(Pictured: The Beach Boys do a public appearance to promote their latest album, 1979.)
The concept of the Top 40 dates back to the early 50s, and the famous epiphany of Todd Storz, who sat in an Omaha restaurant for several hours one night listening to patrons play the same songs on the jukebox over and over. At the end of the night, a waitress went over to the box, put in a couple of coins, and played the same songs she’d been hearing all night long. It dawned on Storz that perhaps his radio station might prosper by concentrating on currently popular songs repeated frequently.
By the 1960s, “Top 40” was the shorthand term for hit-oriented pop music radio—a manageable number of songs that a station could turn over entirely in three hours or so—and it stuck until the early 80s, when it was replaced by “contemporary hit radio,” or CHR. If you cruise through the charts at ARSA you’ll see that playlist and/or chart sizes vary widely; some radio stations charted more than 40 songs and some less. But 40 is the number that captures the imagination. And so reaching the Top 40, especially the Top 40 in Billboard magazine, the bible of the recording industry, is an accomplishment.
All of this is the introduction to another ongoing series. I’ve done a couple similar series in the past. Down in the Bottom was about the one-hit artists to peak between #90 and #100 in Billboard from 1955 through 1986. Bubbling Under Adventures looked at all of the songs to peak at #101 from 1955 through 1986. The new series that starts today (and which will appear intermittently, whenever I get around to it) will examine every song that spent just a single week in the Top 40 between 1964 and 1986.
There about 150 such songs. Almost exactly half came between 1964 and 1969, while the other half came between 1970 and 1986. The year 1964 had the most, with 17, just nosing out 1965 with 16; the fewest came in 1982 and 1986, with only one each. Ten artists have two songs on the list; everybody else has just one. Some of the songs are quite famous despite their relatively low placing on the Hot 100; others have been completely forgotten.
Rather than going through the list in chronological order, we’ll jump around. Let’s start with some of the most famous acts in history.
The Beatles are on the list with “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” which appeared in the Top 40 at #39 during the week of March 20, 1965. It needs an asterisk, however: “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” is the separately listed B-side of “Eight Days a Week,” which was at #1 for the weeks of March 13 and March 20.
On the subject of asterisks, Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” which had reached #1 in the summer of 1955, returned to the Top 40 for the week of May 25, 1974, hitting #39 thanks to its use as the theme song for the first season of Happy Days. Later that year, the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA,” a #3 hit in 1963, spent the week of September 28 at #36, thanks to its inclusion in the Endless Summer compilation, which would reach #1 on the album chart one week later.
The Beach Boys are one of the acts who appear on this list twice. In 1979, “Good Timin’,” from L.A. (Light Album), spent the week of June 9 at #40. It had been sitting in the vaults since 1974 and has those glorious Beach Boys harmonies, but it’s a little sleepy.
Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan are also on the list. The Elvis version of “Until It’s Time for You to Go” spent the week of March 11, 1972, at #40. Written by Buffy Sainte-Marie, “Until It’s Time for You to Go” was covered by a lot of people in the 70s. Versions by Neil Diamond and the R&B group New Birth also made the Hot 100; Glen Campbell, Barbra Streisand, Cher, and others cut it, too. Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” despite being one of his most famous singles, made only #39 for the week of May 15, 1965 (although it went to #6 on the Easy Listening chart).
In the next installment: artists whose lone Top 40 hit was their lone Hot 100 hit.