Barbra Streisand returned to #1 on The Billboard 200 this week with Love Is The Answer, 45 years after she first topped the chart with People. Only one artist in chart history, Elvis Presley, has had a longer span of #1 albums.
Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater were in the final week of a Presidential election when Streisand first reached #1 on Oct. 31, 1964. Bonanza was the season's top-rated TV show. Hello, Dolly! was Broadway's biggest hit. Mary Poppins was on its way to becoming the year's top-grossing movie.
Streisand landed her first #1 album by knocking off the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night soundtrack. She returns to the top spot this week after winning a close contest with Paramore, whose lead singer, Hayley Williams, was born 18 years after the Beatles broke up.
Streisand is one of two dozen artists who have had #1 albums spanning 20 or more years. In a business where even highly successful acts often have just a few years at the top, these artists have managed to spend decades at the forefront. Here's a complete list of these acts. Whether you're a headbanger or a "Fanilow," you're bound to find a favorite artist here.
A few quick notes: I'm combining group and solo releases for prominent group members. Also, for the sake of consistency, all dates in this report are Billboard issue dates. (Nielsen/SoundScan "week ending" dates run 13 days earlier.)
Here are the acts that have had the longest span of #1 albums on The Billboard 200 since the chart debuted in March 1945 (when it was just a top 10 listing). Spans were rounded off to the nearest month.
1. Elvis Presley, 46 years and six months. Elvis Presley (May 5, 1956) to Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits (Oct. 26, 2002). The former album included Presley's hit cover version of Carl Perkins' smash "Blue Suede Shoes."
2. Barbra Streisand, 44 years and 11 months. People (Oct. 31, 1964) to Love Is The Answer (Oct. 17, 2009). "People" made the top five on the Hot 100 at the height of the British Invasion. It was Streisand's biggest hit of the 1960s. Streisand has had the longest span of #1 albums of any female artist.
3. Ray Charles, 42 years and eight months. Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music (June 23, 1962) to Genius Loves Company (March 5, 2005). The former, genre-blurring album spawned the classics "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "You Don't Know Me." The latter album won a Grammy as Album of the Year. Charles has had the longest span of #1 albums of any African American artist.
4. The Beatles, 37 years. Meet The Beatles! (Feb. 15, 1964) to 1 (Feb. 3, 2001). The former album featured the culture-rattling #1 smash "I Want To Hold Your Hand." The Beatles have had the longest span of #1 albums of any group and of any non-American act.
5. Johnny Cash, 36 years and 11 months. Johnny Cash At San Quentin (Aug. 23, 1969) to American V: A Hundred Highways (July 22, 2006). The former album included Cash's biggest crossover hit, the novelty smash "A Boy Named Sue." Cash has had the longest span of #1 albums of any country music artist.
7. Rod Stewart, 35 years and one month. Every Picture Tells A Story (Oct. 2, 1971) to Still The Same...Great Rock Classics Of Our Time (Oct. 28, 2006). The former album spawned the #1 classic "Maggie May."
8. Led Zeppelin, 33 years and six months. Led Zeppelin II (Dec. 27, 1969) to How The West Was Won (June 14, 2003). The former album featured the top five smash "Whole Lotta Love." Led Zeppelin has had the longest span of #1 albums of any hard rock act.
9. Eagles, 32 years and four months. One Of These Nights (July 26, 1975) to Long Road Out Of Eden (Nov. 17, 2007). The former album spawned three top five hits, including the tender "Lyin' Eyes."
10. Santana, 32 years and one month. Abraxas (Oct. 24, 1970) to Shamen (Nov. 9, 2002). Both albums spawned top five hits. Abraxas yielded the classic "Black Magic Woman." Shamen included "The Game Of Love" (featuring Michelle Branch).
13. The Isley Brothers, 27 years and eight months. The Heat Is On (Sept. 13, 1975) to Body Kiss (featuring Ronald Isley) (May 24, 2003). The former album featured the top five hit "Fight The Power (Part 1)." The Isley Brothers have had the longest span of #1 albums of any family group.
14. AC/DC, 26 years and 11 months. For Those About To Rock We Salute You (Dec. 26, 1981) to Black Ice (Nov. 15, 2008). "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" was the key hit from the former album.
15. Eric Clapton, 26 years and two months. Cream's Wheels Of Fire (Aug. 10, 1968) to From The Cradle (Oct. 1, 1994). The former album included one disk recorded in the studio and one recorded live at the Fillmore. The album spawned the top 10 hit, "White Room."
17. Madonna, 23 years and three months. Like A Virgin (Feb. 9, 1985) to Hard Candy (May 17, 2008). Both albums spawned top five hits. Like A Virgin yielded four of them, including "Like A Virgin" and "Material Girl." Hard Candy generated one: "4 Minutes" (featuring Justin Timberlake).
18. Pink Floyd, 22 years and two months. The Dark Side Of The Moon (April 28, 1973) to Pulse (June 24, 1995). The former album logged 741 weeks on The Billboard 200, more than any other album in history. It spawned the top 15 hit "Money."
19. U2, 21 years and 11 months. The Joshua Tree (April 25, 1987) to No Line On The Horizon (March 21, 2009). The former album won a Grammy for Album of the Year. It spawned back-to-back #1 singles, "With Or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." U2 landed its first #1 album later than anyone else on this list.
21. Prince, 21 years and eight months. Purple Rain (with the Revolution) (Aug. 4 ,1984) to 3121 (April 8, 2006). The former album spawned four top 10 singles, including the #1 hits "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy."
22. Fleetwood Mac, 21 years. Fleetwood Mac (Sept. 4, 1976) to The Dance (Sept. 6, 1997). The former album spawned three top 20 hits, including "Over My Head" and "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)." Fleetwood Mac has had the longest span of #1 albums of any mixed-gender group.
23. Bon Jovi, 20 years and eight months. Slippery When Wet (Oct. 25, 1986) to Lost Highway (July 7, 2007). The former album spawned back-to-back #1 hits, "You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Livin' On A Prayer."
24. Frank Sinatra, 20 years and four months. The Voice Of Frank Sinatra (April 6, 1946) to Strangers In The Night (July 23, 1966). "Strangers In The Night" hit #1 and won a Grammy as Record of the Year. Sinatra landed his first #1 album earlier than anyone else on this list.
The Fine Print: Michael Jackson would have appeared at #15 on this list if catalog albums were eligible to appear on The Billboard 200. Jackson first topped the chart with Thriller on Feb. 26, 1983. He had the best-selling album in the country most recently on Aug. 22 with Number Ones. Because that 2003 compilation is deemed "catalog," it was ineligible for the big chart. If it had been allowed to compete there, Jackson would have #1 albums spanning 26 years and six months.
And while hitting #1 is the ultimate badge of chart success, it's not the be-all and end-all. Frank Sinatra reached #2 in May 2008 with his hits compilation Nothing But The Best. If that album had sold 45,000 more copies that week, it would have topped the chart. If it had, Sinatra's span of #1 albums would have swelled to 62 years and two months, which would have propelled him into the top spot on this list. That's show-biz.