As I was finalizing my recent Bill Doggett piece, I was trying to confirm the “four million” sales figure that is so often attributed (Wikipedia) to his 1956 smash hit, “Honky Tonk” – an extraordinary number for an instrumental, especially in the mid-50s. Ultimately, I was impelled to wield the search phrase “best-selling instrumental single” to confirm that number — and see what other truths I might unearth along the way.
Second item in the search results: Wikipedia’s entry for “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” that claims this #1 Billboard hit (for two weeks – on the pop chart for a total of nine) is the “biggest-selling instrumental single in the history of recorded music.” Yes, yes, but how many copies sold? “Only” two million! Guinness World Records affirms this achievement. Sadly, this means that either (1) Guinness is somehow unaware of “Honky Tonk” selling four million copies, or (2) “Honky Tonk” sold fewer copies than is previously thought.
Million-seller “Honky Tonk”: Only question is how many?
Worth pointing out that even though “Honky Tonk” would ‘only’ peak at #2, the song would nevertheless spend over half the year (29 weeks vs. 9 for “Star Wars” theme) on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Take that, George Lucas.
Since Zero to 180 is more interested in profiling under-recognized artists and songs, I decided to shift my search efforts to see what might be of interest within the realm of “worst-selling” record-holders. Lo and behold, I would quickly discover an amusing news item from this past August that unmasks a music industry model that just might be a bit creaky and unsustainable: Worst-Selling #1 Album in Sales-Tracking History!
Disney Channel’s Descendents television series – as a result of Billboard altering their formula for identifying a #1 album to allow “on-demand streaming and digital track sales” – hit the top spot … with just 30,000 (!) “pure” album sales as reports Rolling Stone [the exact same link, by the way, as from Zero to 180’s recent Led Zep piece].
One of Decca’s worst sellers
45 Clunker of Note: Zero to 180 would like to thank 45Cat’s YankeeDisc for pointing out that Alan Leslie “Fluff” Freeman, MBE and 40-year British disc jockey/radio personality, would enjoy the distinction of having recorded one of Decca’s Worst-Ever Sellers (“and is now, predictably, a rarity and collector’s item“):
“Madison Time” Alan Freeman 1962
Did you know: Bill Doggett’s biggest seller would enjoy a resurgence in the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in February and March of 1961 for reasons unknown to the government? As it turns out, this was a more contemporary ‘re-boot’ by King that included vocals.
A Ha Moment: By the way, I think I just now determined the source of the “4 million” figure, thanks to UK reissue label of note, Ace Records, in the liner notes to their compilation, Honky Tonk! The King & Federal R&B Instrumentals:
“Still, ‘Honky Tonk’ did enough to earn a gold disc for a million sales (a total of 4 million was mentioned by [King’s Detroit branch manager] Jim Wilson, but who knows).”
Boom! Bap! 15th Musical Fight!