I just found Nirvana. Andy Baio at waxy.org just posted some information on the Whitburn Project, “a huge undertaking to preserve and share high-quality recordings of every popular song since the 1890s.”
I had heard about the Whitburn Project, but I didn’t know they had created a spreadsheet of their work, which consists of a spreadsheet of 37,000 songs, complete with data such as the length of each song, the beats per minute, and week-by-week chart position.
Baio has started analyzing this data and has found, just for starters, that the average song length has increased over the last 50 years from an average of 2 minutes and 30 seconds in the 1950s to 3 minutes and 50 seconds during this decade.
What does this mean? I dunno. But this data is gold for people like me, who used to memorize Billboard’s Top 40 every week and look through pages of chart data in the Rock Yearbooks during the 1980s. Chart position is one way to gauge success, and though the public’s tastes change over time, watching acts rise and fall over time and seeing how high your favorite song ever reached is a trip down memory lane.
In fact, some people have started their own Whitburn Projects on a macro scale. Dave Steed at PopDose has managed to collect 4,229 of the 4,230 songs that charted in the Hot 100 from 1980 to 1989. You could broadcast your own Hot 100 every week for 10 years – except you’d have to play “I Just Called To Say I Love You” about 15 times.
I’m eagerly awaiting the next entry in Baio’s series, which looks at one-hit wonders. Hellooo, Dexys Midnight Runners.