My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Revelations from Music Vendor/ Record World

Hit_Country_RecordsAs the ‘last man standing’ Billboard‘s country charts have taken on an almost mythical importance, yet for most of the 1940s and 1950s, Billboard did a relatively poor job in recording the history of country singles in that their various country charts only went 10-15 places deep.

Music Vendor (later Record World) started tracking country music in 1954 and immediately started tracking 55 chart places for country records, a depth of country charts Billboard wouldn’t approach until 1964 when Billboard went to 50 places. For purposes of simplicity, I will always refer to Music Vendor/ Record World as ‘Record World‘.

Joel Whitburn’s new volume Hit Country Records 1954-1982: Music Vendor/Record World performs a valuable service in restoring to the known discography of country music a staggering 1700 songs and 200 artists that Billboard failed to chronicle.

I always thought that the Wilburn Brothers had a relatively thin representation on the Billboard charts with 31 chart entries from 1954-1972, with many songs that I knew to have been at least mid-level hits not being tracked by Billboard. Turns out that the Wilburn Brothers were the poorest served of all country artists by Billboard with a staggering 30 songs not tracked by Billboard. Other artists with huge holes in their Billboard chart discographies include Hank Snow (26 songs), Eddy Arnold (23 songs), Kitty Wells (21 songs), Hank Thompson (21 songs), Johnnie & Jack (20 songs) and Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins, Ferlin Husky and George Jones (each with 19 songs).

Among Bluegrass artists, Flatt & Scruggs pick up an extra 15 chart entries, Mac Wiseman (13), Jimmy Martin (6), Bill Monroe (4), and the Osborne Brothers (4).

There were also apparently differences in how artists were classified. Country audiences always loved Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, George Hamilton IV and Conway Twitty, a fact Billboard somehow failed to acknowledge. After missing “Jambalaya”, Billboard tracked “One Step At A Time”, and then missed the next eleven consecutive Brenda Lee songs including such monsters as “Dynamite”, “Sweet Nothings”, “Fool #1” and “Break It To Me Gently”.

The track record on Elvis was worse as Billboard failed to track “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Blue Suede Shoes”, along with 15 more songs.

Record World tracked six George Hamilton IV singles before Billboard got around to recognizing “Before This Day Ends” as a country single. Ditto for Conway Twitty who Billboard picked up as country with “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, after ten singles had already been tracked by Record World.

While most of the songs that Music Vendor/Record World picked up were second tier hits, there were some surprising Billboard misses uncovered such as the George Jones favorites “Tall Tall Trees”, “Eskimo Pie” and “Nothing Can Stop Me (Loving You)”. A very famous song from 1955 was Bobby Lord’s 1955 hit “Hawkeye”; Billboard missed the song entirely on any of its charts, whereas Record World had it charting for twelve weeks, reaching #16.

I mentioned that approximately 200 artists show up in this book that Billboard never tracked on its country charts. These include Carl Dobkins Jr (three songs including “My Heart Is An Open Book” which Record World has as a #2 country hit, and Billboard had reach #3 pop), Pete Drake (three instrumental singles), and Buddy Holly (four singles including “Peggy Sue” and “Maybe Baby”).

I’ve only had this fascinating book for two days and I will probably report further as time permits, but it would be remiss of me not to further examine the song that initially got me interested in charts. Yes – I do mean “Groovy Grubworm” by Harlow Wilcox and The Oakies. Cashbox had the record reach #1 on its country chart (#24 pop) for two weeks whereas Billboard had the record stall out at #42 on the country chart while reaching #30 on the pop charts. This was the biggest chart disparity ever between singles that reached #1 on either the Billboard or Cashbox country chart but not the other chart.

The record was hugely successful, selling a million copies between the US and Canadian markets (it was a top ten hit on several Canadian regional pop charts), so I was curious to see how Record World treated “Groovy Grubworm” on its country charts, recalling that Record World had the song chart higher on its pop chart (#23) than did either Cashbox or Billboard.

Drum roll please :

Record World had the song reach #3 for one week on its country chart during its thirteen week chart run.

8 responses to “Revelations from Music Vendor/ Record World

  1. Ken August 13, 2015 at 9:41 am

    I look forward to getting a copy of this book. I’m always interested to see various rankings of country songs from national charts or playlists from individual radio stations. From the 1950’s through the 1970’s far greater diversity existed on individual radio stations because local playlists were not dictated by corporate edicts as they are today. Current song playlists were much longer than there are today. There were regional hits by local artists that never achieved national prominence as well as songs by major artists that had great success in certain areas though not enough to propel the song into the national top ten. Given the brevity of Billboard’s survey it will be interesting to see which songs that were “waiting in the wings” from 1954-1958 when the Billboard country charts listed only 10 to 20 records.

    Information for any chart is predicated upon the data used to generate that survey. Chart differences between competing publications are a function of the actual panel of radio stations that submit their playlists for tabulation and that panel was not the same for all magazines. Trade magazines select stations that will be the “reporters” and generally strive for a sampling of radio stations from various regions of the country to balance their data so it’s not overly reflective of one geographic area. Unfortunately those individual radio station playlists were subject to manipulation. Most stations did not have a research department to completely and accurately gauge the popularity of every song they played so their reports were only estimates at best. Labels encouraged some stations to report a song as being more popular that reality dictated in return for consideration such as getting more records for on-air giveaways. Data was usually weighted according to market size so the radio stations in bigger cities with more listeners had more significance than rural stations with much smaller audiences.

