Dec. 1968: Beatles’ White Album Hits #1

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Some of Motown’s biggest singing stars were keeping The Beatles company at the top of the charts

In mid-December 1968, the film version of Oliver!, based on the hit London and Broadway musical, opened in the U.S. It ultimately earned six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus was filmed; it wouldn’t be released in its entirety until 1996.

It was a rough week for the city of Brotherly Love: Fans of the hapless Philadelphia Eagles were so upset with their team’s meager two-win season that they threw snowballs at Santa Claus at halftime.  And an Eastern Air Lines flight from Philadelphia to Miami with 151 people on board was hijacked to Cuba.

And the new double album by The Beatles was the top-selling LP in the U.S. To give it some context, here’s a look at what songs were being played that week on Top 40 radio and what other albums were keeping The Beatles company at the top of the sales chart. 

Some future classics were climbing the 100 Top Pops chart of the December 14 issue of music industry publication Record World: B.J. Thomas‘ “Hooked on a Feeling” — with that sitar! — jumped from #66 all the way to #35; a great instrumental, “Soulful Strut” from Young Holt Unlimited, also took a big leap from #59 to #28; and the Temptations‘ “Cloud Nine” went from #20 to #15.

And in the Top 10… Judy Collins‘ version of “Both Sides Now” moved from #13 to #9, the Classics IV‘s “Stormy” went from #9 to #6, and Marvin Gaye‘s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” jumped from #15 to #5. The Top three? Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John,” Stevie Wonder‘s “For Once in My Life” and Diana Ross & the Supremes‘ “Love Child” topped the singles chart.

And 50 years ago this week, the album chart had plenty of legends with top-selling longplayers. Otis Redding‘s classic live album recorded at the Whisky A Go Go was in just its third week of release, climbing to #76. Just ahead of it, after 27 weeks, was another legendary live recording: Johnny Cash‘s At Folsom Prison.

Thanks to its title cut, the Diana Ross & the Supremes’ Love Child album made its debut at #67. And in its second week was Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations, jumping from #68 to #42. The pair of Motown giants appeared on a NBC primetime special, TCB, on Dec. 9.

Traffic‘s self-titled second album was at #46 in just its fourth week. Just ahead of it were the Rolling Stones, with Beggars Banquet at #44 after two weeks. Other classic rock acts with albums above the Top 10 included The Who (Magic Bus), Cream (Disraeli Gears), Jeff Beck (Truth), plus LPs by Procol Harum, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Donovan. Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Steve Stills’ Super Sessions. The Steve Miller Band, Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

Then, in the Top 10… Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 had a huge leap from #29 to #9 with the Fool on the Hill album. Another Cream album, Wheels of Fire, was at #8. Jeannie C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. was #7. The Jimi Hendrix Experience were at #5 with Electric Ladyland.

Big Brother & the Holding Company‘s Cheap Thrills, the previous week’s #1, was at #4. Steppenwolf, again, at #3 with The Second.

Then there was Glen Campbell. The country and pop musician had no less than three albums in the Top 13 of the sales chart. Gentle on My Mind (#13) and his collaboration with Bobbie Gentry (#10), were joined by his Wichita Lineman album at #2.

And, at #1? The Beatles (aka The White Album) had entered the chart the week before at #44. It’s relatively low debut was likely due to retail reports not being complete. But given a complete week of sales, the double album took a mighty leap, ascending to the top of the sales chart.

Related: White Album facts and trivia

Related: 1968 – The year in 50 classic rock albums

December 14, 1968 – Top 10 Albums

10. Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell (Capitol)
9. Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill (A&M)
8. Cream – Wheels of Fire (Atco)
7. Jeannie C. Riley – Harper Valley P.T.A. (Plantation)
6. Jose Feliciano – Feliciano! (RCA)
5. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland (Reprise)
4. Big Brother & the Holding Company – Cheap Thrills (Columbia)
3. Steppenwolf – The Second (Dunhill)
2. Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman (Capitol)
1. The Beatles (Apple)

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