As a professional music nerd, I find that there’s something completely fascinating about the Billboard Hot 100. Established in 1958, it has been the barometer for America’s most popular singles for more than six decades. The inner workings of the chart, including how songs are tabulated and ranked, is murky at best. And yet, the chart remains the go-to source to indicate success in the music industry.
All-time records from the Billboard Hot 100 are fascinating to observe as well. They represent the quirks of the chart and how it evolved over the decades. There have been instrumental number one hits, the most recent being ‘Harlem Shake’ by Baauer (despite that song having a vocal line). On top of that, there have been non-English number ones – take ‘La Bamba’ by Los Lobos in 1987 as the last example with no words in English.
Taylor Swift was, and still is, the owner of one of the less glamorous records in Billboard Hot 100 history: the biggest single-week drop from number one. ‘Willow’, the leadoff track from last year’s Evermore, dropped from number one to number 38 in the first week of 2021 (at least she wasn’t Mariah Carey when ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ went from number one to dropping completely off the chart in January 2020). That’s a bit of a bummer, but Swift can rest easy knowing that she’s scored another milestone, and now officially has the longest number one song in Billboard Hot 100 history.
That’s by way of her reworking of ‘All Too Well’ from the recently released Red (Taylor’s Version). The new rendition officially clocks in at 10 minutes and 13 seconds, making it the longest number one on Billboard’s history. Swift’s deliciously vindictive re-recordings of her previous albums have opened up a new avenue in album promotion, and a recent promotional appearance playing the song on Saturday Night Live, plus the song’s accompanying short film, are partially to thank for the song’s success.
Also partially to thank is Billboard’s somewhat indecipherable way of counting streams towards a song’s chart placement, allowing album cuts to land at the top of the modern-day chart. The current tally also allows remixes, recuts, and extended versions to count towards a song’s success, with all the variations of a song being combined into a single measure. Lil Nat X exploited this function to keep ‘Old Town Road’ at the top of the charts in 2020 by releasing a new remix every week or so, and now the streams and sales of all versions of ‘All Too Well’, including the original, the re-recording, and the ten-minute cut, all contribute to the song’s placement on the chart.
Even more impressive is the song that ‘All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)’ beat out for its “longest number one of all time” record: Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’. McLean’s ode to ‘the day the music died’ clocks in at 8:42, a solid minute and a half shorter than ‘All Too Well’. ‘American Pie’ first topped the Billboard Hot 100 during the week of January 15, 1972, meaning that had Swift’s ten-minute version of ‘All Too Well’ not come along, ‘American Pie’ would have spent 50 years as the reigning champion of “longest number one of all time”. I’m sure there’s some old school classic rock snob somewhere who will find an egregious issue with this.
But otherwise, congrats to Taylor Swift. What was initially just a swipe at media manager Scooter Braun has blossomed into a complete tour de force on artistic control and self-promotion which now has number one albums and songs behind it. Word to the wise: don’t mess with Taylor Swift. It will not end well for you. And also, give back her scarves, unless you want the whole world clowning on you ten years after having dated her. Rest easy, Jake Gyllenhaal, you’re now the subject of the longest number one in history. So that’s something.
Check out the longest US number one down below.