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BIGGEST SELLING DISCS OF 1964: “IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO TODAY…”

In history, music on April 7, 2014 at 2:09 am

No, nothing to do with the Sgt Pepper’s album, whose 50th anniversary is still to come three years from now. Though the Beatles changed the stakes by selling just as many albums in the States as singles, individual songs (the A-side of a vinyl single) still made the biggest impact on the charts and to careers — to change to albums later in the decade.

It was 1964 that was unquestionably the year of the Beatles — in the United States. In their homeland the Beatles had already made multiple breakthroughs right through 1963, their singles more than doubling the sales of the previous one until reaching a ceiling: from Love Me Do (116,000) to Please Please Me (310,000), From Me to You (660,000), the Twist & Shout e.p. the same, She Loves You (1,890,000) and I Want to Hold Your Hand (1,640,000). These last two would remain their biggest-ever sellers in the UK (double that of Hey Jude in 1968 after four years of steadily falling sales across the British industry). After From Me to You had ‘peaked’ for them at 21,000 North American sales, the very last was the disc that finally broke through in America with hefty saturation promotion via New York radio stations during the two weeks of the New Year 1964 holiday. The Beatles were a commercial phenomenon, the biggest thing on disc since the Chipmunks sold seven million of their Xmas song in 1958-59.

N.B. The figures quoted in this article are the official retail totals of cross-counter sales through each disc’s chart run as far as can be determined from this distance. In Britain this is generally the single’s total up to date, unless specially re-released and publicized as such. In the States vinyl presses tended to be kept at the ready for big hits, especially for long-running performers who could promote the song all over again for seasonal occasions or on tour, and many medium to big hits turned into monumental ones over the years. (Fans couldn’t get enough of those cute Chipmunks and took their disc to 12 million over the next two Xmases.) Note also that the cost of a single in America (and Britain) in the early to mid Sixties ranged from 75 cents upwards — proportionate to relative incomes, more than $10 today. Additionally, the population of the USA — and its record-buyers — was barely more than half what it is today.

The year before, the Beach Boys had been the biggest sellers of US singles (the Four Seasons in 1962) at around six and a half million in total (my estimate) in a low-selling year, followed by Dion, the Four Seasons, Ray Charles, and Chubby Checker fading, 5th. Surfin’ USA was ajudged the top-selling single by torturous process, out on its own but at probably well under two million, compared to 1962 which had boasted at least seven singles selling the double-million or approaching it.

The Beatle industry’s massive assault on the USA and rest-of-the-world markets really began in fall 1963 when Capitol executives were summoned from Hollywood to London by Sir Joseph Lockwood, chairman of parent company EMI, to please explain why his trans-global corporation had made no dent at all in the States with its fluffiest product. Capitol, from its point of view, had done fine with its biggest disc sellers, Bozo the Clown in the Fifties, and now the Beach Boys. Lockwood was determined to give a hefty promotional push to this one product in the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach. Sure enough, the Beatle singles that flopped in America over the past year — Please Please Me, From Me to You, She Loves You — were about to be unloaded all over again as new product on an unsuspecting public to sell in the millions, along with such worthies as And I Love Her/If I Fell that got lost in the rush and missed the top 10 (maybe selling close to three quarters of a mill) and real dogs like My Bonnie, that never made it past the 300,000 sales mark but still through saturation airplay made the Billboard top 30 and Sie Liebe Dich (Ja, Ja, Ja) that barely made the Hot 100 — its German even less comprehensible than Liverpudlian. Suffice to say, during April 1964 it was figured that 60% of singles sold in the USA across a three-week period were Beatle ones. At the end of that month, of 14 Beatle singles listing on the charts, five of them lined up at the very top of the Billboard chart.

The Beatles, mid 1964

The Beatles, mid 1964

    THE BIGGEST-SELLING SINGLES OF 1964 in the U.S.A.

alone, as accurately as I can gauge by assiduous research into a period eons before Neilson-Soundscan electronic retail recording:

1. I Want to Hold Your Hand (Beatles)….. 3,500,000 over the US chart run and building eventually to an estimated 5,300,000; over 12 million worldwide

2. Hello Dolly (Louis Armstrong)….. approaching 3,000,000 US through 1964

3. She Loves You (Beatles)……. more than 2,500,000

4. Oh Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison)…… around 2,000,000 or more

5. I Get Around (Beach Boys)…… approaching 2,000,000 during US chart run

6. Louie Louie (Kingsmen)…… approaching 2,000,000 but many during 1963

7. My Guy (Mary Wells)…… more than 1,500,000

8. Glad All Over (Dave Clark Five)….. more than 1,500,000

9. Everybody Loves Somebody (Dean Martin)….. almost 2,000,000 running into 1965

10. Dominique (The Singing Nun)…. more than 1,750,000 but many during 1963

(These are the top ten for the year according to Cash Box, the best trade paper at tracking sales, closely confirmed by Billboard for the first five places and then showing increasing variance.)

