|Joel in The Vault
Industry Profile: Joel Whitburn
By Larry LeBlanc
This week in the hot seat with Larry LeBlanc: Joel Whitburn
If you consider yourself a music trivia expert, pull over to the curb because Joel Whitburn will run right over you.
Whitburn, who founded Record Research in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin in 1970 and put together a team of researchers to examine in detail all of Billboard's charts, is the most authoritative historian on charted music in the world.
Since 1970, Record Research has published 122 reference books based on chart data from the various popular music charts, dating back to 1890. An impressive 28 books are in the current catalog.
Whitburn is also the author of a series of Billboard books published by Watson-Guptill Publications, including “Top 40 Hits,” “Top 40 Albums,” and “Top 40 Country Hits.”
With Rhino Records, Whitburn has produced over 150 hit-based compilations.
Record Research’s most popular book “Top Pop Singles” covers the history of Billboard's popular music charts. Like other Record Research books on such genres as country, and R&B, the book features each recording's peak position, date charted, weeks charted, label and information, and trivia on recordings and artists.
You guessed it -- Whitburn is a completist collector.
His vast music collection includes every charted Hot 100, and pop single to appear on the Billboard charts (back to 1936); every charted pop album (back to 1945); collections of almost ever charted country, R&B, adult contemporary recording; and every video to chart since Billboard began its video chart in 1979. He also owns a large picture sleeve collection.
Whitburn began collecting records as a teenager in the 1950s. As his collection grew, he began to categorize, and file each record according to the highest position it reached on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. He went on to publish this information in book form in 1970. After reaching a licensing agreement with Billboard, his chart book business exploded.
The development of the juke box industry during the 1930s led The Billboard—launched under that name in the fall of 1894-- to begin publishing music charts. On Jan. 4, 1936 The Billboard published its first music hit parade; and, on July 20, 1940, its first Music Popularity Chart. The Hot 100 has been published since 1958.
It was announced this month that The Billboard Top 200 will now open its doors to older releases after finally eliminating a rule that prevented the discographies of Michael Jackson and the Beatles from being counted toward the week’s top-selling albums chart, Starting with the week ending November 22, 2009, older releases will now be recognized to accurately reflect Nielsen SoundScan sales in the United States.
Did you ever want to be a disc jockey?
Yes. My dream would be to put a (DJ) booth in the middle of my vault downstairs, and play anything in my vault. There are well over a million (records) to choose from. I would play General Douglas MacArthur (commanding music). Anything that came to mind from any era I would play. There’d be no format. (Listeners) would learn a lot. It would be fun, and they could participate.
I would play a Bob Newhart comedy track, play some soundtrack things or explore a song that had three #1 versions in 1945. Play all three versions, and have people call in to say what version was the best. Just have fun. Put the personality back into radio. That is what is needed to be done in radio. (When I was growing up) you couldn’t turn radio off. You would look forward to a (DJ’s) two hour show each day.
How many staff members do you have?
We have five full-time (staffers) and some people that come in part-time and do data entry.
Do you have an office warehouse?
I have an office set up at home, and an office at our main building over at Pilgrim Road (in Menomonee Falls). We have the fourth floor of an office building. I have a big office in my home with all of my research. I have a huge vault that I dug underground for my records. The collection has expanded to probably be worth millions.
You own one of the largest libraries of music books.
One of the office rooms (at the main building) is a book library. I have racks from floor to ceiling, except where the door is, filled with books on music. There are thousands of books that we refer to for research. I’ve also got all of the back issues of (music trades) Radio & Records, Record World, Cashbox, The Gavin Report; and all of the Rolling Stone magazines. The whole set.
Before having the vault, the records were upstairs at the house. We had racks everywhere--in the bedroom, the garage, the furnace room. The records were everywhere.
Does your wife share your passion of music?
