Looking At Lists Again

The bookshelves here in my study – I’m thinking of renaming the room “Odd & Pop’s Workshop” and getting a sign for the door, just to confound or amuse our guests – are laden with reference works, as I’ve likely noted here before. And from time to time, I pull one off the shelf and page through it, much as I did with encyclopedias when I was young.

Last evening, for example, I pulled off the shelves the All Music Guide to the Blues, a volume that I’ve owned since 1999 but that I’ve hardly looked at since maybe 2001, when I moved from south Minneapolis to join the Texas Gal in the suburb of Plymouth. What that means, I realized last night, is that I now recognize far more names in that volume than I did twelve years ago. And, having realized that, I’ll be checking the book’s recommendations for additions to my blues library.

This morning, however, I’m going to dig into the lists in the back portions of three of the Billboard volumes produced by Joel Whitburn. We’ll start with Top Pop Singles. (And I’m still a little chastened by not digging deeply enough into the fine print in Top Pop Singles while writing Tuesday’s post, as documented by the kind note from my friend Yah Shure.)

Among the lists in the back of Top Pop Singles is “The Top 500 Artists.” The opening ten of that list is not at all surprising:

Elvis Presley
The Beatles
Elton John
Madonna
Mariah Carey
Stevie Wonder
Janet Jackson
Michael Jackson
James Brown
The Rolling Stones

But who, I wondered, came in at No. 500? It turns out to be Chuck Jackson, the South Carolina-born R&B singer whose biggest hit came when “Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)” went to No. 23 in 1962. It was one of twenty-nine records Jackson placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1967. But as Jackson was the last artist cited in the Top 500, I thought I’d look for the lowest-charting record in his entry. It turns out to be “Who’s Gonna Pick Up The Pieces,” a B-side (to “I Keep Forgettin’”) that bubbled under for two non-consecutive weeks during August 1962, peaking at No. 119.

From Top Pop Singles, we head to the Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits. There, Whitburn lists the Top 100 artists from 1942 to 2004. And again, there are no real surprises on the top of the list:

James Brown
Aretha Franklin
Louis Jordan
Stevie Wonder
The Temptations
Ray Charles
Marvin Gaye
Fats Domino
Gladys Knight (& The Pips)
The Isley Brothers

On the other end of that Top 100, we find Atlantic Starr, described by Whitburn as an “urban contemporary group” from White Plains, New York. Between 1978 and 1992, Atlantic Starr had twenty singles reach the R&B Top 40, with two of them making it to No. 1: “Always” spent two weeks atop the chart in 1987 (and one week on top of the pop chart), making it the group’s biggest hit, and “My First Love” topped the chart for a week in 1989. The least of the group’s hits in the R&B Top 40 was its last, “Unconditional Love,” which spent two weeks in the chart in 1992 and peaked at No. 38.

Our third stop is the Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits and its listing of the Top 100 artists from 1944 to 2005. As was the case with the first two lists, the Top Ten is unsurprising. (It’s possible, maybe even likely, that George Strait has overtaken Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash for third place in the seven-plus years since the book was compiled.)

Eddy Arnold
George Jones
Johnny Cash
Conway Twitty
George Strait
Merle Haggard
Webb Pierce
Dolly Parton
Buck Owens
Waylon Jennings

On the other end of that country list, we find the mother and daughter team of Naomi and Wynonna Judd, who as the Judds put twenty-four records into the country Top 40 between 1984 and 2000. The duo quit recording regularly in 1991 because of Naomi Judd’s chronic hepatitis, and their final hit – 2000’s “Stuck In Love” – was one of four tunes the duo recorded and released on a bonus CD with Wynonna’s New Day Dawning album. In the 1980s, the Judds had fourteen No. 1 hits on the country chart; 1984’s “Mama, He’s Crazy” was the first of them. Their poorest-performing single in the country Top 40 was 1991’s “John Deere Tractor,” which peaked at No. 29.

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