NEW YORK—Joel Whitburn, who turned his fascination with the Billboard charts into a career cataloging the history of charted music that kept gatekeepers honest about the performance of hits, has died. He was 82.
His Tuesday death at his home in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, was announced by Record Research, Whitburn’s publishing company. Employee Paul Haney posted on Facebook that he died “peacefully overnight.”
Whitburn published hundreds of books, including many in entries of series like “Top Pop Singles,” “Top 40 Hits,” “Top 40 Albums,” and “Top 40 Country Hits,” helping the whole industry with reliable chart stats and records. His books were crucial to DJs, publicists, and chart nerds.
“Joel Whitburn was a titan in our field,” wrote Chris Molanphy, a Slate chart analyst and host of the podcast “Hit Parade,” on Twitter. “If there is an afterworld, Joel is on top of a list at the pearly gates—No. 1 with a bullet and a star. R.I.P.”
When the Billboard Hot 100 made its bow in 1958, Whitburn made index cards cataloging all the relevant information of the songs listed, tracking their movement on the chart from week to week.
He kept it up even after getting a job at RCA doing record distribution in the mid 1960 and then decided to devote himself full-time to his research, founding Record Research and publishing his findings in the company’s first release, “Top Pop Singles in 1970.”
Whitburn had a licensing agreement with Billboard to publish his work and paid the magazine a royalty. “Billboard could not have asked for a better representative to document the history of our charts than Joel Whitburn,” said Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard‘s SVP of Charts & Data Development.
Whitburn also was a collector and kept 150,000 singles, albums, and CDs, including every record ever listed in the Billboard Hot 100. He is survived by his wife, Fran, and their daughter, Kim Bloxdorf.
By Mark Kennedy