Wednesday, February 23, 2011

John, George, Paul, Ringo

As I've mentioned more than a couple of times, I listen to rebroadcasts of 1970s AMERICAN TOP 40 shows on weekends. Not only do I hear a lot of music from that decade (some classic, some not), but I also pick up plenty of trivia and extraneous topical references. I ask you, is there anything more entertaining than Casey Kasem of 1975 explaining the concept of a touch tone phone to his hapless listeners? I submit to you that there is not.

A few weeks ago, I noticed something interesting during one of the shows. As it happened, all four members of the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr - as if you need me to tell you) were in the Top 40 at the same time. I made a mental note of this because it seemed like a cool fact, but it also struck me as something that must have happened a few times.

A lot (really, too much) has been written about the Beatles over the years. One of the most impressive aspects of their legacy to me is that each and every "core" member of the band went on to have a pretty nice music career after the break-up of that legendary outfit. Usually, when a group is big and splits up, one or two members might score solo success, but the rest fade into obscurity. It's not that they all descend into outright poverty or anything, but they're just never that big again.

The Beatles were different. Not only did all four of them chart records, but all of them had #1 hit singles on the American Hot 100. That is astoundingly good, no matter how you slice it. Some of them sustained that momentum longer than others, but the fact that the Fab Four all found success away from that collective is not something to be taken lightly. In fact, the only comparison I can think of is the the individual members of the 1980s vocal group New Edition, and I don't even think their achievements surpass those of the post-Beatles quartet.

So all of the Beatles in the Top 40 simultaneously was cool, but it wasn't that special, right? I resolved to look for the answer when I found the time, which turned out to be this week. I came up dry via search engine, though this doesn't mean the answer wasn't out there; I just couldn't find it. I turned my attention to my copy of Joel Whitburn's Top 40 book and started to put the answers together for myself.

What I found surprised me. You would think the Beatles must have made the Top 40 at the same time lots of times. You would be wrong. In fact, though there were often two or three Beatles in the 40 at any given moment, nailing down a period when all four of them were there was a challenge. I thought I had found one in 1971, but it missed by two weeks. Many other times, it wasn't even that close.

At last, I narrowed it down. It all began on October 5, 1974, when John Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" entered the Top 40. This turned out to be John's first number one song as a solo artist, and it stayed in the 40 eleven weeks as a result (one week shy of the run for "Instant Karma", as a point of reference). This song's durability is important.

In the eighth week of Lennon's single, on November 23, 1974, the Paul McCartney & Wings song "Junior's Farm" makes it into the Top 40. One week later, on November 30, 1974, Ringo Starr's "Only You" hits the chart. Three out of four Beatles were present and accounted for, but "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" had peaked by then. Would it happen?

Then, in the last week of Lennon's former #1 song on the charts, George Harrison's "Dark Horse" makes its debut. Just to make things even crazier, "Sally G", the flip to "Junior's Farm" begins its own separate chart run for Paul McCartney and Wings. That means that during the week of December 14, 1974, there were five songs by former Beatles on the chart at the same time.

This lasted one week. "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" dropped off the 40 while the rest of them continued to climb. "Junior's Farm" and "Only You" made the Top 10, but didn't quite attain the top spot. "Sally G" and "Dark Horse" were both Top 20, but the latter only lasted six weeks (this is a pity, as I think it is quite underrated). The odds of everything converging again so quickly seemed slim.

However, it happened. John Lennon's "#9 Dream" founds its way into the Top 40 on January 11, 1975 while the rest of the songs were losing steam. For that week and the week of January 18, 1975 (the final week for "Dark Horse"), there were again five separate songs by ex-Beatles in the Top 40. I am reasonably certain it was one of these shows that I heard which launched this bit of research.

You would think that would have been the end of it. Not quite! "Junior's Farm" concluded its Top 40 stay after January 25, 1975, but both "Sally G" and "Only You" hung in there an extra week. That was enough time for George Harrison's "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" to make its debut on the American chart. So, for the week of February 1, 1975, there were four separate songs by former Beatles occupying positions on the chart.

That would be the last time it happened. "Sally G" and "Only You" were gone the next week, and "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" quickly followed the next after a brief two week run. Though all of the Beatles would chart singles in the future, there would never again be a moment when all four of them were in the Top 40 simultaneously.

I've tried to tell this tale in interesting fashion, because I think it's something worth knowing despite being dangerously close to "inside baseball". The basic fact is this - despite the success that all of them attained away from their history-making group, there were only four weeks where all four of the Beatles were in the Top 40 at the same time. Four weeks, from late 1974 into early 1975. I wonder how many people realized the significance of it as it happened?

This is a forgotten aspect of the Beatles (and no, it doesn't deal with the full Hot 100; that is probably the path to madness). I am hoping that this entry will shed a little light on the subject for anyone who's curious about it. I know it's something I'm glad to know.

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