On July 27, 1940 Billboard magazine began its chart of best selling single records. It subsequently added charts on radio play frequency and juke box plays in an attempt to assess the overall popularity of any recording.
Although Billboard gave the charts equal weight, the record store sales were most highly valued by the industry. Records across all genres were recorded on the same chart, and radio stations using it as a guide tended to play the variety of top sellers, exposing wide audiences to different styles and sounds.
The first 1# hit on the new chart was I’ll Never Smile Again by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with a vocal by Frank Sinatra. It stayed on top for twelve weeks.
On August 4, 1958, Billboard premiered one main all-genre singles chart, the Hot 100 which combined sales and air play and which became increasingly the Bible of the Industry. The first song on the Hot 100 was Poor Little Fool by Ricky Nelson.
The Hot 100 is still issued, although criteria have changed with the evolution of the recording industry.
The FM radio revolution beginning in the late 1960’s ushered in an era of increasingly specialized broadcasting with play lists tightly bound to particular genres causing the downfall of AM cross genre hit radio. Many album cuts, though enormously popular and receiving heavy air play were not counted on the singles-only chart.
Album sales eventually swamped singles, which began to virtually disappear with the beginning of the eight-track and later cassette tape era. To accommodate these changes on December 5, 1998 the Hot 100 changed from being a singles chart to a songs chart.
The era of music downloading effectively killed the remaining singles market as it was known by the turn of the 21st Century. Since February 12, 2005, the Hot 100 tracks paid digital downloads. Controversies about the gathering of data and about recording industry attempts to manipulate it are constant, but the list remains the best evidence of over-all popularity of a song.
Over the air radio, satellite radio, and internet broadcasting has continued the trend of becoming more specialized and literally dozens of charts track everything from European techno-pop to traditional folk sales. Few listeners get the chance to sample broadly across genres anymore.
As of today Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. and Pharrell sits atop the Hot 100. I never heard it. Have you?