s your favorite one-hit wonder?