Here is the official response from Billboard Magazine on the Elvis / Madonna #1 Hits Dispute.
"You were the first person to send me an e-mail about the stats reported in last week's 'Chart Beat' -- but you weren't the last, not by a longshot.
This item has generated more letters to "Chart Beat Chat" than almost any other subject in 2005.
I understand why I've received so many missives about Madonna tying Elvis Presley's record number of top 10 hits.
Joel Whitburn has long reported that Elvis has 38 top 10 hits. My respect and admiration for Joel knows no bounds, but it's important to know how he comes up with that number or any of the statistics reported in his books.
For example, in his latest edition of "Top Pop Singles," Joel counts songs that did not chart on Billboard's Hot 100 as Hot 100 hits if they made the Hot 100 Airplay or Hot 100 Sales charts. The same goes for songs that made a holiday chart but not the Hot 100.
On the R&B charts, which were not published between November 1963 and January 1965, Joel uses data from Cash Box, a now-defunct trade magazine that was a competitor to Billboard at the time. That data can't be used when citing Billboard stats -- for example, if I report the number of songs charted by Stevie Wonder on Billboard's R&B survey, I can't use the number of songs Joel reports because it includes titles that never charted in Billboard.
The Elvis "discrepancy" is because Joel counts things differently on pre-Hot 100 charts. Before there was a Hot 100, there were four different weekly charts. The main chart was Best Sellers in Stores, and that's the list Billboard uses as THE pre-Hot 100 chart. Joel counts information from all four charts.
When he lists a peak position, for example, he picks the highest position from any one of the four charts. He will list more than one song at No. 1 in a particular week, because he counts all four charts.
Another reason for the Elvis "discrepancy" is that rules for how a two-sided single is charted has changed many times over the years.
On Best Sellers in Stores, a two-sided single counted as one hit and charted in one position. Thus, "Don't Be Cruel" / "Hound Dog" is one top 10 single, not two.
The same goes for the early 1958 single "Don't" / "I Beg of You." Counting these two double-sided hits as four top 10 hits instead of two gives you the figure of 38 instead of 36.
When the Hot 100 was introduced, the two sides of a single charted separately. So some of Elvis' later top 10 singles DO count as two top 10 hits, if both sides made the top 10 separately.
In late 1969, Hot 100 rules were changed and two-sided hits again charted as one hit, occupying the same position. Later, the rules were changed again and they were separated once more. Then they counted as one again. Today, they are separate again (you think it's easy keeping track of all this?).
I've been consistent in my books and columns in using only the Best Sellers in Stores chart when compiling pre-Hot 100 stats, and following whatever two-sided single rule was in effect at the time. I don't favor Madonna over Elvis Presley, I just report the facts.
Having said all of this, I did shortchange Madonna in last week's column. "Hung Up" is her 47th top 40 hit, not her 45th. That pushes her past Stevie Wonder (with 46 top 40 hits) into fourth place among artists with the most top 40 hits in the rock era, behind Elvis, Elton John and the Beatles.
By the way, I could have avoided offending Elvis fans if I had just cited the number of top 10 hits collected by Madonna on the Hot 100.
Since 12 of Presley's 36 top 10 hits occurred before the Hot 100 was introduced, Madonna would be the undisputed champion. However, I think it's more relevant to use the entire rock era to measure success.