4 Jan: Dawn of the Hit Parade

Billboard introduced the first-ever pop music chart on 4th January, 1936. Catering to jukebox operators, rather than everyday music fans, the chart was an occasional magazine feature, listing top tracks from each of the major record labels based on sheet music sales, record sales, requests from band leaders, and mail-in requests to radio stations. 

Big Band numbers dominated the chart, which evolved (as the record industry recovered from the Depression) to eventually recognise black music with the ‘Harlem Hit Parade’, and Country music with the ‘Most Played Juke Box Folk Records’ feature in the 1940s.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly consider the role of music pluggers in manipulating the charts; explain how Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ caused compilers a major re-think in the 1990s; and reveal the all-time most popular title for a chart hit… 

Further Reading:

• ‘Billboard Charts History: How the Charts Evolved’ (Billboard, 2019): https://www.billboard.com/pro/billboard-chart-history-evolution-milestones/

• ’The Development of National Record Charts – Pay for Play: How the Music Industry Works, Where the Money Goes, and Why’ (University of Oregon): https://opentext.uoregon.edu/payforplay/chapter/chapter-10-the-development-of-national-record-charts/

• ‘Tommy Dorsey: I’ll Never Smile Again’ (RCA Victor, 1936):