The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

I am completely obsessed with Tom Breihan’s ‘Number Ones’ column in Stereogum. He’s been telling the story behind every Billboard chart-topper since the list started in 1958, and what started as capsule summaries have now turned into essays that almost always have something interesting to say about pop music and popular culture in general. But was this enough to make a book? You bet it was! Breihan looks at 20 particularly influential songs and the artists that created them and offers original-to-this-book essays that dig even deeper than his column. I’m sure there will be arguments about who made the cut, who was left out, and when it came to some of the artists, whether this was their move-the-needle #1, or was it another cut? And there’s always the problem of those groundbreakers, like Bob Dylan, who never got higher than #2 on the singles chart. The key here is that it doesn’t matter if you know the songs or not, especially now that you can listen to just about anything almost instantly. No less than enthralling! 

— Daniel Goldin


Beloved music critic Tom Breihan's fascinating narrative of the history of popular music through the lens of game-changing #1 singles from the Billboard Hot 100.

When Tom Breihan launched his Stereogum column in early 2018, “The Number Ones”—a space in which he has been writing about every #1 hit in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, in chronological order—he figured he’d post capsule-size reviews for each song. But there was so much more to uncover. The column has taken on a life of its own, sparking online debate and occasional death threats.

The Billboard Hot 100 began in 1958, and after four years of posting the column, Breihan is still in the early aughts. But readers no longer have to wait for his brilliant synthesis of what the history of #1s has meant to music and our culture. In The Number Ones, Breihan writes about twenty pivotal #1s throughout chart history, revealing a remarkably fluid and connected story of music that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

The Numbers Ones features the greatest pop artists of all time, from the Brill Building songwriters to the Beatles and the Beach Boys; from Motown to Michael Jackson, Prince, and Mariah Carey; and from the digital revolution to the K-pop system. Breihan also ponders great artists who have never hit the top spot, like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and James Brown. Breihan illuminates what makes indelible ear candy across the decades—including dance crazes, recording innovations, television phenomena, disco, AOR, MTV, rap, compact discs, mp3s, social media, memes, and much more—leaving readers to wonder what could possibly happen next.

About the Author

Tom Breihan is the senior editor at the music website Stereogum, where he writes "The Number Ones," a column where he reviews every #1 hit in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. He's written for Pitchfork, the Village Voice, the AV Club, GQ, and the Ringer, among others. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and kids. He is seven feet tall.

Praise For…

“Tom Breihan’s The Number Ones is a glorious rabbit hole dive into the biggest hits in popular music, analyzing the very physics of how they became hits and taking a forensic look at what made them ‘pop.’ It’s massively enjoyable when you love the song in question, and perhaps even more so when you don’t. One of the most enjoyable books on pop to ever roar up the charts."—Edgar Wright

"Tom Breihan is an absolutely crucial chronicler of the hit parade, a madman scholar digging deep in the vaults. The Number Ones is a revelatory celebration of pop history in all its glorious weirdness, the way only Breihan could tell the tale. These are classic tunes that everybody knows, but Breihan brilliantly blows away the dust, and makes them sound fresh and new. A hell of a storyteller, and a hell of a T-Pain fan."—Rob Sheffield
Product Details
ISBN: 9780306826535
ISBN-10: 0306826534
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication Date: November 15th, 2022
Pages: 352
Language: English