(February 24, 2023). An absurdly odd statistical anomaly occurred on the Billboard soul chart (then called Hot Black Singles) in 1983 that only a numbers nerd or a chart geek could appreciate.
And this blogger, an admitted member of both clubs, is hoping to enlist others who don’t make it a habit to read Billboard’s charts, or marvel in numeration, in recognizing this freakish occurrence.
It was the year of Thriller, of course, and Michael Jackson does indeed factor into this unusual equation, but he’s only part of the story, along with Aretha Franklin, George Clinton, Gladys Knight, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan, and a host of other legendary musicians who topped the R&B chart that year.
And it only takes the ability to count to ten to understand the uniqueness of the occasion and the fact that no other year in chart history—before or since—has produced such a peculiarity in No. 1 songs and the length of time they spent topping the charts.
Here it is (in a sort-of countdown fashion):
When 1983 began, Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” was spending its final two weeks—for a total of ten—at No. 1. It thus became the longest-running No. 1 soul chart single in over 20 years…the first song to spend ten weeks at No. 1 since 1962 (Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You”).
Just over a month later, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” moved into the top spot for its first of nine total weeks at the top (it would be the last song to spend at least nine weeks at No. 1 on the soul chart until 1993 (Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”; 11 weeks).
Incidentally, Michael’s and Marvin’s hits were also their biggest on the soul chart.
Later that spring and summer, the group Mtume—a band named for the talented late producer—took their biggest hit “Juicy Fruit” to No. 1…for eight weeks.
See a pattern developing?
Wait, there’s more!
Beginning that autumn, Lionel Richie’s biggest solo hit “All Night Long (All Night),” climbed to No. 1 on the soul chart for a career-tying high of seven weeks (“Endless Love” with Diana Ross did the same on that chart in 1981).
Fellow Motown legend and punk-funk superstar Rick James had preceded Lionel’s hit by a month and a half, with his smash “Cold Blooded” spending a total of six weeks at No. 1 soul in September and October, longer than any of his other hits.
The song that displaced Lionel’s hit—“Time Will Reveal” by fellow Motown artists DeBarge—took over the crown for its first of five weeks at No. 1 beginning in early December. Like all the others named above, that would become DeBarge’s biggest hit on the soul list, although that fact is not central to the story here.
For the year’s four-week run, we turn to none other than George Clinton’s biggest solo hit “Atomic Dog,” which reigned for its four weeks beginning in mid-April (after displacing MJ’s “Billie Jean” from the chart’s perch).
See where this is headed now?
For three weeks, there were a couple of takers in 1983: first Jackson’s duet with Paul McCartney—“The Girl Is Mine”—which reigned for its three weeks that January; and then Donna Summer’s biggest post-disco soul hit (in fact, it was her biggest hit on the soul chart altogether). “She Works Hard For The Money” led for three weeks in July and August that year.
Then, in what became a battle between Black music royalty, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin displaced the Queen of Disco with her Luther Vandross-produced single “Get It Right,” which topped the chart for—you guessed it—two weeks (although, in Aretha’s case, that song was far from being her biggest hit… soul chart or otherwise).
And finally, there were all the one-weekers.
Five songs managed to spend just a lone week at the top of the soul chart in 1983: The Gap Band’s “Outstanding,” New Edition’s “Candy Girl,” Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Save The Overtime (For Me),” and Rufus & Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.”
This means that—including the bookending songs’ overlapping weeks in late 1982 and early 1984–the year 1983 saw hits that spent one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart…the first and only time that has happened in that chart’s or any other Billboard chart’s history!
And while no other year can lay claim to having tunes that spent each of those ten durations at the top, it’s nice to note that the songs and artists who were a part of this fluky occurrence were themselves no flukes.
Nine of the fifteen songs involved—or 60%—were by future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, including the smash hits by Jackson (and duet partner Paul McCartney), Franklin, Richie, Summer, Gladys & the Pips, Gaye and Clinton.
The others were by the King of Punk Funk (James), the Kings of Boy Bands (New Edition), Motown’s second-greatest family act (DeBarge), Tulsa’s favorite sons The Gap Band featuring adult R&B’s current favorite Uncle Charlie Wilson, famed producer Mtume (whose No. 1 song launched the career of one of hip-hop’s greatest legends, The Notorious B.I.G.), and finally Rufus and Chaka, who themselves are multiple-year nominees to Rock’s Hall of Fame (with Chaka being nominated as recently as 2021).
Readers would be hard-pressed to find another year with as many certified legends topping the soul chart during the same annum.
But the fact that these acts all managed to get the stars to align to where they collectively ruled with some of their biggest hits and with the incremental numeration from one to ten weeks in duration, inclusively, is a chart find in and of itself, a golden nugget that geeky music chart historians love, and a feat that hasn’t been matched in 40 years…and likely never will be!
Here’s the complete rundown of Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot Black Singles chart (now Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs) from 1983, in decreasing order by weeks spent at the top:
|Title||Artist||Weeks at No. 1|
|“Sexual Healing”||Marvin Gaye||10*|
|“Billie Jean”||Michael Jackson||9|
|“All Night Long (All Night)”||Lionel Richie||7|
|“Cold Blooded”||Rick James||6|
|“Time Will Reveal”||DeBarge||5*|
|“Atomic Dog”||George Clinton||4|
|“The Girl Is Mine”||Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney||3|
|“She Works Hard For The Money”||Donna Summer||3|
|“Get It Right”||Aretha Franklin||2|
|“Candy Girl”||New Edition||1|
|“Beat It”||Michael Jackson||1|
|“Save The Overtime (For Me)”||Gladys Knight & the Pips||1|
|“Ain’t Nobody”||Rufus & Chaka||1|
*Note – Songs designated by asterisk began or ended their No. 1 stints in 1982 or ‘84.
Music and Billboard chart nerd DJRob (he/him/his) 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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