The All Music Book of Hit Singles

Dave McAleer

Miller Freeman Books

If I wanted to trick you into reading something you'd find boring, I'd have called this "Dating Loose Singles and Evaluating the Competition." But this is a book review that ends with a Yessy memory teaser, or history exam if that fits better. If you're bored to death of "Roundabout" or don't like posts about singles charts ("singles charts don't guarantee 'quality'" is understood), skip this post now.

Read on if you believe singles charts can be "fun" (or that "Roundabout" deserves its mention now and then).

Music's been the soundtrack for my entire lifetime. How wonderful to find so much of it in one place, month by month - not band by band - the way it's lived! Unlike most others of this kind, The All Music Book of Hit Singles takes weekly chart positions, combines them with factors like weeks on chart, high position, weeks at high position, and so on, and comes up with lists by month for the top 20 singles for every year from 1954 into 1996 - on both sides of the Atlantic.

If I told you the index was one of the most fascinating things about it, you might think I'm nuts (but you'd have to see how it works). At a glance, you can compare whether - and when - a song ever made it as a "transatlantic hit" (and finally attach dates to all those loose 45's... well... if you have any). Side-by-side US and UK charts show you its ranked-order competition, and you'll likely have to check two pages - because what becomes clear very quickly is how rare it is for a single to hit in the same month in both places (and what becomes amusing occasionally is which songs managed to pull it off!).

The book is peppered with marginal factoids and photos and includes overall lists for the Top 100 Singles of 54-96 (like no "Reader's Polls" you ever read) and Top All Time Singles Artists. The only disappointment some might find is that not all the details they use to construct the charts are reproduced here.

For example, if a song hits in one place, you can see its high equivalent position in the other even if it's well below Top 20, but
where it hits you see weeks in Top 20 with no indication of what the highest weekly position was (these charts are monthly, remember). This seems a little weird before you realize this book uses Billboard, Music Week, etc.'s, information, but can't duplicate their weekly chart books. But it's also what makes it a more interesting read - since the logical alternative would have been to leave numbers below 20 out - and it's a very minor quibble considering how much information actually is in here.

We might never get number of units sold, which would help make a chart position more relevant than the number alone does. And of course we can't ignore albums! But what a single charts against can be relevant. And staying in the Top 20 for the month is harder than doing it for a week. Knowing a song charted "here" and not "there" is sometimes explained by knowing what was charting "there." I don't know any one source that makes it easier to see all this than this one.

Of course Yes makes an appearance or three. (Start thinking "Roundabout" because its "competition" is below, and the next paragraph is the spoiler space you get if you want to test your guess-ability. Hint: April, 1972).

"Owner of a Lonely Heart", for example, was sharing the Top 20 with Genesis' "That's All" which you may know in theory was "probable" but which looks a little different when you see how exact the competition was (to me it usually blurs into "about the same time"). If anyone says "80's Genesis always kicked Yes' butt" well, head-to-head with matching singles they didn't. That's objective, not opinion (though I realize most of you wouldn't get into that kind of discussion and, as they say, "don't try this in the UK"). By contrast, Frankie's "Relax" was also UK top three during "Owner..."'s two highest US months. I'd known it was "close" in time but really... [Ed: "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Relax" were simultaneous #1s on the original weekly charts.]

Well, obviously, this doesn't set as dramatic a scene for "Roundabout," which never was a UK a-side single, in the Top 20 days of "Genesis who?" But if you're curious, here was "Roundabout"'s contemporary US singles competition. If you want to test your memory you're just about out of spoiler space. Note that though its high position was #13 (for two weeks IIRC) averaged out for the month it was #15 because some songs held higher positions or held them longer or both. I'll go in reverse order in case any of you want to guess what was #1 and need some clues what wasn't. These numbers are solely in the context of this review, so respect the copyright:

April, 1972:
16-20. also-rans
15. Roundabout/Yes
14. Doctor My Eyes/Jackson Browne
13. Jungle Fever/Chakachas ("boogie if you want to," I think...)
12. The Lion Sleeps Tonight/Robert John
11. Mother and Child Reunion/Paul Simon
10. A Cowboy's Work is Never Done/Sonny and Cher (how are you all doing with this? ;>)
9. Day Dreaming/Aretha Franklin
8. Betcha By Golly Wow/Stylistics
7. Puppy Love/Donnie Osmond (I'd have left that out if I could have, honest)
6. In The Rain/Dramatics
5. Heart of Gold/Neil Young
4. Rockin' Robin/Michael Jackson
3. I Gotcha/Joe Tex
2. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face/Roberta Flack


1. A Horse with No Name/America

Obviously, the broader your tastes are, the more you'd get from this book. But you can learn or relive the climate of the times from browsing a work like this just as sure as you can from reading interpretative histories. You still need to factor in the albums (we all know that's the best part). From Miller Freeman Books (author Dave McAleer) and easy to spot - it's very green.

Diane Ash, 17 Feb 98

Originally posted to

Return to Main Page.