Legendary music writer found dead at age 82

Joel Whitburn, the legendary American music writer and historian, died last Tuesday, according to reports.

Whitburn was 82.

A native of Wisconsin, Whitburn’s exhaustive research of Billboard’s music charts made his work the last word in a record’s definitive chart placement — and it was the focus of most of his written work.

“He also published books with a narrower focus, such as the music of a specific year, or Christmas records,” Best Classic Bands noted.

All told, Whitburn’s Record Research Inc. published well over 300 books over 50 years.

Whitburn was born in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin in 1939. He became a record collector in his teens and first subscribed to Billboard Magazine in 1953.

When Billboard’s Hot 100 chart — which catalogued the most popular songs in the country — was introduced in 1958, Whitburn began creating index cards with a record’s chart placement history.

After attending Elmhurst College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee — although not obtaining a degree from either institution — he got a job in record distribution with RCA during the 1960s.

In his role at the record company, he used the chart research he had compiled as information for radio stations. In 1970, he founded Record Research and put together a team to compile the chart positions on records.

While his research was first embraced by record collectors and radio disc jockeys, The New York Times noted that “his books also became important additions to other music fans’ libraries.”

Record Research’s most notable publication was “Top Pop Singles,” a survey of historical Billboard popular music charts.

The latest edition was “Top Pop Singles 1955-2018,” although a two-volume set which would cover up to 2021 is still set to be published, according to Record Research’s website.

“Joel and his team research with unmatched degree of depth and detail not only the music charts of Billboard but also those of industry trade magazines Cash Box, Radio & Records, and Music Vendor / Record World,” Joel’s bio on Record Research’s website reads.

“Widely recognized as the most authoritative historian on charted music, Joel has also collaborated with Warner/Rhino Records in creating a series of 150 CD albums, plus five CD albums with Curb Records.”

“He had a profound impact on the music industry as a whole,” said Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s senior vice president of charts and data development.

“He was the first person to catalog the history of charted music, and by doing so it became the de facto history of recorded music.”

In an interview with Billboard in 2014, Whitburn chalked up his success to his fascination with both music itself and the charts that catalogued how successful it was.

“I’m just a huge music fan, and I love the charts,” he said.

“I enjoy following artists’ success. There’s just a joy in that. It’s a weekly thrill. And there are millions more like me all over the world.”