When comparing the success of individual songs it is important to uncouple the influence that the number of available charts has on the result. If we are comparing the annual performance of each artist against their contemporaries then much of this bias can be smoothed out, because the values are generated from the same set of charts and the bias that comes from the different territories has been removed. However, when looking at the overall career of an artist spanning a number of years a better way to remove the bias has to be found. One way to do this for songs and albums is to use an artist's annual positions. That approach tells us which artist did best over a range of years, but it takes no account of how impressive chart success was in any one year. It is also worth exploring another approach.
The plot above shows the annually accumulated score for the top artists. This gives an impression of the trends but, the varying number of entries in each year prevents real comparison across the years.
A better comparison is to look at what percentage of the total available score for a year each artist managed to get. This plot shows how much more impressive the achievement of The Beatles and Elvis Presley was than that of more recent chart toppers.
When this same approach is taken for years before 1930 the small sizes of the historic charts dominates the result. This display emphasises acts that did well in the earlier years when few charts are available. Did Paul Whiteman really do so much better than Bing Crosby?
So here is the picture that really tells the story. First of we calculated the percentage of the available score for each year that the artists obtained. Then we took the top 5 artists for each year and plotted them. We used some probability theory to estimate the spread of scores that would be expected based on the number of entries in each year's charts (shown as the contour lines). So the position of each point relative to the contours shows how impressive that achievement is. Finally we labeled the key artists.
This output shows that the outstanding popular musical achievement of the 20th century was The Beatles 1964 results. Followed by Elvis Presley's year in 1956. From this analysis the top six chart acts can easily be placed in order, they were:
The remaining acts have not been listed since the order would depend too much on the details of how the final scores were calculated. There are a number of alternate listings on this site that expand this set.
As with all the complex calculations described on the site you can decide to try a different approach. If your analysis shows something interesting tell us about it.