Beatles On Billboard

If you were born the week “I Want To Hold Your Hand” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, there has been a Beatle on the singles chart for nearly one-third of your life. Of the 3000 weeks from January 18, 1964, to July 10, 2021, 958 of those weeks have had a song by either The Beatles, John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band, Paul McCartney (as a lead or credited featured artist), Wings (including the band’s alter ego Suzy & The Red Stripes), George Harrison, Traveling Wilburys, or Ringo Starr on the Billboard Hot 100.

Music charts are great for people like me who love looking at lists of numbers. For example: Ringo’s “Beaucoups of Blues” charted for 5 weeks from November 7-December 5, 1970, at 100, 96, 94, 87, and 87. Now, I was in hog heaven reading that last sentence. But I get that it’s not for everyone. So I’ve devised a way to experience the impact of The Beatles on the Billboard Hot 100 aurally, in under 13 minutes.

In this experiment, each week of the Billboard Hot 100 is equal to a quarter-of-a-second. If a song is at number 27 on the chart, for example, for that week (1/4-second), I lowered its original volume by 2.7 decibels; number 50 is lowered by 5.0 dB, number 92 is lowered by 9.2 dB, etc.

(I weighed the pros and cons of various alternatives. A 1/4-second is so short, but even if every week was a half-second, these 3000 weeks would come to almost a half-hour. Plus, I’m aware that there’s not that much of a difference between a song lowered 0.1 dB and a song lowered 3.0 dB, especially when they’re moving by at such a fast clip; I have worked on an alternate version where a song at number 27 would be lowered 27 full decibels, for example, but that makes it so that any song that peaked lower than ~20 is basically inaudible.)

Facts that could help you win a highly specific trivia game show:

  • What Beatles song has spent the most weeks on the Billboard Hot 100? “Twist And Shout” spent a total of 26 weeks on the chart — 11 weeks in 1964 and an additional 15 weeks when it re-charted in 1986 thanks to its appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (“Hey Jude” has the record for most consecutive weeks at 19.)
  • What song from a Beatle’s solo career has spent the most weeks on the Billboard Hot 100? It’s a three-way tie between John’s “(Just Like) Starting Over,” Paul’s “Say Say Say,” and George’s “Got My Mind Set On You,” all of which have spent 22 weeks on the chart. (Ringo’s longest-charting single is “Photograph,” which has spent 16 weeks on the chart.)
  • What Beatles/solo songs have re-entered the chart? As mentioned previously, “Twist And Shout” is probably the best-known example of a Beatles/solo song re-entering the chart having done so 22 years after its initial release. In addition, a reissue of “My Sweet Lord” spent one week on the chart in 2002 (31 years after its initial release); “Only One” (one of Paul’s collaborations with Kanye West) dropped out of the chart for one week before re-entering, bolstered by the success of “FourFiveSeconds” (another of the Paul-Kanye collaborations); and finally, “Wonderful Christmastime” re-entered the chart in 2020 after making its first chart appearance in 2018, a whopping 39 years after its initial release.
  • Was there ever a time when all four Beatles had a song on the Billboard Hot 100? It happened only once from November 23, 1974, to February 15, 1975. The charted songs were John’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” and “#9 Dream,” Paul and Wings’s “Junior’s Farm,” George’s “Dark Horse” and “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” and Ringo’s “Only You” and “No No Song.” (This feat had almost occurred April 24-May 1, 1971 — if only “What Is Life” had stayed on the chart one more week or “It Don’t Come Easy” had debuted one week sooner.) Of course, there’s never been a time when all four Beatles had a solo song on the chart and a song credited to The Beatles was on the chart as well.
  • What’s the longest streak of chart activity? From April 14, 1973, to August 17, 1974 (71 weeks), there was an uninterrupted streak of Beatles on the chart, comprising ten different solo songs, beginning with “My Love” and ending with “Band On The Run.” The longest streak of inactivity lasted from July 21, 2007, to January 10, 2015 (391 weeks).
  • How many number ones have The Beatles had? Nineteen. Paul has had 9, George has had 3, and John and Ringo have both had 2, for a grand total of 35. The last of the four Beatles to have a solo number one was John with 1974’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.” The most recent number one was George’s “Got My Mind Set On You” in 1988. Over the past 3000 weeks, The Beatles (or a Beatle) have occupied every single slot on the Billboard Hot 100, from number 100 to number one.
Here you can see that all four Beatles had a fairly successful ’70s, but only Paul had much chart success in the ’80s. It wasn’t until June 5, 1999, that the number of weeks The Beatles and its members had spent on the chart was surpassed by the number of weeks they were not on the chart since their first appearance. This graph is also a good visualization of the final chart appearances for Ringo (1982), John (1988), The Beatles (1996), and George (2002).

In many ways, this story is a sad one. Ringo hasn’t made a chart appearance in decades. Upon John’s passing, none of his old songs re-entered the chart (unlike on the UK Chart, where “Imagine” went to number one), and when George passed, only “My Sweet Lord” appeared on the chart, and even then, just for one week. Paul seems to only be able to make an impact on the chart when he collaborates with a younger, hipper artist. But — there is a happy post-script to this story: the band has been absolutely tearing it up on the album chart (the Billboard 200) in the 21st century, particularly the album 1, the compilation of singles-chart hits, which debuted at (appropriately enough) number one on December 2, 2000, and has spent an astonishing 479 weeks on the chart since then. So if The Beatles don’t seem to be doing very well on the singles chart, it’s because people are buying/downloading/streaming their singles in bulk which is contributing to their continued success on the album chart.

As for the future of the Beatles on the Billboard chart, we can make a few educated guesses:

  • Naturally, the chart strongly favors new music; I think both Paul and Ringo individually are still capable of creating a new, chart-worthy song, and if they were to collaborate on the right material, that would certainly give the song a boost (maybe the long-shelved “Real Love” follow-up “Now And Then” that Paul has said he’d like to finish).
  • If we’ve learned anything from the last forty years of the Billboard Hot 100, it’s that Beatle collaborations with other big stars lead to chart success (see the Traveling Wilburys and Paul’s songs with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, U2, and Kanye West) — if I were to make one bold prediction, it would be that Paul will top the charts as a featured artist on a Taylor Swift song.
  • Maybe the upcoming Disney+ Get Back documentary will help push something back onto the chart, like “Get Back,” “Let It Be,” or “The Long And Winding Road.”
  • I’d say it’s a safe bet that “Wonderful Christmastime” will keep showing up December after December as it continues to become a standard of the holiday season.

There have been so many books written and documentaries made about The Beatles, but for people who didn’t live through the ’60s, the story of the band can become a jumbled mess of cavernhamburgpetebest-edsullivanbeatlemania-psychedelicyokoindia-abbeyroadbreakup — lacking any sense of the pacing and time between events. This “Beatles On Billboard” experiment puts the focus on the music and, I hope, gives perspective to the story of this great, historic band.

-Jacob Finke, July 2021

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