When I was in grade school, the top 40 was a huge part of our family fabric. We were in our car a lot back then, and the AM radio was always on. I started buying singles when I was nine years old, and I’m still proud of the fact that my first purchase was “Right Place Wrong Time” by Dr. John. I’m not so quick to share my first album purchase with friends, however. “Right Place Wrong Time” was on the charts the summer of 1973. That was the summer my family moved from Ohio to Illinois. So many memories and feelings were tied up in those few months of starting over - new house, school, neighborhood, friends. Everything was different, except for the songs. The songs were the same. When we made it to Illinois, the new AM radio station – KXOK in St. Louis- was playing all the same songs as the station we left behind in Ohio.One of the first things my two brothers and I did when we arrived at our new home was get our Dad to take us to the Base Exchange (we lived on Scott Air Force Base) and buy the 45’s of our favorite songs. I got Dr. John and my brother Jeff picked up “The Cisco Kid” by War. I think my little brother Brian grabbed "Hocus Pocus" by Focus. We added to our collection over the summer and played those records to death. We'd listen to them all day and go to sleep to them at night, stacking them up ten high on our record player to create our thirty minute evening playlist. When one song finished, the arm would swing back and trigger the next 45 to drop ~Kathunk ~ and the next song would start. The songs from that summer are still magic to me.
A few years ago (years before the appearance of this game) I developed a trivia board game called “HearShot”. It was an audio trivia game, where a sound byte from a popular movie, song, or TV show was played and the players had to answer a "who, what or when" question which mapped to artist, title, or year. For example, the "who, what, when" for this movie quote: “This was No boating accident!” would be: Richard Dreyfuss, “Jaws”, and 1975 respectively. A common complaint first-time players would make before attempting the game was how impossible it was to have to guess the year something came out. Most people were surprised to discover that they were actually quite good at it. If you have a point of reference in your personal history, it’s not hard to conjure when something was popular. And songs especially can trigger memories. The quick hit one can get from a song can be so powerful that it can transport you back in time - like an aural version of Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine. To this day, when I hear “Alone Again (Naturally)”, I smell chlorine. The song was huge during the Summer of ’72, and I spent every day of that summer at Rona Hills public pool where they played the radio over the pool loudspeakers.
The Source of the Billboard Chart Data
The data for the visualization came from the Whitburn Project dataset which I discovered through Infochimps. The dataset was not made available by Infochimps specifically, but the dataset description referenced Andy Baio’s blog Waxy.org where he describes the dataset in detail, and does some analysis on the tracks. The dataset is a labor of love of a group of pop-music enthusiasts who have come together to catalog and preserve America’s pop music history.
Named after Joel Whitburn and his authoritative Billboard books, the Whitburn Project began in 1998, when a group of 15 collectors pooled their resources to create an MP3 collection of every single in the top 40. The Excel spreadsheets were created to help them verify their collections were complete, with new versions updated and re-uploaded to the newsgroups weekly.”“For the last ten years, obsessive record collectors in Usenet have been working on the Whitburn Project — a huge undertaking to preserve and share high-quality recordings of every popular song since the 1890s. To assist their efforts, they've created a spreadsheet of 37,000 songs and 112 columns of raw data, including each song's duration, beats-per-minute, songwriters, label, and week-by-week chart
There is some question as to the legality of sharing this data, but I'm hopeful that my re-appropriation of the data here falls under the terms of fair use.