Monday, May 7, 2007

The songs we were singing

Poking around in the Dizzies archives, I found a link to this site that can tell you what pop song and album were number one on the charts on any given day in the past 60 years. According to this, on the day I was born, Barbra Streisand had the number one single, a song called "Woman in Love," and the Police topped the album charts with Zenyatta Mondatta. Neither of those rings a bell, but then, I wasn't really tuned in to pop music until I was at least a few days old. Is it odd that I've always disliked both Barbra and the Police, seeing as I was apparently born under their influence?

I also looked at the lists of number one songs and albums on my birthday every year since then, which is how I discovered that this site refers only to the U.K. Top 40 charts. When I read to the bottom of the list, I asked myself, On what planet did Robbie Williams have a number-one album two years running? And then I realized: ah, in the U.K. That makes more sense. In 2001, when I spent a few months living in London, I found the immense stardom of Robbie Williams one of the country's greatest mysteries, right up there with cucumbers on sandwiches and stamps you had to lick (in the 21st century!). I always assumed their radio stations played pretty much the same stuff as ours, but that turned out to be incorrect. So I spent a lot of time thinking, "Wait a minute, is Oasis still a famous band? Are people still talking about the Spice Girls? And who the hell are S Club 7?" It truly is a different country; a country where the Beatles, Madonna and Westlife can be mentioned in the same sentence. (Westlife?)

I've always been suspicious of music charts, anyway. I'm not convinced that what they claim to measure is actually measurable. On our second date, the fiance and I fell to discussing chart-related Beatles lore -- I believe the specific stumper was, In what order did the 4 former Beatles first reach number one on the singles chart? And I thought I knew the answer, but I looked it up when I got home, because guys love it when you show off your access to and handy use of Beatles-related reference materials. And I discovered that the answer depends on what you mean by "number one." Or what country's charts you're referring to. So, like most trivia fun facts, it's not fun at all when you really look at it. (For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure it went George, Ringo, Paul, John.)

Still, this site is fun to play with, in a "Remember when X was popular?" kind of way. And they also tell you what pop musicians were born on your date, which may be interesting (my birthday list was not). So go spend some time there while you're waiting for me to update, because this is a busy week for me. I wonder if there's an equivalent site for the U.S. charts? Anyone know?

And while we're on the subject, I direct you also to this Slate "re-assessment" of Sting, by Stephen Metcalf, which I just loved. Someday I want to write a sentence as evocative as this one: "Unyoked from Copeland, Sting was free to become what he is today: one-third spirit in the material world, two-thirds scented candle." Hee!

1 comment:

Parkus Grammaticus said...

By the same token: I was born under Elvis Presley's "The Wonder of You" (eh?) and Simon and Garfunkel's BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED W. -- perhaps this explains my relative indifference to both acts? (Though EP has nice initials!)