The US Recorded Music Market in the Light of the Billboard Hot 100 – the 1960s

In February 2011, Billboard Magazine celebrated the 1,000th number one hit of the Hot 100 single chart since its introduction in September 1958 by listing all number one hits with links to YouTube videos and additional information. I used this list as a starting point to analyse the preferences of US music consumers for artists and music genres and how major and indie labels economically profited from it. Part 1 of the analysis highlights the top chart positions of the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1960s.



The Most Successful Acts of the 1960s

It is no surprise that the Beatles were the commercially most successful act in the 1960s. The Fab Four had eighteen different number one hits from 1964 to 1969 and topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 55 weeks (of 518 weeks) in the 1960s. All songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney[1] and – except for one song[2] – were produced by George Martin. The Beatles had their heydays in the USA in the years 1964, 1965 and 1968, when their songs topped the single chart for eighteen, twelve and eleven weeks respectively. The Beatles continously hold the number one position with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “She Loves You” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” from February 1 to May 8, 1964.  In June, August and in December “Love Me Do“, “A Hard Day’s Night“ and “I Feel Fine“ followed. Thus, a third of 1964 saw Beatles songs on top of the Hot 100.

However, the most successful song of 1965 was not by the Beatles but “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction“ by the Rolling Stones. The Stones were the second most successful British Invasion act in the 1960s. They made it on the top for with five songs for thirteen weeks  from 1965 to 1969. The most successful years for the Stones were 1965 (six weeks number one) and 1969 (four weeks number one).

Only the Supremes could compete with the British Invasion acts. At same time when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones charted in the USA, the Supremes topped the chart with twelve songs for twenty-one weeks from 1964 to 1969. 1964 (seven weeks number one)[3] and 1965 (five weeks number one)[4] were the top years for the girl group, which was built around Diana Ross. From 1966 on the Supremes were present on top of the chart with one or two songs each year. This success should also be contributed to the songwriter-producer team Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland, Jr., who coined the typical Motown sound of the Detroit-based record label.[5]

With the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Supremes the three most successful acts of the second half of the decade are already named. The first half of the 1960s was dominated by Elvis Presley. In 1960, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” topped the Hot 100 with three songs for fourteen weeks. However, only “Stuck on You” can be credited as a rock ‘n’ roll song. “It’s Now Or Never“ and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?“ reflected the new direction Elvis had chosen according to his biographer Peter Guralnick after his military service in Germany.[6] Nevertheless “It’s Now Or Never“ and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?“ topped the chart remarkably long for five and six weeks respectively. In 1961, Elvis made it on the top with “Surrender” – a quasi cover-version of a Neapolitan folk song – and in 1962 with “Good Luck Charm”. In the following years Elvis Presley had no number one hit in the Billboard Hot 100 until November 1, 1969, when “Suspicious Minds” marked Elvis comeback on top of the chart.

This is a very remarkable success if we consider that music taste had dramatically changed in the meantime. Whereas in the pre-Beatles era, the charts were dominated by rock ‘n’ roll, teen idols pop, girl groups and traditional pop,  the Hot 100 list was shaped by folk rock, psychodelic rock, soul and funk at the end of the decade. In addition we can also find bubblegum and sunshine pop songs on the top of the US-single chart. The most successful artists in this respect were the Beatles-clones The Monkees, who topped the Hot 100 with ”I’m A Believer“ and ”Daydream Believer“ for eleven weeks in1967. In the year before, the Monkees went the first time to number one with “Last Train To Clarksville“.

A very successful act, who anticipated the psychodelic and hippie-wave of the late 1960s was The 5th Dimension. “Aquarius/Let The Sushine In“ peaked the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks, which resulted in the best selling record of 1969. “Wedding Bell Blues” followed in the same year for additional three weeks at the top.

