Billboard magazine is an American publication that compiles the official music charts for the United States. It was founded way back in 1894 as a magazine about outdoor advertising… hence the name. After a few years it started reporting on “outdoor amusements” – like fairs and carnivals – as these were a big thing in the days before television and movies. They were also one of the biggest billboard customers of the time. Billboard soon became the unofficial “newspaper of record” for amusement parks, circuses, carnivals and fairs.
When jukeboxes became popular in the 1930s, Billboard began publishing charts of the most popular songs in the country. On August 4, 1958, the magazine started publishing its famous “Billboard 100”, the list of the top 100 songs for each of three categories: Pop, Country & Western, and Rhythm & Blues.
Nowadays, of course, Billboard publishes a ridiculous number of charts every week: over 100 different charts at the time of this writing. “Pop” has now been subdivided into “Pop”, “Rock”, “Adult Contemporary”. “Adult Pop”, “Alternative”, “Hard Rock”, “Folk”, “Dance”, “World”, “New Age” and more. There’s the “Top Digital Songs” chart for downloads and “Top Streaming Songs” chart for sites like Spotify and Last.fm. There’s a chart for the week’s “Top Ringtones” (who knew that was still a thing?), “Top MySpace Songs” (ditto), “Top Catalogue Albums” (older albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which are almost pure profit for record labels), as well as “Top Tastemaker” and “Top Heatseekers”, whatever they are.
One of Billboard’s first tweaks to their music charts came in the June 1, 1959 issue, in which it debuted the “Bubbling Under the Hot 100” chart. Usually just called the “Bubbling Under” chart, it featured the 15 songs that would have been numbers 101-115 on the Hot 100 chart. This way DJs and others in the record industry could keep up with new artists. Over the years, Billboard has changed the Bubbling Under chart to include 35, 10 or 25 songs (which is what it remains today).
The Bubbling Under chart of Billboard‘s June 16, 1979 issue of included a song called “Ready ‘N Steady” by a band called D.A.. And the funny thing about it is… no one has ever seen or heard a copy of the record!
Music historian Joel Whitburn – who has a massive underground vault containing a copy of almost every single 78, 45, LP and CD to make the Billboard charts since the 30s, and whose company, Whitburn’s Record Research, is the longest-running licensee of Billboard’s chart information – has looked into the matter with some depth. And, as a former record collector myself, I can see why: Whitburn owns a copy of every single that has ever appeared on the “Bubbling Under” chart… except “Ready ‘N Steady”.
In 1995, Whitburn said that he thought the band might actually be a girl-punk band from Chicago named DA! that was active in the late 70s and early 80s. He has since recanted this, presumably because DA! released a few records on a label called Autumn Records in 1981.
Whitburn has proof that Rascal, the label that released “Ready N’ Steady”, actually existed. He found a small ad for the label in the back of a punk rock “zine” (a type of self-published amateur magazine popular with sci-fi writers from the 1930s, but closely associated with punk culture in the 70s). Whitburn even hired a detective to go to the address listed in the ad – incidentally, a residential address – but the building was abandoned. I don’t know if Whitburn tried to do a title search on the property, or if he did and found that the home was a rental at the time or what. All I know is that it was a dead-end.
But perhaps the most titillating thing of all is that Billboard listed the catalog number of “Ready N’ Steady” as “RASCAL 102”. Presumably, there’s a completely unknown record out there with the catalog number “RASCAL 101”.
It amazes me that mysteries like these persist in the Internet age. You’d think that someone involved with the record – the band, the label, or a fan – would have come forward by now. After all, Ken Snyder’s By Request Only was thought to be a hoax for years… until it wasn’t. But it’s also possible that “Ready N’ Steady” was, in fact, some kind of hoax pulled on Billboard. But if so… why? Having a record appear on the “Bubbling Under” chart isn’t exactly the prank of the century. I mean, come on… the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion? Now THAT’S a prank, my friend. Getting “Ready N’ Steady” on a minor Billboard chart? Not so much.