Whether you go by albums sales, No. 1 hits, or overall legend, you’ll always find The Beatles and Elvis Presley at the top of the list. However, if you want to start counting the times they topped the charts, you go by the combination of record sales and radio airplay that Billboard put in place.
Starting in 1958, this chart became known as the Hot 100. Prior to that, Billboard called it the Top 100, though the system of measurement was basically the same. Those dates matter when you start counting the chart-topping hits by the Fab Four and Elvis.
Obviously, both artists racked up a number of No. 1 hits in their time. However, in Elvis’s case, his career spanned from the Top 100 days through the Hot 100 era. As a result, Billboard only credits The King with seven No. 1 hits.
Yet Elvis topped the charts twice as often, and and spent more than 14 months as the No. 1 artist over the course of his career.
Elvis had 14 No. 1 hits that spent 62 weeks atop the charts.
Whether you go by the number of songs he charted (134), top 10 hits (38), or songs that hit No. 2 on the charts, Elvis has a distinct advantage over The Beatles. Simply counting No. 1 singles, The King posted 14 chart-toppers before his career ended.
As Alan Hanson points out in his Elvis blog, that total combined the Top 100 and Hot 100 singles. (Elvis had seven during each period, with August 1958 marking the dividing line.)
Hanson presents the data in several different ways, one of which involves a point system. By assigning each hit a value based on its peak on the Billboard charts, Elvis again comes out the victor.
Yet Elvis fans’ biggest source of bragging rights might be how long The King dominated the charts over the course of his career. Combining the reign of his No.1 hits, Elvis was on top for a remarkable 62 weeks.
The Beatles had 20 No. 1 hits, though for fewer weeks than Elvis.
No artist has sold more albums than The Beatles, and no group or solo performer has posted more No. 1 hits than the Fab Four, either. Going just by the music the band made from 1963-70, The Beatles can claim 20 Billboard No. 1 hits.
These tracks, which include songs from the early period (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”) all the way through the soundtrack for Let It Be (“The Long and Winding Road”), spent a total of 59 weeks on the charts.
While that’s shorter than Elvis’s reign atop the charts, you have to take into account the different eras and relatively brief run the band had together. Also, let’s also not forget the solo careers: Even George Harrison scored multiple No. 1 hits as a solo artist.
John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney also topped the Billboard charts on multiple occasions — in Paul’s case, nine times — as solo artists. If they’d stayed together, there might not be a contest here. (Rock history is nothing but what-ifs.)
Going strictly by the tally of No. 1 hits, no one ever accomplished what The Beatles did — not even The King himself.
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