Bubblegum and sunshine pop were the reincarnations of teen idols pop of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The most successful artist of this genre was Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons with the 1962 top-hits “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, which topped the chart for ten weeks altogether. In 1963 and 1964 the success was prolonged by “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Dog”. With fifteen weeks on number one Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons was the fourth most successful act of the 1960s behind the Beatles, the Supremes and Elvis Presley but still ahead the Rolling Stones and the Monkees. Bobby Vinton, who stood in the tradition of the pop crooners of the 1940s and 1950s, ranked on the 7th position. Vinton was top of the chart for ten weeks from 1962 to 1964 with ”Roses Are Red (My Love)“, “Blue Velvet” und “There! I’ve Said It Again”. It marks a historical break in the popular music history that crooner Bobby Vinton was succeeded on the top by the Beatles’ ”I Want To Hold Your Hand“ on February 1, 1964.

At the same time when Bobby Vinton songs made it on the top, Ray Charles could celebrate his greatest success in the pop charts. Although Charles used big studio orchesters and background vocals in his arrangements – similar to traditional pop – he revolutionized pop music by blending rhythm & blues and country & western to an innovative music genre which was later named soul music. Ray Charles topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “I Can’t Stop Loving You“ from his path breaking album ”Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music“ for five weeks in1962. In the year before Ray Charles was number one for two weeks with “Hit the Road Jack” and in 1960 the Afro-American musician crossed-over the first time to the “white” pop charts with “Georgia On My Mind”. From 1960 to 1962, Ray Charles topped the single chart for eight weeks altogether.

It is remarkable that the “white” The Young Rascals crossed-over with so called blue-eyed soul in the other direction at the end of the decade. In 1967 and 1968 The Young Rascals made it on the top with ”Groovin’“ and ”People Got To Be Free“ for nine weeks altogether. In 1966, the New Jersey-based band could already celebrate its first number one hit with “Good Lovin’” by succeeding the Righteous Brothers – another representative of blue-eyed soul.

The most successful song of the 1960s, however, was not interpreted by an act enlisted above, but by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. It was “A Theme From A Summer Place“ from the movie of the same title written by the film composer Max Steiner. This easy listening title topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine consecutive weeks – a record that was only matched by the Beatles with “Hey Jude” in 1968.



In the 1960s four songs stayed on number one for seven weeks: “Tossin’ and Turnin’“ by Bobby Lewis (also best selling record in 1961), “I Want To Hold Your Hand“ by the Beatles (1964), “I’m A Believer“ by the Monkees (1967) and “I Heard I Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye (1968).

Remarkable is also „Sugar Shack“ by Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs who released the best selling record in 1963, just ahead of the singing Belgian Dominican nun Soeur Sourire (born Jeanine Deckers), who topped the chart with the French song “Dominique“ for four weeks in1963. In the years before only two foreign language songs could reach the top position: 1958 “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volaré)“ by the Italian Domenico Modugno and 1963 “Sukiyaki“ by the Japanese pop star Kyu Sakamoto.


Domestic and International Repertory at the Top of the US Single Charts

The presence of non-English songs in the US-charts indicates that the music taste of the US-Americans was also influenced from abroad. If we analyse the origin of the number one hits it becomes clear that foreign influences vary over the time. A record can be defined as a foreign production if the master was produced outside the USA, independently from the interpreter’s, songwriter’s or producer’s nationality. If e.g. the South African Hugh Masekela recorded a title in a New York studio and if the main production processes can be located within the USA, it is a domestic production from the US-perspective. Otherwise it is an international production. In this respect the share of international repertoiry was 21.2% in the USA in the 1960s. This means that in 110 weeks of 518 foreign music productions topped the single chart.

However, this share varies over the decade. Before the Beatles hit the scene in 1964, the foreign share was very low. In 1960 no song from outside the USA could top the Hot 100. In1961 and1962, a German and a British orchestral easy listing title – Bert Kämpfert’s ”Wonderland by Night“ and Acker Bilk’s ”Stranger On the Shore“ – peaked at number one for three weeks each. The foreign share increased in 1963 when the Japanese pop star Kyu Sakamoto and the Belgian “singing nun” Soeur Sourire went to number one with their foreign language songs. In the same year the futuristic instrumental work “Telstar” by the British music producer Joe Meek, intepreted by the Tornadoes, made it on the top. All in all, international repertoiry gained a share of 15.4% (measured in weeks) in 1963.