Oh yeah. If I am busy doing something, trying to research an artist or something, I won’t be playing music because I’m working, and thinking hard. She will say, “I don’t hear any music.” She loves what I play. What I mostly play is stuff that is very rare, records that Bubbled Under. I really enjoy listening to things like Curtis & Del (Curtis Young and Delmar Loveday recorded for Monument Records in the ‘60s) that didn’t chart, but were regional hits. I really like hearing that stuff. Playing the #1 song doesn’t’ do much for me because it is so overplayed. You hear it too much.
[The Bubbling Under chart first appeared in Billboard's June 1, 1959 issue, and continued until August 31, 1985. It reappeared in the Dec. 5, 1992 issue, and continues to the present day. The chart represents songs that are close to charting on the Hot 100. However, many tracks fade away, and never debut on the Hot 100.]
You have over 130,000 45 rpm singles?
More than that. I’m sure it’s over 200,000 now.
Do you own a lot of 45 rpm picture sleeve discs?
I’ve got the largest picture sleeve collection in the world. Probably 18,000 records.
You own every album that…
I have every album that has ever charted (on Billboard). From the first album, including those 78 (rpm) album booklets from the 1940s (kept in a bound container resembling a photograph album), and those little 10-inch albums, and CDs. I’ve got every album that charted all the way up to today. I really don’t know how many albums I have. I don’t count. Every week, (the collection) just keeps growing. We keep adding racks. We have filled the vault, and we have built a second vault.
For years, you were buying up record collections from juke box operators, dealers, and music collectors all around America.
I once bought out a black (jukebox) operator in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I had to rent a trailer to haul about 78,000 78s and 45s back to Wisconsin. All R&B. Some of that stuff is worth hundred of thousands of dollars. All those rare labels like Chance with the Flamingos. It was all in there. It really helped me when I was working on my “Top R&B Singles” book. I was looking for either an R&B record shop or a jukebox operator. And I found one, and he sold me everything that he had in his shop. That was a load I can tell you. Those ‘78s were heavy. Boy, those R&B 78s from 1949, ‘50 and ’51 are gems. They are just beautiful.
Any record you can’t find?
“Otto the Staggering Drunk,” I can’t find that record. A listing shows the label abbreviation as POD which I assume is Polydor. I am afraid it’s a New Years’ novelty song. I’m not sure that it exists. I don’t know anything about it. There was Crazy Otto, Happy Otto, Der Schrage Otto, all those Ottos. I have exhausted my research on this. I can’t find it.
[“Otto the Staggering Drunk” was listed in Cleveland’s Top 10 records on Jan. 1, 1955 as “Otto The Staggering Drunk” by Otto. The label was abbreviated to POD, which is likely Polydor Germany. German honky tonk pianist Fritz Schulz-Reichel recorded in the ’50 as Crazy Otto, Der Schrage Otto, and Happy Otto.]
There’s a record listed on the Billboard chart that never existed?
There is one that Bubbled Under that I never found. I don’t think it exists. It is by a group called D.A., and the song is “Ready ‘N’ Steady” (on Rascal records) in 1979. Everything else I have in my collection.
What’s the worst record you’ve heard?
The worst record ever made in the history of the world was by (actor) Wally Cox. He came out with a black-and-white picture sleeve in 1953 with a song called “There is a Tavern in the Town” on RCA. I bought it because I bought anything with a picture sleeve. It’s so bad you have to play it again because you can’t believe how bad it is.
The Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s “Paralyzed” in 1968 is usually considered the worst record.
Well, this is the worse.
Obviously, you still own a turntable.
I have four record players. They all have different speeds, and different cartridges that I need. I have a guy I call, and he has everything. He specializes in (vintage audio). He’s one of the few guys in the United States that does.
How many iPods do you have?
I have blown through three. I am onto my 4th. I have a160 gigabyte iPod. It is almost filled up. I got a little less than 42,000 songs on it. I downloaded every song from my “Pop Hit Singles” book, back to 1940. Then I did every song that made the “Top Pop Singles” and “Bubbling Under” books. They are all in there at my fingertips in my music library, and in my iPod. For every song, I have put little stars—three, four or five. A record may only have got to #118, but it’s often too good not to listen to every so often.
