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NPR Arts & Life

'Billboard' Magazine's Hot 100 Reflects Music Industry Shifts


RICKY NELSON: (Singing) I used to play around with hearts that hastened at my call. But when I met that little girl, I knew that I would fall. Poor little fool, oh yeah.


This was the number one song 60 years ago this weekend - "Poor Little Fool" by Ricky Nelson. It topped the very first Hot 100 ever issued by Billboard Magazine. The U.S. had never really had a chart that combined record sales, radio airplay, jukebox picks and all the various ways that a hit became a hit.

CHRIS MOLANPHY: It was, if you will, one chart to rule them all.

MARTIN: Chris Molanphy writes about the pop charts for Slate.

MOLANPHY: What's interesting about the Hot 100 is that, over the course of its 60 years, the rules have changed multiple times.

MARTIN: For example, jukebox plays were dropped as their influence waned. And then when streaming got more popular, Billboard added that as a metric. Basically as the technology changed, Billboard changed.


But that didn't mean that the Hot 100 got it right all of the time.


KING: It took until 1998 for Billboard to change one very controversial rule.

MOLANPHY: A song had to be issued as a retail single for it to be eligible for the chart. So think back to the 1970s. That meant songs like "Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin - never issued as a 45 - or "Isn't She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder. Those were not eligible to appear on the Hot 100.


STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Isn't she lovely? Isn't she beautiful?

MARTIN: But once Billboard started allowing album cuts onto the charts, that created another quirk - one that didn't rear its head until streaming changed the game. Once a highly anticipated album is released these days, fans stream every song. And they all get counted. So a number of songs from that album flood onto the Hot 100 all at once. Consider what just happened with Drake.

MOLANPHY: A few weeks ago when his new album "Scorpion" dropped, he actually defeated a more than 50-year-old record by the Beatles for greatest dominance of the top 10. Drake had seven songs in the top 10. The Beatles had only five.

MARTIN: Seven songs on the list at the same time - and Drake still holds the number one spot right now with "In My Feelings," which is a song about whether or not a woman loves him. Chris Molanphy points out that the very first number one back in 1958, "Poor Little Fool," was also about what Ricky Nelson called love's foolish game. So even though Hot 100's methodology keeps changing...

MOLANPHY: Singing about romance and singing about lost love, that is eternal.


DRAKE: (Singing) Kiki, do you love me? Are you riding? Say you'll never ever leave from beside me.

MARTIN: This weekend marks 60 years since Billboard introduced the Hot 100 chart. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.