On July 27, 1940, Billboard published its first chart ranking the sales of recorded songs.
In that Billboard issue, the maiden 10-position “National List of Best Selling Retail Records” paved the way for 80 years — and counting — of Billboard’s hallmark tracking of music popularity.
Subsequently, the Billboard 200 would begin showcasing the top-selling weekly albums as of March 24, 1956. The premise introduced on July 27, 1940, of ranking the best-selling songs in the U.S. would expand to include a radio airplay component, spurring the birth of the Billboard Hot 100 as the premier national songs chart in the Aug. 4, 1958, issue.
Meanwhile, recent years have brought the Streaming Songs, Social 50 and Billboard Artist 100 charts, among others.
Prior to July 27, 1940, Billboard had highlighted the national “Sheet Music Best Sellers”; “Records Most Popular on Music Machines” (compiled from national reports from phonograph operators); and, “Songs With the Most Radio Plugs” on a handful of New York radio stations.
The “National List of Best Selling Retail Records,” however, was the first to poll retailers nationwide on record sales.
The new chart was billed as a “trade service feature,” based on the “10 best selling records of the past week” at a selection of national retailers from New York to Los Angeles. In addition to stores specifying in recordings, the potpourri of contributors included Sears, Roebuck & Co. in Chicago, J.B. Branford Piano Co. in Milwaukee and Nolen’s Radio Service Shop in Birmingham, Alabama.
Tommy Dorsey crowned the inaugural retail list with “I’ll Never Smile Again.” The eventual standard, featuring vocals by Frank Sinatra, would total 12 weeks at the summit. Not only did Dorsey top the first Billboard song sales chart, but the bandleader also placed at No. 8; his older brother Jimmy Dorsey ranked at No. 2. Glenn Miller claimed three of the first tally’s top 10.
Here is a look at the introductory Billboard songs chart dated July 27, 1940:
Position, Title, Artist
No. 1, “I’ll Never Smile Again,” Tommy Dorsey
No. 2, “The Breeze and I,” Jimmy Dorsey
No. 3, “Imagination,” Glenn Miller
No. 4, “Playmates,” Kay Kyser
No. 5, “Fools Rush In,” Glenn Miller
No. 6, “Where Was I?,” Charlie Barnet
No. 7, “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” Glenn Miller
No. 8, “Imagination,” Tommy Dorsey
No. 9, “Sierra Sue,” Bing Crosby
No. 10, “Make Believe Island,” Mitchell Ayres