(September 17, 2021). As a youngster, I remember hearing several episodes of the syndicated radio show “American Top 40 with Casey Kasem” where the famous host made reference to the Beatles’ phenomenal April 1964 accomplishment when they occupied the entire top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Those five songs were, in order from No. 1 to 5: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and “Please Please Me.”
It was an amazing feat involving five classics by the Fab Four, an occurrence that the late Casey Kasem contemplated might never happen again. And throughout the remainder of the legendary DJ’s time as host of the iconic top-40 countdown show—and for the rest of his lifetime—it never did.
But neither Casey nor his listeners (back then anyway) ever imagined a world like today’s, where digital music streaming, newer Billboard chart rules, and the immense popularity of an artist who wasn’t even born when the first ex-Beatle died (John Lennon), would converge to allow one of the most sacred chart accomplishments known to the music industry to be matched and, in some ways, exceeded.
But that’s what happened this week when Drake’s newest album, Certified Lover Boy, aimed Cupid’s arrow at the Billboard charts. Five of its songs occupy the top five positions on the latest Hot 100, with another four of the album’s tunes occupying positions 7-10.
That means Drake has nine of the top ten spots on this week’s singles chart and, get this, he occupies slots 11 and 12 and fourteen of the top 18 positions as well!
In fact, all 21 songs from Certified Lover Boy debuted within the top-40 portion of the Hot 100 this week, which means that if Casey Kasem were still alive and doing the countdown and “American Top 40” still used Billboard’s Hot 100 as its source (it stopped doing that nearly 30 years ago, but humor me), listeners would have had to endure more than half the countdown’s songs being by the same artist…a first, by the way.
Given the brilliance of the AT40 show back in the day and the writers’ and original host’s ability to make even the most mundane chart facts and human interest stories seem captivating, the show would have surely found a way to keep our interest for four hours, despite Drake’s omnipresence. For instance, in discussing “foreign acts,” Casey would likely have noted that—for the first time ever—Canadian artists occupy the entire top ten (with Justin Bieber’s “Stay” being the lone non-Drake at No. 6) or as many as 25 positions in the top 40 (when you add in hits by Bieber and The Weeknd), or that American artists have only ten songs in the entire survey (perhaps an all-time low?) when excluding featured acts.
Speaking of “featured” acts, Casey would have long before explained how such billings had dominated song credits during the hip-hop era, so their presence in this week’s countdown would not have been a big deal.
And speaking of eras, it goes without saying that we’ve been in the “hip-hop era” for the better part of 20 years—or basically the entire 21st century so far—with historians largely agreeing that the “rock era” pretty much ended with the turn of the millennium.
Casey Kasem was big on defining and differentiating eras. Stats were often provided in specific contexts, with clear delineations between things that occurred during the “Rock Era”—or the period beginning in 1955 with the ascension of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock to No. 1—and events that happened during the broader pop chart history, which for Billboard began in July 1940.
So maybe we would have been spared the indignity of having to hear how Drake’s latest milestones topped that of the Beatles or any other artist’s between 1955 and 1999, assuming that Casey would have remained true to form and placed Drizzy’s record-breaking feats in their proper “hip-hop era” context or, better yet, the song streaming era, which is largely responsible for the Canadian rapper’s chart domination.
But history itself doesn’t often explain nuance (it doesn’t make good headlines), or at least the very trade publication in which these charts appear doesn’t do it much. So their coverage—and that of the news media who use Billboard’s data as their sources—spoke of Drake’s feats in the larger historical context with the Beatles’ now-tied top-five record being front and center.
Billboard’s articles this week also mentioned how Drake’s occupation of nine top-10 slots with songs from the same album shattered another long-standing record first established by Michael Jackson’s Thriller and since tied by three other albums: Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA (1984-86); Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989-91); and Drake’s own Scorpion (2018). Those earlier albums each generated seven top-10 singles—with MJ’s Thriller leading the way with its monster hits from 1982-84.
But Casey Kasem might have enlightened AT40 listeners to the apples-and-oranges comparison of Drake’s unprecedented top-10 occupation (both in 2018 and today) with those from prior eras and how song streaming and the chart’s non-differentiation of “singles” from other album cuts allows any and everything from a newly released project to enter the Hot 100 upon an album’s debut, unlike before when singles were sequentially released to stores—often months apart—before being eligible to chart.
That reality meant that it was usually a year into an album’s release before labels went four or five singles deep into their promotion, and burnout had already pretty much set in by then. As it were, no albums before Thriller had even surpassed having four top-ten singles.
Would Casey have been compelled to mention that, along with his latest feat, Drake has had more top-10 (54), top-40 (143) and Hot 100 entries (258) than any other artists in the chart’s 63-year history (since it was inaugurated in August 1958)? Of course he would. Few things made AT40 more exciting than hearing about how an artist had just broken or added to a long-standing chart record…or, in Drake’s case, a record he keeps padding with each album release under current chart rules.
But maybe a question-letter would have come in from a listener asking which artist has had the most songs peak on the chart below the top 40, or which artist has had the most songs spend five or fewer weeks on the Hot 100–humbling chart stats whose leaderboard also happens to bear Drake’s name.
