The Beatles accomplished a wild feat on the American charts that likely will not be broken. The band had three consecutive number one hits in 1964. Previously, Elvis Presley had two consecutive number one hits in 1956 when “Don’t Be Cruel / Hound Dog” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks followed by “Love Me Tender” for five weeks. As is well known in the music industry, the release of “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog” as a double-sided single was commercial suicide because both songs would have sold the same amount of records individually and would have reaped double the profits for both Elvis and RCA Records.
On February 1, 1964, exactly one week before their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show , The Beatles topped the charts with their first U.S. release, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, which comfortably held the top position on the charts for seven weeks. Their first number one hit in the U.S. was followed by “She Loves You”, which held its ground for five weeks in the top slot. Then, “Can’t Buy Me Love” was their third consecutive number one and ruled the charts for five weeks.
“She Loves You” had already been a major number one hit in the UK, spending six weeks at the top of the charts, and 18 weeks in the top three. This Lennon/McCartney composition ranked as the biggest selling single in the history of the UK for over 14 years until the Wings single “Mull of Kintyre”, co-written by Paul McCartney and Wings guitarist Denny Laine, was the number one song at Christmas 1977 and would go onto to be the first single to sell over two million copies in the UK. While Band Aid’s 1984 charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” overtook “Mull of Kintyre” as the best-selling single in UK history, the 1977 Wings song remains the top selling non-charity single in UK history. A previous post on this blog, “ ‘Mull of Kintyre’ is the Top Song in the History of the UK, but Remains Unknown in the U.S.” elaborates on “The Mull of Kintyre”.
The authorship of “She Loves You” is noteworthy in that it was credited to “Lennon/McCartney”. The previous Beatles songs had all been credited to “McCartney/Lennon”, and after “She Loves You” the “Lennon/McCartney” moniker would be used for all of their songs for the next seven years.
While the songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney wrote three consecutive number one hits, each of the three songs were recorded by the same artists, The Beatles. Believe it or not, other songwriters have written consecutive number one hits that have been performed by different artists.
“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle is part of Billboard chart history as it was one of two consecutive number one hits by the same writers that were performed by different artists. The song was written by Kenny Nolan, with a little help from occasional songwriting partner Bob Crewe, the famous writer of countless hits for The Four Seasons and other artists. It hit number one on March 29, 1975. The previous number one hit was “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli, also written by Kenny Nolan with Bob Crewe.
This feat by Kenny Nolan and Bob Crewe represented the second time in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 that consecutive number one songs by different artists had the same writers. The first time this happened was in June 1965 when “Back in My Arms Again” by The Supremes hit number one, and then was followed into the top slot by “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by The Four Tops. Both songs were written by the famed Motown songwriting team of Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Edward Holland, Jr.
Songwriter Kenny Nolan also recorded his own song “I Like Dreaming”, which hit # 3 on the charts in early 1977.
In 1978, Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees would achieve an amazing feat by co-writing four consecutive number one hits by non-consecutive artists, three of which appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album. Barry Gibb, along with his brothers Robin and Maurice, wrote “Stayin’ Alive”, the Bee Gees classic that topped the charts for four weeks beginning on February 4, 1978. “Stayin’ Alive” was followed at the top of the charts by “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb, the younger brother of the three Bee Gees who at the time had a successful solo career of his own, and stayed on top for three weeks. “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” was co-written by Barry Gibb and Andy Gibb, and featured The Eagles’ Joe Walsh on lead guitar. Then, “Night Fever”, the anthem by The Bee Gees written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, controlled the top slot for a whopping eight weeks from March 18 until May 12. Finally, the three Bee Gees penned “If I Can’t Have You”, which was number one for the single week beginning on May 13, and proved to be the only number one of Yvonne Elliman’s career.
For the record, 1978 proved to be an incredible run for Barry Gibb as he wrote or co-wrote three other songs that hit number one that year. First, before the incredible 15 week run of Gibb-penned songs topping the charts, the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” hit number one on December 24, 1977 and stayed on top for three weeks. It was written by all three Bee Gees, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. This domination of the charts was interrupted for three weeks in January when “Baby Come Back” by Player was in the top slot, sandwiched in between “How Deep is Your Love” and the 15 week run of the four number one hits by The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, and Yvonne Elliman.
An incredible feat occurred when the four Gibb brothers – Barry, Robin, Maurice, Andy – collaborated to write “Shadow Dancing”, the famous Andy Gibb hit that dominated the airwaves in the summer of 1978, spending seven weeks at number one in June and July 1978. Finally, in August 1978, the song “Grease”, from the hit movie of the same name that summer and penned by Barry Gibb, was Frankie Valli’s last number one hit as it rose to the top of the charts on August 26 and stayed there for two weeks. In total, Barry Gibb either wrote or co-wrote seven songs that hit number one in 1978, which collectively spent 28 weeks in the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100.
The only other instance in which someone penned two consecutive number one hits by different artists occurred in the fall of 1989 when songwriter extraordinaire Diane Warren accomplished this feat. On November 11, 1989, her song “When I See You Smile” was taken to the top of the charts by Bad English for two consecutive weeks; this song was followed in the top slot for two weeks by “Blame It on the Rain“, the brilliant Diane Warren song performed by Milli Vanilli, which of course would be caught up in a famous controversy in 1990.
Of course, the involvement of The Bee Gees in Saturday Night Fever and Grease came as a result of their long term relationship with their manager Robert Stigwood, who produced both films. Stigwood was on track to become the manager of The Beatles right after the death of Brian Epstein, but the four boys decisively put an end to that possibility. A previous article on this blog, “The Beatles Intensely Disliked Entertainment Mogul Robert Stigwood”, explains that interesting situation.
The Beatles set a multitude of milestones with their successes on the Billboard Hot 100. It is safe to say that it is extremely unlikely that The Beatles’ feat of having three consecutive number one hits will be broken anytime soon.