The Pop Chart Championship Belt: Part 2

28 Aug

Elton John

Here’s part 1 which explains the rules and takes us from the mid 1950s to 1973. Part 2 today starts with 1974.


Elton John

We’re full on into the ‘70s now and the belt is Elton John’s for the taking. Elton John, more than any other artist, owned the pre-disco ‘70s. With four chart-toppers and seven top 10s between the 1974 and 1975, John was on fire with stone cold classics. John was already fading by 1976, but the lack of any strong contender and a couple more hits including duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” kept him on top another year. His career lasted forever, and he would have his least likely biggest hit with a putrid remake of “Candle in the Wind” in the late ‘90s, but John would never again be on top of the world.

Contenders: Paul McCarntey and Wings did not go away, hitting the top of the charts in each of these three years. The Eagles were as close as can be from grabbing the belt, and John Denver could almost see the pinnacle. Stevie Wonder had a couple of #1s.



Stevie Wonder

As 1970s light, easy rock has started to fade away and disco is on its way in, an artist who has lurked around the edges finally gets the crown. Wonder put up two huge #1s in 1977 with “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” and while he didn’t have a ton of other hits, no one else did either, and he’d been knocking on the door throughout the decade.

Contenders: Paul McCartney, and Elton John, both unsurprisingly.



The Bee Gees

1978 presents the most obvious choice since The Beatles. We’re now full on into the short but overwhelming disco era, the year Saturday Night Fever came out. The Gibb family was so in charge that little brother Andy is the first challenger in line this year. The Gibbs wrote, between the Bee Gees, Andy, Yvonne Ellman’s brilliant “If I Can’t Have You,” and Frankie Valli’s “Grease,” 7 chart-toppers. With 1979, I had a wrenching decision to make. Donna Summer out-charts the Bee Gees to become the biggest disco act that year, and for the last time, in 1979, the biggest disco act was the biggest pop act in American. Summer had three #1s, a couple other top 5s,and was coming off a monster 1978 of her own. Still, the Bee Gees, with a couple more #1s of their own, were still the biggest act in the genre, and I decided to give them the edge due to reputation.

Contenders: Andy Gibb, although it would be hard to ever put him ahead of his brothers, and then disco stalwarts Donna Summer and Chic.



Donna Summer

Disco’s over, and we have another difficult year, like 1970, where the pop landscape is completely shifting and there is no dominant force.

Genre-bending rock acts Blondie and Queen had their commercial peaks, Paul McCartney and John Lennon both topped the charts a decade after The Beatles’ destruction, and the #1s ranged from country with Kenny Rogers to the dying whimpers of disco with Diana Ross and Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown.“ This is another year in which I would ideally leave an unclaimed belt. Due to none of these new entrants being particularly convincing, I went with Donna Summer, who was coming off two monster years, and managed to hold on to her momentum slightly longer than the collapsing Bee Gees with top five hits “On the Radio,” and “The Wanderer.”

Contenders: Any of the artists mentioned above – Queens, Blondie, Lennon, McCartney, but really anyone who recorded an album.



Hall & Oates

Hall & Oates hit the big time in the mid-70s, smartly sat out the disco era, and then came roaring back when disco faded as the ‘80s began, untarnished by disco stink, as if it had been part of their plan all along. In 1981, they hit the pinnacle twice with “Kiss on My List” and “Private Eyes,” hit #5 with the much loved “You Make My Dreams” and released “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” which would be the first new #1 of 1982. This was a still a period that lacked a true superstar – the really big superstar era of the ‘80s was right around the corner. Hall & Oates weren’t quite as strong in 1982, but they held on by, as Homer Simpson once said, the two greatest words in the English language, “De” “fault.” Well, that and two more number ones – the aforementioned “I Can’t Go For That” and this author’s personal birthday #1, “Maneater.”

Contenders: Olivia Newton-John. A rare survivor of the disco era, Newton-John changed her sound to adjust for the times and had her biggest hits, first in 1980 with “Magic”, and then in 1981 with the monster hit “Physical.” She didn’t have a ton of hits in ’81, which hurts, but she had a track record and “Physical” was beyond unavoidable. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” while the biggest record of the year, didn’t come out until November, and we’ll hear more from Jackson momentarily.



Michael Jackson

What a delightful surprise. It’s time for our first easy year in a while. Thriller, as mentioned before, arrived in 1982, but not until November, and it was 1983 when the brunt of that album’s megasuccesss really took hold on the pop chart. Somehow, the album only produced two #1s, “Billie Jean,” and “Beat it,” but they were of the never-to-be-forgotten variety, unlike some of Jacksons’ later work. Six of the seven top 10s the album would produce crested this year; “The Girl is Mine” had topped out at #2 the year before.

Contenders: Really, no one, but poor Lionel Richie has his biggest year only to get buried by an all-time season. Richie never gets his moment in the sun in these rankings, despite five #1s and 13 consecutive top 10s to begin his career. The Police’s swan song was also a major event and produced all-time monster #1 “Every Breath You Take.”




There’s definitely an argument for continuing Michael Jackson’s reign; despite the fading of Thriller’s numerous hits by this point, the album was such a monster that Jackson’s sheer reputation may have kept the king the king. I chose to go another way, however, to credit Prince for the massive critical and commercial achievement of Purple Rain. While it didn’t match Thriller because nothing could, it sold millions upon millions of copies itself and propelled “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” to the top of the charts and the title track and “I Would Die 4 U” into the top 10.

