Richard Goldstein Questions the Pop Charts
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
January 12, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 13
By Richard Goldstein
Conclusive proof of the dubious value of charts in measuring true popularity comes with this year's onslaught of "Hot 100" lists.
Billboard magazine ranks the top five of 1966 as: "California Dreaming," "96 Tears," "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted," "Last Train to Clarkesville," and "Reach Out, I'll Be There."
Cashbox claims the top spot is a tie between "The Ballad of The Green Berets" and "California Dreaming." Runners-up are: "The Sound of Silence," "Sonny," "Strangers in the Night," and "You Can't Hurry Love."
ABC radio put the top five as: "The Ballad of the Green Berets," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Strangers in the Night," "Good Loving," and "Reach Out, I'll Be There."
The discrepancy in these charts is telling. "The Ballad of the Green Berets" is number 10 on Billboard's list, number one on ABC. "California Dreaming" is number 13 on ABC, number one in Billboard.
Although factors like closing dates (the Cashbox chart closes November 15, Billboard's in mid-December) and area surveyed (ABC's is the metropolitan area, the others are nationwide) must be considered, the crucial variable is airplay. None of these charts is calculated solely on the basis of record sales. Billboard warns: "Chart positions this year do not necessarily reflect total sales." Cashbox uses a weighted system to tabulate "records which achieved greatest success" on weekly charts. ABC admits its list is really based on the number of weeks a disc stays on that station's survey.
If these charts were tabulated on record sales alone, they would all read differently. "You Can't Hurry Love," which appears on each of these lists, never earned a gold record, according to Variety. Neither did "Reach Out, I'll Be There." But "Hanky Panky," which sold over a million copies, made nobody's top five. Neither did: "Cherish," "Nowhere Man," or "When a Man Loves a Woman," all gold record winners.
What American pop music needs is not more tastemakers -- we've got enough of those -- but a free and open market...
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
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