(November 25, 2021). Like dominoes, they both came tumbling down—first “American Pie” and then “The Twist”—two iconic pop songs that have been American institutions for half a century or more. They both abandoned their posts of having owned two significant chart feats for as long as Billboard has been tracking such things with two announcements that came within 24 hours of one another this week.
From “American Pie” to “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)”
First, on Monday (11/22), Billboard announced its latest weekly Hot 100 chart (dated November 27) and the crowning of a new No. 1 song–Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)”—a tune whose longest version clocks at more than ten minutes in duration.
By reaching the top spot, Swift’s hit—a re-recording of the song that first appeared on her original Red album in 2012–instantly becomes the longest No. 1 song in Hot 100 history. Its 10 minutes and 12 seconds exceeds the run time of Don McLean’s classic “American Pie,” whose eight minutes and 42 seconds made it the prior longest-running No. 1 hit—a distinction it held for nearly 50 years (it reached the top in January 1972).
As if Taylor needed yet another record to break while she records (and re-records) albums at a breakneck pace, “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” is just one of 26 songs Swift places on this week’s chart—all from her new Red (Taylor’s Version) album—which establishes a new record for females on the Hot 100 (a record that Taylor previously held with 18 songs and which was tied by R&B singer Summer Walker just last week).
But the “American Pie” milestone is more significant, not only because it took nearly 50 years to break, but because the Don McLean hit has long been considered a slice of Americana and one of the greatest songs ever written. Its long-debated lyrics chronicle the historical and cultural shifts in America beginning with “the day the music died” (or the 1959 plane crash that killed early rock-and-rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper) and culminating in the late 1960s with the death of a Black man named Meredith Hunter during a Rolling Stones performance at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969. It took all of eight minutes and 42 seconds just to cover those events plus a lot of cryptic references in between, the sources of which have been fodder for debate for decades.
On the other hand, Taylor’s new old hit has long been a fan favorite and one whose time has finally come—she not only extended the track by five minutes but she performed the longer version of “All Too Well (TV)” on SNL the day after the album was released, which no doubt boosted its already large profile. Beyond her Swifties and chart geeks like yours truly, not many people would elevate “All Too Well” to the cultural importance that “American Pie” has attained (it is included in the Library of Congress for its historical and cultural significance).
Now, for those naysayers who think the current champ is solely benefiting from a chart quirk that allows multiple versions of a song to count as one, and that Taylor’s new shorter version of “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)”—which clocks at only 5:29–also contributed to its No. 1 post, you’d be correct.
I’d remind you, however, that McLean’s “American Pie” single (the vinyl, 45 rpm variety that was a Hot 100 prerequisite back in the days when “Pie” charted) only accommodated half the song on its A-side and the other half on its flip, due to technology limitations. While classic rock stations and some pop ones took a chance in programming the full-length, 8-minute opus, many pop stations only played the 4-minute single edit upon its initial release.
So, one could make the same argument that “Pie” gained additional popularity by virtue of a radio-friendly short version that no doubt exposed it to a much larger audience than the long version alone would have, just as Taylor’s latest chart topper has benefited from both long and short versions made available to consumers.
And for the record, singer/songwriter Don McLean, who has jokingly dismissed the cultural significance of “American Pie” by stating it merely means that he “never has to work again if he doesn’t want to,” has acknowledged Taylor’s latest achievement with the following tweet: “Let’s face it, nobody ever wants to lose that #1 spot, but if I had to lose it to somebody, I sure am glad it was another great singer/songwriter such as Taylor.”
From “The Twist” to “Blinding Lights”
The second history-changing event was announced on Tuesday (11/23) when Billboard unveiled its updated list of the top Hot 100 songs in the chart’s history. And as predicted in this blog several months ago, the new chart king is “Blinding Lights” by Canadian pop superstar The Weeknd.
“Blinding Lights” is the only new add to an all-time top 10 that was last refreshed in 2018. It leads a list that includes only two songs that were recorded before 1990: Chubby Checker’s “The Twist”—which now sits at No. 2–and Bobby Darin’s “Mack The Knife,” now at No. 4. The next oldest song in the top 10 is “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix),” which topped the Hot 100 for 14 weeks in 1996. The two other 20th-century tunes in the all-time top 10 are LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live” (from 1997) and Santana’s “Smooth,” featuring Rob Thomas (1999).
So ubiquitous was “Blinding Lights” while it was charting that it might have remained on the weekly Hot 100 even longer had it not been for recent blockbuster album releases by superstars Kanye West and Drake, each of whom saw their latest albums generate 21 or more simultaneously charting songs that helped push older hits off the list. It was the debut of songs from West’s Donda that finally pushed “Lights” off the Hot 100 in September.
Even The Weeknd’s own attempts to launch a new era (with the release of his latest single “Take My Breath”) was met with some resistance from folks not ready to declare an end to the era of “Blinding Lights” and its parent album, After Hours. “Take My Breath” sits at No. 99 on the current Hot 100 chart, in only its fourth month of release. “Blinding Lights” would likely be ranked higher than “Breath” even today if the former were still eligible to chart (old songs of its vintage are retired from the list once they fall below No. 25).
“Blinding Lights” only spent four weeks at No. 1 in spring 2020, but totaled an improbable, record-breaking 90 weeks on the Hot 100, while slashing records for time spent in the top five (43 weeks), top ten (57), and top 40 (86).
Here is the new list of the ten biggest Hot 100 hits in the chart’s 63-year history (it was launched in August 1958):
|1.||“Blinding Lights”||The Weeknd||2020|
|2.||“The Twist”||Chubby Checker||1960/62|
|3.||“Smooth”||Santana ft. Rob Thomas||1999/2000|
|4.||“Mack The Knife”||Bobby Darin||1959|
|5.||“Uptown Funk”||Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars||2015|
|6.||“How Do I Live”||LeAnn Rimes||1997|
|7.||“Party Rock Anthem”||LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett and GoonRock||2012|
|8.||“I Gotta Feeling”||The Black Eyed Peas||2009|
|9.||“Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)”||Los Del Rio||1996|
|10.||Shape of You”||Ed Sheeran||2017|
While no word has been heard from Chubby Checker on his dethroning by The Weeknd, the 80-year-old rocker is quoted on his website as stating his standing at the top of the all-time Hot 100 list would remain until at least 2065, or more than a hundred years after “The Twist” made its mark in history. He captioned a booking-ad post: “Billboard’s First #1 Song of All Time until 2065.”
Like “The Twist” before it, “Blinding Lights” was that lightning in a bottle that only happens once in a lifetime, so Chubby can certainly be forgiven for believing his chart feat would endure beyond his own expected lifetime (he would be 124 years old in 2065). Still there’s no shame in being No. 2…for now.
And for those of you wondering where the all-time No. 1 longevity champ “Old Town Road” ranks on the refreshed all-time Hot 100 list, it sits way down at No. 41. While the Lil Nas X song spent an incredible 19 weeks at No. 1 in 2019, its relatively short time on the chart outside of the No. 1 spot meant that it didn’t accumulate as many points overall as the songs ranked above it.
Congratulations to Taylor Swift and The Weeknd on their latest accomplishments, and to Don McLean and Chubby Checker for their formidable record-holders whose legacies are no less important than they were just a few days ago.
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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