50 Years of Beatles: The Fab Four’s historic high-five

Penn State Laureate Kenneth Womack’s essay series, “50 Years of Beatles,” continues with a look at the week the Fab Four occupied the top five chart positions in America.

As popular music’s most resounding commercial success, the Beatles have sold more than 2.3 billion albums, while earning six diamond, 24 multi-platinum, 39 platinum and 45 gold albums in the United States alone. It is a remarkable sales record, by any measure, although their most historic, chart-making moment is easily the first week of April 1964, when the band held the top five positions on the vaunted Billboard charts.

As the April 4, 1964, issue of Billboard magazine demonstrates, the Beatles were simply dominating the American music scene. And during that unforgettable week, their music occupied the top five chart positions — the only time in pop-music history that a single act has accomplished such a feat. With “Can’t Buy Me Love” holding down the top slot, “Twist and Shout” was second and “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” rounded out the top five.

Even more incredibly, the Beatles held seven additional positions on Billboard’s Hot 100, including “I Saw Her Standing There” at No. 31, “From Me to You” at No. 41, “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” at No. 46, “All My Loving” at No. 58, “You Can’t Do That” at No. 65, “Roll Over Beethoven” at No. 68 and “Thank You Girl” at No. 79. As if to underscore the awe-inspiring power of Beatlemania during that fabled period, two Beatles tribute acts clocked hits that very same week, including the Carefrees’ “We Love You Beatles” at No. 42 and the Four Preps’ “A Letter to the Beatles” at No. 85. For April 11, 1964, issue of Billboard, the Beatles added two more hits to the Hot 100, including “There’s a Place” at No. 74 and “Love Me Do” at No. 81, giving them a total of 14 hits songs on the Billboard charts at the very same time.

Not surprisingly, very few acts have come close to matching the Beatles’ chart success during the heady days of Beatlemania. Only the Bee Gees have come the closest, scoring five songs in the top 10 during the week of March 25, 1978. Riding on the commercial waves of "Saturday Night Fever," the Bee Gees held the top two slots in the Hot 100 with “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive,” while also scoring top-10 hits with three other songs penned by the Brothers Gibb, including Yvonne Elliman’s rendition of “If I Can’t Have You,” the Bee Gees’ “Emotion” and Andy Gibb’s “Love Is Thicker Than Water.” In the March 12, 2005, issue of Billboard, 50 Cent also skirted pop-music history when he charted three top-five hits with “Candy Shop” occupying the top slot, followed by the Game’s “How We Go” at No. 4 — a song on which 50 Cent worked as a guest artist — and “Disco Inferno” at No. 5.

In spite of a number of pop sensations that have rocked the charts over the years — including the likes of Elton John, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Mariah Carey — the Beatles’ incredible sales records have stood the test of time. Ironically, in the very same April 1964 issue of Billboard in which the Fab Four racked up the top five chart positions, the magazine published an editorial claiming that “ just about everyone is tired of the Beatles. Disc jockeys are tired of playing the hit group; the writers are tired of writing about them. Everyone’s tired of the Beatles except the listening and buying public.” And as history has so powerfully demonstrated, the listening and buying public’s desire for Beatles music has never really ebbed.

Kenneth Womack is the author of numerous works of nonfiction, including "Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles" (2007). He has also written three novels, including "John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel "(2010), "The Restaurant at the End of the World" (2012) and "Playing the Angel" (2013). A professor of English and Integrative Arts at Penn State Altoona, Womack was selected in April 2013 to serve as the sixth Penn State laureate.

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Last Updated April 15, 2014