With the Beatles and the British Invasion the foreign share dramatically increased to 50.0% in1964. In1965, this share even climbed to 55.0% in order to fall to 24.5% in1966. In1967 the British Invasion phased out and the foreign share decreased to 7.7%. The Beatles and the French orchestral hit “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat once again increased the share of international repertory to 30.8% in 1968. In the last year of the decade the Beatles and the Rolling Stones topped the US-single chart for 10 weeks, which accounted for a foreign share of 19.2%.



From Rock ’n’ Roll and Teen Idols Pop to Psychodelic Rock and Bubblegum

If we categorize the top hits by music genre the change of music taste can be highlighted for the 1960s. Before Beatlemania hit the USA in 1964, the 1950s influenced the music taste of the US-record buyers in the early 1960s. Teen idols pop à la Pat Boone, Paul Anka and Neil Sedaka on the one hand and classical rock ’n’ roll as well as rockabilly on th eother dominated the Billboard Hot 100 from 1960 to 1963. “Black” hits crossed over to the “white” pop charts in the form of doo wop and as the girl groups phenomenon, which was mainly created by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. and the music producer Phil Spector. In 1961, doo wop songs topped the single charts for sixteen weeks. In 1963, girl groups such as The Chiffons, The Essex, The Angels reached the peak of their popularity. In 1961/62, the Twist was hyped by Chubby Checker and topped the Hot 100 for nine weeks. Traditional pop by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bobby Vinton made it on the top even in the heydays of the British Invasion in 1964 and 1965. It is striking that the dominance of the Beatles, who topped the single chart for fourteen consecutive weeks, was broken by Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” on May 9, 1964. In the same year Dean Martin reached the top of the chart with ”Everybody Loves Somebody“. In 1966, Frank Sinatra went number one with “Strangers In The Night“ and with his daughter Nancy Sinatra he had his last number one hit in the Billboard Hot 100 with ”Somethin’ Stupid“.

However, the British Invasion dominated the mid-1960s. Following the path of the Beatles and the Rollings Stones numerous other acts from the UK entered the US-charts. Peter & Gordon (with the Paul McCartney song ”A World Without Love“), The Animals (”The House Of The Rising Sun“), Manfred Mann (”Do Wah Diddy Diddy“), Petula Clark (”Downtown“ and ”My Love“), Freddie and The Dreamers (”I’m Telling You Now“), Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders (“Game Of Love“), Herman’s Hermits (”Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter“ and ”I’m Henry VIII, I Am“), The Dave Clark Five (”Over And Over“), The Troggs (”Wild Thing“) and eventually Lulu with “To Sire With Love“ (also best selling single in 1967) had one or even more number one hits in the USA. In 1964, British Invasion acts reigned the Hot 100 for twenty-four weeks, in 1965 even for twenty-eight weeks and in 1966 for eleven weeks. In 1967, British Invasion phased out after the UK bands had abandoned (mersey)beat.

The next big thing was psychodelic rock, which was mainly influenced by the Beatles’ concept album ”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“. However, this time US-acts ruled the single chart – e.g. the Beach Boys with ”Good Vibrations“, the Doors with “Light My Fire” and “Hello, I Love You” as well as Strawberry Alarm Clock with ”Incense And Peppermint“, who all reached the top of the chart with psychodelic music and texts in 1968.

Bubblegum and sunshine pop were the only music genres, which could compete with psychodelic rock. The simple texts and easy listing arrangements were very popular among pre-teens and teenagers. While the British Invasion was still ruling the single chart, the Beach Boys had two number one surf pop hits – “I Get Around“ and “Help Me, Rhonda“. The first bubblegum chart topper, however, was ”This Diamond Ring“ by Gary Lewis[7] and The Playboys, which reached the top of the chart on February 20, 1965. In 1966, Lou Christie followed with “Lightnin’ Strikes“, before the Monkees became popular. Thus, in 1967 bubblegum pop songs topped the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks altogether. A second wave of bubblegum hit songs can be identified for 1969, when Tommy Roe (“Dizzy”), the cartoon-band The Archies (“Sugar, Sugar”) as well as Steam (“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”= went number one. Sunshine pop acts such as The Buckinghams with ”Kind Of A Drag“, The Turtles with ”Happy Together“, The Association with ”Cherish“ and ”Windy“ as well as The 5th Dimension with ”Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In“ and „Wedding Bell Blues“ were also very popular in the late 1960s.

