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The Music Diaries | The cream of the crop

Published:Sunday | January 27, 2019 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Toots and the Maytals

The main criteria used to determine the popularity of recordings are sales and record charts. Last week’s article showcased the many songs that had their worth determined by record sales. However, top 10 record charts have been widely used in several countries and are a very popular way of measuring the cream of the crop in various music genres.

Many of these charts appear on a weekly basis and by their very nature, are highly ephemeral as they show only a particular week’s best sellers. They, therefore, do not necessarily reflect the long-term impact that a song may have had on music lovers. Musicologists tend to agree that year-end charts that round up the top sellers in a particular year are the best way to judge the success of a recording or to determine the top 10 songs for the year.

In the early 1940s, top-10 songs in popular music were mainly decided by polls and sales of records, but they were never published. Although they were not strictly ‘top-10s’, some non-definitive lists appeared from time to time. In 1952, the first official United Kingdom (UK) singles survey was done, and in July 1958, the first United States (US) Billboard Hot 100 chart started. This chart is commonly accepted as the most authentic source for determining the popularity of a recording.

In 1993, three noted musicologists – Russell Ash, Luke Crampton, and Barry Lazell – got into the act, publishing the book The Top 10 Of Music, covering various topics relating to music, including top-10 charted singles worldwide. Their first all-time top-10 singles chart showed Bing Crosby leading the pack with White Christmas (30 million copies sold). The Beatles figured prominently, occupying the number three, seven, and nine positions with I Want To Hold Your Hand,Hey Jude, and Can’t Buy Me Love, respectively, while Elvis Presley stood at number four and five with It’s Now Or Never and Hound Dog. The other positions were occupied by Bill Haley and The Comets (Rock Around The Clock) at number two, Paul Anka (Diana) at number five, The Monkees (I’m A Believer) tied at number seven, Band Aid (Do They Know It’s Christmas?) tied at number nine and the chart was completed by USA For Africa’s We Are The World.

The USA For Africa recording has improved in ratings significantly since the Ash-Crampton-Lazell book, having jumped from seven million in sales at the time to over 20 million currently. It is on record as being the fastest-selling American pop single in history. Generally, there have been numerous permutations of top-10 singles on an annual basis since the UK and US singles charts began in the ’50s.

Jamaican Top Charts

On the Jamaican scene, compiling an authentic yearly top-10 list since Independence, based on chart position, is virtually impossible. The situation is further compounded by the varied musical tastes of Jamaicans and the many changes the music has gone through. No other country of comparable size, or perhaps no other country for that matter, can boast a catalogue that huge.

A symposium on the 100 most popular Jamaican songs since the start of the Jamaica recording industry in 1957, conducted by the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies, revealed that the Maytals’ 5446 Was My Number (1968) placed third behind Bob Marley’s One Love (1977) and the Folks Brothers’ Oh Carolina (1960). Shaggy’s cover made it to the top of the British charts in 1993.

Desmond Dekker’s Israelites created history by becoming the first Jamaican recording to top the British charts in 1969. It surely placed Jamaica on the international music map and is a ‘must include’ in any Jamaican top 10 since the Jamaica recording industry began in 1957. Ken Boothe also achieved that feat in 1974 with Everything I Own. Its overall popularity and longevity make it a prime candidate for top-10 honours.

The bluesy My Boy Lollipop, recorded in England by 16-year old Millie Small and backed by a mixed English and Jamaican ensemble in 1964, earned its place by virtue of being the first Jamaican recording to have made an international impact. It opened the floodgates for other aspiring artistes.

Carry Go Bring Come by Justin Hines and the Dominoes, and Bob Marley’s Simmer Down are, perhaps, the two most popular vocal ska recordings. The latter cut led home a plethora of top-10 singles that made 1964 the busiest in Jamaica’s chart music history. Riding on the back of this hit, Marley’s stature grew enormously as the years went by, culminating with, perhaps, his greatest moment, Redemption Song, in 1980.