A new book, “The Number Ones” explores the history of every No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100, going back to its beginning in 1958.
Amrit Singh spoke with author and senior editor at the music blog “Stereogum,” Tom Breihan, to talk about the pop music that changed our culture.
Breihan wrote about 20 songs that changed music. Chubby Checker’s 1960 hit “The Twist” revolutionized the way television and popular music interacted and spawned a dance craze.
“The way that the song caught on and the way it kind of took over, sort of it showed the power of television in its infancy because that was still new technology at the time. Combining a piece of music with something that you could do with your friends, with something that you could watch on TV. It all worked together, and it just continued to work together ever since,” Breihan explained.
Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Dreams” off their smash album “Rumors” is still relevant today, thanks to TikTok trends.
“With ‘Rumors,’ Fleetwood Mac had four top 10 songs. That had never happened before... so that kind of set the stage for the 1980s when blockbuster albums - ‘Thriller,’ ‘Like a Virgin,’ Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ - took the stage and one record could become a cultural event. ‘Dreams’ happen to be the song that went to No. 1 off of the record. The only number one hit that Fleetwood Mac ever had, only one Stevie Nicks ever did. But seeing that change, seeing the turnover happen where the light bulb went off over the music industry was why I wrote about them,” Breihan shared.
In 1990, “Ice Ice Baby” became the first rap song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Its success led to fighting over the rights to the song and helped the rap genre boom in the decade that followed.
After researching hit songs over several decades, Breihan shared his conclusions about Americans’ tastes in music.
“I love American tastes because they make no sense at all. They are completely chaotic. They are all over the place. Songs that are now considered absolute classics never got anywhere near [No. 1],” he said. “The first song in the book is ‘The Twist.’ The last song in the book is ‘Dynamite’ by BTS. What I like about it is that through all this change, through all these cultural shifts, technological shifts, there’s still two songs about dancing aimed at teenagers, and that is what unites everything. And teenagers get older. They mythologize their past, but it’s all based on what’s happening in the moment.”
Watch the full interview above.
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