Although Bubblegum and sunshine pop was inspired by the British Invasion, they tried to copy the commercial success of UK acts under controlled conditions. In contrast, the emergence of new rock music subgenres was not the result of a master plan, but of the efforts by single musicians. However, when the major labels realized the commercial potential of such a rock music subgenre, it became streamlined to fit the taste of an average music consumer. A good example in this respect is folk rock, which initially was routed in the anti-commerical and anti-capitalist folk scene of the 1950s. Therefore, it is no surprise that pure folk acts hardly topped the US single chart. In 1965 the Highwaymen went number one with the gospel standard “Michael“ and the Roof Top Singers followed in 1963 with ”Walk Right In“. However, folk rock was a different thing and was made popular by the Byrds in 1965 with the Bob Dylan cover version of “Mr. Tambourine Man“ (three weeks on the top) and with “Turn! Turn! Turn!“ (one week on the top). Sonny & Cher followed with “I Got You Babe“ (three weeks) as well as Barry McGuire with “Eve Of Destruction“ (one week) in the same year. In 1966, Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound Of Silence“ (two weeks), by The Mamas & The Papas’ “Monday, Monday“ (three weeks), by Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City“ (three weeks) as well as by Dononvan’s “Sunshine Superman“ (one week) reached the top of the chart. After a one year’s break, folk rock returned back on top of the single chart in 1968 and 1969: Simon & Garfunkel charted number one with “Mrs Robinson“ (three weeks), Zager & Evans with “In the Year 2525“ (six weeks) and Peter, Paul & Mary with “Leaving On A Jet Plane“ (one week). To sum up, folk/folk rock songs topped for thirty-eight weeks the Billboard Hot 100. Therefore, it was the third most popular music genre in the 1960s.

Another British Invasion inspired rock music genre, which charted well was the simple tailored garage rock, which is also referred to as proto-punk. In 1966, Tommy James and The Shondells with “Hanky Panky” and Question Mark & The Mysterians with “96 Tears” topped the Hot 100 with garage rock songs for a short time.

Similar to “white” pop music, rhythm & blues dramatically changed over the 1960s. The short lived girl groups phenomenon led to Motown sound, which was mainly shaped by the Supremes and their producer team Holland-Dozier-Holland since 1964. However, it was Mary Wells – and not the Supremes – who peaked at number one the first time with a typical Motown song – “My Guy“ – in May 1964. Three months later, the Supremes made it on top the first time with “Where Did Our Love Go?“ Until 1969 another eleven Supremes’ songs were chart-toppers. In addition, the Temptations with ”My Girl“ (1964) as well as the Four Tops with “I Can’t Help Myself“ (1965) and „Reach Out, I’ll Be There“ (1966) reached the top of the chart for Motown too.

Beside the smooth Motown sound, which was targeted at a white, young and well off audience, the rougher soul also crossed over into the pop charts. After Ray Charles had innovated and defined soul music in the early 1960s, representatives of the northern und southern soul entered to pop charts and made it to the top. Percy Sledge topped the Hot 100 with his soul-ballad “When A Man Loves A Woman“ in 1966. In 1967, Aretha Franklin followed with the Otis Redding song “Respect”, and Otis Redding himself went number one with “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay“, shortly after he was killed in a plane crash. In 1968, the Motown artist Marvin Gaye was successful with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. However, soul also influenced white musician such as the Righteous Brothers and the Young Rascals, who went on top of the chart with blue eyed soul. Eventually, we should also consider pop soul, which topped the Hot 100 the first time with Johnny Rivers’ “Poor Side of Town“ in 1966. At the end of the decade soul was superseded by funk, which moved to number one the first time in 1968 with “Tighten Up“ by Archie Bell & The Drells. In 1969 followed Sly and The Family Stone with “Everyday People“ for four weeks on top of the single chart and the Temptations with “I Can’t Get Next To You“.