Before your first book in 1970, you researched the Billboard singles charts for five years as a hobby?
I started in September, 1965. It was a cold and rainy Friday night. I had these huge stacks of Billboard in the basement on this huge table. They were stacked by year. I had started subscribing to Billboard in 1954, so I had these huge piles. I decided to go through them, and research the (singles) charts. I started in 1958 when the Hot 100 started (on Aug. 4, 1958). I thought that was the granddaddy of the charts.
The first card I wrote up was “Nelson, Ricky, ‘Poor Little Fool.’” That was the first #1 song on the first Hot 100.
You put the chart listings on cards?
Yep. I didn’t have a computer in ’65. I ran down to Brinkmans (an office supply store in Menomonee Falls) and picked up a tray, and a bunch of (index) cards. So I started doing (chart research) as a hobby.
How many records in the Hot 100 would you mark down?
The whole chart—up to 100. So the first chart took a long time. Then I would go to the next (Hot 100 chart) and I would just look for the new entries, and enter those. For the ones I had already written down, I would show their peak position. If a record went off (the chart), and came back on, I would put a dash dash, comma 82 or something. I didn’t do the Bubbling Under records, of course, then.
Back then, everybody only looked at the high chart numbers.
Exactly. I started putting little stickers on my records (noting) the peak position, and the year. (Before this) I didn’t know how high “Chantilly Lace” by the Big Bopper got (in 1958). I didn’t know if it was a #1 record or if it made the Top 10. What did it do? (“Chantilly Lace” reached #6 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart). I was able to go through and identify exactly where it had peaked, the date it first charted, how many weeks it was on, and the original label number.
I thought that doing this was really neat for my hobby. I had all of these cards. I’d go to a Fats Domino (card), and you could see where he got really hot, had a hot streak, fade, and then he’d come back strong. And, some times the A and B side would both make the chart. I thought that was really interesting.
There were a lot B-side hits in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Yeah, guys like Fats Domino, Jackie Wilson, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Jack Scott, and the Everly Brothers all had A and B sides that charted.
It was also the era of independent labels.
Oh sure, I loved those independents labels like Gone, Cameo-Parkway, Swan and Vee-Jay. You got so tired of seeing Columbia, and RCA Victor. (Columbia Records A&R head) Mitch Miller wasn’t into rock and roll, and RCA didn’t have much rock. They picked up Duane Eddy, but his big hit-making career was over (Eddy never had another Top 10 single after leaving Jamie Records in 1961). RCA picked up Paul Anka after his hit-making career was over at ABC-Paramount.
The majors were so slow. In the meantime, the independents were moving fast, and they were having hit after hit. They had records that were flying up the charts, and it was so exciting. There were thousands of independent labels.
How did come to subscribe to Billboard?
It goes back to when I was 12. My mother used to take me out of school to shop all day at Gimbals, and some of the big department stores in downtown Milwaukee. Either my dad would pick us up from work or we’d take the Greyhound bus home (to Menomonee Falls). That day, we were in the waiting room at the bus station waiting for our bus. There was this huge magazine stand, and I saw this magazine, Billboard, which I had never heard of before. I didn’t know what it was, but I picked it out. In the back, there was a carnival section with advertisements for coin operators, and ads for baseball card displays where you could put them in drug stores and make money. I thought, “What a great idea.” I was a huge fan of the Milwaukee Braves, and a baseball card fan. Then I went further and there were full-page pictures of Frankie Laine and an ad for Rosemary Clooney being #1 in the nation. I thought, “Well, this is interesting.
It connected to what you were hearing on the radio?
It did because I was hearing all of these songs. I think Billboard was 15 cents. My mom gave me a quarter, and I bought it. I took it home, and I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden, I knew what the #1 song in the nation was. I had no idea that there was a chart that told you that information. Of course, I didn’t have the money for a subscription. It was $10 a year then. I couldn’t afford that. But, in a couple of years later, when I was a freshman, I sent in $10, and I subscribed. Since then I haven’t missed a week.
