Ok, calm down everyone, following the deafening clamor that greeted my last post, “Biggest Disc Sellers of 1964” — and ignoring the fact that most searches that got through were actually after a site called “Biggest Dicks Fellers” — I’ve answered the call to go a year even further back. (In relaying coherently the massive amount of research I’ve done into this burning question it is necessary to publish it bit by bit, so please visit my site
to get the full story over the next day or two.)
Here we enter the official pre-Beatle Era because most Americans didn’t know that group existed before 1964 though they’d sold an audited total of more than five million singles and e.p.s in their home country through 1963, and this from a pool of potential disc-buyers one third that of the United States at the time. They’d also had three of their singles released and promoted across the United States during the year — played on many big-city top 40 programs — but people weren’t paying proper attention at the time, thus necessitating a red-carpeted second bite at the cherry (with mostly the same discs) as ordered by his lordship the chairman of EMI in London.
A quarter century before Nielsen-SoundScan counted sales accurately, statisticians relied on figures released by disc labels or the artists themselves. This resulted in highly exaggerated, seriously underestimated or sometimes very accurate totals of particular song’s sales, depending on the motives of the label. After the Beatles finally ‘arrived’ in the US, Capitol saw the advantage of publicizing its chosen superstar’s massive disc sales with RIAA Gold Disc auditing under parent company EMI’s policy and at the same time continuing its own domestic policy of near secrecy for its other most popular clients — the Beach Boys, Bobby Darin, the Kingston Trio, Nat King Cole, Kyu Sakamoto, and now Peter & Gordon — so as not to distract attention from the predetermined main event. If it had a mind to, this also allowed Capitol to short-change these under-promoted acts on royalties with impunity — not that I’m saying they did, but the Beach Boys for one sued their label repeatedly over the years for “missing paperwork” on sales tallies. It is acknowledged that Peter, Paul & Mary edged the Beach Boys in album sales for 1963, making up 45% of all folk music sold in the US.
Though assessed by Billboard to be the biggest-selling act of 1963, sales of individual Beach Boys discs had proven problematic because traditionally in the US the sales of a song (one side of a vinyl disc) were always counted separately. So while the double-sided hits Surfin’ USA/Shut Down, Surfer Girl/Little Deuce Coupe and Be True to Your School/In My Room all might have sold a double-million, the question was how many sales to attribute to each song? The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison too had the same problem of being too generous filling B-sides with top quality when customarily it had been treated as a throwaway to focus attention on the “A” and not split airplay and therefore sales. Elvis Presley had scored many double-gold sellers in his heyday (pre-1963) and at least in the case of Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel more sales were assigned to the designated B-side than the “A”. Similarly, Billboard named Little Deuce Coupe as the second biggest Beach Boys seller of the year, surprisingly ahead of its “A”, which did exceedingly well topping regional charts right across the USA (apart from New York City). Regarding the Beatles, though Capitol tended to fill their early B-sides with decidedly secondary attractions — judging from results, many of these songs missing or just making the weekly top 100 — the Liverpool group would feature a number of noted double-siders in the mid 1960s: I Feel Fine/She’s a Woman, We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper, Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby.
The most reliable list of bestsellers in the nation for 1963 involved a nationwide conference at the end of the year sponsored by the National Disk Jockey Association that included retail disc sellers and distributors, radio station personnel and research staff from trade magazines (Billboard, Cash Box, Music Vendor) who undertook a week-by-week, month-by-month breakdown of regional and national sales from January 6th to December 16th.
(Note: It was remarked on by commentators at the time, especially through summer following a healthy-selling spring, on how low individual songs were selling, even those expected to reach a million that fell short at “three quarters of a million” or so. The lion’s share of the blame for this was put on the new Japanese pocket transistors, which afforded a free listen to your favorite tunes hanging out at the beach without shelling out singles’ exorbitant list price of 77 cents and up. Undoubtedly a second cause was the sheer amount of competition from all quarters providing what have since become recognised as classic tunes.)
Here follows the top ten determined by that industry working group, published by Billboard in March 1964, with accompanying figures I have been able to dig up, then carrying on down the list. Hope you find some favorites somewhere in here.
