(July 18, 2022). When it comes to popular music these days, you might say that 40 is the new 20. There have been far more people over the age of 40 topping the Billboard album charts since 2000 than there were in the previous century.
But the list is still pretty exclusive considering the hundreds of artists (maybe even over a thousand) of all ages who’ve had No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart.
When Beyoncé releases her long-awaited new album Renaissance on July 29, she will try to become the latest artist to join the growing list of quadragenarian chart-toppers.
It will be Queen Bey’s first new album since turning 40 last September. And she and her Beyhive would settle for nothing less than to have it become her seventh consecutive solo No. 1 studio album and her first after reaching that significant milestone.
The pop/R&B superstar is certainly doing her part to raise the stakes. She recently posted her first TikTok and is enjoying her first solo top-10 single (“Break My Soul”) since 2016 when “Formation” (from her last No. 1 album Lemonade) reached the plateau.
Reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 would place Beyoncé in a category where only 77 solo artists—15 of them women—dwell. And this blog has all the names, facts and figures below.
Those 77 artists who were 40 or older account for 139 albums that have reached No. 1 at that age since the rock-and-roll era began in 1955. The Billboard album charts predate that period, but the lists were published sporadically before 1955, not becoming a permanent weekly fixture in the magazine until 1957. So this article focuses on the period from 1955 to the present day.
The list of artists who’ve topped the album chart after age 40 is astounding, both for who’s in it and for how the data is distributed. For instance, several legends have had more albums after the age of 40 than they did before. Some have only had a No. 1 album after they turned 40.
Counting only solo artists and albums by acts whose bands are named for the leader (like Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Sade, Dave Mathews Band, and Carlos Santana), there are 62 men and 15 women that have achieved the feat.
The first man to do it was Crazy Otto (born Fritz Schulz Reichel in 1912), a German jazz and pop pianist who was 42 when he topped the album chart with a self-titled LP in May 1955.
The first woman to get a No. 1 album after age 40 didn’t happen until more than a quarter-century later in December 1980, and that feat requires some explanation.
After John Lennon’s murder on December 8, his then-recently released Double Fantasy album climbed to the top of the chart. It was double billed to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who was 47 at the time of her husband’s death and when their album hit No. 1. Although all of the big hits from that album were by the late Lennon, Yoko wrote and recorded half the album’s 14 tracks and thus received (and deserved) equal billing.
After Ono, another over-40 woman wouldn’t top the BB200 until 1986 when Barbra Streisand’s The Broadway Album reached No. 1. She was 43 at the time. Later that year, Patti LaBelle became the third woman to do it when her Winner In You album topped the list not long after her 42nd birthday.
Notably, Tina Turner, who became the then-oldest woman to top the pop singles chart when her “What’s Love Got To Do With It” hit No. 1 in 1984, has never had a No. 1 album. Her Private Dancer peaked at No. 3 that year.
As far as women go, Barbra Streisand is tied for the most post-40 No. 1s with six, including three in the 21st century. Madonna also has six, with all of hers occurring since 2000. Both Babs and Madge have had more No. 1 albums since turning 40 than either had before the milestone, with 5 and 3, respectively, pre-40. Barbra’s eleven total No. 1s are still most among all women, regardless of age.
The only other women with more than one in the over-40 category are Bonnie Raitt, Reba McEntire, Susan Boyle and Janet Jackson, all with two each. Of those four, only Janet had any No. 1 albums (five) before becoming a quadragenarian.
Women with just one No. 1 album after 40 include Ono, Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, Sade, Jill Scott, Gwen Stefani, Shania Twain and Celine Dion. If Beyoncé’s appropriately titled Renaissance does top the chart, she’ll become the first over-40 woman to do it this decade and the first since Celine Dion’s Courage in November 2019.
