Don’t Try This at Home

With my listening to new songs from my usual sources resulting in listening to dozens of songs that ranged from “mediocre” to “decent”, I got incredibly bored.  So I did something I would only do while bored and unemployed: listen to number one hits of various Billboard charts.  Maybe the average quality was lower than what I was previously doing, but at least it was more entertaining.  I even found more songs I would want to listen to again than I was doing with the other method.  I didn’t listen to every top hit (I don’t have unlimited time after all), but most of the ones that spent multiple weeks at the top of the Hot 100 as well as the Radio Play/Alternative or Modern Rock Songs/Album Adult Alternative charts.

Oddly, the worst part of it was learning that I liked certain songs more than I remember.  I listen to it fully expecting it to the terrible and then after finishing I think it was only poor/mediocre/decent instead.  Somehow this makes me doubt my old reactions to things more than learning that I now dislike songs I now like.  Now, listening context is also something to consider.  For example, I’m less critical listening to the radio in the car than I am in front of my computer screen with headphones on.  Or maybe I heard a song that worked really well in a movie or television show but doesn’t work well outside of that context.

Here are two charts, the first of which is the total number of singles I’ve rated “good” or higher by release year:


total singles

And here is the amount of those that were Top 40 hits in the United States

us top 40 singles

The first chart shows that the number of singles I like is fairly even throughout the past fifty years except for dry spells during the mid 70s, late 90s, and the large recent downturn.  The amount of those songs that became hits was pretty high throughout the 60s and early 70s, then died and unlike the total number of singles never really recovered.  Apparently people generally stop listening to new mainstream music at age 33, but according to this I started doing that thirteen years before I was born.

For comparison, this is the amount of those singles that hit Top 40 on the UK Singles Chart:

uk top 40 singles

Well that’s… different.  I suppose I have to point out again that, despite the spelling of my username, I am not British.  The stranger thing about this is that there were many hits by American artists (The Strokes, for example) that charted highly in the UK and not in the US.  I guess I shouldn’t say that my taste for post-1973 music aren’t mainstream, it’s that they aren’t the American mainstream.  That only sounds slightly less pretentious.

Anyway, these are all rather arbitrary.  My ratings are subjective and subject to being changed as my opinions do, which is quite often (I changed a dozen or so ratings today alone).  And weekly charts don’t always tell a good picture about what is popular.  A single could hit number one in a period of little overall sales and therefore competition, or it could be released in a month where ten incredibly popular songs kept it from the top ten.  The Year-End charts are a good supplement to show how popular a single is throughout the entire year, but even that has a bias towards singles released early in the year because their most popular period isn’t spread among two different years.

Other random thoughts:

  • Just from the number ones, I think the AAA chart has been more interesting than the Alternative/Modern Rock chart for about five years now.  This could be because few of the songs on the alternative chart are either alternative (nothing says “alternative” like a song made for a car commercial) or rock at this point, or it could be because I am old.
  • With all due respect to Ringo Starr and Mission of Burma, songs about Pictures are generally much better than songs about Photographs.
  • Five of the top eight hits of 1978 featured at least one of the Gibb brothers.  That seems… excessive.
  • I had a theory that I would be kinder to radio hits of my childhood in the 90s.  It was only sort of true.
  • The biggest hit of the 1960s (“The Twist”) was only number one for a total of three weeks in 1960 and 1962
  • I still have a preference for popular music to feature electric guitars.  You’d think I’d be more open to different instrumentation by now, but apparently not.



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