“You are old father William the young man said” A quote from Alice in Wonderland written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (AKA Lewis Caroll).

Well I feel a little like Father William. Larry Irons has done a fabulous job of celebrating the the number one hits on Billboards hot 100 chart between 1956-1975. I was only one years old when the chart started, but I was amazed at how many of the songs had touched me in one way or another.

It would have been easy to produce a list of who hit the number one spot, but Larry had a different idea. Turn 20 years of music into a poem. Each song sets a four line stanza, some even more.

When I heard that this was his approach I was not certain how I might like it. Oh, I liked it a great deal. While I consider myself reasonably music literate, I have to say that I learned a great deal and in a most enjoyable way.

There is little doubt that Larry Irons is a music lover, he grew up in a music oriented family and spent 30 years as a radio DJ. I can’t even conceive of how many discs he spun and talked about during his career.

Number One Songs is a hit from page one. Even the introduction is a wealth of information. Apparently prior to 1956 Billboard ran three separate top hits list. Most records sold in stores, most airplay, and most played on Jukeboxes. As Larry points out, this led to a state of confusion. It was entirely possible to have three number one hits in a single week. The whole system was ripe for manipulation, and few doubt that manipulation did occur.

I read Number One Songs and enjoyed it, I read it a second time this time in a slower and more analytical manner. It was fascinating to see how musical tastes evolved between 1956 and 1975. The rise and fall of Brit Pop, the Motown sound, the era of Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, and Carol King. Even the glorious days of Bubblegum by Tommy Roe and the Archies have left their mark in music history for all to see.

There are also numerous one hit wonders along the journey, where did they come from and where did they go to?

I could spend months exploring the world of popular music with Number One Songs as my guide and YouTube and Google as my research resources. Many of the stars of yesteryear have gone to that big jukebox in the sky, some though are still going strong playing and recording. Some like Paul Simon can still fill a football stadium, others command less imposing stages, but the fans still flock to see them.

Another observation from Number One Songs is the huge difference in the number of #1 hits from year to year. It can be as low as 15 and as many as 35. This has me scratching my head. Could it due to too many great songs one year and too few the next? Or are there other dynamics at work? A changing demographic, a new generation of listeners, or just listener frustration?

I plan on interviewing Larry Irons in the near future and I will be asking his thoughts.

You can order your copy of this most excellent book by clicking on the Amazon link above.

Simon Barrett

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