    When sales info was tabulated for the chart data it too could be very unreliable back in the day. Stores did not have computers to accurately track sales and retail reports were usually estimates at best and could be easily manipulated by sales reps from record labels that encouraged stores to report inflated sales in return for that store receiving some type of consideration.

    Essentially whatever chart you analyze remember that it was an imperfect system. That said, the biggest hits still rose to the top. Perhaps one publication ranked a song at #3 while another had it peak at #7 but nevertheless it was still a hit . But when a song is ranked as a significant hit in one publication but is not in another you really must question it. It may be that outside manipulation has either caused the record to rank higher than it deserves or the record is being suppressed because of retaliation. Sometimes trade magazines would award a song more points if they received advertising $$$ from the record label or deduct points if they did not receive what they felt was an appropriate share of that budget.

    Joel Whitburn does a great job with all of his publications and I’m sure this one will rank among his best efforts. Though some folks may consider his books a bit pricey they are extremely valuable reference tools containing info that is not accurately available online or elsewhere. Not to mention they are fun to read and provide hours and hours of enjoyment for true music lovers!
    Details and sample pages here:

    http://www.recordresearch.com/country/hit_country_records_1954_1982.php

  2. Luckyoldsun August 15, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    I wonder if all those ’50 charts that would show the same song at #1 for 8, 9 or 10 weeks on end were a true reflection of the market or if was a case of radio stations and publications like Billboard not getting around to doing fresh tabulations more than a couple of times in a quarter.

    • Ken August 15, 2015 at 10:46 pm

      Your conjecture is wrong because if Billboard did not do new tabulations every week then the chart would never change for long periods of time. ALL positions on the chart would remain the same. A look at the charts for individual weeks proves that is absolutely NOT the case. Though some songs remained at the top for multiple weeks there was movement in the rankings for the rest of the survey. And what would make you think that Billboard would not do fresh tabulations each week? Ranking records was a major focus of their publication and the main reason why retail outlets and jukebox operators subscribed – so they knew which records to order. Not doing that would be like McDonald’s not serving hamburgers.

      Some historical context: Fewer country records were released back then. There were fewer retail outlets selling country records back then. But the biggest factor was that there were fewer country radio stations playing country music full-time back then. Many radio stations were block-programmed during the 1950’s. They aired a variety of programs and may have programmed just a few hours of country music each day. When a radio station features a limited amount of any type of music each day it takes a long time for one song to aggregate enough spins to become familiar. When a record did become a hit it remained popular for a longer period of time as it did not burn out as quickly from overexposure. In 1958 when the Country Music Association was formed there were less than 80 full time country radio stations in the entire U.S. It was a much smaller universe of country music back then. I believe that for the most part the charts accurately showed the biggest country hits for that era.

      • Paul W Dennis August 16, 2015 at 12:39 pm

        Even during the 1960s, when there was considerable growth in the number of country stations, there were still relatively few full-time country stations and many those either were only on the air from sunrise to sunset or they cut power so severely at sundown that they became extremely local stations. In 1970 I started college in Deland, Florida about 50 miles from the transmitters of WHOO-AM, a 50,000 watt giant, During the day they could be heard cleanly and clearly all the way over to Daytona Beach, about 70 miles away. After they cut power at sundown they could not be heard at all in Deland. There was no country station that we could hear at night until an FM station started broadcasting in Deland in late 1972 (when they started out I think they owned only about twenty-five singles since Johnny Paycheck’s “Don’t Take Her She’s All I’ve Got” played at least twice every hour as did several other songs)

        In 1981 I moved to Venice Florida, about 75 miles south of WSUN-AM in St Petersburg, a 50,000 watt station that could be heard clearly in Venice and about another 25 miles south. When WSUN’s power was cut at sundown, the only available county station was an FM station in Venice that was about 20% country and 80% country music as played by the Living Strings, Hoillyridge Strings, Lawrence Welk and other similar muzak-inspired ensembles or sung by the likes of John Davidson and other easy listening singers. Fort Myers, about 55 miles south of Venice had an FM country station but it was too low powered to reach Venice

        No wonder my record collection is so top heavy with 1970s to early 1980s vinyl. It was the only way I could hear good country music !

        • Ken August 16, 2015 at 3:10 pm

          It’s probably difficult for younger folks to understand that country music was not always as pervasive as it is today. As Paul points out for many years certain areas of the U.S. were under-served by radio stations playing country music full-time. Before the internet and cable TV country music was not an easy commodity to find in some areas. in the region where I grew up we did not get a full-time country music station until 1967. However the AM station signed off at sundown and their FM (which simulcast the AM programming) signed off at midnight. My car only had an AM radio at that time so I could only listen to them at home after sundown! During certain times of the year could I could pick up night-time signals from far-off high-powered AM stations like WSM in Nashville, WWVA Wheeling, West Virginia, WWL New Orleans, WHO Des Moines and WJJD Chicago. When reception wasn’t available records were also my main source of country music during the wee hours while I was doing my homework.

          More recently our nation’s biggest radio market New York City was without a country station for 17 years from 1996 until 2013!

        • Luckyoldsun August 18, 2015 at 8:22 pm

          Interesting thread.
          As far as radio stations not playing country music full time–that explains a lot.

  3. Razor X August 19, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Are there any stations playing country music full time currently?

  4. Stephen E. Simon December 3, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Thank you for this information. When I checked out the compilation of Billboard’s country hits, I kept wondering where certain artists or certain “hits” were. This book will help to give a better picture of country music. Love the Wilburn Brothers!! I loved their last Billboard hit, “Arkansas” in 1972.

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