    OTHER CONTENDERS & RUNNERS-UP

:

* Chapel Of Love (Dixie Cups)….. around 2,000,000

* Can’t Buy Me Love (Beatles)……. record advance order of 2,100,000 but actual sales apparently didn’t approach this

* I Feel Fine (Beatles)…. advance orders (not retail sales) of a million-plus, building to 1,600,000 but counted under 1965

* A Hard Day’s Night (Beatles)…… RIAA Gold Disc for a million in the US awarded one month into top 20 run

* Rag Doll (Four Seasons)….. RIAA Gold Disc awarded two months into top 20 run

* Twist & Shout (Beatles)…… 1,250,000

* Last Kiss (J Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers)….. a million within three months

* You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore)…… more than 1,000,000 during chart run

* Dawn (Go Away) (Four Seasons)….. over a million by internal evidence relative to others

* Bits and Pieces (Dave Clark Five)….. Gold disc awarded by Epic label within three months

* Please Please Me (Beatles)……. 1,185,725 in US

* Love Me Do (Beatles)……. 1,165,200 in US

* Dancing In The Street (Martha & the Vandellas)….. 1,000,000 in chart run

* We’ll Sing in the Sunshine (Gale Garnett)…. posted by Billboard at 9th for the year but only documentation is more than 900,000 within three months

* Where Did Our Love Go? (Supremes)………. 1,072,270 sale quoted by Motown contract

* Do You Want to Know a Secret (Beatles)…… 1,000,000

* Fun Fun Fun (Beach Boys)……. accumulating 1,000,000 in US in a few months; reported in 1995 as having sold “over 4 million”

* Baby Love (Supremes)….. more than 1,000,000 but counted into 1965

* Remember (Walking in the Sand) (Shangri-Las)….. “a million”

* G.T.O. (Ronny & the Daytonas)…… “a million”

* Walk Don’t Run ’64 (Ventures)….. “(second) gold disc”

* My Boy Lollipop (Millie Small)…… “almost a million”

* Little Old Lady From Pasadena (Jan & Dean)… presumed million from internal evidence

* California Sun (Rivieras)….. “almost a million”

* The Girl From Ipanema (Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto)….. “almost 1,000,000”

* Dang Me (Roger Miller)…… claimed a million

* Chug-A-Lug (Roger Miller)….. claimed a million

* Little Honda (Hondells)…. Beach Boys in disguise, selling a million

* Don’t Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man) (Serendipity Singers)…. 800,000-plus initially

* Baby I Need Your Lovin’ (Four Tops)….. 750,000 initially, building to a million in 1965

* A Woman’s Love (Carla Thomas)…. barely made the weekly top 100 but sold a million in the r&b market

* Dance Dance Dance (Beach Boys)…. at least three quarters of a million, taken over the million by record club sales

* When I Grow Up (Beach Boys)…. as above, similarly barely top 10 in Billboard (airplay) but top 5 in sales charts

* Ask Me/Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby (Elvis Presley)…. initially 700,000 sold, going on eventually to gold disc US

* Kissin’ Cousins (Elvis Presley)…. quoted 700,000 sales

* Viva Las Vegas (Elvis Presley)…. initially just under 500,000 but going on long term to a US gold disc

* Dead Man’s Curve (Jan & Dean)…. reported 790,000 sold in US spring chart run

* Ride the Wild Surf (Jan & Dean)…. est. three quarters of a million plus

* Sidewalk Surfin’ (Jan & Dean)…. (reworded from the Beach Boys’ Catch A Wave), reported 700,000-plus by spring ’65 though barely top 30

    SPECIAL MENTION

:

* Downtown (Petula Clark)….. didn’t enter top 20 till second day of 1965 (but went on to sell 3 million in US alone)

* You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (Righteous Bros)….. ditto the same day

    QUESTION MARKS

:

* House of the Rising Sun (Animals)…… no.1 but no confirmation

* Do Wah Diddy Diddy (Manfred Mann)…… no.1 but no confirmation

* Leader of the Pack (Shangri-Las)….. no.1 but similarly no confirmation of a million US sale (but pulled off a rare feat of placing top in all four major US charts, Billboard, Cash Box, Record World, Variety)

* She’s Not There (Zombies)….. no.1 but no confirmation

Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas.

Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas.

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