Drake vs The Beatles: Let It Be

Billboard Hot 100 logoAs a (young) Boomer, I was a little dismayed last week. I saw that Billboard declared that Drake had taken away a record from The Beatles – most songs in the Hot 100’s Top 10 in a given week. Drake’s seven songs had beaten The Beatles’ five songs. This record had stood for 54 years, since 1964.

I don’t have anything in particular against Drake. I know little about him other than he’s Canadian and seems to be at a lot of NBA games. But as a researcher, I was curious how he had broken such a long-standing record, especially against my generation’s touchstone music group.

We Can Work It Out

Doing a little digging around on the internet, it quickly seemed apparent that this record breaking is about as meaningful as saying Drake’s seven apples breaks The Beatles’ record of five oranges. As clickbait, it’s great; as a real comparison, it leaves something to be desired.

Although Billboard does not publish any information, numerous online sources discuss how the calculation of Billboard’s Hot 100 has changed many times over the years. These changes reflect both changes in how people listen to music, and what metric the industry was looking for in a particular era (eg, popularity or profitability?). In 1964, it seems that sales of singles and radio airplay accounted for much of the calculation of the Hot 100, with more weight towards sales. In contrast, today’s calculations are mostly based on radio airplay, streaming requests across all types of sources including YouTube, and digital sales.

If one were a bitter Boomer, one could argue that five songs which were ranked in the Hot 100 to a great extent because people actually had to pay for the records is a superior achievement than seven songs that are mostly ranked because of listening through free radio or free/subscription-based streaming audio.

Or is total reach the best measure? The Beatles sold 25 million records in 1964. If one considers the 10-19 age range their target market, then that means that about there was one Beatles record sold per 1.4 members of the 35 million youngsters in that cohort in 1964.  I could not find similar data available for Drake; but with a 10-19 population of about 42 million in 2018, he’d have sell 30 million song or album downloads to proportionately equal The Beatles’ 1964 sales. But we’ll never really know which is better than the other due to the changes in how people get music today – there is little need to buy music due to all-you-can-listen subscription streaming.

Come Together

Are the Yankees of 2018 better than the Yankees of 1964? While both played baseball, they played two very different types of ball game and need to be considered in the context of the differences between eras. The bottom line is that comparing Hot 100 lists of these different eras is no more meaningful than comparing baseball’s hitters and pitchers of today versus 1964.

*** Jan 2019 update: just to emphasize the difference above, someone named “A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie” hit number one on the Hot 100 by selling only 823 copies – but had 83 million streams *** 

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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