Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Being #1

There's long been a long, universally accepted adage when it comes to the pop charts ...   

"It Ain't #1 Till It's Number One In Billboard" ... 

And that distinction (or perhaps PERCEIVED distinction) always kept Billboard Magazine head and shoulders above its weekly trade publications competition, Cash Box Magazine and Record World Magazine.   

I personally have always wondered how three magazine charting the exact same music from relatively the exact same sources could sometimes have such a wide discrepancy when it came time to publishing their results each week.   

Sure, the top ten was pretty much a given ... while not necessarily in the exact same order, the ten biggest sellers for the week really could not be denied.  But further down the charts we often found discrepancies of 20+ points between a record peaking in Billboard and in one of he other trades.  (Good example:  Paul Revere And The Raiders ... their records always seemed to have a wider spread than many others when you compare them side by side with their counter-part charts.)   

"Like Long Hair" finished 14 points higher in Cash Box than it did in Music Vendor (with Billboard smack in the middle).  "Louie Louie" placed 26 points higher in Billboard than it did in Music Vendor ... unusual because moving forward, their records always seem to place lower in Billboard Magazine when compared to the other two trade publications.  Early hits like "Louie Go Home", "Over You" and "Steppin' Out" each had spreads of 13 points, 18 points and 17 points (respectively) between their best and worst chart showings.   

The trend continued once the hit records started ... "Just Like Me" (#11) placed seven points higher in Billboard than it did in Record World.  Paul Revere and the Raiders were cheated out of an "official" Top 40 Hit when Cash Box and Record World both placed "Peace Of Mind" at #35 and #37 respectively, while Billboard showed it at #42.  "Too Much Talk" had an eight point spread, "Don't Take It So Hard" a nine point spread, "Cinderalla Sunshine" had a 16 point spread and "We Gotta All Get Together" had a 25 point spread ... in all cases Billboard ranking these records the lowest.  The same happened with "Birds Of A Feather" (#13 in Cash Box vs. #23 in Billboard) and "Country Wine" (#28 in Cash Box and #51 in Billboard!) ... and yet another Top 40 non-hit according to "the musical bible".   

Another group short-changed has to be Chicago's own Cryan' Shames (who also just happened to record for Columbia Records ... think there might be a connecton there???)  

WLS-AM, The Big 89, had a HUGE national following ... with their 50,000 watt signal you could pick them up on a clear night in nearly every state from coast to coast.  As such, fans all over the country discovered songs recorded by our local heroes ... but they couldn't always find those records to buy in the record stores because the Mom and Pop shops typically only stocked what was performing well on their own local surveys and local market.   

As such, Cryan' Shames Top Ten Hits in Chicago like "Sugar And Spice", "I Wanna Meet You" and "It Could Be We're In Love" (#1 for four weeks during the Summer of '67) went virtually nowhere on the national charts.  Despite all its grandeur, Chicago's WLS just didn't have enough clout to make a noticeable difference on the national trades.   

That is until Joe Whitburn's new Comparison Chart Book came out, allowing us to shed another light on this topic.  "Sugar And Spice", a #4 hit here in Chi-Town, peaked at #52 in Billboard ... but came in 13 places higher (and actually made The Top 40) in Record World.  "I Wanna Meet You" peaked at #62 in Record World, despite a #85 showing in Billboard.  Even "Mr. Unreliable" dented Record World's Top 100 when it spent at week at #100 ... 27 places higher than it ever managed to rise in Billboard's Bubbling Under Chart.  Both of these records were Top Ten Hits here in Chicago.   

Four-week chart-topper "It Could Be We're In Love" stopped at #85 in Billboard ... but reached #52 in Record World ... that's a spread of 33 points!!!  I don't know what kind of research would result in THAT large a discrepancy!  And isn't it just a LITTLE bit odd that three straight Cryan' Shames records all reached #85 as their peak position in Billboard ... when in fact reach record performed far differently here in Chicago at the time, which would have been the primary basis for ANY chart activity monitored on a national level?   

Now one could argue that while all three trades used similar methods to determine their charts, I would still think airplay would have to be the greatest factor ... followed by sales reported by record stores all over the country.  (I suppose if Record World had a heavier concentration of outlets reporting from the midwest, THAT could explain why our Chicagoland hits always fared better in their publication.)   

But we also heard about all kinds of "Piggy-back" deals going on with distributors at the time ... yes, we'll ship you 200 copies of Record "A" (which you really want) but then you've also got to take 100 copies of "Record B" (which is kind of a dog but we're trying to drum up some airplay for it.)  It wasn't at all unusual to see MAJOR shipments one week for particular records, giving them a HUGE boost up the charts ... only to see these very same records come back in massive returns a week or two later because the record store hadn't sold a single copy.  Didn't matter ... by then, the "sale" had been recorded ... and the record earned a "bullet" in the process.   

There was also another fairly common trade.  (We all know about payola in the disc jocky booth ... but do you really think it ended there?)  How many times do you think THESE words were offered?:  "Take out a full page ad in next week's issue and we'll make sure your record jumps ten points and earns a bullet."  My guess is FAR more times than you can count ... like let's say EVERY week for DECADES as a label was trying to cut its losses and salvage an investment in some "hot new band" who never really had the tools to make it ... but "their lead singer was kinda cute so we thought we'd give it a shot.")   

That's the beautiful thing about Joel Whitburn's new book ...   

With a simple turn of the page you can see ALL of the records that made it to #1 in all three national trade publications ... as well as all of the ones that didn't ...but deserved to, most likely the result of some backroom politics sealing its fate with the artist none the wiser.  (And that's not to say that many of these artists themselves wouldn't have jumped at the chance to make a deal with the devil if it meant scoring a hit record in the process.)   

Rich Appel recently did his annual I.R.S. Countdown, highlighting records that readers and listeners feel were short-changed on the charts ... The It Really Shoulda ... Been A Top Ten Hit series has become quite popular with our readers and oldies fans all over the country.   

Meanwhile, over the next few days we're going to take a look at the #1 Records of the '50's, '60's, '70's and '80's ... and see of we can come up with more accurate list to share with our readers.  From time to time we'll refer back to Randy Prices's Super Charts, a conglomeration of facts collected for each week's chart based on research information from all three chart sources available at the time.   

If you're a chart-aholic like me, this should prove to be a very interesting series.  Hope you'll join us for this one!

Meanwhile, you can pick up a copy of Joel Whitburn's new Chart Comparison book here ... http://www.recordresearch.com/pop/the_comparison_book_1954-1982.php  

I can promise you endless hours of chart discovery enjoyment as you peruse these pages!