You are 68.
I was at the perfect age, 14 or 15, when rock and roll broke. I was able to go down once a week and buy a record. I had to make that awful decision of what record do I buy this week, and what records do I leave out until next week. Sam Cooke was my favorite. Jackie Wilson was a close second. When I was in college, Jackie Wilson had “To Be Loved” (in 1958). I thought that was the greatest song ever made at the time.
You were also heavily into sports.
I played a lot of basketball. I’m 6 feet 6 (inches), and I played a lot of semi-pro sports. I was very active between record collecting, and playing hardball, baseball, and playing basketball semi-pro. I was so busy I never had time to get in trouble.
You grew up near Milwaukee. In the ‘60s, there were some great bands in the region, including the Legends, Paul Stefen And The Royal Lancers, and Destinations.
The Legends! I’m doing the regional charts in Billboard right now and, in 1962, the Legends were on the front page because they had a breakout single with “Say Mama” (first recorded by Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps). I was so excited to see “Say Mama” and “Bop-A-Lena. Paul Stefen did “I Fought The Law” (recorded by Sonny Curtis and The Crickets in 1959, and famously covered by Bobby Fuller Four in 1966). So, they are going to be in my next book. I’m going to put in all those breakouts from different cities so people can see what was hot in Minneapolis or wherever.
What did you do after high school?
I went to Elmhurst College in (Elmhurst) Illinois taking business administration. I was transferred to the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee for two years.
You left after the first semester of your third year of college.
I was sick of working hard and spending all of my money on tuition. I wouldn’t have any money left. I’d work all year, working at nights, and all of that money went to tuition, and books. I just couldn’t go another year with no money. I wanted to get a car. I wanted to buy records. I wanted to have some freedom.
Were you able to find a job?
A friend of mine was applying for a job at Steel Sales Company, and he asked me to go with him. Instead of waiting in the car, I went inside because it was winter, and it was cold outside. They gave me an application. I filled it out and I got the job as a sales rep. An office job. They hired me out of about 45 guys who filled out applications that day. Their main office was in Chicago, but they had a big distributorship in Milwaukee.
You worked at Steel Sales Company for a couple of years. Then at Smith Corona, the typewriter and calculator company; and you were an office manager at Carnation Company. How did you come to work in the music industry?
I called Pete Stocke at Taylor Electric which was the RCA distributor in Milwaukee. I told him my name and that I loved music and that I would love to work in the music industry. He said to come in because they were looking for someone in a new venture they were doing. I came in, and he asked me about my past, and why I wanted a job. I told him about my record collection, and my research on the Billboard charts. He told me that 8-track tapes were becoming big in that area and he wanted someone to represent RCA (in Wisconsin and Illinois). So I got the job and I was going around setting up these 8-track tape departments all over the place. Everybody was getting into 8-track tapes, including gas stations.
We had a convertible, and I’d go around town playing all of these 8-track tapes. I had a player that I played 8-tracks with a light that felt the pulse of music and would light up at night.
Those were the glory days.
Oh yeah. I was working in the music industry. Charley Pride would come to town and I’d go out to lunch with him. I met John Gary, Chet Atkins, and Henry Mancini. This was from ’68 into early ’70. In 1970, I quit to go full-time into my research. I was just starting to run some ads in Billboard (for the first singles chart book), and the response was phenomenal. I thought, “Imagine, if I could spend all day working at these research things.”
How did the Billboard ad read?
It said something like, “The complete history of the Hot 100, artist by artist” for $50.” I came up with $50 because Billboard had been selling mimeographed sheets of their Hot 1000 hits for $50. But they were loaded with mistakes.
Billboard publisher Hal Cook called you after your ad ran because you didn’t have permission to use the chart.
