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RESEARCHING THE CHARTS (1890-1954) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Barry Kowal   
Aug 17, 2013 at 12:22 PM

  Now of some explanation provided by Joel Whitburn of how the early charts came to be.Billboard's earliest music charts were sheet music listings in 1913.However,from 1896-1899 "The Phonoscope",the leading record publication of its time,printed monthly lists of top popular recordings (although not in precise rank or chart form).Going back several years earlier,"The Phonogram" provided individual information on records and artists of the early 1890s.The catalogs of Columbia,Edison,Berliner and regional labels helped fill the gaps.To compile the charts of that decade Joel Whitburn 
combined this material with data on sheet music sales and other popular song listings fram ASCAP and the books of musicologist David Ewan.
   The single most important source for the charts and artist information of the 1900-1920s era was Jim Walsh,the world's leading authority on the pioneer recording age,although his remarkable 40 years of regular columns for "Hobbies Magazine".(Jim's columns also shed light on the hits of the 1890s.) Nearly as significant was "Talking Machine World" a superb periodical which began in 1905 and offered monthly lists of nearly all popular record releases,Record label publications,particularly those of Victor and Edison,also contained valuable information.
   From 1914-1921,the major record companies provided monthly lists of their best sellers to "Talking Machine World".While not always totally reliable,they were carefully factored in.Billboard,in addition to its short-lived sheet music
charts,also printed weekly lists of the most popular songs in vaudeville from 1913-1918.Both "Billboard" and "Variety" magazines provided abundant information on the hit records and songs of the 1920s.All this was again Whitburn combined
with sheet music sales and ASCAP lists to produce the charts of this era.
   In late 1929 another invaluable source emerged when "Variety" began printing monthly rankings of the best-selling records for each of the top labels,a more systematic version of what "Talking Machine World" had previously done.
By 1934 both "Billboard" and "Variety" were regularly charting the top songs in radio air play and sheet music sales.This made it necessary to compile two separate weekly charts:one for best selling records,and one for top recordings of the most popular radio and sheet-music songs.
   "Your Hit Parade" came along in April of 1935-weekly rankings which were far from definitive,but nonetheless extremely useful.Whitburn incorporated them with radio airplay charts.In November of that year "Billboard" picked up the record 
label best-seller charts.In early 1938 "Billboard" stopped running these listings,which were carried by Metronome until the end of the year,when they ceased to exist."Billboard" opened up an important new frontier late that same year with
weekly surveys of the most popular records in juke boxes around the country-making for a new separate chart.
   Finally,on July 20th,1940, "Billboard" printed its first comprehensive "Best Selling Records chart" which combined all labels.On that date I cut off using the "Hit Parade/radio airplay charts.This is the primary Billboard chart I
follow from that date until the dawning of rock & roll. During the 1940s Billboard also began publishing other weekly charts like (1945) "Most Played by Disc Jockeys".
   The explanation of the research that went into this book would not be complete without very special thanks to the "US Library of Congress Recorded Sound Reference Center".Virtually all of the original material for the 1890s-1920s
era were obtained through its unparalleled resources,including the early periodicals,ctalogs and the Rigler and Deutsch index of data on 78s.
   So there you have it.My intention of this website is for this website to serve as the ultimate,definitive source on American,Canadian,Australian and British popular recordings.Thererefore,this websites value to collectors,radio programmers and scholars is obvious.But I also think this website will be a delight to every music lover with any curiosity about how we got to where we are today.It represents a wonderful legacy we can now share,handed down
from generations of musical talent.Enjoy 

                        Barry Kowal
Last Updated ( Aug 18, 2013 at 12:22 PM )

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