Contenders: 1984 is a massive year for contenders. Jackson, as mentioned above. Madonna has an excellent argument for this perch herself, hurt only by her relatively newness – “Like A Virgin,” “Material Girl,” “Borderline,” and “Lucky Star” all crested this year. Critical favorite Bruce Springsteen had his commercial breakthrough; while he never saw the summit, Born in the USA spawned a record-tying seven top 10 singles.



Phil Collins

I’m torn here. Would anyone actually have called Phil Collins the biggest pop star for a moment in 1985? His record is unparalleled – “Sussudio,” “One More Night,” and “Separate Lives” topped the charts and he had three additional top 10s. No Jacket Required was released in January, helped Collins simultaneously top the singles and album charts, and eventually went Diamond.

Contenders: Madonna had an excellent case; if she’d had her previous year or next year in 1985, she’d have the belt; timing is everything. Whitney Houston had her first #1 but was just starting to establish herself as a major force. Wham! had two #1s including the sax-centric “Careless Whisper;” we’ll hear from member George Michael again.




After waiting on the precipice for two years, Madonna final gets her title, and it’s well deserved. “Live to Tell” and “Papa Don’t Preach” went to #1 while “Open Your Heart” began its ascent to what would be a #1 the next year, and the title track off of True Blue hit #3.

Contenders: Whitney Houston is now officially in the challenger’s seat Madonna last occupied, with two more number ones. Janet Jackson, Michael’s little sis, had her first monster year in the 1986 with four top 10s.



Whitney Houston

Houston breaks through with the release of her second album, “Whitney.” While some critics complained that the material was a step back from her debut, the public didn’t agree, sending its first four tracks to the top of the charts, the first time ever for a female artist, two of which peaked in 1987.

Contenders: Madonna, as she would for the remainder of the decade, continued churning out hits. Michael Jackson’s Bad arrived in the second half of the year, and led to two chart-toppers; Jackson was quite arguably still the biggest global superstar, but he suffered relative to the monster success of Thriller.



Michael Jackson

With all due respect to Whitney Houston, who keeps the hits coming, this is a two- man race, and I gave the tiebreaker to the man nicknamed the King of Pop. George Michael reached the height of his hall of fame career with Faith, which would produce four #1s in 1988 alone. Jackson, meanwhile, was cresting off Bad – while largely considered inferior to Thriller then and now, Bad produced a record five #1s, three of which peaked in 1988, and Smooth Criminal, which wasn’t one of them, but may be the best single off the album.




All of a sudden, the era begins to shift. The King of Pop has some more #1s and ridiculously expensive music videos left in him, and a couple of the players who emerged are here to stay, but Michael is starting to fade. Madonna, Janet, and Whitney are still around, but some new contenders arrive. The very biggest years in 1989 are from a handful of acts who would become huge sensations, only to disappear from the scene in less than two years, namely Milli Vanilli, New Kids on Block, and Paula Abdul. I struggled to figure if either Milli Vanilli or New Kids were enough of a sensation to take the belt in a year where none of the established stars had monster years, and erred on the side of Madonna, who topped the charts with “Like a Prayer,” and hit #2 with “Cherish” and “Express Yourself.”

Contenders: New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, Paula Abdul.



Janet Jackson

What a family, right. It’s finally Janet Jackson’s turn to shine. Her landmark album Rhythm Nation 1814 came out in 1989, but the world didn’t get the full brunt of its success until 1990. Two number ones, two number twos, and she was off and running.

Contenders: The same suspects from ’89. Milli Vanilli, New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul, and Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, and George Michael.



Mariah Carey

And a new superstar enters the ring. Carey actually debuted in 1990, going straight to number one twice. In 1991, she hit the peak three times, with an additional number two. Carey’s shelf life is longer than most people on this list; she had a number one hit in every year of the ‘90s except one, and she came out swinging right out of the gate. She followed with a less but still strong 1992 and holds the crown due to no other credible challenger stepping up.

Contenders: The ‘80s fully turn into the ‘90s during Carey’s reign. Abdul’s still around for the first year of the decade. Whitney and Janet Jackson are as well, and Boyz II Men begin their climb to the top.



Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men were the last huge act on the Motown label and the individual members were nearly anonymous. (Anyone over 30, name a single Boyz II Man. Go) They only pushed two singles this year, but they were both chart-toppers, and one was the big one – “I’ll Make Love To You” which ran the table for 14 straight weeks. Additionally, they amazingly became the first act to chart back-to-back #1s since The Beatles. Not too shabby.

Contenders: Carey is still a serious player, and a contender on reputation alone, but she had her slowest year of the decade. Janet Jackson was running out the tail end of a string of hits from her janet. album. Madonna, who would pump out hits impressively for another fifteen years, had her last year as a true contender, with three top three hits.

2 Responses to “The Pop Chart Championship Belt: Part 2”


  1. Pop Chart Championship Belt: Part 3 | Television, the Drug of the Nation - September 1, 2015

    […] The final installment, part 3 will hand out the championship belt from 1995 through the current day. Check out part 1 for the rules and part 2 is here. […]

  2. The Pop Chart Championship Belt: Part 1 | Television, the Drug of the Nation - September 4, 2015

    […] Part 2 an be found here and part 3 can be found here. […]

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