These are the songs that are the standards of the standards, American popular songs that topped the charts for more than 10 weeks. A quick glance reveals standards such as Vaughn Monroe’s powerful Ghost Riders in the Sky, which spawned subsequent hit versions by Marty Robbins, Peggy Lee, Johnny Cash, Tom Jones, southern-rock band The Outlaws and others. Even R.E.M. and Debbie Harry have lent their unmistakable style to Ghost Riders. Like most of the numbers on this list, it is one of those songs that defines the word “standard.”
Take a moment to look over this list — you may want to bookmark this page for future reference — and then look below for some commentary and interpretation. You’ll notice that some selections don’t quite reach the 10-week plateau…certain 9-week runs could be interpreted as 10 weeks, depending on chart publication, and are given the benefit of the doubt. A couple of songs listed had even fewer than 9 weeks, and are included here for reference in the following text.
Believe it or not there are published lists of popular song with 10+ week runs prior to 1911, but because PopularSong.org credits Alexander’s Ragtime Band as the first song to define the pop genre, the earlier tunes are not addressed here.
The list is based on pop charts from Billboard Hot 100, and from the earlier Honor Roll of Hits from the same publication.
All-Time #1 Popular Song Chart Champs
1911 Alexander’s Ragtime Band Arthur Collins 10 weeks
1918 Just a Baby’s Prayer at Midnight Henry Burr 11 weeks
1920 Dardanella Ben Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra 13 weeks
1920 Whispering the Paul Whiteman Orchestra 11 weeks
1922 April Showers Al Jolson 11 weeks
1926 Valencia the Paul Whiteman Orchestra 11 weeks
1927 My Blue Heaven Gene Austin 13 weeks
1928 Sonny Boy Al Jolson 12 weeks
1929 Tip Toe Through the Tulips Nick Lucas 10 weeks
1930 The Stein Song Rudy Vallee 10 weeks
1932 In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town Ted Lewis 10 weeks
1932 Night and Day Fred Astaire 10 weeks
1935 Cheek to Cheek Fred Astaire 11 weeks
1936 Pennies from Heaven Bing Crosby 11 weeks
1937 Sweet Leilani Bing Crosby 10 weeks
1938 A-Tisket, A-Tasket Ella Fitzgerald 10 weeks
1940 In the Mood Glenn Miller 12 weeks
1940 I’ll Never Smile Again Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra 12 weeks
1940 Frenesi Artie Shaw 13 weeks
1941 Amapola Jimmy Dorsey 10 weeks
1942 White Christmas Bing Crosby 11 weeks (15 total)
1943 I’ve Heard that Song Before Harry James 13 weeks
1943 Paper Doll the Mills Brothers 12 weeks
1945 Rum and Coca-Cola the Andrews Sisters 10 weeks
1945 Till the End of Time Perry Como 10 weeks
1946 Oh, What it Seemed to Be Frankie Carle 11 weeks
1946 The Gypsy the Ink Spots 13 weeks
1947 Heartaches Ted Weems 13 weeks
1947 Near You Francis Craig 17 weeks
1947 Ballerina Vaughn Monroe 10 weeks
1948 Buttons and Bows Dinah Shore 10 weeks
1949 Riders in the Sky Vaughn Monroe 11 weeks
1950 Goodnight, Irene the Weavers 13 weeks
1950-51 The Tennessee Waltz Patti Page 10 weeks
1952 Cry Johnny Ray 11 weeks
1952 Wheel of Fortune Kay Starr 9 weeks
1952 Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart Vera Lynn 9 weeks
1953 Song from Moulin Rouge Percy Faith 10 weeks
1953 Vaya Con Dios Les Paul & Mary Ford 9 weeks
1954 Little Things Mean A Lot Kitty Kallen 10 weeks
1955 Rock Around the Clock Bill Haley 8 weeks
1956 Singing the Blues Guy Mitchell 9 weeks
1967 I’m a Believer The Monkees 7 weeks
1977 You Light Up My Life Debbie Boone 10 weeks
1981 Physical Olivia Newton John 10 weeks
1992 I Will Always Love You Whitney Houston 13 weeks
1994 I’ll Make Love To You Boyz II Men 14 weeks
1996 One Sweet Day Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men 14 weeks
1997 Un-break My Heart Toni Braxton 11 weeks
1997 Candle in the Wind Elton John 16 weeks
1999 Smooth Santana 14 weeks
The All-Time Leader
The one surprise you may have noticed is that the all-time #1 leader is Near You, which is virtually unknown to listeners born since the early 1950s. The exception is found among country music fans, among whom a small handful may remember a duet version by George Jones and Tammy Wynette from the early 1970s. It’s interesting that this song resurfaced in country music, because Francis Craig recorded it in Nashville, and it opened the Nashville recording industry to mainstream music. In a way, it changed the way music was recorded. Rather than give each musician an arrangement and have them play a chart note-by-note, the Nashville style looked at the entire orchestra as a “sound” that played in harmony. Musicians simply played parts, and the producer would fine-tune the parts during a recording session. Mitch Miller brought this style to Columbia Records in the early 1950s, one of the first results of his efforts as head of A & R is seen on the list above: Tennessee Waltz by Patti Page.