The fact that no women have done it so far in the 2020s is not so alarming when considering that only five male artists have pulled off this feat. The most recent—rapper Pusha T—got his first No. 1 album just six days shy of his 45th birthday this past May. Before that, only DJ Khaled, Ye (formerly Kanye West), Eminem and Kenny Chesney had done it since January 2020.
Incidentally, those artists are among the most decorated in their respective genres. Ye and Eminem are tied with four No. 1 albums apiece—most among rappers—since turning 40, and Kenny Chesney is tied for the most among country singers with five (to go with his four before the milestone birthday). His total of nine No. 1 albums on the all-inclusive BB200 remains the most for any country act, regardless of age or gender.
George Strait also has five No. 1 albums on the BB200 after turning 40. Fellow country men Toby Keith and Alan Jackson are nipping on both Chesney’s and Strait’s boot heels with four toppers apiece after that age.
Back to hip-hop: Since DJ Khaled is the only DJ/hype man on the list (he is neither a rapper nor a singer), he easily has the most in that unique category. All three of his No. 1 albums occurred after the age of 40.
Counting all genres, the only male with more than Chesney and Strait is rocker Bruce Springsteen. He has more than everyone with seven No. 1s after age 40 (to go with his four before the milestone). He joins Streisand, Strait and Santana as the only artists who’ve done it in both the 21st and 20th centuries. (Hey, I guess that makes theirs the exclusive “4-S” club: Springsteen, Streisand, Strait and Santana!)
Speaking of the two centuries, the over-40 club membership is far more represented by the 2000s than the 1900s. One hundred albums by solo acts over 40 have topped the charts since January 1, 2000, while only 39 did it between 1955 and 1999, despite the earlier period including twice as many trips around the sun as the 22.5 that have occurred so far this century.
One decade in particular didn’t help the 20th century’s cause: the 1970s. There was only one(!) solo artist over the age of 40 who topped the album chart between January 1970 and December 1979, and that required another double-billing situation.
Singer/actor Kris Kristofferson was 40 when his co-billed soundtrack with Barbra Streisand for A Star Is Born topped the BB200 in February 1977. The closest anyone came besides Kristofferson to achieving this feat during the 1970s was Elvis Presley, who was 38 when his Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite reached No. 1 in May 1973.
Excluding co-billed soundtracks, there were more than 12 years between 43-year-old orchestra leader Paul Mauriat’s Blooming Hits album topping the BB200 in March 1968 and the crowning of 42-year-old Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits in December 1980. Astonishingly, no other qualifying albums by “solo” artists over 40 reached No. 1 in that period.
It would be tough to explain why the ‘70s stand out with a lone (albeit asterisked) No. 1 by a 40-year old. With musical styles changing so much that decade, it’s possible that younger, more innovative and experimental artists tended to be more popular. Without doing the math, it’s also likely that more bands than solo artists topped the charts during that decade (and albums tended to remain at No. 1 longer, reducing turnover and the eligible number of candidates.
One might also attribute the ‘70s anomaly to differences in how the charts were calculated back then vs. now, but that would be misleading since there were sixteen 40-and-over albums before the 1970s, and changing chart methodologies previously had no noticeable impact on the ages of artists who topped the list. Another counter-argument to chart methodology theory is that the current streaming-heavy formula would presumably tend to favor younger artists.
Surprisingly, however, more albums by artists over 40 hit No. 1 during the 2010s (48) when the streaming era began than in any other decade on record. And the mere five No. 1s by quadragenarians (or older) during the current decade puts the 2020s on pace for having only 20 such No. 1s by December 2029, which would be the fewest since the 1990s, further rendering the methodology argument moot.
Of course more albums in general have reached No. 1 during an average year after 2000 than in the years before, regardless of artists’ age. So there is that.
Here’s a decades breakdown of No. 1 albums by acts over 40:
|Decade||No. 1 albums by artists over 40|
For those of you who may be wondering why the beginning of the rock era had more in just the five years between 1955-59 than the next three decades each did, it wasn’t because early rock-and-roll skewed to an older crowd.
