This little piece of history has been going viral over the last few weeks after being put up on Soundcloud by a user called mjs538. Although not actually by mjs538, the pieces have a strange and convoluted history in themselves as well as portraying the history of pop music based on all the #1 hits in the US charts since 1958. Both mixes use up to 5 seconds of each and every #1 since the mid fifties, in order, up until 1981 in Part 1 and into the early nineties in Part 2. Whilst a herculean effort, even in this day and age of digital editing and online stores to source the material, it’s all the more impressive that the bulk of Part 1 was made in the late seventies using reel to reel tape and a razor blade.
The piece – known as ‘Time Sweep’ – was part of an extensive radio show called ‘The History of Rock n Roll’, made by Drake – Chenault Enterprises for radio in the US which utilized 52 hours to bring the first comprehensive history of rock music to the airwaves. Each year was prefaced with a medley of that year’s #1 hit singles (a ‘Chart Sweep’) and the whole was compiled into a ‘Time Sweep’ to end the mammoth series. The engineer responsible was Mark Ford, a veteran of radio jingles and production. He compiled and edited all the selections up until 1977, not only cutting and splicing but also EQing and time stretching sections to make them fit together sonically and selecting and pairing little couplets of lyrics at certain points – Roy Orbison‘s “Pretty woman, walking down the street”, segues into “there she was, just a walking down the street”.
But the story doesn’t end there. For those paying attention, just after the Meco version of ‘Star Wars’ in Part 1, the sound quality noticeably changes in both the stereo field, quality and editing. The reason for this is that a teacher from Maryland University called Hugo Keesing extended and updated the concept of the Chart / Time Sweep for his classes as each year finished up until 1991. With all due respect to Keesing, he isn’t a sound engineer and it shows in the application of edits and production. This is where the piece stops being art and turns to documentation and, as such, loses the essence of its greatness. Keesing was using a Wollensack tape recorder to edit with and had no way to clean up or EQ the tracks. So, the majority of Part 1 is Mark Ford’s original (up until 1977) and then Keesing’s extension, which runs the entirety of Part 2.
Five Seconds Of Every #1 Pop Single Part 2 by mjs538
How this piece came into circulation on the web was via a tape with Keesing’s name on it that was passed to the Evolution Control Committee‘s Mark Gunderson in the 90’s and the piece was widely believed to have been by him in it’s entirety by the cut and paste fraternity unfamiliar with the History of Rock n Roll programme. Eventually Keesing was tracked down and you can read an interview with him over at Jon Nelson‘s ‘Some Assembly Required’ blog.