Despite all the changes of music taste throughout the 1960s, we can also identify stylistic continuity on top of the Billboard Hot 100. A genre that was always highly valued by US-record buyers in 1960s was country & western, which also influenced the emergence of rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s and even soul (see Ray Charles) in the early 1960s. On the other hand C&W was influenced too by pop music and amalgated to country pop, which was even more popular than the traditional C&W genre. The tragic ballad “Honey“ by Bobby Goldsboro and the social critical “Harper Valley P.T.A.“ by Jeannie C. Riley peaked at number one in 1968. However, when the British Invasion ruled the single chart in 1964/65 and in 1969, we cannot find any country/country pop song on top of the chart.  

Easy listening was the second genre, which enjoyed popularity in the 1960s. Especially at the beginning and at the end of the decade easy listening was very popular. As already mentioned before, “A Theme From A Summer Place“ by Percy Faith and His Orchestra topped the single charts for nine weeks in 1960. A year later, Bert Kämpfert’s „Wonderland by Night“ and Lawrence Welk’s “Calcutta“ topped the Hot 100 for three and two weeks respectively. The British Invasion temporarily disrupted the chart success of the easy listening genre, but in 1968 it came back on top of the chart with “Love Is Blue“ (five weeks) by Paul Mauriat and the “This Guy’s In Love With You“ (four weeks) by Herb Alpert. In 1969, Henri Mancini contributed another number one easy listening hit with “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet“ for two weeks .

Despite all the problems of genre definition and categorization, we can identify twenty-five music genres on top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1960s. Most successful were British Invasion songs, which topped the Hot 100 for sixty-nine weeks, followed by teen idols pop with fourty-three weeks, folk/folk rock with thirty-eight weeks, traditional pop with thirty-four weeks, the Motown sound with thirty-one weeks and doo wop with thirty weeks.


Label Success in the Light of the US Single Charts

At the end of this the article, I would like to answer the question, which labels profited from the music preferences of US- record buyers in the 1960s? How performed the major record companies and what role played the indie labels? In order to answer these questions we have to define major and indie companies. A major record company in the 1960s covered the whole value-added chain from A&R, music production and record pressing to record distribution, marketing and promotion. The main factor that constituted the majors’ market power was a well established and a widely ramified record distribution network. In contrast, indie companies were mainly focused on the A&R function and could not rely on corporate structures. They either had use independent distributors or had to rely on the majors’ distribution. However, in some cases the difference between an indie company and a major’s sublabel was fluent. If an indie label such as Atlantic Records was bought by a major company, it cannot be defined as indie label any longer after the acquision, even if the dependence on the major’s structures was already high before. In addition we have to consider relatively autonomous labels of Hollywood film studios. Although these labels were not technically major labels, they were nevertheless part of financially potent parent companies such as MGM, United Artists, 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures (Colpix and Colgems) and can be classified therefore as major labels. Mercury Records, however, is a special case. In 1945, Mercury was founded as an indie label in Chicago, but grew larger and larger over the years until it did not fit any longer in the indie category. Therefore, it was also called a super-indie. Since Mercury owned record studios, a well established distribution network but no record pressing plant, it could be defined as a major label even before it was bought by Philips in 1962.

Thus, 57 labels can be identified, which had number one hits in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1960 to 1969, whereby sublabels such as Epic (Columbia Records), UNi Records (MCA) and Capitol Records (EMI) are not separately counted.

