100 & Single: Of Monkees, Michael, and "Maria"—The History Of The Chart-Dominating, Lifestyle-Accessory Album

100single_march6.jpg
Cassandra (Tia Carrere): You've heard it?
Wayne (Mike Myers): Exqueeze me? Have I seen this one before? Frampton Comes Alive?! Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.
Wayne's World 2 (1993)

For chart geeks, the Monkees loom large. To us, the candy-colored group, which included among its members the recently departed Davy Jones, have a status probably no other cultural observers would give them: album artists. In fact, by one measure, the Monkees have one of the 15 top-performing albums of all time—and that list of outperforming discs is undergoing a shift right now, thanks to a certain best-selling fellow Brit.

But for all the Monkees' success on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart from 1966 through 1968—six Top Three hits, including three No. 1's—their real playground was the Billboard album chart. As veteran chart-watcher Paul Grein points out, the Monkees hold a distinction no other act has matched in 45 years: occupying the No. 1 spot with a record four albums in a single calendar year. With their first four discs, the group spent nearly two-thirds of 1967 monopolizing the top of what is now called the Billboard 200.

One of those four albums—their second, More of the Monkees, featuring the hits "I'm a Believer" and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone"—topped the chart for 18 straight weeks. That puts it among the longest-lasting No. 1 albums in chart history, tied for 12th place with the 1987 soundtrack to Dirty Dancing and Garth Brooks's 1991 album Ropin' the Wind. (Unlike either of those albums, More of the Monkees' 18 weeks on top were consecutive and unbroken.)

About a month ago, for just one week, More of the Monkees was tied on the penthouse-longevity chart with a third album, Adele's 21. But that was before the British thrush continued on to her 19th week atop the Billboard 200—and then her 20th, and her 21st. Now in its 22nd week as the best-selling album in the U.S., 21 has elbowed its way into the all-time longevity top 10 and is less than a month away from the top five, if Adele can outlast yesteryear blockbuster soundtracks from the Bee Gees and Prince.

What does it mean when an album is the nation's biggest for that long? Is there any commonality among discs that dominate the cultural conversation for months on end? As per the Wayne's World quote above, every few years it seems there's a platter you're all but commanded to acquire. What happens when an album passes from mere hit status to inevitable must-have?

Let's look at the all-time list of Billboard No. 1 album longevity champs. If we limit ourselves to discs that spent at least 15 weeks atop the Billboard 200, we come up with a top 25. (Frampton Comes Alive!, for the record, is not among them, although it did spend a mighty 10 weeks on top, as Wayne Campbell might surmise.) Here's the list.


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