Beating the Beatles: Can Anyone Take the Top Five Again?

In 1964, The Beatles occupied the entire Top Five of the Hot 100 songs. It’s a feat that can never be duplicated … or can it? We take a look at the artist that have come close, and the artists that just might do it.

The Beatles on an airport tarmac

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The Beatles conquered America in 1964. The British Invasion began in earnest that February, when the Fab Four appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show three times; that first appearance was watched by 73 million people. From there, The Beatles exploded into massive popularity that propelled a previously unfathomable chart accomplishment. By April 4, The Beatles occupied the top five slots on the Billboard Hot 100 chart simultaneously with “Can’t Buy Me Love“ at No. 1, “Twist and Shout” at No. 2, “She Loves You” at No. 3, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” at No. 4, and “Please Please Me” at No. 5 (“I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” had already hit No. 1 in earlier weeks).

On the 55th anniversary of this achievement, we wondered about other acts that came close to repeating this incredible musical feat.

Elvis Presley (1956)

Elvis performs “Don’t Be Cruel” on The Ed Sullivan Show.

You had to know that The King would figure in somewhere. Before the charts were re-codified as the Hot 100 in 1958 — to create one unified chart of the most popular tunes — there were three chart systems used to track success: “Best Sellers in Stores,” “Most Played by Jockeys” (aka Radio Airplay), and “Most Played in Jukeboxes.” In October and November of 1956, Elvis dominated on the Best Sellers and Airplay lists with his one-two punch of double-single “Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel” at No. 1 and “Love Me Tender” at No. 2.

The Bee Gees (1978)

“Night Fever” by The Bee Gees

The Bee Gees were an undeniable hit-making machine, and that was never truer than during the Saturday Night Fever era. With the release of that film and soundtrack, the Brothers Gibb dominated much of the year on the charts. In March 1978, they had both the No. 1 and No. 2 songs with “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive.” For the Hot 100 in the week of March 25, five of the Top 10 songs were either performed or written by the band: “Night Fever,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “If I Can’t Have You” (performed by Yvonne Ellman), “Emotion,” and “Love Is Thicker Than Water” (a solo hit for the youngest Gibb brother, Andy). On the back of this, Barry Gibb became the first songwriter to have four consecutive No. 1 hits (“Stayin’ Alive,” “Love Is Thicker Than Water,” “Night Fever,” and “If I Can’t Have You”).

Outkast (2003)

“Hey Ya!” by Outkast

The Atlanta hip-hip duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi made history with their 2003 double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. They’d taken three previous albums to No. 2, but this was their first disc to top the charts. It was an interesting experiment, too, as each member was essentially responsible for half of the set (Big Boi guided Speakerboxxx, while Andre 3000’s half was The Love Below). One single from each half, “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move,” saw release in the fall of 2003; both quickly raced up the charts. For eight weeks, “Hey Ya!” held the No. 1 spot, with “The Way You Move” locked in at No. 2. When their runs at the top ended, “Hey Ya!” had spent nine weeks at the top, while “The Way You Move” caught one week at No. 1 on its own.

A number of other artists have managed to pull off the No. 1/No. 2 trick, but not with Outkast’s staying power. Among the others are Puff Daddy (with “I’ll Be Missing You” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems” in 1997); Ja Rule (“Ain’t It Funny” and “Always on Time” in 2002); Ashanti (“Foolish” and “What’s Luv?” in 2002); Nelly (“Hot in Herre” and “Delimma” in 2002); Usher (“Burn” and “Confessions Part II” in 2004); Mariah Carey (“We Belong Together” and “Shake It Off” in 2005); Akon (who did it with “I Wanna Love You” and “Smack That” in 2006 and “Don’t Matter” and “The Sweet Escape” in 2007); T.I. (“Live Your Life” and “Whatever You Like” in 2008); the Black Eyed Peas (“Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling” in 2009, when both songs would occupy both slots); Pharrell Williams (“Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” in 2013); Iggy Azalea (“Fancy” and “Problem” in 2014); The Weeknd (“I Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills” in 2015); and Justin Bieber (twice in 2016 with “Sorry” and “Love Yourself” in February, followed by “Despacito” and “I’m the One” in July).

50 Cent (2005)

“Candy Shop” by 50 Cent

Rapper Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent (or Fiddy if you’re qualified), notched three tunes in the Top Five during March of 2005. His solo hit “Candy Shop” took No. 1, while “Disco Inferno” landed at No. 5. The third hit was “How We Go,” a No. 4 hit by The Game with 50 Cent credited as a featured artist.