The “Glee” Cast leads in both categories, but Drake isn’t far behind. In the category of most (non) hits that peaked below the top 40, Drake ranks second. Of his 258 Hot 100 entries, 115 of them never climbed any higher than No. 41. The Glee Cast had 156 chart songs that peaked below No. 40. No one else has more than 100.
In the category of shortest chart duration, nobody comes close to Glee Cast. All but one of their 207 chart entries—their 2009 remake of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”—spent five or fewer weeks on the Hot 100. But Drake ranks high among solo artists, with more than 40 of his songs spending five or fewer weeks on the chart (excluding this week’s entries).
Casey would point out those dubious stats but then likely put a positive spin on it, noting that it takes failure to succeed or perhaps even quoting Confucious in noting that “our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall,” before capping it with “now, on with the countdown.”
Speaking of the countdown, Casey would have had to keep us entertained with non-Drake news as well, as hard as that might have been with 21 of the rapper’s songs dominating the chart. But there is other chart news worthy of mention in the traditional style of AT40 as only Casey would have done it.
For instance, the legendary host might have teased the No. 39 song, “Beggin’” by Italian rock band Måneskin, by noting that it’s the only remake in the entire countdown (the Four Seasons did it first in 1967).
Or he might note when playing one of The Weeknd’s concurrent top-40 hits that the fellow Ontarian’s “Blinding Lights” had just ended a record 90-week Hot 100 chart run two weeks before—thanks to the onslaught of songs from Kanye West’s Donda album, which pushed “Lights” below the No. 25 minimum threshold for songs of its age.
And speaking of Ye, it might have been beneath Casey to play up the whole Drake-vs-Kanye beef and mention that the only West song remaining on this week’s 40 from last week’s onslaught of 12 top-40 debuts from Donda was “Hurricane,” a fitting title considering the collateral damage done by Drake’s CLB (and “Hurricane’s” tumble from its No. 6 peak to No. 29…the biggest drop within the 40, by the way. Casey would have been sure to point that out!).
Or maybe before playing the only country tune in this week’s 40, Casey would mention how “Fancy Like” by Walker Hayes (at No. 21) is benefiting from its tie-in to an Applebee’s commercial. Or, even more intriguingly, he’d note that the tune represents the only genre that—aside from debut songs—had any tracks move up on this week’s Hot 100. All six of the songs from the previous week’s Hot 100 that moved up in rank on this week’s chart were by country artists, the highest of which was Jason Andean and Carrie Underwood’s “If I Didn’t Love You” at No. 43 (from 50 last week).
Of course, it’s a small wonder that any songs moved up at all given Drake’s onslaught of débuts at the top; and the fact that no tunes moved up in the top 40 (aside from Drake’s debuts) meant that Casey would have no cause to mention the fastest mover of the week.
But he might find a human interest story or two to share, like the story of Nigerian singer Wizkid (at No. 34 with his Justin Bieber collaboration “Essence”), and how the Lagos native began professionally recording at age 11 before breaking big internationally with his 2016 Drake collaboration, “One Dance” (Drake’s first No. 1 as a lead artist by the way).
Or Casey might mention that BTS’ “Butter” is the only single to move into No. 1 three separate times from positions outside the top 5 (it debuted at No. 1 in June, then returned to No. 1 from No. 7 in July, and then rebounded to No. 1 from No. 7 again last week). Or he’d note that, again thanks to Drake, the song had tumbled from No. 1 to No. 17 this week making it the fourth largest drop from the top in the chart’s history.
And this would have been the point in the program where AT40’s writers would have to become really creative, because 13 of the remaining 16 songs in the countdown would be by Drake, and there probably aren’t enough uniquely compelling stories about the chart king himself to keep listeners interested.
Aside from the fact that fellow rapper and collaborator Jay-Z (featured on Drake’s No. 10 song “Love All”) is now the hip-hop artist with the longest span of top-10 hits with 24 years separating his first from his latest; or that Drake’s “Champagne Poetry” (at No. 4) sampled the Beatles’ “Michelle,” a classic by the Fab Four that, amazingly, was never released commercially as a single and therefore never charted (under those old chart rules), Casey would have to rely on the show’s traditional Long Distance Dedications, AT40 extras and question letters to keep us engaged.
Oh wait, there is one more noteworthy fact. Just before playing the new No. 1 song of the week by Drake (of course), Casey could tease it by playing a snippet of Right Said Fred’s nearly 30-year-old tune “I’m Too Sexy,” and noting that it’s the first No. 1 song to be sampled on two future No. 1s. Then, in the intro to Drake’s “Way 2 Sexy,” Casey could play Taylor Swift’s 2017 No. 1 RSF sample, “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Of course it would be too easy to point out the other thing Drake and Swift have in common—aside from being the two top artists of the previous decade: their common nemesis Kanye West.
But that would be beneath Casey, who would instead likely shelve the whole RSF story for another episode.
That’s because the most compelling piece of history leading into this week’s No. 1 song would be that top-5 domination not seen since the Beatles, and Casey would have NEVER missed an opportunity to commemorate the chart accomplishments of the Fab Four, even as they are being eclipsed on a seemingly annual basis.
And, as Casey Kasem would say, the countdown continues.
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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