The most successful record company of the 1960s was the British EMI with its US-subsidiary Capitol Records. Thank’s to the Beatles and the British Invasion EMI had 22 top hits, which topped the Hot 100 for fifty-six weeks. The Beatles alone accounted for fifteen top hits, which were sitting on top of the chart for fourty weeks. The rest of seven top titles were contributed by three other British Invasion Acts (Peter & Gordon, Manfred Mann and Freddie and The Dreamers), by the Beach Boys (“I Get Around”, “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Good Vibrations”) and by the country-pop singer/songwriter Bobbie Gentry.

CBS-Columbia and its sublabels (especially Epic Records) ranked second with eighteen hits and fifty-four weeks on top of the chart. The most successful acts for Columbia were Percy Faith and His Orchestra, teen idol Bobby Vee and crooner Bobby Vinton in the first half of the decade. The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel as well as Sly and the Family Stone contributed the number one hits from 1965 to 1969.  In the pre-Beatles years, CBS-Columbia was successful with easy listening instrumentals, teen idols and traditional pop, whereas the company’s success mainly relied on folk rock in the second half of the decade.

Columbia’s main competitor on the US-market, RCA Victor, ranked third with fourteen top hits, which accounted for furty-six weeks on the top. Elvis Presley, therefore, was the outstanding RCA artist, who charted number one hits with six songs for twenty weeks. Before Beatlemania hit the USA, RCA was only successful with two teen idols – Neil Sedaka and Little Peggy March. However, during the British Invasion years, RCA could only reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with the C&W hit “Ringo” (1964) by Lorne Green, who was a popular actor in the TV series “Bonanza” and with the patriotic song „The Ballad of the Green Berets“ (1966) by the Vietnam war veteran SSgt. Barry Sadler. The RCA had no top hits until 1969, when an easy listening orchestral piece by film composer Henry Mancini went number one. One-hit-wonder Zager & Evans followed with “In the Year 2525“ as well as the cartoon-band The Archies with “Sugar, Sugar”. At the end of 1969, Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” was RCA’s  last number one hit of the decade.

The most successful indie label of the 1960s was Detroit-based Motown Records, which was founded by the Afro-American Berry Gordy, Jr. in 1960. Motown’s success was based on a unique and recognizable sound that met the musical taste of the “white”, middle-class youth. As mentioned before, the Supremes and their producer team Holland-Dozier-Holland accounted for most of Motown’s top hits – twelve songs held for twenty-one weeks the single chart’s top position. The girl group The Marveletts, thirteen year old “Little” Stevie Wonder, former Motown secretary Mary Wells, the Four Tops, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye contributed another eight top hits, which topped the Hot 100 for twenty weeks altogether.

Warner Bros. Records and its subsidiaries – Reprise Records and Atlantic Records from 1967 on – topped the chart with eleven songs for thirty weeks. Besides the Everly Brothers, who had a smash hit with “Cathy’s Clown” for Warner Bros. Records in 1960 after they had left Cadence Records, Frank Sinatra and his Reprise label accounted for most of the top hits in the decade’s first half. In addition to his own creative output, Sinatra also released records of his daughter Nancy as well as of his friend and stage colleague Dean Martin. Thus, Warner was mainly successful with traditional pop until 1967. In 1967, Warner got a very different image by purchasing Atlantic Records and signing artists such as The Young Rascals, Aretha Franklin, The Association, Archie Bell & The Drells and Peter, Paul & Mary, who all had number one hits for Warner Bros. and its sublabels.

The commercial success of the second British major record company, Decca Records, relied mainly on the Rolling Stones, who topped the single charts in the USA for thirteen weeks the with five songs. The rest of three songs and seven weeks were contributed by the Tornadoes and Brenda Lee, who had two number one hits for the US-Decca before it was purchased by MCA in 1962.

The second most successful indie label of the 1960s was the Indiana-based VeeJay Records. VeeJays success mainly relied on Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, who topped the Billboard Hot 100 with four hits and for fifteen weeks. In addition, Gene Chandler contributed his doo-wop-hit “Duke of Earl” in 1962, which topped the chart for three weeks.