No I just published my book. It was lucky I did because if I had asked Billboard, they probably would have said no. Then Hal Cook called me from Los Angeles. I wasn’t even sure who he was at Billboard--whether he was the editor or the publisher. He told me that he was the publisher of Billboard, and that I couldn’t use the Hot 100. That was scary for a young kid. But I told him what I did. I told him that I went through all the charts, and researched them. He said I had to get permission. He asked me to send him a copy of the book. So I sent him one. About two weeks later, another phone call came from Hal Cook. I thought, “I’m going to be told, “You can’t do this. This is illegal.” But he said, “I love the book. I love what you did.”
[The legendary Hal Cook became publisher of Billboard in 1962. His career included working at Vitacoustic, the Chicago independent label which had a #1 hit in 1947 with “Peg o’ My Heart” by the Harmonicats; at Capitol Records, where he was distribution VP; and being VP of sales at Columbia Records. He helped launch Warner Bros. Records in 1958 with Jim Conkling and George Avakian.]
Hal then invited you to Los Angeles to work on a license agreement.
Hal said that Billboard was in the process of doing a licensing agreement with Casey Kasem at KRLA for broadcasting (using the Billboard chart for the syndicated “American Top 40” show). He said, “Perhaps, you can do the publishing. We will work out two agreements.” So they gave Casey the license to do the Top 40 on radio; and they gave me the license to mine—M-I-N-E—their charts for a royalty. That meant I could do anything I wanted to, and they would give me the exclusive rights, and give me free advertising. They even gave me a column (in Billboard) which I did for a couple of years. They would let me put a coupon in for my books.
My wife and I were in Los Angeles for three days. I ended up with a 26-page licensing agreement with a lot of legal wording. I didn’t even read it because I just wanted to sign it, and get going. I wanted to do the album charts as well as country, and I wanted to do an R&B book.
Billboard had tried to do their own chart books previously.
Hal said, “We tried doing this, but it all fell through the cracks.” I’ll never forget that statement. They had tried doing it. What he meant was that they had a Top 100 chart which gave the initials of songs and artists. It was full of mistakes. I made all of the corrections because I had a huge record collection. I went through the charts, and crossed things out. They did the research, but they didn’t catch these things.
You can’t do these books without understanding and….
Having a passion. And I had a passion to get it right. To find the records. If I didn’t have the records, I would go out and search for them; buy archives out; and bring them home until I found the records. If I didn’t find them, I would run (want) ads and I would get records from all over the country. Then I would get the artist right; the title right; and I’d get the B-side and the label number correct. Everything. Billboard didn’t do that. I think that’s what he meant when he said, “It all fell through the cracks.”
Record Research’s first book was the first edition of “Top Pop Singles” with the yellow cover?
Yeah. I had to pay royalties (to Billboard) from the beginning on that. The agreement has covered every book I’ve ever sold. The first book after the agreement was “Top Pop Albums.” It was a paperback with a light lavender cover. Then we did country, R&B and easy listening (singles) books. We did “Rock Tracks,” “Hot R&B Albums,” and “Hot Country Albums.” “The Billboard Annual” is one of my favorite books because it arranges everything from the pop singles’ chart by year, and by rank order.
The radio community was your earliest customer?
Radio supported me tremendously at the very beginning. Almost everything in the first six months came from radio—disc jockeys, music directors, program directors. It was phenomenal the orders that came from radio stations—small and big ones. And overseas. We were getting orders from Germany, Britain, Spain, and Japan. Who in Japan would want a book on the charts in America? I couldn’t believe the people who wanted the information.
Why did you decide to have the label and the label numbers listed?
I think that’s really important because of all of the reissues, and remakes. There’s all of the music on iTunes. You have to have my books to know for sure what version it is. Gogi Grant re-recorded (her 1956 hit) “Wayward Wind” under a different label. Paul Anka re-recorded all of his early hits at RCA. You buy some of Ricky Nelson’s “Greatest Hits” albums, and you listen to “Lonesome Town” and it’s the wrong version. With my books, you get the original label of when the record first charted. That’s the version that you need if you want the original recording, and not a remake. So you have to get the original label and when the record charted. That was extremely important to me starting out, and it still is today in my books.
