Something Better to Do

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(Pictured: Olivia Newton-John, on the radio.)

(Warning: we are going full chart geek today. It maybe ain’t for everybody.)

Commenting on my post about Roger Whittaker recently, reader Wesley observed that Whittaker’s 1975 hit “The Last Farewell” was one of 24 consecutive adult contemporary hits to spend a single week at #1. But the streak (from Ringo Starr’s “Only You” during the week of January 11, 1975, through Michael Murphey’s “Wildfire” during the week of June 14) is actually part of a more impressive one. In the period between July 27, 1974, and October 11, 1975, 47 songs were #1 for a single week. Seven lasted two weeks. Only “I Honestly Love You” and “Please Mr. Please” by Olivia Newton-John managed three.

I chose the July ’74 to October ’75 period because there was never a time in that period with back-to-back multiple-week AC #1s. In June and July 1974, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” “You Won’t See Me” by Anne Murray, and “Annie’s Song” by John Denver spent two, two, and three weeks at #1 AC. Not until October 1975 did it happen again, with ONJ’s “Something Better to Do” (another three-week #1), “The Way I Want to Touch You” by the Captain and Tennille, and Simon and Garfunkel’s “My Little Town.”

(This may be easier to visualize by looking at the list of Billboard #1 AC hits, which you can find here.)

Some of the songs that made #1 AC during the 24-in-a-row stretch were enormous Hot 100 hits, including #1s “Please Mr. Postman,” “Best of My Love,” “Have You Never Been Mellow” (more ONJ; adult-contemporary stars didn’t come bigger in the mid-70s), “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You),” and “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Others were not. Neil Diamond’s “I’ve Been This Way Before” and “My Boy” by Elvis each made the Top 40, at #34 and #20 respectively, but “99 Miles From L.A” by Albert Hammond and Don McLean’s “Wonderful Baby” barely rippled (#91 and #93).

The same approximate period was fickle on other charts. From July 1974 to October 1975, 47 songs hit #1 on the Hot 100, and all but 12 of them were #1 for a single week. During a 12-week stretch early in 1975, there was a different #1 every week. In both 1974 and 1975, 35 different songs hit #1, which is still the all-time record. So “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tennille, which stayed on top for four weeks in the summer of 1975, was clearly several orders of magnitude bigger than any other record of the time. Not even Elton John, red-hot as he was in this period, could come close; “Philadelphia Freedom” managed two weeks. The act that got closest to C&T territory was Tony Orlando and Dawn, who kept “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” on top for three weeks.

The R&B singles charts were similarly busy. From December 1974 to March 1976 (another period marked off with back-to-back multiple-week #1s), I count 54 #1 songs. Seven of them managed two weeks at #1 in that period. The only one to last three weeks was “Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers.

What about the Billboard country chart? Finding strings of single-week #1s is practically redundant. For almost two decades, single-week #1s were far and away the norm.

1973: 35 #1 hits
1974: 40
1975: 43
1976: 36
1977: 30
1978: 31
1979: 33
1980: 43
1981: 47
1982: 47
1983: 50
1984: 50
1985: 51
1986: 51
1987: 49
1988: 48
1989: 49

In a generation of enormous volatility, Waylon Jennings doing six straight weeks at # 1 with “Luckenbach, Texas” and Dolly Parton doing five with “Here You Come Again,” both in 1977, is reeeeeeally something. And as you see, the chart would get even wilder in the 80s. In December 1979 and January 1980, two songs would do three weeks at #1 back to back. After that, to January 1990 and the coming of Billboard‘s methodology-changing BDS system (which monitored what stations actually played instead of relying on the historical practice of what stations said they played), only three songs total would spend three weeks at the top: “My Heart” by Ronnie Milsap and “Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee in 1980, and “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis in 1987.

And there’s more:

—Between February 1980 and January 1990, there were only three instances when multiple-week #1s occurred back-to-back on the Billboard country chart.

—Between January 1985 and the coming of BDS in 1990, out of 250 #1 hits in the period, only 11 lasted two weeks at the top, and only Randy Travis made it for three.

I’d like to thank Wesley, a longtime reader and frequent commenter, for sending me down this particular rabbit hole. I did not know until recently that Wesley is the author of The Billboard Book of Adult Contemporary Number One Hits (among other titles), a book that is somehow not in my library but certainly should be. And if you have read this far, it should probably be in yours also.

3 thoughts on “Something Better to Do

  1. mikehagerty

    This was the era that made it possible for AC stations to challenge Top 40s—taking their female audience or at the very least getting them to share it. Because Top 40 GMs wanted the ad revenues from 25-49 year old audiences, they hung in there for two or three years, with ACs and Top 40s differentiated by the five or six hardest current records, some oldies and the jocks’ on-air approach.

    Eventually, depending on the market, defending against disco or AOR stations forced Top 40s to drop the head-to-head competition with ACs, but by 1981, when disco was dead and it was clear that AOR was an FM-only format, the surviving Top 40s came back for a final round with AC stations.

  2. Wesley

    I’ve been outed and I’ve led JB down a rabbit hole (a really deep rabbit hole, I should add!). Two for two already this week! Seriously, thanks for the nice words, JB. I can tell you and everyone on here that The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits was my second book. My first was The Encyclopedia of Daytime Television with Billboard Books in 1998 (I pick topics that are easy to research, eh?). My editor was so appreciative of that effort, he asked me what my idea was for a second book. I hadn’t given any thought to that, but seeing as Billboard already had books on #1 pop, LPs, soul and country, the AC chart was the only one left, so I gave it a shot and they took it.

    I talked to about 100 different singers, writers and producers for the book, and I think it came out well despite having to scrape the barrel in a few instances. Trying to write 13 different 500-word entries about Barry Manilow’s music was challenging, shall we way (he was one of the few I couldn’t get to interview). I know that given how incredibly long songs have stayed at the top of the AC chart this century that it would be relatively easy to update the book with maybe 100 or so more songs, but man, I don’t care about reading much less writing about crap like “Christmas Shoes” or “You’re Beautiful.” I have worked on other books since then, however, and I’ve just finishing up the manuscript for my tenth book, Betty White on TV: From Video Vanguard to Golden Girl. I’ll let you know how it progresses on here periodically without trying to sound like a commercial.

    Again, thank you for this unsolicited but much appreciated plug.

  3. mackdaddyg

    Full chart geek? Perhaps, but it’s interesting stuff. Thanks for taking the time to tabulate all of that into one post.

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