In one magical decade, The Beatles made records built to last an eternity. The same might be said for the band's chart records.
Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four's remarkable Billboard coup, when their songs occupied the top five slots of the singles chart, a feat never repeated.
The Billboard Hot 100 ranking on April 4, 1964:
1. Can't Buy Me Love
2. Twist and Shout
3. She Loves You
4. I Want to Hold Your Hand
5. Please Please Me
"It was the first and only time anyone ever monopolized the entire top five," says Keith Caulfield, Billboard's associate director of charts/retail. "It was a unique moment in time, something that likely will never happen again. We were at the height of the Beatles invasion, and millions of fans were discovering them and their work."
Two factors played into the band's chart "hits-krieg," says Beatles scholar Martin Lewis. First was the "unquenchable thirst for Beatles records after three consecutive appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in February," he says. Those performances, three months after JFK's assassination, were "an aural balm to America's soul."
Aiding The Beatles' chart lock was a shambolic distribution pattern, with songs simultaneously released by various labels.
"Capitol Records had rejected The Beatles (repeatedly) during 1963 while they conquered Europe," says Lewis, who spearheaded the campaign for Beatles manager Brian Epstein's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next week. "Those rejections meant that three other U.S. labels (Vee-Jay, Tollie and Swan) also had Beatles discs available to release. Only two of those top five Beatles singles were on Capitol, which paid the price for its earlier myopia."
Imported Beatles hits released in the span of a few weeks by four U.S. companies dominated the charts and airwaves for a full year, Lewis says.
"Their songs were competing against each other in the marketplace," Caulfield says. "You don't have that now. You have one or two songs as the focus."
The only artist to come close to The Beatles' slam is 50 Cent, who had three titles in the top five in March 2005: Candy Shop at No. 1, How We Do (The Game single featuring 50) at No. 4 and Disco Inferno at No. 5.
Shifts in music consumption habits and changes in Hot 100 criteria have increased the odds of matching The Beatles' conquest, but not by much.
"For years, the Hot 100 was based on sales of singles available to purchase in record stores and limited by what was actually released by labels," Caulfield says. "Now, in the era of the Internet and YouTube, when a digital-oriented artist like Taylor Swift or Mumford & Sons has a big surge, all those tracks show up on the Hot 100. But their chances of filling the top five? Pretty slim."
The week The Beatles occupied the top five slots, they had a dozen songs spread across the chart, setting a record they broke a week later with 14. That record also still holds. Drake nudged it in October 2013 by racking up 12 tracks in the Hot 100.
On April 4, 1964, The Beatles also held the top two spots on the album chart with Meet the Beatles! and Introducing … The Beatles.
Nobody has reached this level of domination, though Adele grazed those heights in 2012 when she had two songs in the Hot 100's top five while 21 and 19 perched at No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, on the album chart.
The Beatles have another record yet to be cracked: 20 No. 1 singles. Mariah Carey, second with 18 and set to deliver her 14th studio album on May 6, could prove a threat. However, she needed almost 18 years to rack up 18 chart-toppers, and her past 14 singles failed to reach the summit. If she miraculously scored two No. 1s this year, she will have tallied 20 in 24 years. The Beatles did it in just over six.