I recently downloaded the entire history of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which has been tracking the most popular 100 US music tracks since 1958. So, I decided to see what I could learn!
It only took me a couple of minutes to generate some interesting factoids. For instance, did you know…
- That Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and Nat King Cole’s version of The Christmas Song both made it onto the charts for the first time in 1960… and both reappeared as recently as 2014?
- Or that Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive spent more consecutive weeks on the chart than any song ever… at 85 weeks?
- That the Beatles managed to have 14 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time in April of 1964? And that 5 of those songs managed to make the top 10 list simultaneously? Absolutely dominant.
- How about that very few artists have managed to produce a #1 single, with no other charted songs… though the feat has been managed by Soulja Boy (with Crank That), Baauer (with Harlem Shake), and Daniel Powter (with Bad Day)? That’s the pinnacle of “one hit wonder” status right there.
Of course, a lot of these sorts of Hot 100 facts have already been calculated, so I decided to see what new information I could come up with!
The first thing I wondered about was musical diversity. Are we moving towards a world with greater and greater variety on the charts, or where a small set of artists and songs tend to rule the airwaves?
Turns out, the number of artists making it onto the Hot 100 each year declined from 1960 through the mid-90’s, before coming roaring back into the 2000s. Check it out!
The same trend pretty much applied with songs as well…
As for what’s caused the trend, I don’t really know. The company has changed their methodology a lot over the years (for reasons such as the rise of online music sales and streaming), so it’s entirely possible that some of these results reflect methodological changes rather than real changes in musical popularity. Still, interesting stuff.
So, how long do songs tend to survive on the charts?
Well, once a song makes it on to the Billboard Hot 100, it has about a 50% chance of making it to 8 additional weeks. There’s a bizarre (and so far unexplained) drop around week 20, which leaves less than 10% of songs around, on average. Barely 1% of songs make it to a full year on the charts and, as we noted above, it’s Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive that drags that graph all the way out to 85 weeks.
Of course, #1 singles don’t stay at #1 for long… Only 60% make it to a second consecutive week, while less than 14% make it to week 5. You can’t stay on top for long.
Survival by decade
Interestingly, as the years have gone by, songs have started sticking around on the charts for more and more time. In the 1960’s, the average song charted for just 7 weeks, while in the 1990’s and 2000’s songs charted for nearly twice that! (I didn’t compute the average length for songs first charting in the 2010’s, because we’re still living through them.)
This is really strongly reflected in the list of longest-charting songs… if you pull a top 10 (or top 100) list of the songs that have survived on the chart the longest, they’re almost all from the 1990’s and 2000’s.
Of course, I could explore this information all day, but I do have other things going on in life… If you’re interested in seeing what you can learn, you can download the Billboard Hot 100 Archive and explore it as you see fit.
One disclaimer though: There’s a handful of weeks (like 1%) where there are missing songs. I’ve checked a lot of these on the Billboard site, and the songs are definitely missing in their web pages for those weeks. I’m not sure if that’s some sort of data problem on their end, or if some weird things happened to the charts in certain weeks??? At any rate, there’s not much I can do about it (as of this moment), but it’s definitely possible it would affect calculations of things like longest-running song. Keep this in mind when you’re analyzing the data.
Leave a comment if you come up with anything interesting…