Joel Whitburn of Menomonee Falls, pop music legend, dies at 82

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Here is an example of the influence of pop music historian Joel Whitburn.

When he met Elton John, Whitburn told a Billboard podcast interviewer in 2016 that he tried to give the famous singer one of his books.

“Oh, I’ve got all your stuff, Joel,” Sir Elton replied.

Whitburn, who grew up in Menomonee Falls, turned her passion for music and her fascination with the Billboard charts into a research and publishing giant that served music industry professionals and fans with books of organized data and anecdotes. If you wanted to know how many hits Elton John or Beyoncé or Bon Iver had, Whitburn was your man.

He “passed away peacefully overnight” on June 14, following serious recent health problems, his friend and employee Paul Haney reported. Whitburn was 82 years old.

As a young man, Whitburn began reading Billboard, the music and entertainment industry trade magazine. In particular, he was fascinated by Billboard’s weekly charts of the most popular records.

“I was at the perfect age, 14 or 15, when rock and roll broke out,” he told interviewer Larry LeBlanc in a 2009 interview, describing his youthful passion for music. “I was able to come down once a week and buy a record. I had to make this terrible decision about which record I buy this week and which records I put aside until next week.”

Decades before the Internet, spreadsheets and personal computers, Whitburn kept track of each week’s top recordings. When Billboard launched its Hot 100 chart in 1958, it began, in the days before personal computers, to record detailed information about each song listed on 3-by-5-inch index cards.

Working in record distribution for RCA in the 1960s, Whitburn impressed radio staff with the information he had.. “They all said it would be a godsend to have this information at hand, because there was nothing available,” he told Billboard in an interview.

Seeing the opportunity, he quit his job at RCA, founded Record Research in Menomonee Falls, and published his first book “Top Pop Records” in 1970. This book became “Top Pop Singles”, Record Research’s flagship publication. , Haney said. .

He was no wonder. Counting successive editions of works such as “Top Pop Singles”, Whitburn and Record Research would have published nearly 300 books. Whitburn also leveraged his knowledge of the charts to produce some 150 “Billboard Top Hits” compilation CDs for Rhino Records.

His meticulous compilation of map data has made his work go-to reference material – and has quacks blocked.

“His accurate reporting also made it harder for publicists and labels to credibly falsify their artists’ chart achievements, a practice notoriously common in the early ’70s,” Andrew Unterberger wrote in a Billboard obituary. .

Whitburn’s personal music collection, stored at his home, numbered up to 200,000 singles, albums and CDs, Haney confirmed. This collection includes all recordings listed on the Billboard Hot 100 and all recordings listed on rival and defunct charts.

In a 2014 interview with the Journal Sentinel, he said he used his collection as his primary source for accurate information on things like label names and B-sides.

Standing 6-foot-6, Whitburn played basketball for Menomonee Falls High School as well as Elmhurt College in Illinois. He also attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for a time.

Whitburn was inducted into the Menomonee Falls High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2015. He was also a voting member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Whitburn’s daughter, Kim Bloxdorf, Vice President of Record Research, will continue to lead the company. Haney, an editor and researcher there for 30 years, and Brent Olynick, who has worked there for more than four decades, will assist him, Haney said.

Whitburn was an easy boss who trusted employees to get the job done, Haney said. But he was also passionate about detail and obsessed with precision.

“If I didn’t get something exactly right, I would hear about it,” Haney added.

Some of Haney’s favorite memories are sitting in Whitburn’s office for half an hour or an hour, talking about charts and music.

“He was really like a father figure to me,” he said.

Whitburn’s survivors include his 58-year-old wife, Frances; his daughter Kim; his sisters, Joyce Riehl and Julie Rae Niermeyer; his brothers, Charles and David; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Visitation will begin at 1 p.m. June 24 at Northbrook Church, 4014 WI-167, Richfield, with a service at 3 p.m.

Contact Jim Higgins at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @jhiggy.

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