By Warren Kurtz
This article is dedicated to American music chart historian and reference book author Joel Whitburn who passed away in June at age 82. Whitburn began subscribing to Billboard as a teenager in the 1950s and never missed an issue. In 1970 he founded Record Research Inc. and became one of the leading authors of reference books on the Billboard charts. Whitburn and his team not only compiled chart statistics on the A side of singles but also did the research to determine what the flip sides of the singles were and published those flip side names in their Top Singles series of books. When we debuted Goldmine’s Fabulous Flip Sides series in 2015, Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles book became the starting point for the series, giving us over 900 pages of flip side titles to consider. Below are five key Joel Whitburn books in arms reach on my reference shelf.
Top Pop Singles is used so much that I wore out my prior edition and am using a newer release which also includes singles from Billboard’s Bubbling Under the Hot 100 lists, so I no longer need that separate book of songs that peaked at No. 101 and below, which was a fun book of rarities and regional hits. Top Pop Singles came in handy for this week’s article, looking at Bob Dylan songs that Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover on Dirt Does Dylan and learning that “Country Pie” was the flip side of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” the two Dylan compositions that I didn’t already know.
The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits is a handy look at Top 40 debuts versus Top 100 debuts, especially when a record crosses a year or decade. In preparing a Pat Benatar tribute to coincide with her upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, I was able to confirm that her Top 40 singles were all in the 1980s, where her breakthrough hit of “Heartbreaker” actually charted in the Top 100 in late December 1979, but debuted in the Top 40 in February 1980, as I remembered hearing it first on the radio. The book also lists what song was No. 1 each week over the years, which is helpful for radio and birthday tributes, “This week in 1983, the No. 1 song was…”
Top Country Singles enabled me to quickly find five flip sides by The Judds when Naomi Judd passed away earlier this year and I was writing an In Memoriam tribute. I knew The Judds’ songs from my album collection but didn’t know which ones were flip sides of their successfully popular singles which surprisingly only made the country chart, with none crossing over to the pop chart regardless of the video popularity of “Mama He’s Crazy” and obvious choices for crossover success “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘bout the Good Old Days)” and “Love Can Build a Bridge,” three Grammy winners.
Top R&B Singles was used a few weeks ago for our African American Music Appreciation Month article in determining if any of the Ann Peebles songs on her new concert release Live in Memphis by Ann Peebles and the Hi Rhythm Section album had any flip sides on it and it fortunately it did, making “Let Your Lovelight Shine” a focal point for the interview article.
Billboard Top 1000 Singles 1955-2000 not only lists these most successful chart singles, but also lists the most successful 40 songs of each year for a quick reference. In the middle of the book is a colorful section of the 100 most successful albums of 1955 through 2000 with photos of the album covers, number of weeks at No. 1, number of weeks in the Top 10, and the year of its release. Michael Jackson’s Thriller is commonly considered the most or one of the most successful albums of all time, with 37 weeks at No. 1. In this book we learn that, yes, it is extremely successful, but it comes in at No. 2, beaten by the 1962 film soundtrack to West Side Story, which spent 54 weeks at No. 1, filled with Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein classic compositions that we discussed in our Valentine’s Day article with pianist Robin Spielberg this year.
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