Hard to believe but in early April 1964 the Beatles held all top five positions on the “Billboard Hot 100” chart. The conditions that led to this may never happen again.
All of the top five. For the week of April 4, the top five positions on the chart (from 1-5) were occupied by: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.” Of the five, only “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” were new songs. “She Loves You” had been released on Philadelphia’s Swan Label in the fall of 1963 because Capitol Records had no interest in it. It flopped in America at the time. “Please Please Me,” recorded in November 1962, was also rejected by Capitol Records and was licensed to Vee Jay Records, a mainly soul music label. The song went nowhere. “Twist and Shout” had been a track on the Beatles first album that was released in Britain in January 1963, over a year prior to “Twist and Shout” moving up to number two as a single on the American charts. This backlog of songs had either never been released in America or had missed connecting with the U.S. public the first time around, and this enabled the Beatles to flood the market with songs after they catapulted to fame.
“Ed Sullivan Show” appearances fuel sales. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” had just become number one and “Beatlemania” was just starting to take hold in America when the Beatles made three appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on consecutive Sunday nights, Feb. 9, 16 and 23. Their first appearance set the all-time record for the biggest audience to watch a program in U.S. history, at 73 million viewers, according to edsullivan.com. Of the songs that ruled the top five the week of April 4, the only one the Beatles did not perform on at least one of their “Ed Sullivan Show” appearances was “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and that hadn’t been recorded yet. The other songs got a huge boost from the Beatles being on the popular variety show.
Following week sets more records. The Beatles didn’t stop at hogging the top five. The following week of April 11, the Beatles, helped again by the backlog of older material, placed 14 songs on the Hot 100, still the all-time mark. They broke their own two previous marks of 12 on April 4, and 10 on March 28. Before that, Elvis Presley had held the record with 9 in December 1956. In addition to the five previously mentioned songs, the others on the chart April 11 were “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “You Can’t Do That,” “All My Loving,” “From Me To You,” “Thank You Girl,” “There’s A Place,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Love Me Do.” “You Can’t Do That” was the B side to “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which was enjoying its second week at number one. But the other songs were from albums and singles that had been released in Britain in 1963 but hadn’t caught on in America at the time.
Three straight number one songs. “Can’t Buy Me Love” followed “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” into the number one spot, giving the Beatles three consecutive number one hits, another record that has never been broken.
The most unlikely person breaks the string. The last person anyone would think could end the Beatles run on number one hits was Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. The jazz legend reached number one with “Hello Dolly” in May 1964. “If it hadn’t been for jazz, there wouldn’t be no rock and roll,” Armstrong once lamented, according to “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits.”
Beatles return to the top. Following Armstrong’s unlikely one-week stay at number one, Motown’s Mary Wells moved to the top with “My Guy.” Then the Beatles restored order by returning to number one with “Love Me Do.” They were on their way to having 20 number one hits in America, still the all-time record.
The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show”
Beatles 50th Anniversary “Ed Sullivan Show” Trivia Quiz
“The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 9th Edition,” Joel Whitburn, Billboard Books, 2010
“The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, 5th Edition,” Fred Bronson, Billboard Books, 2003