Billboard used to have multiple charts in the ‘40s and ’50s for pop, R&B and country.
They had three charts, Best Sellers, Jukebox and Disk Jockey charts. Then they combined them. When they didn’t combine them we researched all three week-by-week. We put them in our data base, and whatever date charted first was the day the record charted; whichever chart it peaked at was its peak position. At the end of the charts, (Billboard) had territorial and regional hits. We include those. We simply continued the numbering system to get in a lot of those obscure songs that showed a lot of action in, maybe, three different major markets.
Generally, from 1950 to 1962, there were about 22 major markets that were significant in breaking records. Those are the markets that we like to look at as far as regional hits in all genres, R&B, country and pop.
Your books show the three charts on the right side of the page.
You can see what it did on each chart. Some people swear by Best Sellers; some swear by airplay; and, of course, the juke box industry was probably bigger than anything in the ’50. Jukebox sales were phenomenal. It was accounting for almost 60% of all single sales.
Operators would come in weekly (to distributors) and pick up boxes and boxes of 45s. Jukeboxes were the craze. You went anywhere and there were these beautiful jukeboxes. Seeburg, AMI, Wurlitzer, and Rock-Ola were neck-in-neck (in competition) and they were everyplace. The jukebox operators were just thriving. It was a big industry and then it faded away. Today, it’s about non-existent.
And, there were no returns selling to jukebox operators.
No returns. The operators like Fishers and Mitchell Novelty here that I knew would put out their 45s that they had changed on Saturday morning. There’d be crowds waiting outside trying to get in. They’d put the 45s on spindles for people to go through. People bought everything. People liked to look at what the jukeboxes were playing. They figured that was more important than the disc jockey was playing. Everybody has their own opinion. So I put in all three charts (into the books) so you can judge by yourself.
Todd Storz got the idea for the Top 40 radio format from what was being played on Omaha jukeboxes in the ‘50s.
Of course. What people were willing to spend their nickels and quarters on, I think, told a lot about what people listened to.
Do you own a jukebox?
I now have three jukeboxes. I can’t tell you how many I have traded and sold. The first one I got was the Wurlitzer (Opus) 1150. We used it so much. I had this old guy come in—he was so old that he shook—to repair it all of the time. Finally, it got that you couldn’t repair it anymore. So I bought a couple of Rock-Olas and then a Seeburg. I have a roll-away AMI at my lake home. Everybody on the lake comes over to play it. I’ve got speakers outside. People love the bass on those jukeboxes.
“Pop Memories-1890-1954,” released in 1986, is my favorite book you have published.
So many people say that.
Was it the most difficult book to put together?
Yes. It took the most time because of working at the Library of Congress. We had to go there for three years of study, digging through all of the trade magazines to find articles, through sheet music—all that stuff to put together the week-by-week charts.
Talking Machine World used to feature chart lists in the early days from Edison, Columbia, and Victor Talking Machine.
There were like three major labels then, and they would each weekly print their top 10 sellers list. That gave us a good indication as far as combining that with sheet music sales, most played and most plugged songs. You had to look at everything each week. So that took a long time. Each week, we had enough ammunition that it all came together of what was the most popular songs in the county.
How did you weight the positions? Billboard’s chart positions are done for you.
We went by what was the biggest magazine or article or trade magazine at that time. In the ‘30s, it was a lot different than it was in 1910, for instance. Today, obviously Billboard is the main source. I’ve got Billboards going back to 1937. I bought two or three copies of each. I bought a lot of collections out. From 1937 on, I have everything.
It’s fascinating looking at The Billboard issues of the ‘30s.
Ahh, not only the ‘30s but also the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Mr. W.D. Littleford came to my house. He and (Billboard’s editor in chief and publisher) Lee Zhito were here. The two of them. They took me out to lunch. Mr. Littleford had his bow tie on. A very distinguished man. He loved my operation. He told Lee Zhito that Billboard should have something like this.
