Baseball and music. Streaks and stats. I love obsessing over feats that can’t be duplicated or those that were astounding in their own right. But like a baseball player who can control their own production and may have a platform of potential games up to 162 per year for as many years as they play, a musician is relying on us, the fans, the DJs, the record stores and we can be as fickle as hell. So when I find a streak or stat in music that amazes me to this day, I take pride in sharing it, because it feels like I played a part in making it happen.
Sometimes I like to obsess further and think about streaks that don’t even exist, or ones that came so close but didn’t quite make it. I’ll share a big What If with you, a record that almost happened and if it did would never be broken. We’ll do it Casey Kasem style as if he just opened the AT Book of Records.
Which artist [almost] had the longest streak of writing or co-writing a Top 10 single in the U.S.? The answer? Paul McCartney, who wrote or co-wrote at least one song that hit the Top 10 each year from 1964 to 1984. Except that he didn’t, because in 1972 and only during that specific year he couldn’t get a single he wrote to chart higher than #21 in the States. Hi, Hi, Hi zoomed up the chart at the end of 1972 but didn’t hit the Top 10 until 1973.
Side note: If he charted into the Top 10 in 1972 and kept the streak alive he also would have come close to extending that into 1986. I’ll explain.
In 1984, Paul hit the Top 10 with No More Lonely Nights which peaked at #6 on December 15th, dropped to #8 the following week. And during the first week of 1985, it fell out of the Top 10. Then he released another song from a soundtrack called Spies Like Us. It steadily moved up the chart in late 1985 but by the last week of the year, it was only at #24, although it would reach #7 by February 8th, 1986. And that’s a shame. [Also, Tiffany butchered the hell out of an old Beatles classic, I Saw Her (Him) Standing There and took that into the Top 10 in April of 1988.]
A couple of interesting things about that What If streak. It was kept alive twice solely by live songs, once in 1977 with Maybe I’m Amazed from Wings Over America and very oddly, the B-side to his single Coming Up from his McCartney II LP in 1980 which most folks thought sounded too weird. So stations flipped the 45 and started playing the live version of Coming Up which had been recorded live in Glasgow, Scotland during the Summer of 1979 by Wings. So there he was again with another #1 hit.
Another song that kept the What If streak alive was during a year that Paul was recovering from the death of his friend, John Lennon in late 1980. It put him in such a funk he wasn’t sure how to carry on. Some folks in Holland thought that what we all needed was a goofy disco medley of Sugar Sugar, Venus and a handful of Beatles tunes. That track by Stars on 45 would reach #1 in June of 1981. Paul would end up having written or co-written at least one #1 hit from 1980-1984 and when tallied all together they spent 17 weeks at the top.
What does this all mean to me and why am I bringing it up? It’s because Paul consistently wrote great popular music for a long period of time, which is incredibly difficult to do in the world of pop music. And sure Paul has lots of other records, and hits, money, and fame, etc. But during that time of Beatlemania, Wings, and 80s duets, there was no end to what he could do. No end.