Top 10 Pop Hits: A 70-Year History of Every Top 10 Hit – Joel Whitburn (book review)

Top 10 Pop Hits: A 70-Year History of Every Top 10 Hit 1940-2010 (Record Research) book review Music tends to divide us: we laugh at our parents’ music and despise what our kids’ listen to.  Joel Whitburn has finally compiled a book to bring us all together.  Top 10 Pop Hits: A 70-Year History is unique because, for the first time, the entire history of the Billboard charts is represented, beginning from it’s very first Top Ten chart in 1940 to present day.

Whitburn has published over 200 music-related books, yet he’s always used the year 1955 as a dividing point (the year Bill Haley released “Rock Around the Clock”- widely regarded as the first rock n’ roll hit).  Everything after it is referred to as the “rock era,” and everything before it the “big band” or “nostalgia” period.  This marks the first time he’s lumped everything together in one volume.  So, you get Katy Perry mingling with Perry Como, Madonna next to Glenn Miller, and Lady Gaga sharing the page with Frankie Laine.  Sounds unholy?  In way, it is – but that’s the oddball fun that this book has to offer.    Unlike most of Whitburn’s other publications, this is meant more as a casual read.  You really can sit down with your grandmother (or great-grandmother, for that matter), and she’ll find songs that she remembers.  And, your kids will be happy to see Taylor Swift and the Black-Eyed Peas included as well.  And, we’re talking TOP TEN, so this is only the biggest hits from the last seven decades.

Because of the wide scope of this book, you get to see a clearer picture of certain artist’s careers.  Rock n’ roll didn’t miraculously start on cue in 1955.  In fact, Bill Haley had his first hit in 1954 with “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”  And, the artists of the pre-rock era didn’t just stop making music because the calendar became 1955.  As a result, you get to see the full range of an artist like Frank Sinatra – beginning with his first singles with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1940, to his first solo recordings, on to his duet with his daughter Nancy, “Something Stupid,” in 1967.  It’s also great to have a list of all of Elvis’ and the Beatles’ Top Tens, and to realize just how dominant someone like Taylor Swift has already become in such a short time.

With this book only covering songs that hit the Top Ten, you might be surprised as much by what isn’t here.  For instance, even though bands like Led Zeppelin, the Who and Pink Floyd are mainstays on rock radio today, all three bands are represented with just one song each – none of them were as dominant on the hit singles charts as say, the Rolling Stones – who have 23 songs listed.  Another example is Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” — ever-present at weddings across the country, yet it only went to #23 when it was originally released in 1966, and so is not listed here.

Whitburn saved the most remarkable part of this book for the very end.  He calls it the “Chart Kings and Queens” – a listing of the 50 artists with the most Top Ten records over the last seventy years.  This tally shows just how dominant the pre-rock era artists were, with Bing Crosby racking up a staggering 77 Top Tens, followed by Como and Sinatra.  Elvis is the first rock artist, and he comes in at #5 (with 38 Top Tens – still pretty impressive).  Also nice is that Whitburn’s included a photo for each artist – so Puff Daddy sits right next to the Ink Spots (talk about variety!)

For the serious music fan looking for in-depth information on the Top 40 or even Top 100 charts, Joel Whitburn has plenty of other books featuring meticulous information and  biographies for you to delve into.  In that regard, this book is not jam-packed with information like many others.  Instead, it’s meant as an enjoyable  overview of music throughout the years, arranged alphabetically by artist.  So, grab a copy, you’re sure to find something for everyone here.  –Tony Peters