One look at the names during that era will show that orchestra leaders, swing bands and pop crooners of the past still ruled the day, or at least had lingering success before the more youth-focused 1960s changed everything. Names like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Mitch Miller, Martin Denny and Crazy Otto were still able to top the charts despite the emergence of new rockers like Elvis Presley.
Speaking of the late King of Rock and Roll, he has only one album that reached No. 1 after his 40th birthday, and that ironically didn’t occur until October 2002 when his ELV1S: 30#1 Hits posthumously reached the top. He would’ve been 67 then.
What’s more astounding is the number of rock legends who’ve only had one No. 1 album throughout their careers (with that album being released after they turned 40). In this category are icons like Tom Petty, Neil Diamond, David Bowie, James Taylor and Steve Winwood.
Here are two alphabetical lists—by century—of all 77 artists that have had No. 1 albums after their 40th birthdays (with number of albums after-40 in parentheses). It’s a list that Beyoncé is hoping to join with Renaissance.
*Asterisks indicate those artists who never had a No. 1 album before the age of 40.
2000-22 (51 artists; 100 albums):
Gary Allan (1)*
Tony Bennett (2)*
Andrea Bocelli (1)*
Bon Jovi (4)
David Bowie (1)*
Susan Boyle (2)*
Garth Brooks (1)
Luke Bryan (1)
Jimmy Buffett (1)*
Johnny Cash (1)
Ray Charles (1)
Kenny Chesney (5)
Neil Diamond (1)*
Celine Dion (1)
DJ Khaled (3)*
Bob Dylan (2)
Whitney Houston (1)
Ronald Isley (1)* – Ron Isley was billed as a featured artist on the Isley Brothers’ second No. 1 album in 2003 when he was 62. It was the only No. 1 album in which he received named billing.
Alan Jackson (4)*
Janet Jackson (2)
Michael Jackson (2)
Toby Keith (4)*
R. Kelly (1)
Barry Manilow (1)
Dave Mathews (3)
Paul McCartney (1)
Reba McEntire (2)*
Tom Petty (1)*
Elvis Presley (1)
Pusha T (1)*
Lionel Richie (1)
Santana (1; total 2)
Jill Scott (1)*
Bruce Springsteen (6; total 7)
Gwen Stefani (1)*
Rod Stewart (2)
George Strait (4; total 5)*
Barbra Streisand (3; total 6)
James Taylor (1)*
Chris Tomlin (1)*
Shania Twain (1)
Keith Urban (2)*
Luther Vandross (1)*
Kanye West (4)
Jack White (1)
“Weird Al” Yankovic (1)*
1955-99 (30 artists; 39 albums):
Louis Armstrong (1)*
Bob Carlisle (1)*
Carmen Cavallaro (1)
Eric Clapton (2)
Natalie Cole (1)*
Bing Crosby (1)* Note: Bing had several No. 1 albums after the age of 40 since Billboard didn’t start its album chart until 1946 when Crosby was 43. However, the only one that occurred during the Rock-and-Roll era was Merry Christmas in 1958.
Martin Denny (1)*
Frank Fontaine (1)*
James Horner (1)*
Billy Joel (1)
Elton John (1)
Kris Kristofferson (1)*
Patti LaBelle (1)*
John Lennon (1)
Paul Mauriat (1)*
Meat Loaf (1)*
Mitch Miller (2)
Yoko Ono (1)*
Crazy Otto (1)*
Bonnie Raitt (2)*
Kenny Rogers (1)*
Santana (1; total 2)
Frank Sinatra (4)
Bruce Springsteen (1; total 7)
George Strait (1; total 5)*
Barbra Streisand (3; total 6)
(Eddie) Van Halen (2)
Billy Vaughn (1)*
Lawrence Welk (1)*
Steve Winwood (1)*
Note: four of the artists appear on both centuries’ lists.
Stay tuned to see if Beyoncé’s Renaissance can make it 101 albums in the 21st century!
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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