Two Artists that Could’ve Made the List…
The Beatles had a 14-week run in 1964 with consecutive weeks at #1, but did it with three different songs. Four songs written by the Bee Gees had a similar 14-week consecutive run in 1978; two were recorded by the Bee Gees themselves, one was recorded by brother Andy Gibb, and the last was recorded by Yvonne Elliman. These four selections took turns at #1 from early February to mid May. After a three week respite in May and June, Andy took the brothers back to the top for another seven weeks. Add in two weeks the Bee Gees were on top at the beginning of January, and you’ve got Bee Gees songs at #1 for 22 out of 52 weeks. If you go back and look at the twelve months from August 1977 through August 1978, it becomes downright unbelievable. We’ll save it for a Bee Gees article in the future.
During the first 45 years of the pop music era, there were 42 songs that dominated the charts. During the next 40 years, there were only two songs that truly dominated the charts. I’m a Believer by The Monkees is listed only as a point of reference; it spent the most weeks at #1 during the 1960s.
Notice that dominant number ones dropped off right when Rock Around the Clock arrived in 1955. (With only 8 consecutive weeks, it’s also on the list as a reference point). This is key…
Prior to 1955, the pop charts were the turf of what is now considered “adult contemporary” music. It’s what the majority of Americans listened to, because that’s really all there was. Teens had no music to call their own. Some might listen to an r&b station on the sly, but most teenagers in 1950 owned records by Vaughn Monroe and Patti Page. With the advent of rock and roll in 1955, that all changed.
Suddenly, the adult contemporary performers had competition on the charts. And with that competition came the demise of the dominant number one. Thus the dearth of dominant number ones after 1955 is the result of more songs “worthy” of being number one. In 1958, for example, Danny & The Juniors were knocked off by the Platters, who were trumped by Elvis, who gave way to the Everly Brothers, and on and on. Same thing in the mid-1960s, where Nancy Sinatra would be ousted by the Four Seasons, who fell to the Beatles, who were toppled by the Beach Boys, who were done in by Gary Lewis. There was simply too many great songs for one single selection to spend 10 weeks at the top of the charts. Records sold like hotcakes…a rocker would rule the charts one week, Percy Faith the next.
This continued right through the 1980s, with so many diverse musical styles on the airwaves. Steve Miller Band one week, Herb Alpert the next. The two songs that did buck the trend, You Light Up My Life and Physical, were anomalies, and probably just the right songs at the right time.
The Pendulum Swings Again…
Since the early 1990s the dominant number one has seen a resurgence. It coincides with the rise of “urban” music. Call it hip-hop, smooth r&b, rap, whatever you like, this form is to music today what crooners were to the early 1950s. It’s a pervasive sound, so popular that other styles find it increasingly harder to crack the top spot. Just as Tennessee Waltz hit a groove in 1950, certain songs hit the same groove today. They’re catchy, and although arguably better songs bubble under the number one spot during their run, they define a time and a mood and refuse to budge.
If we loosened the criteria a bit, to say, eight weeks — there would be a host of songs since 1992 that would make the list. At least three or four by Mariah Carey alone. Yet there still wouldn’t be any new additions for the 60s, 70s and 80s.
How long will the current trend last? It’s hard to say. Hip-hop enthusiasts like to say that it will rule the charts forever, but they are being a bit myopic. Perhaps a new golden age of variety in popular music is just around the corner.
If history is any indication, change is inevitable, and it comes from the least expected sources, like Bill Haley in 1955. Expect the unexpected. After all, the smooth song that ushered in the current era and brought r & b to the masses, I Will Always Love You, was written by Dolly Parton.
Photo above: Bing Crosby circa 1942. Der Bingle racked up three dominant number one singles in his career.