[Former Billboard chairman William D. Littleford, whose grandfather William H. Donaldson co-founded Billboard (as The Billboard) in 1894, died May 14, 2009 at the age of 94. Littleford spent most of his publishing career at Billboard Publications Inc. where he eventually became chairman emeritus in the mid-1980's. He was GM from 1943 until 1958, when he became president and CEO, positions in which he held until the sale of Billboard by his family in 1985.]
So much chart information can be found on the Internet today. You aren’t likely to see your books in radio stations anymore. Has there been deterioration in sales?
Well, I’ve kind of crossed over to the mass market—to the record collector, the record fan and the music collector.
Did that start with the mass market release of “Top 40 Hits?”
That was an agreement I worked out with Watson-Guptill Publications which Billboard owned. Jules Perel, (VP/dir. of sales) played the devil’s advocate and said, “Who’d want to buy a book with chart positions.” I said, “A lot of people would.” Look at what my (Record Research) books have done, they have exploded.” The 12th edition of “Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” we just submitted three weeks ago. We’re hoping that it will be out by Christmas.
The Record Research books are more for the professional working in the music industry.
They are. They are much more detailed and include more interesting notes. There’s just so much more information.
Who are the customers for the Record Research books today?
Everybody and anybody. The “Top Pop Singles” book has been our best seller in the last two years. It has been selling like crazy since we added in all of the Bubbling Under information. The new one is out now. I don’t know who these people are that buy the books. They go onto our site, and they order books. Every day, there’s 30 or 40 customers buying books. It is just constant.
The new version of “Top Pop Singles” is more comprehensive than earlier versions.
You can go as deep as you want with the new edition because it includes all of the Bubbling Unders mixed in. So all of those regional garage bands, all those wonderful doo-wop bands all in there now. Even today, a lot of the modern rock and alternative (records) don’t cross over to the pop stations. Groups like Muse are so good. I love that music. These bands do go up the charts a little bit but not a lot. They do show up on the Bubbling Under chart.
When is the new “Top Pop Albums” book coming out?
We are working on a new edition now. We are adding a lot of classic (albums). It’s about time that we got representation from some of the great rock and roll artists that never charted. I am going to show at least what they did. That will fill in a little gap there that our customers were looking for. In the early decades, rock and roll albums did not chart, except for Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley. Neither Chuck Berry or Little Richard made the album charts. It was all soundtracks, comedy albums and Mantovani.
Did Nat King Cole have the first charted album with “Nat King Cole Vol. 1”
Yes. In 1945 with 78s under name of The King Cole Trio.
Are the books available in digital form?
We do have “The Music Vault” on our website. You can subscribe and go on there, and it’s wall-to-wall data. You can see a U2 video or a photo of the original pressing—A-side and B-side, and the picture sleeve, cassette box, whatever we have.
Any thoughts of retirement?
Oh no. What would I do? I have such a passion for what I’m doing. I get the advance charts within a few hours (of being compiled). I can’t wait. I am so excited because there are going to be new artists, new songs that I haven’t heard. There may be a new song that might be my record of the year.
People see a person your age with white hair, but you can talk about the hits of today with any teenager around.
And, it pisses them off. I’ll have DJs visiting here who don’t play anything past 1979 and I will say, “Aren’t you playing the new Nickelback song?” That’s the kind of music I like today. I played “Gotta Be Somebody” six times in a row. I go to their concerts whenever they come to Milwaukee. I love that style of rock music. Rock music is my favorite style of music. “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol was my favorite song of 2006.
How crazy do you get hearing the wrong version of the song on the radio?
I don’t listen to radio much. I don’t. I have so much new music that I have to listen to every week because of all of the new (chart) entries.
What’s going to happen to the business when you pass away?
We are looking at museums and Hall of Fames that are interested (in the collection). I have been talking to different people. My daughter Kim (Bloxdorf) is the vice-president (of the company). The business will pass to her. She’s in her mid-40s. She’s really good at her job. She understands the business from top to bottom. She’s lived her whole life with this.
You read through your charts books, you get a snapshot of America.
You sure do. They tell you a lot about our culture.
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.