Philips Records, a subsidiary of the Dutch electronic giant, brought mainly European acts – the Belgian nun Soeur Sourire, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, The Troggs, The New Vaudeville Band and Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra – on top of the US-Hot 100. The only exception was the US-band Steam, who had a bubblegum hit for Philips’ subsidiary Fontana Records in 1969. All in all, Philips Records and its sublabels topped for fifteen weeks the single charts in the USA.

„Super-Indie“ Mercury Records was on top of the chart with five songs for fifteen weeks before it was acquired by Philips in 1962. Mercury mainly relied on teen idols pop (an Elvis cover of “Wooden Heart” by Joe Dowell and “Hey Paula!” by Paul and Paula), on girl groups (“My Boyfriend Is Back“ by the Angels and “It’s My Party“ by Lesley Gore) and on country pop (“Running Bear“ by Johnny Preston).

One may doubt if Beatles’ Apple Records can be categorized as an indie label, since it heavily depended on EMI’s distribution networks. However, Apple Records was not part of the EMI empire and therefore it is treated as an indie label, which topped the Hot 100 for fifteen weeks with three Beatles songs – “Hey Jude“, “Get Back“ and “Come Together“ – in 1968/69.

In contrast, ABC Records was without any doubt a major record company of the 1960s, which mainly profited from Ray Charles chart success in the decade’s early years. Three out of five ABC’s top hits were contributed by the innovator of soul music, which were on top of the chart held for eight weeks. Tommy Roe contributed another two top hits: “Sheila”, which strongly referred to Buddy Holly, in 1962 and the bubblegum hit “Dizzy” in 1969.

MGM Records was another major label of a Hollywood film studio, which had eight number one songs for thirteen weeks. Most of them can be classified as teen idols pop hits of the early 1960s: “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning, “Everbody’s Somebody’s Fool“, “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own“ and “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You“ all by Connie Francis. However, MGM Records also anticipated the British Invasion with Herman’s Hermits. The last number one hit for MGM in 1960s was the bubblegum hit “Lightnin’ Strikes“ by Lou Christie in 1966.

Colgems Records was Columbia Pictures’ label for the casting-band The Monkees, who topped the chart for twelve weeks with only three songs. Colpix Records had the same function years before when the doo-wop-group The Marcels had a number one hit with “Blue Moon” in 1961 and teen idol Shelley Fabares with “Johnny Angel” a year later.

When Atlantic Records was not part of the Warner conglomerate yet, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks with several top hits: “Save The Last Dance For Me“  by the Drifters in 1960; “Deep Purple” by the folk-duo Nino Tempo & April Stevens in 1963; “I Got You Babe“ by Sonny & Cher in 1965; “Good Lovin’“ by The Young Rascals and finally “When A Man Loves A Woman“ by Percy Sledge in 1966. It was a mixture of r & b and folk/folk rock that accounted for Atlantic’s commercial success in the 1960s.

Roulette Records was another example for an indie label that succeeded with innovative music. The “Peppermint Twist – Part 1“ by Joey Dee & The Starliters contributed to the Twist hype of the early 1960s. The Essex was a girl group, who had a top hit with “Easier Said Than Done“ in 1963, and with Tommy James & The Shondells Roulette Records anticipated the psychodelic boom of the late 1960s.

Many other indie labels of the 1960s could only chart top hits with one act: Soul City with The 5th Dimension, Cameo-Parkway with the Twister Chubby Checker, the British indie label Pye Records with Petula Clark, Sceptre with the girl group The Shirelles, Jay Holzman’s Elektra label with The Doors, Monument Records with Roy Orbison and the Phil Spector-label Philles with the Righteous Brothers.

However, not all indie labels succeeded with music innovations. Dot Records had number one hits with the easy listening orchestral work “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk, with teen idol Pat Boone (“MoodyRiver”) as well as with “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs. Liberty Records relied on sunshine pop à la “Surf City“ by Jan & Dean and bubblegum pop by Garry Lewis & The Playboys. Imperial Records was successful with teen idol Ricky Nelson (“Travelin’ Man“) and with pop soul by Johnny Rivers (“Poor Side Of Town“).

