Chart Watch

Chart Watch Extra: The 40-Year Club

Chart Watch

Paul Simon's debut in the top five on this week's Billboard 200 wasn't surprising, but it is remarkable. Simon landed his first top five album more than 44 years ago. Only four acts in chart history--Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and the Rolling Stones--have had longer spans of top five albums.

Lyndon Johnson was President when Simon & Garfunkel first cracked the top five on Dec. 17, 1966 with their album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme. Bonanza was the top-rated TV show. Hawaii, starring Julie Andrews, would become the year's top-grossing movie.

And of course the Billboard album chart looked far different from how it does today. The top five that week included the Monkees and the Supremes. All these years later, Simon is competing with the likes of 22-year old Adele and the Latin rock group Mana.

Simon is one of 16 artists who have had top five albums spanning 40 or more years. In a business in which even highly successful acts often have just a few years at the top, these 16 acts have managed to spend decades at the forefront.

Here are the acts that have had the longest span of top five albums since the album chart first appeared in Billboard in March 1945. A few quick notes: I'm combining group and individual releases for prominent group members. All dates are Billboard issue dates. Spans were rounded off to the nearest month.

 

1. Frank Sinatra, 62 years and two months. The Voice Of Frank Sinatra (March 23, 1946) to Nothing But The Best (June 7, 2008). The latter album featured 22 classics, including "It Was A Very Good Year" and "Strangers In The Night." Sinatra died May 14, 1998 at age 82.

2. Elvis Presley, 47 years and seven months. Elvis Presley (April 7, 1956) to Elvis: 2nd To None (Oct. 25, 2003). The latter album, a sequel to the chart-topping Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits, featured such hits as "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Moody Blue."  Presley, the top rock artist on the list, died Aug. 16, 1977 at age 42.

3. Barbra Streisand, 46 years. The Second Barbra Streisand Album (Oct. 26, 1963) to Love Is The Answer (Oct. 31, 2009). The latter album drew its title from the standard "Make Someone Happy." Streisand, who turns 69 on Sunday, is the #1 female artist on this list and the highest-ranking artist who is still living.

4. The Rolling Stones, 45 years and six months. 12 x 5 (Dec. 12, 1964) to Exile On Main St. (June 5, 2010). The latter album was a reissue of the group's 1972 classic. The Stones are the top group, and the top foreign-born act, on this list, though the Beatles should be. (See The Fine Print below.) Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both 67.

5. Paul Simon, 44 years and four months. Simon & Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme (Dec. 17, 1966) to So Beautiful Or So What (April 30, 2011). The former album drew its title from the song "Scarborough Fair," which is based on a 19th Century folk ballad. Simon is 69.

6. Tony Bennett, 43 years and 11 months. I Left My Heart In San Francisco (Nov. 24, 1962) to Duets: An American Classic (Oct. 28, 2006). The former album was a Grammy finalist for Album of the Year. The elegant title track won as Record of the Year. Bennett is 84.

7. Ray Charles, 43 years and eight months. Genius + Soul = Jazz (July 3, 1961) to Genius Loves Company (Mar. 12, 2005). The former album, which featured "One Mint Julep," was nominated for a Grammy as Album of the Year. The latter album won that award. Charles is the #1 African American artist on this list. He died June 10, 2004 at age 73.

8. Bob Dylan, 43 years and seven months. Highway 61 Revisited (Oct. 16, 1965) to Together Through Life (May 23, 2009). The rock classic "Like A Rolling Stone" is the key track on the former album. Dylan is 69.

9. Paul McCartney, 43 years and five months. The Beatles' Meet The Beatles! (Feb. 8, 1964) to Memory Almost Full (July 7, 2007). The latter album featured "Dance Tonight" (not to be confused with McCartney's earlier hit "Goodnight Tonight"). McCartney is 68.

10. The Beatles, 42 years and 11 months, Meet The Beatles! (Feb. 8, 1964) to Love (Jan. 6, 2007). "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was the blockbuster #1 hit from the former album.

11. Stevie Wonder, 42 years and three months. Little Stevie Wonder/The 12 Year Old Genius (Aug. 10, 1963) to A Time To Love (Nov. 5, 2005). "Fingertips - Pt 2" was the #1 smash from the former album. At 60, Wonder is the youngest artist on this list.

12. Jimi Hendrix, 41 years and six months. The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? (Oct. 5, 1968) to Valleys Of Neptune (March 27, 2010). The former album contained the rock classics "Purple Haze" and "Foxey Lady." Hendrix died Sept. 18, 1970 at age 27.

13. Santana, 40 years and 11 months. Santana (Nov. 15, 1969) to Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time (Oct. 9, 2010). The former album spawned the top 10 hit "Evil Ways." Group leader Carlos Santana is 63.

14. Robert Plant, 40 years and 10 months. Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin II (Nov. 22, 1969) to Band Of Joy (Oct. 2, 2010). The former album spawned the top five smash "Whole Lotta Love." Plant is 62.

15. Michael Jackson, 40 years and eight months. The Jackson 5's Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (April 25, 1970) to Michael (Jan. 8, 2011). The former album contained the quintet's breakthrough smash, "I Want You Back." Jackson died on June 25, 2009 at age 50.

16. Johnny Cash, 40 years and seven months. Johnny Cash At San Quentin (Aug. 16, 1969) to American VI: Ain't No Grave (March 13, 2010). The former album, a Grammy finalist for Album of the Year, spawned Cash's biggest pop hit, "A Boy Named Sue." Cash died on Sept. 12, 2003 at age 71.

 

Several artists just missed making the list. Elton John's top five albums span 39 years and 10 months, from Elton John (Feb. 6, 1971) to The Union, his collabo with Leon Russell, (Nov. 6, 2010). Other artists who came close: James Taylor (39 years and seven months), Rod Stewart (39 years and two months) and Carole King (39 years).

The Fine Print: Catalog albums weren't eligible to appear on The Billboard 200 until Dec. 5, 2009. That hurt the Beatles, who would have had two albums in the top five on Sept. 26, 2009: Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This would have given them a top five span of 45 years and eight months, which would have enabled them to move up from #10 to #4 on this list. That have made them, and not the Rolling Stones, the group and the foreign-born act with the longest span of top five albums.

The success of top-selling catalog albums by Michael Jackson and the Beatles in 2009 is what led Billboard to open The Billboard 200 to catalog titles. Just one catalog album has made the top 10 on the big chart since the policy change: the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main St. (This is all fitting, somehow. Back in 1964, the Beatles also paved way the way for the Stones.)

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