A Century of Hits

A Compilation of Hit Recordings from the 20th Century

Click to Hear the collection on Streaming Audio

Compilers' Comments:

Each of these recordings was a "Number One Hit", a top selling record for many consecutive weeks. Initially, we really had no idea what Americans were listening to during the early decades of the century, so we relied heavily on Billboard's charting of popular music in identifying tunes which represented the century's most recognizable hits. In particular, Joel Whitburn's series of books tracking the popular record charts were invaluable references.

Other factors which weighed in our selection were availability, quality of recording, and listenability.  For example, many early recordings were so scratchy as to be unbearable, and several more recent cases were just too boring. (How much Mariah Carey can we stand?)

We noticed that many of our own favorite songs were missing, as were entire musical genres: country, folk, soul, rap, heavy metal, hip-hop (whatever that is), new age, and alternative (another curious classification) are simply not here.  There is nothing from Joni Mitchell, the Stones, Hendrix, Zappa, Paul Simon, or countless others.  It seems that the top selling records, as a collection, don't represent any one person's personal favorites, but rather reflect the deepest part of the cultural main stream.

We also noticed how technology shaped what was recorded.  Early wax gramophone cylinders had no place for printing, so the title was announced, yelled really, at the beginning.  The invention of the microphone and loud speaker allowed much better fidelity and thus more complex orchestrations.  Then the proliferation of portable transistor radios with tiny, cheap speakers spawned a wave of simpler arrangements.  Stereo, and multi-track recording, and later FM and CD's, permitted a growth of full, rich mixes, only to be undermined by synthesizers, samplers and digital signal processing, and the resultant trite sound effects and gimmicks.  This shaping of our culture by rapid technology change sounds a bit like the story of the 20th century as a whole.

In the end, we found that all of these songs are strongly evocative of their times, reminding us of entire decades with just a few notes.  And this is exactly what we set out to do: to let the soundtrack from this passing century guide our reflection while we wonder about what lies ahead.

Adrian Pearson and Scott Wedge                                                    December 31, 1999

Technical Notes:

Songs were collected from 45 RPM records, LP records (yes, we are talking about vinyl), audio-cassette tapes and compact discs  A few tunes were downloaded from the internet as MP3 files.  The most arcane technique was needed for much of the older material, which was found on the internet in RealAudio format.  We played them through the computer's audio output, fed them by patch cord back into the audio input and recorded them on hard disk using CD Spin Doctor software.  We were tempted to record "Cheek to Cheek" from a video of the 1930's movie Top Hat, but wisdom prevailed.  The project consumed 3,100 megabytes of hard disk space, and was done on an Apple Macintosh PowerBook G3 laptop computer with no extra sound card and no Y2K fear: it's a Mac.  The disks were burned with Adaptec Toast on a LaCie SCSI CDR drive at 2X speed for good compatibility with audio CD players.  No licensees were sought, so this is for fair use only.

                                      Track List
Title Artist Year Time
1 My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean Haydn Quartet 1901 1:38
2 Hiawatha Harry MacDonough 1903 3:01
3 Out In An Automobile Arthur Collins & Byron Harlan 1906 2:31
4 Wild Cherries Rag Victor Orchestra 1910 2:46
5 You Made Me Love You Al Jolson 1913 3:20
6 Dardanella Prince's Dance Orchestra 1919 3:04
7 Bo-la-bo Billy Murray's Melody Men 1920 3:11
8 Swanee Al Jolson 1920 2:37
9 April Showers Al Jolson 1921 3:03
10 Linger Awhile Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra 1924 2:38
11 Little White Lies Annette Hanshaw 1930 2:57
12 Night and Day Leo Reisman Orch w Fred Astaire 1932 3:30
13 If I could Be With You Benny Goodman 1935 2:19
14 Goodnight My Love Benny Goodman w Ella Fitzgerald 1936 3:17
15 Star Dust Benny Goodman 1936 2:56
16 Pennies From Heaven Bing Crosby 1936 3:12
17 They All Laughed Fred Astaire & Johnny Green Orch 1937 2:40
18 Begin the Beguine Artie Shaw & His Orchestra 1938 3:18
19 Deep Purple Artie Shaw Orch w/Helen Forrest 1939 3:18
20 In The Mood Glenn Miller & His Orchestra 1940 3:38
21 Frenesi Artie Shaw & His Orchestra 1940 3:10
22 Moonglow Artie Shaw & His Orchestra 1941 3:34
23 It's Been a Long Long Time Harry James & His Music Makers 1945 3:10
24 Cry Johnnie Ray & The  Four Lads 1951 3:07
25 You Belong to Me Jo Stafford 1952 3:09
26 Song from Moulin Rouge Percy Faith w/ Felicia Sanders 1953 3:17
27 Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing Four Aces 1955 3:05
28 Rock Around the Clock Bill Haley & His Comets 1955 2:28
29 Sincerely McGuire Sisters 1955 3:02
30 Hound Dog Elvis Presley 1956 2:17
31 Jailhouse Rock Elvis Presley 1957 2:32
32 Love Letters in the Sand Pat Boone 1957 2:26
33 Big Girls Don't Cry The Four Seasons 1962 2:36
34 Sherry The Four Seasons 1962 2:29
35 Sugar Shack Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs 1963 2:11
36 I Want to Hold Your Hand The Beatles 1963 2:28
37 She Loves You The Beatles 1963 2:23
38 Can't Buy Me Love The Beatles 1964 2:10
39 I'm a Believer The Monkees 1966 2:47
40 Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay Otis Redding 1968 2:44
41 Heard it Through the Grapevine Marvin Gaye 1968 3:16
42 Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In The 5th Dimension 1969 4:50
43 I'll Be There The Jackson 5 1970 4:00
44 Maggie May Rod Stewart 1971 5:13
45 It's Too Late Carole King 1971 3:56
46 Stayin' Alive Bee Gees 1978 4:39
47 Night Fever Bee Gees 1978 3:56
48 Starting Over John Lennon 1980 3:55
49 Bette Davis Eyes Kim Carnes 1981 4:52
50 Down Under Men at Work 1983 3:36
51 Every Breath You Take The Police 1983 4:04
52 Billie Jean Michael Jackson 1983 4:43
53 All Night Long Lionel Richie 1983 6:06
54 Material Girl Madonna 1984 3:45
55 Express Yourself Madonna 1989 3:55
56 One Sweet Day Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men 1995 4:38
57 Un-Break My Heart Toni Braxton 1996 4:20
58 Change the World Eric Clapton 1997 3:46
59 Believe Cher 1998 4:00
60 Livin' la Vida Loca Ricky Martin 1999 4:09
61 Smooth Santana 1999 4:38
62 Bailamos Enrique Iglesias 1999 3:31