Traditional Pop Longevity: Top Hits in Four Decades

Question popped up during a discussion of artists with lengthy careers. The question was, specifically, how many artists had sustained success long enough to span four different decades? To define “success,” the list would be limited to those artists who had managed to crack the top ten at least once during each of those different decades. For the purposes of this exercise, PopularSong.org limited it to USA charts, Billboard Hot 100 or its approximate predecessors.

The artist with the most longevity was…

Louis Armstrong. Ol’ Satchelmouth hit the top ten in five different decades. Armstrong scored numerous #1 hits in the 1920s and 1930s, and top 10s in the 1940s and 1950s. Then in 1964, he knocked the Beatles out of the #1 spot with Hello Dolly, and became the oldest male to reach the top spot.

Interesting to note that What a Wonderful World, one of Louis’ most beloved songs, didn’t make the top 100 when it was released in 1967/68 — it didn’t even crack the top ten on the adult contemporary charts! It was a million-seller, it just rumbled along the charts for a while. Jump ahead 20 years when it was used on the soundtrack to Good Morning Vietnam, and Louis posthumously scored his final chart hit: #32 on the Hot 100, and #7 on the Adult Contemporary charts. It’s also interesting to note that the song has sold well over 2,000,000 copies in digital release alone.

Honorable mention for pop vocal longevity has to go to Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett. Although Neil only had top ten singles in three decades, his albums continue to hit single digits on the charts and are routinely certified gold well into the 2010s. Frank similarly had singles or albums chart top ten in six different decades, from 1940-1990s. It is possible that Sinatra charted top ten in 1939, but this is not proven as of this writing.  As for Tony B, he first hit the top ten singles chart in 1951 and had two #1 albums in the 2010s, so if you count on your fingers that’s seven (7) decades, however the 1970s-2000s were a bit lean in the chart department.

The artist with the most chart success was…

Bing Crosby. Der Bingle hit #1 in 1927 with Ol’ Man River, and went on to dominate the charts in the 1930s and 1940s, with more number one and top ten songs in those two decades than any artist before or since. His chart success continued into the early 1950s, with In The Cool, Cool of The Evening his last to hit the top 10 in 1951, and White Christmas charting annually through 1955. Incidentally, Satch and Bing scored a top 10 at least once as a duo, with a fun tune called Gone Fishin’. That song hit the charts in 1951.

Other Artists:

Perry Como. He also hit the Top 10 before there was a Top 10; based on the same criteria used today, You Can’t Pull The Wool Over My Eyes did the job in 1936. Como had 14 #1 records in the 1940s and 1950s, and then had only average success in the 1960s – no top tens. But he returned to the top ten in 1971 for his 4th decade, with It’s Impossible.

Michael Jackson. He had #1 hits and numerous top 10s in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and in 2001 he hit the #10 spot with You Rock My World.

The female artist with indisputable tops tens in four decades is Cheryl Sarkisian LaPierre Bono Allman, better known as Cher. Before her brief duo success with husband Sonny, Cher had a huge hit in 1966 with Bang, Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down, which shot to #2 on the Hot 100. Gypsies Tramps and Thieves hit #1 in 1971, If I Could Turn Back Time hit #3 in 1989, and Believe topped the charts in 1998. Cher had plenty of other #1 and top 10 hits along the way. With Believe, Cher became the oldest woman to hit the number one spot.

With Asterisks:

Some artists stretched it out across four decades, but did so as part of groups or duos, and solo acts. Do these count? Why not…

The only female artist other than Cher to boast such longevity is Barbra Streisand, who had solid top tens and number ones in the 1960s, 70s, and 1980s. Babs fell off the charts for a while, then roared back to the top 10 in 1996. But this was a duet, recorded with Bryan Adams — I Finally Found Someone.

No group has had top tens in four decades, although you might technically include The Beatles. The Fab Four had Top 10 hits in the 1960s, 1970s, and again in 1995 with Free As A Bird. If you count individual members’ hits during the 1980s, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison would all be on the list. Ringo Starr had numerous solo top 10s in the 1970s, but none since.

The only group that might’ve done it solely as a group — and this is questionable — would be The Mills Brothers. This act had enormous success in 1928-1929 throughout the midwest on Okeh records, but their first hit that can be historically confirmed was 1931’s Tiger Rag on Columbia records. They went on to score number one hits in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and flirted with the top 20 as late as 1968.

If we broaden the horizon to include other music charts, including Adult Contemporary, Country, R & B, Dance, etc., the list grows considerably; here are a few notables:

  1. The Bee Gees
  2. Elvis Presley
  3. Elton John
  4. Eddy Arnold
  5. The Rolling Stones
  6. Frank Sinatra
  7. Rod Stewart
  8. Dolly Parton
  9. Johnny Cash
  10. Frankie Laine
  11. Patti Page
  12. Neil Diamond
  13. Ray Charles

…and the Beatles, Mills Brothers, and Barbra Streisand would be on the list without asterisks.

If you venture into the UK Charts, the list grows even longer. Elvis Presley has made appearances in the Top 10 on the UK charts in six decades. But there is one performer who has done it more consistently, and while still capable of fogging a mirror: Cliff Richard. And although he’s now a senior citizen, Cliff continues to rock and sell records in the mother country.

Recommended Listening

Here’s a CD set called The Essential Louis Armstrong, which doesn’t have everything we’d like it to have, but it sure is a darn good place to start. From St. James Infirmary to What A Wonderful World, it features the hits and the ones you know. Stardust, Georgia On My Mind, Mack The Knife…we could go on and on.

The thing to keep in mind when you see these Amazon.com links is that they usually offer clean used or discounted copies as well…fully guaranteed.

Also Recommended: This is a fantastic offering of Cher’s best, and naturally it’s called The Very Best Of Cher. Interesting that, while all would agree that Cher is a huge “star,” few people realize just how important her role has been in the last half century of American popular song…The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), All I Really Want To Do, Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Half-Breed, Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves, Dark Lady were all huge hits, and this CD has them, as well as her two monster duos with Sonny: The Beat Goes On, and of course, I Got You Babe. Plus it leads off with If I Could Turn Back Time and Believe; 21 hits in all. As of this writing, Cher is the only female artist to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 (or equivalent) in four different decades as a solo artist. Doris Day didn’t do it, Dinah Shore didn’t do it, and Patti Page didn’t either. They may indeed all be better vocalists, pure singers, but Cher stayed at the top the longest.

What are your memories of this musical journey?