Growing up with a 'heart for the charts'

I grew up admiring this man’s work. It’s probably the singular reason I enjoy popular music as much as I do. Sigh RIP: Joel Whitburn.

When the Billboard Hot 100 arrived for the first time as Billboard‘s flagship songs chart in August 1958, Whitburn made it his primary focus. He made index cards cataloguing all the relevant information of the songs listed on the magazine’s then-two-page chart spread, tracking their movement on the chart from week to week. When he got a job at RCA doing record distribution in the mid ’60s, having these chart stats at the ready made him an invaluable resource to the radio stations he would visit. “They all said it would be a godsend to have that information at their fingertips, because there was nothing available,” he said.

Whitburn decided to quit his job at RCA and devote himself full-time to his research, founding Record Research and publishing his team’s findings, with their first release being Top Pop Singles in 1970. After working out a licensing agreement with Billboard — “[Charts manager Don Evans] gave me the exclusive publishing rights to mine the Billboard charts and, in turn, I had to pay Billboard a royalty,” he explained — further series followed, starting with Top Pop Albums and eventually encompassing genre-specific charts for rock, R&B, country, easy listening and more. (Eventually, Rhino Records also started to release dozens of hits compilations based on Whitburn’s books.)

He will truly be missed.

Michael L. Douglas @doctorpundit

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