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Billboard Hot 100 notches 1,000th No. 1 single: From Ricky Nelson to Lady Gaga

February 17, 2011 | 10:01 pm

Rick Nelson 1958 Lady Gaga 2011

Lady Gaga has snagged a piece of pop music history in landing the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 this week with her new single “Born This Way.”

Even more significant than posting the highest first-week digital sales by a female artist, with 448,000 downloads of the song, according to Nielsen SoundScan, Gaga scored the 1,000th No. 1 single on the Billboard chart since its inception in 1958.

In recognition of the milestone among chart watchers, Billboard has posted a chronological listing of all 1,000 chart-topping songs.

The first? Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool,” which beat all comers on that first Hot 100 chart dated Aug. 4, 1958. With that in mind, some might consider it a shame that America’s latest teen idol, Justin Bieber, didn’t land the No. 1 slot this week to bookend the half-century-plus period that began with pop music’s original teen idol. (Life magazine is credited with coining the phrase in a feature story on Nelson’s rise to stardom.)

Pop & Hiss thought we’d take the opportunity to scan through the years for some of the chart’s other high- and lowlights.

For instance, it didn’t take me long looking down the list to findt a No. 1 entry that inspired an immediate reaction of “Huh?” The third song to reach No. 1 was doo-wop group the Elegants’ rendition of “Little Star,” a reworking of the children’s song based on the famous Mozart melody.

It took a year for an Elvis Presley record to find its way to the top spot, when “A Big Hunk O’ Love” reached that position. Of course, Presley had been in the army for a year at that point,  so he can be forgiven for having things besides chart numbers on his mind.

Country star Marty Robbins ushered in the ’60s with the first No. 1 hit of the decade with “El Paso,” his epic tragedy chronicling the ultimately fatal charms of wicked Felina.

As much as it seemed that the Beatles conquered the world overnight, it was actually more than a year after the release of their first single, “Love me Do,” in 1962 before the moptops made it to No. 1 in the U.S. -- with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” just before making their debut appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Once at the top, however, they stayed there. Following their No. 1 debut with successive chart-topping singles “She Loves You” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the Fab Four held down the top spot for 14 successive weeks. It’s no surprise to learn that the Beatles logged more weeks at higher positions than any other artist.

The all-American Beach Boys, fittingly, first made it to No. 1 on July 4, 1964, with “I Get Around,” the first of just four singles by the group to make it to the top of the charts -- the others being “Help Me, Rhonda” (1965), “Good Vibrations” (1966) and “Kokomo” (1988).

When, you may ask, did the poet laureate and the voice of his generation, Bob Dylan, land his first No. 1 single? That would have been the 12th of Never. The highest the Bard of Hibbing, Minn., ever got on the Hot 100 was No. 2, and he did it twice: in 1965 with “Like a Rolling Stone” and the following year with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

The Byrds, however, got him there by proxy with the 1965 No. 1 version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Dylan did significantly better than another icon of ’60s rock, Jimi Hendrix, who peaked on the Hot 100 in 1968 at No. 20. The song? Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Speaking of rock icons, of all the brilliantly written, sung and played genre-defining records that Chuck Berry made, only one ever went to No. 1. So why did it have to be his juvenile novelty hit “My Ding-A-Ling,” which reached No. 1 in 1972?

B.J. Thomas landed the first hit of the 1970s with “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” the “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” theme, which spent a month at No. 1. It was knocked out by a record sung by the prepubescent, preternaturally soulful 11-year-old Michael Jackson singing “I Want You Back” with the Jackson 5. He would return to the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 with his family or solo 15 more times.

Instrumentals have claimed the No. 1 spot more than you might think. SoCal’s own The Champs just missed the boat by hitting No. 1 early in 1958 with “Tequila,” because they hit the top on the Billboard chart that was the precursor to the Hot 100.

The elite group that scored the first instrumental No. 1 after the Hot 100 premiered was Dave “Baby” Cortez’s “The Happy Organ.” Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” hit No. 1 in 1959; Percy Faith’s “Theme From a Summer Place” and German orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland by Night,” both in 1960; British clarinetist Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore” and the Tornadoes’ “Telstar,” both in 1962; and Paul Mariat’s “Love is Blue” and Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass,” both in 1968.
Apparently instrumentals like to travel in pairs.

In the 1970s, Isaac Hayes got to No. 1 with “Theme from Shaft." The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” and MFSB featuring the Three Degrees’ “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” both hit No. 1 in 1973, as did the Average White Band’s “Pick up the Pieces” in 1975; and Rhythm Heritage’s “Theme from S.W.A.T.” and Walter Murphy & the Big Apple Band’s “A Fifth of Beethoven,” both in 1976.

(Do we count  Van McCoy’s No. 1 disco hit “The Hustle” from 1975 as an instrumental, given the entire lyric -- “Do the Hustle” -- contains a verb and a predicate, but no subject?)

Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” hit No. 1 in 1981, and Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme” did so four year later. Otherwise, the Hot 100 was top heavy with hits by the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Hall & Oates, Billy Joel, Whitney Houston and George Michael.

The ’90s started inauspiciously with No. 1 hits from Phil Collins (“Another Day in Paradise”) and Michael Bolton (“How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”),  brought the world a pair of Vanilla Ice chart-toppers, and ushered in the Mariah Carey era of blockbuster singles.

Rapper 2Pac, with help from KC and JoJo, made his one and only appearance in the Hot 100’s No. 1 slot in 1996 with “How Do You Want It,” a few months ahead of rival Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize,” which went to the top of the chart in 1997 shortly after Biggie was shot to death in Los Angeles.

The decade wound to a close as Britney Spears got her first No. 1 with “…Baby One More Time” in 1999, which helped inaugurate the teen pop explosion at the start of the new millennium.

Yet amid the frothy pop and R&B that was dominating the charts, one of the survivors of the ’60s, Carlos Santana, teamed up with Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas and spent 12 weeks at No. 1 through the end of 1999 and start of 2000 with “Smooth.”

With its first No. 1, “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time on You,” *NSYNC launched the boy band phenomenon that pushed album sales into the stratosphere, and set a record for first-week album sales that still stands: 2.4 million copies of “No Strings Attached.”

The new decade also welcomed a new class of No. 1 hit-makers including Alicia Keys, OutKast, Creed, Sisqo, Nickelback, Mary J. Blige, Eminem and, of course, “American Idol.” First-season winner Kelly Clarkson quickly found success on the Hot 100 when “A Moment Like This” hit No. 1 in 2002. It wasn’t long before successive “AI” grads Clay Aiken, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks also reached No. 1.

The 2000s also brought the arrival of the age of downloading, and when No Doubt singer and songwriter Gwen Stefani scored a solo hit with “Hollaback Girl,” she gained the distinction of becoming the first recording artist to register more than 1 million legal downloads of a song.

We’ve since moved on to the age of Fergie, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Katy Perry and Gaga. Here’s to the next 1,000.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Rick Nelson in 1958. Credit: AP

Photo of Lady Gaga in Chicago. Credit: Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images