What on Earth is going on here?
Hello everyone, and welcome to Pop Goes The Year, the product of countless hours of listening, re-listening, writing, re-writing, research, and brainstorming. It’s been a labor of love, emphasis on the labor: even at this early stage, it is easily the most time-intensive project I have ever attempted, and at time of writing I still have the vast majority of it left to do. I am not okay, thanks for asking.
So, here’s the rundown: At the end of each year, based on methods of varying accuracy, Billboard Magazine releases a list of the 100 most popular songs over the past 365 or so days. They started releasing these lists back in 1959, and continue to do so to this day. One day in late 2019, while watching through music YouTuber Todd in the Shadows’ year-end best and worst hit song lists for the 30th or 40th time, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if these videos were made for every year in modern pop music history?” The thought wouldn’t leave me alone, and I eventually decided to take it upon myself to listen to every last Billboard Year-End Hot 100 list and make a Todd in the Shadows-style top and bottom 10 list for all 60-plus years (in text form rather than video, since even I don’t hate myself enough to double (if not triple or quadruple) the size of this already-massive undertaking). Basically, I wanted a huge, comprehensive archive of critical writing on pop music throughout the decades, and as no such archive currently exists for me to enjoy as a reader/viewer, I figured I’d make one myself, and maybe anyone else out there who wanted something like that to exist would enjoy having it around.
As of right now (January 2022), I’ve listened through over 80% of the existent year-end lists (from 1959 to 2009), and have completed top 10 best and worst lists for roughly 40% of ’em (every year from ’59 through the mid-1980s) There’s still a lot of work to be done but that is, in all honesty, farther than I expected to get!
That about covers the basics of what exactly I’m trying to do here. Here’s a little anticipatory Q+A, to hopefully cover anything else y’all might be wondering at this point!
Q: Are you actually going to do these lists for every single year?
A: Unfortunately, yes.
Q: Is there anything I can do to stop you?
A: No. There is not.
Q: What are the rules and parameters you’re using?
A: My parameters for this project are as follows:
-The only songs eligible are those that appeared on Billboard Magazine’s year-end hot 100 chart.
-A song is not eligible for a given year if it has already appeared on a year-end chart for an earlier year (for example, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which appeared on the year-end chart for 1992, would not be considered for that year, as it first appeared on the 1976 chart).
-In the event that a significant number of songs on a given year-end chart are ineligible (for example, 1997, where over a full tenth of the year-end list consisted of songs that first appeared on the ’96 chart), I reserve the right to add an equal number of songs of my own choosing to my roster of eligible songs for the year, provided they a) reached the top 40 of the weekly Hot 100 at any point during that year and b) do not appear on any other year-end lists.
-For these purposes, I’m defining “a significant number of songs” as “five or more”. We won’t really have to worry about this until we hit the ’90s, but I want to clarify things ahead of time so it doesn’t seem like I’m changing the rules on the fly just so I can talk about R.E.M. more!
Q: How long is this going to take?
A: Probably a while! My extremely rough estimate for how much content this will ultimately add up to is somewhere in the 250,000-word range. For reference, that’s longer than Pride and Prejudice. And Jane Austen didn’t even have to spend any time reading up on obscure British new wave bands or scrolling through Barbra Streisand’s Wikipedia page a hundred times! Furthermore, I am also a broke twenty-something wage slave, so all of this is going to be written in between my 35 hours per week at the Job Factory, various social obligations, household chores, feeding and bathing myself, etc etc etc. So yeah, I fully expect this to be an albatross around my neck for at least the next year or two. I invite you to watch in morbid fascination as I slowly but surely melt my brain into pudding by constantly thinking about nothing but chart pop for weeks on end.
Q: Are your articles appropriate for all ages?
A: Though I am not in the habit of telling people what they can or can’t do, this project is broadly geared towards an 18+ audience. Readers can expect semi-frequent profanity and, though I will try my best to keep this website as work-safe as possible, I make no promises that things won’t get risque here and there (if you didn’t know, there are a lot of pop songs about sex, and it would be very hard to talk about those songs without talking about sex!). Additionally, there will be occasional discussion of sensitive topics (such as racism, homophobia, and abusive relationships) when I feel a particular song calls for such discussion. I will be as diligent as I can in providing warnings for any writings that may be particularly upsetting to those with firsthand experience with such things, but consider this a general warning that such topics are not off-limits here.
TL;DR: while I welcome any individual who finds my work interesting to read along, like/share/subscribe, etc., viewer discretion is, as they say, advised.
Q: Will you be making any lists for charts other than the year-end hot 100?
A: No such plans are currently in the works. If and when I finally complete all 120+ currently-planned lists, and after a nice, long break during which I only listen to field recordings of birds or waterfalls or whatever, I would be open to the possibility of doing some similar series for individual genre charts, or maybe like a list of “best/worst songs that charted on Cashbox but not Billboard” or something like that. The world of popular music has many nooks and crannies to explore, and hopefully I’ll be willing and able to do so for a long while yet!
Q: Will this hot, glorious content be hosted anywhere other than acclaimed music journalism website popgoestheyear dot wordpress dot com?
A: I’m glad you asked, because the answer is YES! I’m an active user and contributing reviewer on sputnikmusic.com, and will be posting these lists to my account there as well. Due to some formatting wonkiness with their list-publishing feature, I recommend you read any articles here, but I’ll probably be a bit more active in the comments section on Sputnik, so if you’d like to leave a comment or yell at me about why a song I don’t like is good actually, that’s probably your best bet to get a response. Additionally, I’ve set up a RateYourMusic account where I’ll be posting ratings for all the singles I’ve covered so far, in addition to those that didn’t make either list for a given year. So, if you want to see which beloved pop masterpieces I’ve rated a 3.5/5 (“The Rolling Stone rating”, as I call it), that’s where you can find that out.
Q: Should I listen along?
A: You are more than welcome to! I would be thrilled and flattered if anyone was willing to listen through each year-end hot 100 list in its entirety to better participate in the comments, but if you prefer having free time, or if any of these massively popular hit songs are unfamiliar to you (as many were to me prior to this project!), I compile two Spotify playlist for the project: The Hall of Fame (for the best-list entries) and The Rogue’s Gallery (for the worst-list entries). I also compile best-of and worst-of playlists for each individual decade, for those of you who’d rather throw on something with a little more cohesion for casual listening. All relevant playlists are updated as lists are published.