Celebrating 80 Years of Sweet, Soulful… And Occasionally Head-Scratching Sounds

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In the issue dated October 24, 1942, Billboard debuted its first singles chart of what it called then the “Harlem Hit Parade.”

10.24.1942

That top 10 list grew…

… into more positions, and appeared under various names over the next eight decades, with such titles as

“Hot R&B Sides,”

“Best Selling Soul Singles,”

“Black Singles,” and

“Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks.”

Whatever you call the genre, it’s been one with an impressive musical legacy. That history has had some interesting developments along the way, and that’s what we’ll explore as we celebrate its anniversary. 

Some Unlikely Artists Have Made the Chart

Technically, the survey hasn’t lasted for 80 years continuously on Billboard. On November 23, 1963, apparently expecting a lot of more, shall we say, integrated music choices, the publication ended the chart. It was obvious after a year that it was missed, so it returned on January 30, 1965—along with more reliable methodology.

You see, by the early 1960s, the chart started having crossovers by acts hardly anyone would consider soulful – even under the loosest of definitions.

Squarer-than-square bandleader Lawrence Welk made the top 10 with Calcutta, for example. By 1963, the chart’s number ones included the following entries that are nearly impossible to believe were toppers in retrospect:

  • Hey Paula by Paul and Paula
  • I Will Follow Him by Little Peggy March
  • It’s My Party by Lesley Gore
  • Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs

Such anomalies were less prevalent when the chart restarted thereafter.

But they did show up. Here are some notable head scratchers:

Tom Jones shook his hips onto the survey no less than three times, with It’s Not Unusual (number 26, 1965), Without Love (There is Nothing) (number 41, 1970) and She’s a Lady (number 42, 1971).

The Osmonds took a song rejected by the Jackson Five, One Bad Apple, and got to number 6 on the chart in 1971.

Pete Wingfield’s Eighteen with a Bullet crested at number 15 without a bullet on both Billboard’s soul and pop charts in 1975.

Toto crossed the line with the atypically sensuous Georgy Porgy, making it to number 18 in 1979

The Captain & Tennille ambled up to number 58 in 1980 with Do That to Me One More Time, a song mellow even by the duo’s standards.

Given that she sang with Jermaine Jackson, it’s not quite startling to learn that controversial Golden Globe winner Pia Zadora reached number 61 in 1985 with When the Rain Begins to Fall. What is surprising is that it was her second time to appear on the survey, as her take on The Clapping Song hit number 88 in 1983.

The hard rock sound of Owner of a Lonely Heart somehow didn’t discourage its crossover appeal, so Yes made the chart at number 69 in 1984.

The same applied to Van Halen in 1984 with Jump, which bounced to number 88.

And perhaps as a measure of how big Michael Jackson was at the time: Weird Al Yankovic’s parody of ‘Beat It’ : Eat It, got to number 84 in 1984.

Some Songs Were Bigger on the Hot 100

For almost all except the biggest established artists, the typical progression for the usual crossover of their songs from soul to pop has been the number becoming a top soul hit first. And usually ranking higher on the soul chart than pop unless it topped both.

But again, there are some notable exceptions:

Brenton Wood’s Gimme Little Sign stopped at number 19, yet it peaked at number 9 pop in 1967. 

  

The Five Stairsteps had their second-highest peaking soul song with O-o-o Child reaching number 14 in 1970. But it went six rungs higher on the Hot 100 to peak at number 8.

·      

While Al Wilson did fine getting Show and Tell to number 10, the single really soared on the pop chart, where it hit number 1 in 1974.

Billy Preston joined Syreeta for the duet With You I’m Born Again, which only got to number 86 in 1980 –while zooming to number 4 pop the same year.

TLC peaked at number 4 soul with both Waterfalls and Unpretty The two singles did even better on the Hot 100, with each being a chart topper

Some Other Notable Oddities

  • While Michael Jackson became the first artist to score seven top 10 pop hits from one album, he wasn’t able to do the same on the soul chart. Human Nature and P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) from the Thriller album stalled at numbers 27 and 46 respectively in 1983.

  • Isaac Hayes is the most successful performer on the chart to top the Hot 100 without being able to do the same with any entry on the soul survey. Theme from Shaft was the biggest of his more than 30 charted soul singles, but while the song went to number 1 pop, it got the shaft itself by being held at number 2 for three weeks.

  • The song’s backing band was the Bar-Kays, who also had 30-plus soul entries without going to number 1.

  • Funky Broadway Part 1 by Dyke and the Blazers spent the second-longest tenure on the chart of any song in the 1960s at 24 weeks despite peaking at only number 17.

  • And the fourth-longest tenure on the chart of any song in the 1980s, It Takes Two by Rob Base and D.J. E-Z Rock, also peaked at number 17 during its 29-week run.

Hope you enjoyed these observations during this stroll down memory lane. And once again, Happy 80th Birthday to Billboard’s soul chart!


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Phylum of Alexandria
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October 24, 2022 7:35 am

Very interesting to think about what the early methodology behind the chart was.

The 1942 Harlem Hit Parade makes its methods clear: top sales from a few record stores in black neighborhoods. But surely they didn’t keep going with that method as they expanded the chart over the years, right?

thegue
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thegue
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October 24, 2022 10:09 am

NOM-NOM-NOM.

It’s not the trivia I want, it’s the trivia I NEED.

Virgindog
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October 24, 2022 11:34 am

The act that surprises me the most is Yes. Sure, Owner Of A Lonely Heart has a good beat and you can kinda dance to it, but it’s so lyrically obtuse that it doesn’t seem fit anywhere. The 80s were weird.

Anyway, excellent research, Ozmoe!

LinkCrawford
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October 24, 2022 6:04 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I always suspected it was the orchestra hits, which were kind of a thing in those early/mid 80s proto-hip/hop era, weren’t they? (I’m sounding so middle-aged and white without even trying).

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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October 24, 2022 10:22 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Yeah, they were all over the place, and not just in hip hop. It was a preset sound on a lot of synthesizers, so people used them.

JJ Live At Leeds
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October 24, 2022 12:51 pm

This is all excellent trivia and helpful to this outsider who often wonders how all these charts work. Perhaps someone can provide an easy to understand explanation as to how it is determined that a song gets onto the soul charts – is it simply a case that enough stations designated as playing soul decided to play Owner Of A Lonely Heart?

And how is that a song can do better on the Hot 100 than a specialist chart? Are the specialist charts a mix of sales and airplay or airplay only? Its always confused me that someone can be huge in one area, say Garth Brooks but don’t show up on the Hot 100.

Yours, bewildered by it all
JJ

cappiethedog
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October 24, 2022 2:03 pm

I’m listening to “Eighteen With A Bullet” right now. That’s not the voice I expected.

cstolliver
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October 24, 2022 5:33 pm

Great collection, Ozmoe. I have to say, I’m not surprised by Eighteen With a Bullet, or Georgie Porgy, or She’s a Lady, or even the Quincy Jones-produced It’s My Party.

Van Halen’s “Jump,” though? That one I can’t explain.

LinkCrawford
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October 24, 2022 6:06 pm

I think some praise needs to be shared for that picture at the top of the article–the cake and the records. Did you do that Ozmoe? I like it!

lovethisconcept
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October 25, 2022 10:44 am

Lovely, lovely bits of trivia this morning.

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