50 Cent is part of an elite club of artists who have had three or more songs in the Top 10 at the same time. In addition to The Beatles and The Bee Gees, that group includes Ashanti, Usher, Akon, T-Pain, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne (twice!), Adele, Iggy Azalea, Justin Bieber, The Chainsmokers, and Cardi B, as well as a few of the remaining artists on our list.

An Intermission for Streaming

In recent years, Billboard and other chart services have begun to factor streaming into the mix when compiling stats for the Hot 100. It’s an interesting evolution from the days when jukeboxes counted into the total. However, this now allows for a new phenomenon: Increasingly, it has become possible for many (or all) of the individual tracks from a single album to chart based on the strength of their streaming performance. When one accounts for physical sales, airplay, digital sales, and streams, that presents an entirely new picture of how popular a song might actually be during any given week. Digital releases have begun to affect the old records in a number of ways, with certain artists that were already popular making seismic impacts on the charts during the first few weeks after a release. With that in mind, we’ll look at some overachievers.

Drake (2016)

“God’s Plan” by Drake

The Recording Industry Association of America currently ranks Drake as the world’s mostly highly certified digital singles artist, with over 142 million units sold as of the end of March 2019 (only three other artists have broken the 100 million barrier: Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Eminem). These totals have had an enormous impact on Drake’s chart performance, allowing him feats like the most Hot 100 debuts in a week (22 in 2017) and the most songs in the Hot 100 in a single week (27 that same year). From April through June of 2018, Drake managed to keep five songs in the Top 10; amazingly, he bested that in July of that year by landing seven songs in the Top 10 at the same time. At present, Drake has hit the Hot 100 a whopping 186 times, with 31 Top 10 hits — six at No. 1.

The Weeknd (2016)

“Starboy” by The Weeknd (featuring Daft Punk)

Canadian singer The Weeknd pulled a Drake-esque feat when his album Starboy was released. After three single releases, the remaining 15 songs joined the Hot 100, giving The Weeknd 18 placements in December 2016. While this amounted to six songs in the Top 40, he only had one in the Top 10 (“Starboy”). When 2018’s Dear Melancholy was released, The Weeknd had six songs debut in the Hot 100, joining “Pray for Me,” his team-up with Kendrick Lamar from the Black Panther soundtrack. At this point, while he isn’t landing as many songs at the top of the chart at the same time, The Weeknd remains a contender to continue with massive, multiple debuts in the future.

J. Cole (2018)

“ATM” by J. Cole

Cole already had three No. 1 albums by the time he released 4 Your Eyez Only in 2016. All 10 tracks, plus two additional songs that were recorded but not included on the album, hit the Hot 100 at the same time, with all 10 of the album tracks landing in the Top 40.

Two years later, he outdid that. J. Cole’s KOD became his fifth No. 1 album in 2018, but that pales to the singles trick he pulled off. Of the 12 tracks on the disc, Cole successfully placed three (“ATM,” “Kevin’s Heart,” and “KOD”) in the Top 10, with the other nine landing throughout the Hot 100.

Post Malone (2018)

“Psycho” by Post Malone (featuring Ty Dolla $ign)

Post Malone’s chart career stretches all the way back to … 2015. So yes, he’s one of the newer talents, but he hasn’t let that stop him in terms of achievement. When Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys dropped in 2018, nine of the songs landed in the Top 20, with a total of 18 carving out spots in the Hot 100; “Psycho,” “Better Now,” and “Rockstar” simultaneously made the Top 10.

Ariana Grande (2019)

“7 Rings” by Ariana Grande

Which brings us to pop princess Ariana Grande, and her stab at taking all of the top slots at once. In 2014, she put together three tunes in the Top 10, but the big deal came this year. In February, Grande began a run that saw her take the top three spots on the Hot 100 simultaneously. At No. 1 was “7 Rings,” followed by “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” and “Thank U Next.” That makes her the first act since The Beatles to line up No. 1 through No. 3. (The Bee Gees and Drake both managed to grab No. 1, No. 2, and No. 4, but didn’t land the elusive hat trick.) Grande’s list of accolades is only going to grow. Among her other record breaking: She’s the first performer to have a single debut in the Top 10 from each of her first five albums. She continues to break streaming records (“7 Rings” streamed more 15 million times in its first 24 hours of release) and will headline at both Coachella in April and Lollapalooza in August.

Though many artists have tried, that Beatles record still seems like a big mountain to climb. It’s possible that one of these younger artists, or an as-yet-undiscovered talent on the horizon, could topple the Liverpool Lads from their peak, but it hasn’t happened yet. For now, the charts are just going to have to look at that record and, yes, let it be.

Featured image: The Beatles in America (Photo by UPI; Wikimedia Commons via Library of Congress/Public Domain)

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