(February 6, 2021). In August 2018, when Billboard magazine celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Hot 100 chart – the “gold-standard ranking of America’s top songs each week,” as the publication called it – they ranked and published a list of the 100 biggest hits in the chart’s storied history.
At No. 1 on that list was Chubby Checker’s 1960 (and 1962) hit “The Twist,” which, at that point in 2018, was the only song in Hot 100 history to have topped the chart in two separate release cycles. The tune was first a hit in 1960 when trendsetting kids made the song and its namesake dance popular. It returned to No. 1 in 1962 when adults – true to form – caught on to the dance fad and the song’s popularity some 16 months after both had faded from the teen scene.
Although “The Twist” spent just three total weeks at the No. 1 spot, it racked up a combined 39 weeks on the Hot 100 (in an era when that was pretty much unheard of) when factoring in both its original run and its 1962 revival.
That dual performance made it the biggest Hot 100 hit of the chart’s first 60 years when Billboard adjusted for differences in calculation methodologies and turnover rates throughout that time.
Now even if you don’t necessarily agree that a simple ditty about a silly dance craze from more than six decades ago is pop music’s biggest hit of all time, you’d have to admit it’s pretty amazing that – despite Billboard’s dubious and mysterious calculation methods – no song in the sixty years since has been able to dethrone it.
But two ground-shifting events have occurred in popular music and on the Hot 100 since that recap was tallied in August 2018:
The first was “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X (featuring Billy Ray Cyrus), and next came “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd.
Those two songs – one kind of a novelty that took the country by storm just as “The Twist” had done nearly six decades earlier; the other a more brooding, yet uptempo bop that has proven to be just as enduring as Chubby’s two-time chart champ – have had record-breaking Hot 100 runs in the past two years that would easily compete with that of “The Twist” and perhaps even surpass it if the all-time recap were recalculated today.
Consider that in 2019 – just eight months after Billboard’s historic 60-year tally was published – Lil Nas X’s country-rap smash “Old Town Road” swept the country and spent 19 (!) phenomenal weeks at No. 1 (eighteen of those with Billy Ray Cyrus listed as a featured artist). That was more than any other song in the chart’s history and is a record that is unlikely to be matched or surpassed anytime soon (although, admittedly, anything is possible given we traveled down that “Road” only 18 months ago).
“Old Town Road” also spent 45 weeks on the entire Hot 100, not exiting until January 2020. While that’s nowhere close to the record, the fact that nearly half those weeks were spent at the top of the list and several more within the top ten, made it a shoo-in to be the biggest hit of 2019 and a serious contender for being the biggest hit in the chart’s history!
The one thing working against “Old Town Road,” though, was its relatively brief stay on the weekly list and in the top ten when compared to other songs from previous years in its era. Although it spent 19 weeks at No. 1, its 26 weeks in the top ten fall short of several big hits from 2015-2018.
A look at the all-time Hot 100 rankings reveals that overall chart longevity – and not just number of weeks spent at No. 1 – is a significant factor in how highly songs ranked on the list. Tunes with longer chart lives, even some that never made it to No. 1, tend to place higher because they accumulate so many points over a longer period of time (assuming that much of that time was spent in the upper reaches of the chart).
As examples, four songs since 2000 with briefer stints at No. 1 but longer top-10 stays (of at least 30 weeks), and perhaps more impressive Hot 100 runs, rank among the fifteen biggest Hot 100 hits of all time.
Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” (12 weeks at No. 1, 30 top-10 weeks; 1999-2000) ranks second on the all-time list (right behind “The Twist”). Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars (14 weeks at No. 1, 31 top-10 weeks; 2015) sits at No. 4.
Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” (12 weeks at No. 1, 33 weeks in the top 10; 2017) is ranked No. 9. And “Closer” by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey (12 weeks at the top, 32 weeks in the top 10; 2016) is the 13th biggest Hot 100 single of all time.
The key for “Old Town Road” then is how Billboard would weigh the charts from 2019 and after, as compared to those before that year. Despite the long No. 1 run of “Old Town Road,” only one other song in the past two years (Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” 11 weeks in 2020) has had a double-digit-week reign at the top of the Hot 100, which means the chart is experiencing a faster turnaround of No. 1 songs than in the years prior.
As the publication did for the 1960s and other eras with fast turnover rates, Billboard could apply a heavier weight to the charts from 2019 and beyond, resulting in “Old Town Road” getting a boost similar to that of “The Twist.” That edge could give Lil Nas X a realistic chance of topping the next all-time greatest chart hit ranking that Billboard compiles.
An even stronger case could be made, however, for the other juggernaut in this story: The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights.”
That enduring hit has been unprecedented in its run at or near the top of the Hot 100 chart. Last week it reached its 60th week on the list, joining only a handful of other songs that have reached that milestone. Sitting at No. 3 that week, it placed higher than any other song in its 60th chart week (none of the other songs were even in the top ten at that point in their chart lives).
“Blinding Lights” also keeps padding its top-5 and top-10 longevity records. It has now spent 38 and 47 weeks, respectively, in each of those tiers.
Its 47 weeks (and counting) in the top ten are longer than either “The Twist” or “Old Town Road” spent on the entire Hot 100.
And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
With The Weeknd slated to perform the Super Bowl halftime show Sunday, Feb. 7, it’s a foregone conclusion that “Blinding Lights” will be a key part of his repertoire. The exposure from that performance to hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. alone could cause yet another spike in sales and streams and – get this – a possible return to No. 1 on a chart it last topped in April 2020.
That ten-month gap between No. 1 placements would be unprecedented for a song in its original release cycle (although its current 60-week run was interrupted by a one-week absence over the Christmas holiday).
And finally, with the song having first entered the chart in 2019, it is one of the few to have spanned three distinct calendar years – 2019, 2020 and 2021 – on the Hot 100.
Simply put, even with just four weeks (so far) at the No. 1 spot, “Blinding Lights” has one of the most remarkable chart runs in Hot 100 history and its legacy only continues to grow.
If Billboard were to right now redo its list of the greatest Hot 100 chart hits of all time, my money would be on The Weeknd’s never-ending hit ranking right there at the top.
If the publication waited until even a few months from now, when “Blinding Lights” will have padded its already historic run with even more chart time accumulated, then it’s game over.
DJRob 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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