DEAR JERRY: I enjoyed your column on the weirdness of the Christmas charts. It reminds me of how little I understand the trade publications creating separate surveys for essentially the same records found on the Top 100, 200, or more if they needed extra slots.
If a soul or country record sells well enough, it will take its place on the catch-all Top Hits chart anyway. Thousands of examples of this exist. How did this come about?
I read somewhere that George Michael was the first white artist to have a No. 1 album on the black music charts, with his “Faith” LP.
I don't even regard George as a blue-eyed soul singer, a term commonly used to describe soul-sounding whites, like the Righteous Brothers; Hall & Oates; Elvis; and Tom Jones.
Didn't any of these artists score that high in the soul music field?
Jim O'Donnel, Branson, Mo.
DEAR JIM: I agree that so many different national charts can be confusing, though the one aspect you might be overlooking is they were not created for the general public. Locally-produced surveys by radio stations in every area of the country did a good job of meeting that need.
In their early years, the Billboard and Cash Box charts primarily provided coin machine operators with the tunes getting the most plays around the country.
Be it a restaurant, bar, or amusement park, each location has its own demographic. The music must match the tastes of the patrons in order to generate the coveted metallic waterfall, meaning that machine is earning its keep.
This is where the weekly trades proved absolutely essential.
Even the name Cash Box comes from the cash boxes in jukes, and other coin operated machines.
Until the end of 1960, Billboard's masthead read “The World's Foremost Amusement Weekly.” Many phases of the entertainment world were covered then, but none as much as coin-operated machines.
For that industry, as well as record distributors, rack jobbers, retailers, and radio stations, having separate charts made it much easier to stock or play the style of music most appropriate for the location or format. Finding Kitty Wells and Mary Wells on the same juke would mean someone made a mistake.
All records looked alike, and many were by unfamiliar names. The charts meant not having to audition hundreds of records each week.
Then, with their first issue of 1961, Billboard's revised masthead reflected the dynamic shift toward music and records: “BILLBOARD MUSIC WEEK - Music - Phonograph Merchandising - Radio-TV Programming - Coin Machine Operating.”
In January 1965, the modified masthead read “Billboard, The International Music News Weekly: Radio-TV Programming - Phono-Tape Merchandising - Coin Machine Operating.”
Subsequent issues continued to reflect the changing times and formats, sans amusements: (July 1966) International Music-Record Newsweekly”; (June 1969) “International Music-Record-Tape Newsweekly”; (July 1980) “Radio Programming Music/Record International Newsweekly”; (Oct. 1981) “International Newsweekly of Music & Home Entertainment”; (June 1992) “International Newsweekly of Music, Video and Home Entertainment”; and (April 2004) “International Authority on Music, Video and Digital Entertainment.”
In April 2005, they dropped all sub-heads and used just “Billboard.”
Now, with CD sales dropping big time and vinyl and downloading on the rise, it will be interesting to see the direction taken by the coin machine industry.
Regardless, as long as radio over the air as well as internet-based sticks with specific formats, there will likely be a demand for separate charts to lend a hand.
None of the blue-eyed soul stars you mention topped the R&B/Soul/Black LP chart, though all did appear elsewhere on those charts, either with albums or singles.
George Michael is the first solo artist to do so, but whether he is the first overall depends on how you view “Saturday Night Fever.”
Technically, this soundtrack is a various artists compilation; however, it is widely regarded as a Bee Gees LP, and usually filed as such.
Since the black music chart ranked “Saturday Night Fever” at No. 1 for six weeks in early 1978, the Bee Gees, Brits like Michael, can stake a claim to being the first Caucasians atop that survey.
IZ ZAT SO? Here is a quirky twist to George Michael's soul success with “Faith,” the album and the single.
The Gold Record award-winning single, George's biggest hit and the lead track on the “Faith" album, never appeared among the Hot Black Singles.
Another tune from the “Faith” album did, however. Michael's “One More Try” held the No. 1 position on both the black singles and albums, at the same time.
Not even the Bee Gees matched this strangely paradoxical feat.