Today's story begins with another story, from another time and place: It's 1982, and I'm in the music library of Northwestern University. A few years earlier, I had been turned on to Casey Kasum's American Top 40, and I quickly found that following the charts tied in nicely with my expanding love of then-current pop music, my passion for playing with numbers (and math in general), and, in the years that followed, my burgeoning adoration and knowledge about the music of the '50's and '60's.
So it was that, when I went to a small community college a few years later, and my studies took me to Northwestern's library (mere blocks away), I quickly discovered that their music library had copies of Billboard Magazine going back to the turn of the century - not on microfilm, either, but the real thing. I soon began spending copious amounts of my overabundant free time copying the top 40 pop charts out of those Billboards - by hand, mind you (filling in endless sheets with numbers 1-40, then copying the positions from the previous two weeks in the margins (for use in adding the details later), typically while listening to cassette copies of the contents of my latest reel to reel purchases!) - starting with the year of my birth (1960), and quickly expanding forward. Then, when I wanted to find out more, I began copying the earlier charts, too, going back to the first printed top ten chart, from July 20, 1940. I also developed my own method of determining the biggest hits of the years, and played with the mathematics of the charts for hours on end. (Ah, those were the days - the binders of handwritten charts and math-play chart numbers still sit on a shelf in my office at home.)
Looking through all those magazines also afforded me the opportunity to look at the reviews, ads and other information about records which were released during all those years. This was wonderful for many reasons. Among many examples: I got to see what Billboard had said, upon reviewing all manner of records that I loved, such as "Mecca" the most peculiar and wonderful 45 ever released by that most peculiar and wonderful of early '60's singers, Gene Pitney. I got to follow the shameful way the trade paper fell in line with the Red Scare of the early 1950's. More to the point for this story, I also got to find out about records I would never have otherwise known about, due to them being mentioned in ads or reviews. This was great in terms of many different artists I was interested in, and I developed a lengthy list of records to look for, in the front of my chart binder, but it turned out to be particularly helpful in terms of one of my other quickly expanding passions of the time - collecting records by Thurl Ravenscroft.