Many of my readers have complained about not being familiar with the present-time hits I’ve been writing about ever since I created the blog. The original idea was to go backwards from 2015 to 1959, but eventually I decided to listen to those complaints and after all, a bit of variety won’t hurt. So starting from today, I’ll simultaneously write about both old and new songs each week. It’s not as complicated as it sounds – each Tuesday will feature a song from 1959 going forwards, while Friday will feature a song from 2008 going backwards. Until they finally intersect. Hope you enjoy the new approach.
Billboard’s history as a magazine goes way back to 1894. Under the ownership of William Donaldson and James Hennegan, it started out as an 8-page product covering billboards (hence the name), posters and paper advertisements. More and more features were added over the years, such as articles about circuses or vaudeville shows. Columns began expanding as well, each with a different focus, covering stories about newly-developed technology devices such as phonographs, record players and radios. During the 1940s and 1950s, three individual charts regarding music were updated simultaneously: Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played by Jockeys and Most Played in Jukeboxes. By 1958, all of them morphed into a single one that weekly listed the most successful songs by all 3 criteria. The Hot 100, as it was named, quickly became the industry standard for measuring music. The criteria has been continuously shifted over the years – nowadays, the ranking is based on radio play, online streaming and sales (physical and digital).
1959’s first hit (the year when The Hot 100 became the main chart) was a novelty Christmas song. The Chipmunks were the creation of David Seville who sped up recordings of him singing and thus created three characters with high-pitched voices. The process was revolutionary at the time, and although Seville used it in previous songs, it was the concept behind the Chipmunks that earned him 2 Grammys for engineering in the same year.
The three characters were named Alvin, Theodore and Simon as can be heard in the beginning of the song when Seville invites them to sing. Later on, The Chipmunks were adapted in multiple media forms including comic books, TV series and movies. Emphasis was put on Alvin more than on the other members over the years, which resulted in them being known as Alvin and The Chipmunks (also the name of the 2007 movie). In the 2000s Kanye West popularized the production technique known as Chipmunk Soul in which he speeds-up vocal samples from soul and R&B records to the same effect.
The Chipmunk Song spent 2 consecutive weeks at number one before being dethroned by The Platters’ Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.