1. Surfin’ USA (Beach Boys)….. Though peaking at no.3 in the weekly charts of Billboard and Cash Box, sold probably around two million in its ten months from release to the end of the year, and continuing
2. End Of the World (Skeeter Davis)….. peaking no.2 in weekly charts, accumulating through the entire year from its release in January
3. Rhythm Of the Rain (Cascades)….. selling from its late-1962 release, mounting 700,000 by its third week in the top 20 to peak at no.3
4. He’s So Fine (Chiffons)….. the most durable no.1 of the year, on its own topping Billboard for 4 weeks
5. Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton)….. a million during chart run
6. Hey Paula (Paul & Paula)…. audited early for a Gold Disc at 1,030,000 and in 9 months sold over 2 million worldwide; US est. around 1,400,000
7. Fingertips (Part II) (Little Stevie Wonder)…. three weeks at no.1 through late summer
8. Can’t Get Used to Losing You (Andy Williams)…. quoted at 850,000 by Williams, who must have been shortchanged
9. My Boyfriend’s Back (Angels)…. three weeks at no.1 beginning autumn
10. Sukiyaki (Kyu Sakamoto)…. three weeks at no.1 early summer, quoted at 930,000 most of the way through low-selling summer, nearing the end of its chart run
* If I Had a Hammer (Trini Lopez)….. peaked no.3 in autumn, going on to well over a million US and 4.5 million globally
* Puff (the Magic Dragon) (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. well over a million US from spring and multi-millions worldwide
* Walk Like a Man (Four Seasons)…. 700,000 in 4 weeks after release, before hitting top 20, going on to three weeks at no.1 by early spring
* Surf City (Jan & Dean)…. two weeks at no.1, quoted at 1,250,000
* If You Wanna Be Happy (Jimmy Soul)….. ditto, a million-plus
* Sugar Shack (Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs)….. a no.1 in Billboard towards the end of the year and building the biggest chart “points” tally for the year — boosted by airplay — but quoted at just a 1,200,000 total a year later
* Walk Right In (Rooftop Singers)….. well over a million accumulated by this January topper
* Green, Green (New Christie Minstrels)….. over a million steadily, then more than 3 million in a few years
* From A Jack to a King (Ned Miller)…. well over a million; 2 million worldwide within 6 months (including over 750,000 UK)
* I’m Leaving It Up to You (Dale & Grace)…. a million reported for this autumn no.1
* It’s My Party (Lesley Gore)….. over a million
* Blowin’ In the Wind (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. over a million
* Easier Said Than Done (The Essex)….. massive but in a low-selling summer
* Losing You (Brenda Lee)…. “climbing towards a million” three weeks into top 20
* The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (Bobby Vee)…. 700,000 after 4 weeks in top 20, peaking no.3
* Cry Baby (Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters)…. over a million
* Be My Baby (Ronettes)…. “about one million” claimed by Phil Spector for this disputed no.1/2
* I Will Follow Him (Little Peggy March)…. quoted at 965,000 a year later though three weeks at no.1 in spring
* Busted (Ray Charles)…… million-seller
* Da Doo Ron Ron (Crystals)….. one of Phil Spector’s claimed million-sellers
* South Street (Orlons)….. over a million
* Our Day Will Come (Ruby & the Romantics)…. no.1 but no record of a million sale claimed
* Ruby Baby (Dion)…. probable million-seller, not confirmed
* In Dreams (Roy Orbison)….. million-seller
* Take These Chains From My Heart (Ray Charles)…… million-seller
* Two Faces Have I (Lou Christie)…. a million-seller
* Blue On Blue (Bobby Vinton)…. “almost a million” in 4 months
* Washington Square (Village Stompers)…. reported just over the million June ’64
* Deep Purple (April Stevens & Nino Tempo)….. no.1 for a week in late autumn, reported passing the million in 1965
* Heat Wave (Martha & the Vandellas)….. reported over a million (of a 4.5 million singles sales total for the Motown label in 1963)
* It’s All Right (Impressions)…. awarded gold after a year
* So Much in Love (Tymes)….. no.1 for one week in a slow summer
* (You’re the) Devil in Disguise (Elvis Presley)…. sold around 700,000 initially and slowly built past a million
* Candy Girl (Four Seasons)…. sold 200,000 fast and continued to a million, peaked no.3
* Little Deuce Coupe (Beach Boys)… assessed by Capitol as a high seller though missing top 10
* Surfer Girl (Beach Boys)…. assessed at less than above though peaking no.5 for three weeks
* Mean Woman Blues (Roy Orbison)…… million-seller
* Then He Kissed Me (Crystals)….. million-seller for producer Phil Spector, peaking no.6
* One Fine Day (Chiffons)……. million-seller, peaking no.5
* Detroit City (Bobby Bare)…. over a million, his biggest seller
* Be True to Your School (Beach Boys)…. reputedly a million-seller, peaked no.6
* Mockingbird (Inez & Charlie Foxx)… peaking no.7, initially 800,000 then passing the million
* Donna the Prima Donna (Dion)….
* Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash)….. a million
* 24 Hours From Tulsa (Gene Pitney)….. confirmed million-seller
* Call On Me (Bobby Bland)…. r&b chart winner, over a million in chart run peaking barely top 30 in the pop chart
* 500 Miles From Home (Bobby Bare)…. another million-seller quoted for him
* Wonderful, Wonderful (Tymes)….
* Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right) (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. million unconfirmed
* He’s Sure the Boy I Love (Crystals)….. probably approaching a million
* Mecca (Gene Pitney)…. not quite a million
* Honolulu Lulu (Jan & Dean)…… ditto
* Walkin’ Miracle (The Essex)…..
* Drip Drop (Dion)……. sales going into 1964
* Half Heaven, Half Heartache (Gene Pitney)…. unconfirmed million
* Not Me (Orlons)…..
* The Gypsy Cried (Lou Christie)…. a million eventually
* If My Pillow Could Talk (Connie Francis)…. 282,000 in first week of release but slowed down short of top 20
* Abilene (George Hamilton IV)….. short of a million
* Quicksand (Martha & the Vandellas)…… selling into 1964
* I Love You Because (Al Martino)… 750,000 within 6 months
* These Arms of Mine (Otis Redding)…. reported 750,000 though barely made top 100
* You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles)….. around three quarters of a million
* True Love Never Runs Smooth (Gene Pitney)…. something around three quarters of a million
* Days Of Wine and Roses (Andy Williams)…. 750,000 quoted by Williams for this B-side
* Bossa Nova Baby (Elvis Presley)…. “sales somewhat less than 700,000”
* One Broken Heart For Sale (Elvis Presley)…. something approaching 700,000
* Six Days On the Road (Dave Dudley)…. over 600,000 and still selling steadily after
* Killer Joe (Rocky Fellers)….. reported at 600,000 by Filipino group
* Follow the Boys (Connie Francis)…..
* Blue Bayou (Roy Orbison)….. high-selling B-side
* Little St Nick (Beach Boys)….. biggest-selling Xmas disc of 1963, accumulating a million over successive Xmases
* Shut Down (Beach Boys)….
* Let’s Limbo Some More (Chubby Checker)…..
* This Little Girl (Dion)……
* Loddy Lo (Chubby Checker)…..
* Birdland (Chubby Checker)……..
* Marlena (Four Seasons)…… B-side performing well
* Ain’t That a Shame (Four Seasons)……
* Don’t Set Me Free (Ray Charles)…….
* 20 Miles (Chubby Checker)…….
* Falling (Roy Orbison)….. needed international sales to take it over the million
* In My Room (Beach Boys)…. ditto
* Pretty Paper (Roy Orbison)….. Xmas song selling into 1964
SPECIAL MENTION: those that sold well over a million but had their sales split into 1964
Louie, Louie (Kingsmen)…. approached 2 million but well into 1964, topping 3 million in the US alone by late ’67
There I’ve Said It Again! (Bobby Vinton)….. broke the label record of 94,000 in one day
You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore)…. sold mostly into 1964
Forget Him (Bobby Rydell)….. ditto