And other indies focused on one music genre only such as Dunhill Records with folk rock – Barry McGuire (“Eve Of Destruction“) and The Mamas and The Papas (“Monday, Monday“) – and Red Bird Records on girl groups – The Dixie Cups (“Chapel of Love”) and The Shangri-Las (“Leader of the Pack”).

However, the analysis of the top hits in the Billboard Hot 100 indicates that indie record labels tended to innovate new music genres whereas major companies relied on traditional music styles. There are of course exceptions. ABC Records granted Ray Charles full creative control for his music experiments after he had left Atlantic Records. And EMI did not prevent the Beatles and their producer George Martin to experiment amongst others with psychodelic sounds. On the other hand indie labels such as Dot and Liberty preferred easy listening, teen idols pop and bubblegum pop. But if we look closer innovation within the major companies was only possible for well established artists such as Ray Charles, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In contrast, indie labels could either commercialize a short-lived fad by imitation or to innovate a new music style. The success of Motown,Atlantic and Roulette Records proofs that the innovation strategy was much more sustainable than imitation, which resulted in financial problems as in the case of Liberty, Dunhill and Dot Records.

Finally, we can calculate the share of major and indie labels on top of the Billboard Hot 100 – measured in weeks. For the whole decade, the major companies accounted for 57.3% of the top hits, whereas the indie labels’ share was 42.7%. However, the indie and major labels’ share varies from 1960 to 1969.  In 1960, the top hits’ share of the majors was extremly high with 80.0% on number one. In 1963, the indie labels outperformed the majors by 53.8% to 46.2%. Thank’s to the British Invasion and EMI/Capitol Records, the majors’ share in number one hits increased to 62.0% in 1964 and 62.7% in 1965. However, in 1966, major and indie labels had nearly the same top hit share. 1967 was dominated by the major companies again. They topped US-single chart for thirty-eight weeks, which corresponded with a hit share of 73.1%. In 1968, the indie labels outperformed the majors again by twenty-eight to twenty-four weeks, whereas in 1969 the share was exactly reversed: twenty-eight weeks for the major and twenty-four weeks for the indie labels.




To sum up, the 1960s can be characterised by a vivid indie-label-scene, which was also commercially successful. However, the major record companies consolidated their market position after the rock ’n’ roll revolution of the 1950s. Especially in the second half of the decade the majors started to purchase successful indie labels in order to profit from their innovative impulses. We will analyse the effects of this strategic relaunch of the major companies in 1970s in the next part entitled “The US Recorded Music Market in the Light of the Billboard Hot 100 – the 1970s”.



[1] We know that most of the songs were written either by John Lennon or by Paul McCartney. However, the songs are credited to both.

[2] “Get Back“ was produced by Phil Spector and peaked at number one on May 24, 1969 in order to stay there for five consecutive weeks.

[3] “Where Did Our Love Go?“ (August 22 to September 24), “Baby Love” (October 31 to November 27) and “Come See About Me” (December 19 to 26).

[4] “Stop! In The Name Of Love“ (March 27  to April 9), “Back In My Arms Again” (June 12 to 19) and “I Hear A Symphony” (November 20 to December 3).

[5] “Love Child“ (November 30 to December 13, 1968) was written and produced by Dean R. Taylor, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer and Deke Richards. “Someday We’ll Be Together“ (December 27, 1969 to January 2, 1970) is credited to Johnny Bristol, Jackey Beavers and Harvey Fuqua, who also produced the song.

[6] Guralnick, Peter, 2000, Careless Love. The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. New York: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown & Co., p 82.

[7] Gary Lewis was the son of the famous US slapstick comedian Jerry Lewis, who had financed the casting band “The Playboys“.


1 Response to “The US Recorded Music Market in the Light of the Billboard Hot 100 – the 1960s”

  1. 1 Dennis Collopy
    November 14, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Excellent analysis Peter and very timely. Following the Universal / EMI Records sale here is much debate at present over the impact of independent labels on innovation and new artist development. The UK thankfully has the Beggars group and Domino Records but aside from them its the same story of the majors dominating the off line music market , at retail and radio

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